Mid-Life Crisis

I was 32 years old when I had my “mid-life crisis”. It was at that time I had achieved, or nearly achieved, everything I wanted in my life.  My foundation seemed complete and everything else was on cruise control.  This plummeted me into an emotional place where I could rally no happiness or contentment.

My August 1, 1997 journal entry:

June/July were very difficult.  I was doing 5+ meetings a week; treading water, not feeling any relief.  I was without words to accurately describe it.  Sometimes it was strong emotional pain without a current cause to explain it.  Then I was feeling dissatisfaction.  I was walking around saying, “I have everything” and not feeling the way I expected.  I expected joy to happen when I had everything.

What I was reacting to, with my depression, was the realization that my outside circumstances do not make me happy.  What is outside me is transient and even if something gives me pleasure it is a pleasure that does not last.  On the path to enlightenment this would be considered the first step.

I would not have sought to end my suffering with a spiritual solution if I had not realized first that the material world could not provide me with satisfaction.  My depression was simply a reaction to the loss of that illusion.  If I had not so strongly thought that getting a stable home and the community I was looking for could bring me happiness I would not have been so pained when I realized it was not true.

It wasn’t until a decade later that I “discovered” that the Buddha taught how to find everlasting peace and joy.  Perhaps, my dark period would not have been so difficult if I had know there really was an alternative.  I was told I had to accept life on life’s terms.  While that is good advice for finding peace in the moment, the Buddha taught how to take control and change life to create a “perfect” world.

This is coming up today for me, because on Sunday, September 7th I will be teaching the first class in the Asian Classics Institute Course 1 – The Principal Teachings of Buddhism.  It is with great joy I share with others how to change their world and create eternal bliss.  I am looking forward to being with people that also want to end suffering.

Suffering over Suffering

My experience with thought addiction came a couple months ago.  I had been wanting to write about it, but I was waiting for something more.  That something more showed up a couple nights ago.

I am in the process of looking for a new roommate and a couple of men that had just landed in our state from Ohio needed a room.  They weren’t what I was looking for, but I’ve had good experiences with very short term rentals so I offered them the room for a couple of days.  Everything was fine and then this massive fan showed up.  Jon said he had some nasal problem and the only thing that gave him relief was blowing air.  Sure, no problem.

But it was.  I am used to a quiet environment and that fan was very noisy.  It was like a jet engine.   I noticed my mind begin to become agitated as I thought of reasons it was a problem:  “I can’t relax with that constant noise”, “He doesn’t really need it”, “People that use fans are ______ (stupid, intolerant, disillusioned, weak, etc)”, “Fans make nasal conditions worse”, “I am an expert on fans”, “He needs nettles”.  The thoughts were unending.  I am a very intelligent and creative thinker and I can come up with all the angles on why the fan was unnecessary and bad.

At first I decided that the problem was really all in my mind.  Clearly, if my mind wasn’t reacting with aversion to the fan and craving for silence then I wouldn’t be having a problem at all.  I was able to get a hold of the thoughts arising and not engage with them. I know from experience that when you stop engaging with the thoughts and believing them then the subconscious figures out that the thoughts are not needed.  My agitation diminished.

I was then able to decide what I wanted to do.  With further investigation I realized that I really did have a “reaction” to the fan and the constant noise that was biologically true and not just a patterned mental response.  It did agitate me even without the additional thoughts.  Originally my house guests had requested to stay a week, but I decided that I couldn’t last that long.  I decided that four days would work for me.  This would honor both my desire to help them and my desire to respect my body.

As it turned out, I got even further relief when they kept their door close.  I had assumed they needed the door open to allow fresh air circulation.  That turned out not to be the case.  This reminds me of the importance of clearly expressing my problem and allowing other solutions to present themselves. Since I was able to tell them what I was struggling with, they were able to come up with a solution that partially remedied my problem.

My physical reaction to fan noise is my “suffering”.  The habitual thought patterns that arose from that suffering had the potential to induce a far greater suffering than the original reaction.  It is the habitual thought patterns that we have a choice over.  I’ve hear say that “pain is inevitable but suffering is optional”.  I used to be the worse at suffering over my suffering.  I wonder how my friends endured my endless complaints.  Having freedom from the optional suffering is refreshing.  I love my life now.

I also would be amiss to not point out that even the pain goes away as we progress on the path to enlightenment.  Long term, the pain is optional too.