Feeling of Contentment

In the last post we looked at satisfying our desires. We noticed as soon as one desire had been satisfied the contentment resulting from satisfying that desire did not last very long, soon another desire appeared which also needed to be satisfied otherwise we risk being unhappy and discontented. We found ourselves in a vicious cycle of desiring and satisfying the desires because our need for desire never ends. In a way more we satisfy them the more hungry we get for more. We spend a lifetime trying to satisfy all our desires and in the end we die without experiencing real happiness and being content. I witness this all the time in patients with terminal illness. Very few people are content at the end of their life. In this post I hope to explore the sources of this elusive contentment.

In the previous posts I also looked at how we react when we feel threatened. How we are wired to deal with treat and desire has evolutionary benefits. We would not be here as a human species without these systems. They help us to satisfy our basic needs. We humans, however, have the potential for much, much more than just having our basic needs satisfy. We have the ability to be happy, lovingly compassionate and content.  We do this by our ‘emotion regulation system’ that helps to balance the other two systems, of threat and desire, and it’s a major source of our feelings of well-being and connectedness. This system uses natural chemicals in our brains called endorphins and opiates; that enables us to have a sense of well-being and being at peace.

The question is how do we enhance this system in our brains? The answer seems to lie in the certain type of exercises and trying to adopt a certain lifestyle.

 

We will look at the exercises and the life style in the future posts but for now lets look at how we feel safe by creating positive feeling in the minds of others. Most people have had the experience of feeling soothed and content, safe and at peace when they feel valued, cared for and cared about. We spend a lot of our time thinking about other people’s feeling towards us and trying to earn other people’s approval, appreciation and respect and be accepted in our group. We want to be valued, seem desirable, helpful, talented and able. Paul Gilbert writes

 

If you can create these sorts of feelings in the minds of others, three things will happen. First, the world will be safe and you will know that these people won’t attack or reject you because they value you. Second, with them you’ll be able to create meaningful roles for mutual support, sexual relationship and / or sharing. And third, receiving signals from others that they value and care for you will have direct effects on your body and on your soothing/ contentment.

 

Given that this kind of behavior towards us by others makes us feel good, and given that other people have the same needs as us, then doesn’t it make sense that compassion and kindness should be at the centre of our relationships and engagement with the world? In this way we improve our quality of our thoughts in our consciousness. The thought would no longer be fear based but rather be based on trust, caring and being valued. Paul Gilbert writes…

When our brains are in a caring mentality pattern, this brings on-line certain feelings and ways of thinking and certain behaviour e.g. concern and kindness for others and working for their welfare. However, it’s a brain pattern and so the feelings and behavior it supports and encourages can be lost when either the incentive/ resource-seeking system or the treat/self –protection system becomes dominant and regulates feeling and thinking. By learning compassion, we learn how to activate a particular state of mind and brain pattern in us associated with caring and nurturing that have soothing qualities. We can learn certain exercises that will stimulate this system, a kind of physiotherapy for the mind.

Resources:

The compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

We Are Not To Blame For What Goes On In Our Mind.

You may have noticed that what goes on in your mind you may not have much control over. In many ways much of whats goes on in our mind is not our fault or even our intention. It is amazing that nearly 3000 years ago Buddha had this insight about the mind and come to the same fundamental conclusion; that because we have no control over whats in our minds then it implies that it’s not our fault or our intention to have those thought in our mind.

It is now well accepted that two major factors that influences us are our genes and our early environment; and we have no control over neither of them. We are hard-wired, so to speak, by our genes and our early childhood experiences but had no say in the process. We were not consulted, no one asked our permission. But it is the interaction of the genes and the early childhood experiences that gives us our sense of “being oneself “; this experience of oneself may vary from feeling amazing to feeling severely traumatized, and we had no say in the matter.

Even though we had no say in the design of  ourselves and we have little control over our mind we can still take responsibility in a new way so that we can live in and work with such a mind. It is like taking responsibility for our physical body; we had no choice over what body we were given but we still have the responsibility of looking after it to keep it healthy. We have to eat right, exercise etc. The same is true for our mind, we are learning that our brain and mind need certain kind of input to function well.

We will explore what kind of input is required for our brain and mind to function well. But until than it is important to realize that we are not to blame  about whats going on in our minds. We can be kind and compassionate to ourselves.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind. by  Paul Gilbert

Relationship with the loved one

In 1858, a British epidemiologist named William Farr set out to study what he called the “conjugal condition” of the people of France. Farr’s was among the first scholarly works to suggest that there is a health advantage to marriage and to identify marital loss as a significant risk factor for poor health. Married people, the data seemed to show, lived longer and lead healthier lives. “Marriage is a healthy estate,” Farr concluded.(1)  It has been a common belief  since then that a married couple tends to be more healthy than those who are not married. However , new data suggests :- “When we divide good marriages from bad ones,” says the marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, who is also the director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, “we learn that it is the relationship, not the institution (of marriage) , that is key.” (1) The upshot of all this is that being in a good relationship with your loved one confers health benefits. Let us therefore look at the components of healthy relationship with the loved one.

Relationship with the loved one is life itself. The relationship can be a source of intense delight and also source of much unhappiness and frustration that life has to offer. It is indeed a doubled edged sword. Loving another person can be Devine, it awaken the heart and lifts us beyond narrow confines of our self-interest. It can teach us that we are  part of the universe , inter-connected with all things, including all beings, plants, earth, our environment, the ski, space and the very air we breath. Cultivating a  relationship with loved one can be a spiritual journey. It can be also be a disappointing experience,the other edge of the sword , when loving another person bring us pain of attachment, possessiveness, jealousy , unrequited love and all the rest. How is it that some couple have the grace of perfect relationship and others experience nothing but frustration? Is there a secret journey to a perfect relationship ?  Let us go on couples journey to find out !

The couple’s Journey:

The couples on the journey of relationship often find them-selves adopting spiritual values even though they had no spiritual intentions at the beginning.(2) This happens when the couple decide to commit to the relationship, work through the up and downs and try to make the best of the bad situation. They come to realize that it is better to love then to stubbornly try to get what you want, they give up the power struggle because they learn that two egos cannot co-exist. The act of giving up the power struggle creates a space for new kind of relationship , they let in God and spirituality; thus creating entirely new kind of unifying force for their relationship; the force of God and force of Love.

Susan Campbell after interviewing dozens of couples identified five stages in what she calls “The Couple’s Journey” :- Romance, Power Struggle, Stability, Commitment, and Co Creation.

(a) Romance Stage: In this stage the couples have positive feeling towards each other. The feeling is so pleasurable that each want to ensure that the other is happy. At this stage the similarities between them are emphasized and the differences are ignored. The positive of this stage is that the couple begins to develop an emotional bond,  trust and a common vision that can sustain them in bad times. The negative of this stage is the couple can get so attached to apparent security of romance that they deny many of their real feeling in order to keep the peace. Which will lead to problems later.

(b) Power struggle stage : In this stage the differences become more apparent and the couple feels less control over each other and therefore they feel less attraction for each other and are also less in love. They start to feel competitive with one another for control and for what they want. They become increasingly frustrated with one another. At this point the relationship has a chance to continue only if they recognize the destructive dynamic and they feel they can deal with the differences between themselves in a creative way. Otherwise the differences will cause the partners to subtly punish each other for causing the disappointment, or they may try to dominate, overpower, or simply “change” each other. ( always a futile effort). If this escalate  they don’t make it beyond this stage.

(c) Stability Stage: In this stage the couple discover that the power struggle is actually a refection of unresolved conflict with in each of them. They begin to learn that the  relationship is actually a source of learning about oneself. With communication they further become to realize their  differences from new and wider  prospective, which includes both hers and his views. This is the first sign of hope  that this relationship will continue  and foster further spiritual growth and self discovery.

(d) Commitment stage: In this stage they recognize that they  need each other to help expand others prospective and their very being is in some way interdependent on each other. They further realized they are part of much larger interconnected network and anything they do, not only affect each other but everything else they are connected with. So if their actions foster the uniqueness of the partner and others it is likely their own uniqueness will be supported as well. As in any stage the mutual effect of each other will inevitably be experienced by each other – for good or bad; they realize that they can’t  always maintain “perfect couple image” and when the disappointments come up they come to see , though painful it maybe, that it is a lesson on ones own path that needs to be learned for self understanding. Instead of blaming.

(e) Co-Creative stage: In this stage partners come to accept each other as they are, and they are able to extend the ” unconditional love of otherness ” to their partner and to the world beyond the couple themselves. The couple engage in creativity or work aimed at the world , the “other” now becomes anyone or anything outside themselves which make them stretch beyond their narrow view to discover new potentials. Here they have also learned to embrace uncertainty, ambiguity and change in their relationship ; with these same skills it is easier for them to deal with our uncertain, ambiguous and changing world as well.

As I write this it makes me reflect on how I could have creatively  interacted with my partner so as to value her instead of wanting my own way. I realize now that wanting security and control is far less important than genuinely valuing your partner; which leads to growth , discovery and the capacity for love. I wish I had a wise teacher to guide me during my struggles. Then again, as painful as though it maybe, I needed to learn these lessons through experience with the real live partner.

May your journey be blessed with all the benefits.

Resources:-

(1) Tara Parker- Pope

Is Marriage Good for Your Health?

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/18/magazine/18marriage-t.html?pagewanted=all

A version of this article appeared in print on April 18, 2010, on page MM46 of the  New York Sunday Magazine.

(2) Susan Campbell- couples therapist- page 40, Chop Wood , Carry Water.

(3) Chop Wood, Carry Water

by Rick Fields, with Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingraschi

Paradox of Our Times

Lot of people from the west  visiting the third world countries  often notice that people there are usually happier and more content, even though they are not wealthy; but have enough to meet their basic requirement. For some reason people expect them to be less happy because they don’t have enough “material stuff”. They don’t realize that is exactly why people from the west are not happy. The ” material stuff ” gets in the way of making human connections which is the essence of being happy.  The ” stuff ” disconnects and distract us from forming bonding and attachment to others in our communities. It has come to a point where we don’t even know our neighbours very well. We are on our computers loading ourselves with useless information or playing video games or watching television. There is no time to talk to our friends and neighbours, we think we are happier playing with our stuff.

I really admire the Amish people who consider very carefully before they introduce any technology in their community because they have the wisdom to know that any technology  under the pretext of efficiency is not necessarily good for the crucial human connections in their community. Here is a slide show which show this paradox of our times. …..ENJOY.

Spiritual Health

Spiritual Health

We may not think much about spiritual wellness but it has a huge impact on our wellbeing. It is our spirituality that gives us our sense of what is meaningful and what our purpose is in our lives. It also gives us our sense of worth, hope, commitment, peace and positive or negative outlook on life. If there is feeling of emptiness , anxiety, hopelessness, apathy or conflict then these maybe signs of spiritual poverty; resulting in unhappiness or dissatisfaction.

Spirituality means different things to different people. To many it is to do with religious traditions such as Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism  or Sikhism etc but those that have no association with a particular faith, spirituality may be to do with growing in their personal relationships with others or to some it maybe being in harmony with nature. It is not the same for everyone, it is uniquely different for everyone of us,  it gives our ordinary lives the depth and value. It helps to cultivates a richly expressive and meaningful lives at home and in our society. It provides  us with a sense of who we are , why we are here  and what our purpose of living is. It also allows us to gain strength and hope.

Our basic intention when caring for physical and emotional health was to relieve suffering by treating. With spiritual health the approach is quite different. We don’t treat, instead we listen. By treating we may deny the soul something in the suffering which may ultimately be invaluable for giving full meaning to our lives. So we have to listen carefully to the symptoms and notice what is revealed in the suffering.  It is only by listening we are able to coax the soul to reveal itself further. Only then the we are ready to make changes in our souls.

Let me give some examples of the consequences of ignoring the soul or the spirit. I notice most physicians by very nature of there training are concerned only with evidence based medicine which means looking at the facts only, we like the intellectually predictable world, it is protected from the mysteries and the surprises. So when patient relates his or her story with rich details we only pay attentions to the cold facts, all the rich details are lost. By ignoring the details we , the physicians, lose the opportunities to lead a soulful life. Further more with working long hours, always rushing, our profession has only small percentage of the day to be soulful, and on  some days maybe no time at all because we are exhausted by the end of the day and want to sleep. The tragedy of this is we interact and treat with our loved ones the same way, we forget how to be soulful. This may explain why in physicians there are higher suicide rates, higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse and high divorce rates then in the general population. These maybe are the signs that doctors are suffering from spiritual poverty and resulting in unhappiness or dissatisfaction.

Another example of how the spirituality is related to real health and happiness. I know a friend who had been married thirty years and was fiercely independent. She paid her own way through school and refused any financial help from her husband. She said she scarified her own happiness so that her husband could further his career. The marriage eventually ended. She was proud to be independent, it give her self worth ; she had bought into the prevailing notion that independence was healthy and dependence was bad, that didn’t make her feel so great. I wondered to myself if she would still be married had she listened to her soul about the need to be independent.  Her heroic championing of independence might be a way of avoiding and repressing the  need of something in her to be dependent. Being dependent means trusting , to find intimacy with someone you can’t live without, to be able to rely on friends. But as with anything, the shadow side of dependence is the neediness, inferiority, submission and loss of control. I wonder if she could have balanced the the two side and lived more happily  and  with less dissatisfaction. This would have been the soul work she would have needed to do; by listening to her soul and spirit. If  we don’t listen to the soul and grow in our spirituality , it may sometimes leads to physical illness or fanaticism.

So when we pay attention to the soul and observe how it is manifesting itself in us, we will be rewarded with richness of our personhood. We will receive back what is ours, the very thing we assumed to be horrible may turn out to be helpful. The spiritually poor person will need to attend to this need with some urgency; for the real health and happiness to begin. I know I need to do some work myself.

I already mentioned briefly in my previous article on emotional healthy how we can cultivate our spirituality , so I will not repeat it here.

Have a wonderful week, the next article will be on happiness….hopefully within a week.

Resources:
1.Care of the Soul
             By Thomas Moore

2. http://www.tru.ca/wellness/spiritual.html

Interchange Blog

Interchange Blog

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