In a previous post, The True Cause Of Depression, I discussed how having multiple problems at once seems to cause more stress than having only one or two. I likened the handling of challenges to balancing a "plate" of a certain size and suggested if we pile too many problems onto it, not only do we risk having it topple over, we often find ourselves wanting to pitch the whole thing on purpose. Though the holidays are supposed to be a season of joy and appreciation, they're often a time when many feel overwhelmed (especially given what's been in the news in the last two weeks). For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to review the strategies I use when my life-condition slips.
And a slip in one's life-condition is what's really to blame. Certainly many people may be facing far worse circumstances than the ones facing us. But the degree of pain and suffering people experience can't be calculated by observing their outward circumstances. Pain and suffering always occur as a result of a low life-condition, explaining, among other things, how millionaires can be miserable.
A story famous among Nichiren Buddhists tells of a practicing Buddhist who went to see SGI leader (in the lay organization of Nichiren Buddhists) for encouragement about a particular problem he was having. However, before he could even begin to explain his circumstances, the leader pointed to a large oak desk and asked him to lift it. Bewildered, the member replied, "There's no way I can lift that. It's way too heavy." To which the leader responded, "The problem isn't that the desk is too heavy. The problem is that you're too weak." His point, of course, was that our ability to win isn't determined by the size of our problems but by the strength of our life force. When you feel overwhelmed by your own life, rather than focusing on finding a different set of more manageable problems (as if that were even possible), you should look for ways to raise your life-condition so you can gain access to the wisdom, courage, and energy you need to solve the problems you have. If you don't have a process or a practice that does this for you, find one. Will power and intellect alone are often insufficient.
This is the real answer about what to do when everything seems to be going wrong: find a way to transform your perspective so that obstacles feel like opportunities. But if that seems too abstract, or you're having trouble finding a practice that works for you, or you're not interested in finding a practice at all, I'd offer the following techniques for making yourself feel better when you feel bad. These are just clever tricks—some comforting thoughts really—but ones that you might find useful.
Or maybe it's even worse for you than I've described. Maybe you feel like everyone and everything is conspiring against you, that no one sees things quite the way you do, and that you're alone in the wilderness and the world. Whether this is actually true or not is irrelevant: if it feels as though it is, it can't but help plunge your life-condition into the world of Hell, the lowest of the Ten Worlds.
When this is how you feel, you must summon up the stand-alone spirit. Even if everyone and everything—the entire world—is pointing left, if you believe the correct direction to point is right, then point to the right you must. If you feel within whatever context your problems are occurring that you have the gift of sight in a country of the blind, you must fight to help others to see until either they do or you learn you were wrong, not they.
Society, discovery, and culture are advanced by people who have every reason to remain seated but who stand up anyway; by people who resolutely and consistently point out what they believe is true. If you do this despite whatever fears the prospect of doing so brings, eventually others will be emboldened by your example and stand up with you. And then you'll have made a worthy contribution to the world.
Dr. Lickerman's new book The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self is available now. Please read the sample chapter and visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble to order your copy today!