The overlaps between both the ancient and the modern spiritual philosophies is significant to me. Recently, at my Vipassana retreat, Goenkaji spoke about “Saṅkhāra” he explained craving and aversion as causing these. Basically, he was discussing thoughts that form when you are not happy with the present moment. All of the regrets, worries, hopes and desires form Saṅkhāras.
When you do not accept the moment as it is without craving or aversion, you create a sankhara. These are the source of all misery. For instance, if someone insults you, it can create aversion in you. It is unpleasant for you and then you build up dislike or hate towards this person. The saṅkhāra or hate that you feel gets embedded and when you see this person again, you feel the hate. The hate can be used to justify treating that person poorly, for example.
The same phenomenon is described by Eckhart Tolle when he talks about “pain bodies”. He speaks of pain bodies being activated when some thought or experience brings you into alignment with old emotional scars. So, let’s say the same person insults you. They attack a part of you, you are sensitive about. Now, when the person who did the insulting is around, you feel “justified” reacting badly to anything that they say or do.
Byron Katie comes at it from the other side and reminds us that we don’t know anything for sure. This would include anything we can describe to ourselves. Her solution is to ask yourself, “Is it true?” leading to the foregone conclusion that there is no way you can ever know absolutely for sure.
Her perspective challenges us to look at the person, and decide if we believe what we think about the person who said it. We may immediately think the insulter is wrong, bad or out to hurt us. Instead of the insult resulting in bad feelings towards the person, we ask ourselves, “Is the person insulting us a bad person, or are they just saying something we find unpleasant?”
So what are they all talking about? They are describing the little voice in our heads who tries to rewrite history, “I shouldn’t have”, “she shouldn’t have”, “it shouldn’t have”. Or, “I wish … blah, blah, blah”. We have told ourselves a story about the way we judge things or people would be better. Our stories are told through craving, aversion; pain or fear or longing; and telling ourselves things are not OK, they should be different.
In essence, our thoughts not only create our perception of the world, they also contribute to how we feel in the world and how we respond to the world. If we build up enough saṅkhāras we can justify harming the person or mistreating them. In Eckhart Tolle’s model the “pain body” becomes activated and we act before we think. In Byron Katie’s we know the other person is out to get us, therefore justifying bad behaviour.
These explanations all point to the same thing. If we tell ourselves stories about people — whether they are based on facts or not — we can justify treating them badly. This is not a good thing. We are always responsible for how we behave. We can never justify hurting someone else, especially when that action is based on a story. A story we told ourself about that person and their intentions.
Make Me Cry by Noah Cyrus ft. Labrinth, is a song written about how it feels to be in a pathological relationship.
“I’ve never needed you like I do right now.
I’ve never hated you like I do right now”
This is the epitome of being with someone because you are addicted to drama. The passion, the conflict, the make-up sex all become a part of the dynamic. It is intense and overwhelming and can destroy your life.
Once you have removed yourself, you realize the pre-occupation with the pathology in the relationship has had an impact on your work, your hobbies, your relationships and quite likely your health.
I love the way the song ends. She sings, “all you ever do is make me…” Automatically, my brain corrected it to finish with the word, “cry”. But the truth is, these relationships change who you are. So, it is more accurate for her to say, “all you ever do is make me…”.
Once again, my sister Vicki and I found ourselves without food in the house. The difference this time was that we knew where there was food. My parents owned a tent-trailer. The shell of the trailer was made up of metal. When open, the top of the shell became the roof. It was held up by four folding poles that could be locked into a vertical position. When the roof was up, the width of the tent trailer could be expanded by opening two tent pieces that housed a bed on either side of the body of the tent trailer.
My parents would take us camping at a beautiful campsite, across the river, in the US. Originally we had a large tent and later we got this new tent trailer that seemed so much more modern and convenient. Once my parents had set up camp, my sister and I would be left at the site while our parents travelled back and forth across the international bridge to work and whatever else they felt like doing. I have very little memory of them being at these campsites because they would often leave and not come back until the evening.
At the beginning of each camping trip, we would drive to a grocery store near the campsite and buy all of the food that we needed. I remember Mogen David wine, frozen hash browns, eggs, milk, bacon and little individual servings of cereal housed in their own boxes. These boxes could be opened at the top along perforations and be used as bowls, but I digress.
We would buy so much food that it would overwhelm the small fridge in the trailer, but there would be good eating for a few days. Now we were home and there was no food in the house.
I know my mother was out drinking because I managed to get her on the phone. She explained that she was not coming home soon. Vicki and I both knew that there was food still left in the refrigerator of the tent trailer, but it was now closed and in the yard. We had witnessed the mechanics of how the lid of the trailer was raised and thought that it was worthwhile to try to open it ourselves.
The problem was that we were simply not strong enough to lift the top of the shell by ourselves. Driven by determination and hunger, we both did our best to push the top up. We discussed the fact that it did not have to go all of the way up for us to get into the fridge and get some food out. So we both used all of our strength to lift the lid.
Problem was, we got it up enough to unfold the poles and then our strength ran out. The lid came down and Vicki’s hand was caught in the fold of the poles. She screamed and I was worried that the weight would sever her fingers from her hand. I panicked and used all of my strength to re-lift the top. Vicki removed her hand and we both fell to the ground crying. It wasn’t worth risking another try.
I don’t remember how severely my sister’s hand was hurt. I know that she did not lose any fingers for sure. The trouble was, even though her hand was going to heal eventually, we still had been unable to get to the food and there was no telling when a parent would be home.
It’s just a fragment of a memory, out of context, out of time, but a dramatic one none-the-less. My mother is in her room, on her bed, writhing in agony. She is wailing in pain and sobbing. My father is pacing back and forth in the livingroom, lost, unsure of what to do.
I am in the kitchen immobile. I can’t move. I am frightened and worried. My mother is in distress. There is nothing that I can do. My sister is home. I know that, but I don’t know where she is.
My father says, “We should take you to the doctor’s”.
My mother replies, sobbing, “Dr. Dean can’t see me until….” I don’t remember how far away the appointment was, but it is strange at this point in my life to remember my mother saying that.
If she had in fact been in as much pain and discomfort as she appeared to be, why was she refusing to see a doctor? Why did she not go into the emergency room of the hospital? Heaven knows that we had been there on many occasions.
I blurted out, “Dr. Dean will be dead by then.” I’m not sure why I said this. Perhaps, it was in recognition of how ridiculous her statement was in the midst of all of this drama. Perhaps I didn’t want the only solution, the only end to this to be so far in the future. All I know for sure is that I felt helpless, lost, worried and panicked.
I don’t remember any more. I don’t remember the outcome, other than the fact that Dr. Dean did die before my mother got in to see him. He was rather old at the time.
Now, in hindsight, I realize that this was probably just one more manipulation. My mother used illness as a way of making herself the centre of everyone’s attention. She was sick throughout my entire life. In this particular instance, the likely reason that she did not want to go into the emergency room was that there was nothing wrong and they would be able to tell. Her family could not. We were focusing all of our energy on her and that is the way she liked it.
In this book, Martha Beck examines the truly pathologic relationship she had with her parents and how she managed to get out from under it.
It seemed like a simple question, but the more I pondered it the more I recognized it was rewriting how I told my story. For years, I’ve said, “I think I chose to be here” and in a recent conversation with a friend, I turned it around and said, “What if we all chose to be here?”
It rearranges everything we’ve been focusing on. A few things fall from this premise and it is interesting to explore them, knowing full well the premise may be faulty. So, first, the most obvious is that if we “chose” we must have existed. Which, pretty much means we must exist after this body dies because we had to come from somewhere and we just go back. This is going back to a place from where we could chose what we want to experience.
There are many religions that have spoke to the range of possibilities, from returning here in a better or worse situation; living forever in a new reality that is either good or bad; or simply not existing after we are here. Truth is, no one knows for sure, but lets just stick with the possibility that we chose to be here for a while.
Believing we exist after we die,
has the power to eliminate all of the fear
of our own death.
When we no longer exist here, if we knew we existed somewhere else, it would make death a whole lot less frightening. Not necessarily for those we leave behind who suffer the loss of our presence and the emotional impact of losing someone you love, but for us, ourselves.
The idea that we may actually be able to choose to do this again, or that we might choose another set of parameters gives this inevitability known as death a whole new interpretation. It becomes more of a transition, a change in our reality, a new opportunity to chose to experience another life in an incalculable number of paradigms of reality.
You being you, even before you had the body you are in now, decided to experience life here. It allows us to refocus on the idea we wanted to come here and perhaps we should be exploring that instead of just getting by in a day. Why did you chose to be here? What did you want to experience, do, see, be involved in? You bought the ticket, and decided to go for the ride. What were you hoping you would get a chance to do? Trying to remember who you are and what your motivation was is a good place to start.
Even if this premise is wrong, and the only way to test it is to die, it has the power to allow us to think about life differently. We can look around with new eyes and see the world in a different way. A way that emphasizes why we would want to be here, what we enjoy and how we want to live.
Consider it for a moment. Is it possible you chose to be here? Perhaps, not in the exact situation you are in, but using a card game as an analogy, you decided to play cards and now you are faced with the hand you were dealt. How would you live differently if you no longer were preoccupied with prolonging your life, avoiding death and instead focused on the good things you enjoy around you?
It becomes possible to let go of the fear. We know we are going to die and if that is not a bad thing, we can now focus on living the most satisfying life we can imagine.
The memory is isolated from context, age or other circumstances. The best I can do is narrow it down to a period between the ages of 9 and 15 because I moved into this particular house when I was about to turn 9 and moved out on my 15th birthday, but I digress.
I had just noticed a rather large black spot between my two front teeth. I had tried to remove it only to find that it was what was left of the teeth in that spot. I had not paid a lot of attention to my teeth. Brushing your teeth does not become a habit when you don’t have a tooth brush.
The first time that I felt the absence of a tooth brush in my life was at a camp. My mother often sent us to camps and Sunday schools and evening activities. It did not matter if we wanted to go, she did not want us around. There was a bus that would pick us up on Sunday morning and take us to Sunday school and bring us home and she was delighted to have Sunday morning “off” each week. Long story short, I spent a lot of time places other than at home.
At this particular camp, they had a speaker one day talking about dental hygiene. The highlight of the presentation was that he had brought these little red pills. He explained that we were all to go and brush our teeth and then we would chew these pills and it would turn all of the plaque on our teeth red. This thrilled my friends and they were all going to prove how clean they got their teeth.
We were sent to our cabins to grab our tooth brushes. We were then supposed to brush our teeth and return. At that point, our success would be judged by the red tablet. I had not brought a toothbrush. I did not own a tooth brush. Instead of going back to the cabin, I took off into the trees next to the camp. I was hopeful that no one would notice that I was missing. I walked along a creek until I got tired and then I went back in time for dinner. No one seemed to be the wiser.
So, now I was examining another casualty of my upbringing in the mirror in the washroom. I had no idea what to do about it. I tried shoving toilet paper into the hole so that it would be whitish instead of black, but it was still obvious. I decided to just be careful when I smiled so that no one could tell.
You know you are going to encounter them during the holidays. Here is a little refresher video to help you circumvent the drama when you see them. This technique can be used to keep calm and out of the line of fire.
I saw him swerve and stop and get off of his bike. He was a little ahead of me as we were biking down the highway, the only road that we could take to get to his parent’s place. Now, there is a “rails to trails” path that goes along this route that would’ve been nice at the time, but on the day we were travelling, we were right on the highway.
This incident occurred a considerable distance from our apartment. His parent’s place is a full 45-minute drive and we were two thirds of the way, but we had ridden our bikes. We had spent a lot of the summer biking around. Our trips had included biking to my hometown, to a wedding and up to see nicer scenery north of where we lived.
It appealed to him because we were doing something that he could brag about. We didn’t just bike; we biked 120 miles (200 km) in one day. We were adventurers; we were out there doing things other people could only imagine.
I enjoyed biking and being out on the road with just some equipment and my bike. This was something that I would do again. But, at the time, I didn’t realize why it was so important to do it in the shortest time possible and to only break if absolutely necessary. Now I know. It is all about bragging rights. If you are going to do something, specifically so that you can tell others that you have done it, it must be exceptional.
Now we were in trouble. The fork had broken off of the front of his bike. Two forks are necessary to hold the wheel in place and the right one had bent to the right and snapped off. We were just outside of a city and a significant distance from his parent’s place. This happened before everyone had a cell phone; so even calling someone would mean moving a bike, on one wheel, a considerable distance until we could get to a phone.
We were essentially stranded. After a few minutes of examining this fork and thinking about the laws of physics, yes physics — forgive me but I’m a scientist at heart — I realized that the pressure on the fork was down. In other words, it only had to have strength in one direction. In order for the fork to support the body of the bike and hold the wheel, it did not have to have sideways support. It had broken to the side. It did not need any strength in this direction.
What the fork needed was to be kept in alignment. If I could keep the top and bottom part of the fork lined up, the force down could be applied and it would be supported by metal on metal. There did not need to be a lot of strength sideways.
I found an appropriate sized piece of wood and rammed it into the fork and rammed the broken piece onto the other end of it. This perfectly aligned the two pieces so that pressure could be applied to the fork by the tire below and the handles above. He reassembled the wheel and we made it successfully to his parents’ place. I was thrilled. It is very exciting for me to come up with an innovative solution to a problem.
Every time I said something to him about it he brushed it off as obvious and not worth mentioning. When I tried to tell this story to friends or family he was interruptive and down played the significance. He never said that it was a good idea and just made it seem like this was so obvious that I was childish wanting recognition for it.
Now I know that he did not want to tell this story because he was not the star. There was a solution at hand and he didn’t find it. It hurt my feelings that day and for a few weeks afterwards, but I had no way of knowing that it was just a symptom of a larger problem and that I wouldn’t get credit for doing anything — ever…
My YouTube Channel has hit over a thousand views in about three weeks. I have no way of knowing if that is “typical” or below average or whatever. But the thought of people spending over 128 hours watching videos of me talk about narcissism. Strange thought.
Here is “Arguing with a Narcissist” a little five minute video. Enjoy!