Against The Wall
When we injure our bodies, we feel physical pain. If we didn’t feel physical pain, then we would keep using the injured part, and make matters worse. We don’t like physical pain – when we feel it, we want it to stop – but we can rationally appreciate that it is a useful sensation because it gives us useful information. As much as we don’t like it, a body without the mechanism of physical pain would be a body in danger of more serious harm.
Feelings of emotional discomfort work in the same manner as physical pain. Just as we feel physical pain when we do something that’s not good for our bodies, we feel emotional discomfort when we do something that’s not good for our minds. Like physical pain, emotional discomfort arises to warn us not to do things that might make matters worse. A person without the capacity for emotional discomfort would be a person in danger of more serious harm. Emotional discomfort is as essential and as helpful as physical pain. To eliminate it would be hugely unproductive.
Yet often, we engage in spiritual or religious activities because we are looking for a way to reduce or even eliminate emotional discomfort. It is often in our minds that somehow through spiritual practice or religious belief we can get to state of mind or a place beyond earth where there is no more emotional discomfort. Perhaps that realm is called heaven, perhaps it is called enlightenment or something else, but in any case, the idea is that a life or afterlife without emotional discomfort is something that can be achieved. But the elimination of emotional discomfort would be as dangerous and unproductive as the elimination of physical pain. We would travel through life numb, unable to sense the consequences of our actions.
Instead of trying to eliminate emotional discomfort, we ask, “What is this discomfort telling me?” At first, we may think that our emotional discomfort is telling us, “I don’t like this situation. This situation is bad. I want to get into a better situation.” That’s how we usually respond to situations that inspire emotional discomfort. But emotional discomfort is not telling us what we don’t like about the world, it is telling us what we are doing wrong in the world. It’s like stepping on a nail. The pain is not telling me that I don’t like nails, it is telling me not to step on them.
If we consider any memory of a time when we experienced emotional discomfort, we will always find that circumstances that were totally beyond our control, combined with our own thoughts, words, and actions, developed into situations that we didn’t like. We will find that we are uncomfortable because we are slamming our heads up against the wall of circumstances, saying, “I don’t like this wall.” But the wall is just there. The pain comes not from its existence, but from our slamming into it, our resistance to it, our rejection of reality. When we reject reality, we experience emotional discomfort, every single time.
It’s not easy to accept reality. It’s not easy to let go of the feeling of wanting things to be other than how they are, but the logic of it is enticing. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes to me. So now, nearly every time I experience emotional discomfort, my first thought is, “How am I resisting reality? How am I seeing things incorrectly?”