The Resilient Life

Living a meaningful and compassionate life

When Being Fed Up Is Good

Sweet Disgust

In therapy one of the main reasons people are willing to attempt a program of change is that they are thoroughly fed up with their lives. Such a situation offers a favorable time to risk new attitudes, perceptions and behaviors in lieu of the status quo.

Whether you call it ingrained habits, unexamined erroneous beliefs, or early life experiences which have led to crippling transferences, people at this juncture want to both see and experience life differently. They want to change.

As the interaction proceeds, the therapist realizes that what is really being asked though is: Can I change without really changing? Can I alter only those parts of my life which are causing me pain but essentially remain as I am? Or, more to the point, can I have relief but no real cure that will require me to work to significantly alter my style, perception or belief?

This basic resistance to change is natural and to be expected in others and ourselves. Whenever we look at a challenge or problem, we must first and foremost include ourselves in the examination. However, people are trained to be economical in their energy with respect to self-examination and self-change. The preference is to look outward. And so, when the situation gets so bad that they want to be off the treadmill of worries, no longer strapped to the wheel of suffering, and really feel they are disgusted with the way they are living their lives, this is a wonderful opportunity to make a move to increase self-awareness and enable profound change.

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That is why spending time looking in disgust at the negative patterns in our lives, as part of our daily reflection, need not be an exercise in masochism. It can be a step forward to enlightenment!

Being fed up with our current ways of perceiving and coping can encourage us toward needed change. Seeing again and again the negative results of our thinking, feeling and behaving can push us to say, "Enough! I don't want to live this way anymore!" That's a great motivation to begin change. Staying with it is another story though.

In therapy, when people start to get better they are tempted to take a "leap into health" and stop their program of change. In response, the therapist seeks to help them continue to challenge themselves so their overall attitude is changed. Spiritual guidance uses a similar approach. When a disciple achieves kensho (an awakening), the guide allows him to enjoy the experience. However, he/she also cautions the seeker to move on, not make the experience into an idol. The disciple is encouraged to seek dai kensho, a complete breakdown of the walls of habit and illusion so life can be seen and experienced for what it is: simply, beautiful reality.

So, one of the very things that encourages therapy clients and spiritual seekers that should inspire all of us is to stay the course to greater inner freedom no matter what unpleasant things we see about ourselves. "Sweet disgust" which enables us to see our own role in making our life a painful web of grasping demands, insecurities, anger, envy, and resentment should not lead to self-condemnation. Instead, with a spirit of intrigue and hope, it should inspire us to take small steps each day to understand our reactions so we can put this insight into a practical response that creates more freedom. What a wonderful result of an initially negative experience!

 

 

Robert Wicks is a professor at Loyola University Maryland and the author of Bounce: Living the Resilient Life (Oxford).

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