Suffering #1

You know the feeling- it begins with illness of ease sometimes as early as Saturday evening. Tomorrow will be the day before the end of freedom. The anxiety begins to mount in the pit of your solar plexus. ‘Why, oh why do I give valuable time to people who don’t care if I live or die?’ complained a tortured Morrissey, whining the angst of yuppie life. And how often have we felt this mounting sense of unfairness at the impending demand of Monday morning and its high alert early morning rush into the uncertain and often demoralizing demands of the job.

We have been inordinately blessed in this time in history with the most marvelous capacity for choice in how we live our lives – at least on a material level. Technology has eliminated 95 percent of the work in which we used to have to engage to keep our bodies alive. Our relationship with our environment has become primarily cerebral. We not longer concern ourselves with staying alive, but “maintaining our standard of living”.

Humans are equipped from time immemorial with a brain that wants things to improve. This combination complex of chemically motivated processes in the brain are what the great neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp referred to as the “SEEKING” circuit – the undergirding of all our motivations, constantly searching for “Better”.

To achieve Nirvana or go the way of the monk and renounce allegiance to this mechanism in favor of quiescence seems to be the calling of few. The rest of us must heed its directive. And with the knowledge of “better”, comes the advent of the seemingly perpetual presence of the unsatisfactory. As long as we are participatory members of society, the presence of the “better” meets us around every corner, through ads, through Facebook, in our partner’s expectations, or in warnings to attend to our children’s futures. Therefore, the job.

Then what is the answer? How can we escape this “dukkha”, this slow, grinding suffering that accompanies our modern work life? “Acceptance”. What! Acceptance?! No, I can never accept this fate. I must overcome it! I will make more and more money until the problems go away! But there are so many barriers to that money!

In fact, acceptance is an overcoming – but not on the level of the problem, not necessarily by being constantly in service to the remedy of success or money. Acceptance is an attitude. Voluntary acceptance is, as psychologist Jordan B. Peterson asserts, the sort of call to responsibility we as a society have somehow come to feel we can somehow circumvent. “Pick up your suffering and bear it”, he says. This is a message we haven’t heard in a while; after years of projecting blame onto institutions and “oppressors”, and it is bizarrely freeing, as the idea that is introduced with this attitude is agency. You feel strength rather than suffering.

So how does this lofty idea translate into overcoming the Sunday evening blues? A change of sense of yourself as an active agent rather than a passive pawn is the first step. Put yourself in the role of the mythical “hero”. Then, the day ahead is less of a necessary dreariness and more of an unknown landscape in which there is hidden the treasure of meaning. And you, the hero, will find it. If it isn’t there? Perhaps then you now have the strength to move on to where it is.



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