Competing with sadness: how to stop driving yourself into the abyss
Modern society teaches us that in order to succeed, we must look out for ourself, and climb that ladder. School instilled this in us by making all of us compete with each other for “grades” that ended up rather meaningless in the grand scope of life. The more we compete with each other, the further away we push others, the greater our sadness gets. Compassion is a key factor in competing with sadness, but why?
To discover the truth, let’s look back to how we became so competitive and self-serving.
Building Character in Childhood
When we were children, a lot seemed much simpler. There was no worrying about the future, or the past. We wouldn’t think about being a certain way. We would just play, and allow that to take us where it will. Then came the training that society told our parents was good for us, and would “build character”. Our realization that we are not good enough as we are, opens the door for sadness.
The idea came about that we were not good enough, just as we are. That we had to change the way we behaved, walked, talked, who we hung out with, the list goes on. At a very subtle level, this fractures our psyche, and creates internal tension. Now we have multiple voices in our head, the original voice of play, and the voice of society telling us to be the same as everyone else.
Fitting in with Teens
As we grow, confused by this internal struggle, always, we eventually become aware of our position within a group of others. This manifests sometime in the teenage years, and this is when a big focus comes in for grades and competition. Again, society steps in, and tells us that we need to compete, otherwise we’ll end up on welfare, or some other similar fear based ultimatum.
Again, this idea separates us from the flow of just being in the group, now we are aware of the group. In this group there are others who want to reduce our ability to succeed. This is the same as the way we were broken as children. Our internal consciousness was broken so that we would behave in a predictable manner. The difference here is that it is our group consciousness that is being broken so that we behave as individuals. When we are separate, we are easier to control, and more predictable.
As we go into adulthood, if we are not already sad from the events in childhood, or our teens, sadness is surely just around the corner. Our society doesn’t need to break us more, the damage has been done. We are fractured internally. This makes us constantly argue with ourselves as to what we really want. We are separated from all the others in our reality sphere. It’s really only a matter of time before this tension and isolation creates some form of sadness, anxiety, or depression.
As adults, we are well into living out the fantasy that’s been programmed into us. This fantasy of the education, job, partner, kids, retirement, then one day, happiness. We become so focused on goals, competition, objectives, success, that we miss all the beautiful beings that are literally right next to us.
Competing with the sadness
Have you ever wondered why Buddhists have such a focus on compassion? It seems very altruistic, and spiritual, for a monk or a priest to preach compassion. It’s actually kind of expected, so no one really looks into it more, and tries to see why.
In Buddhism, and many traditions, training leads to cultivation of compassion for self, and others. Why both? What is it about compassion that requires us to point to the duality of ourselves and the others in our life? Sure, we can just accept it is a nice practice, at the surface. However, there is a teaching about the deeper mechanics of consciousness just below the surface.
Repairing the fractured self
Have you ever set out to change, only to be sabotaged by a small but insistent part of yourself that resists? Why would one ever fight with themselves, if they were truly “one”? We are all a collection of voices, sub-minds, intentions. At one point, those voices were unified in being, however now they are all competing because of fear of the future.
Compassion for yourself isn’t just a new age “woo woo” excuse to have oil baths and facials. Compassion is a real practice capable of repairing the damage that was done to you as a child. You cultivate compassion for all the voices, sub-minds, intentions, thoughts, aspirations that arise within you. When you first start doing this, you will notice the habit to repress, push away thoughts that don’t align with your “character”.
This is not a blank cheque to just give in to all your impulses. This is an awareness practice, where you radically accept all the voices, hold them as valuable input, give them compassion. And let them go. Overtime, this changes the relationship you have with yourself from one of competition (where the biggest impulse always wins) to one of collaboration and love. All voices are heard, even if you ultimately choose differently. This is compassion.
Repairing the fractured super-consciousness
The universe is fractal, and the more I go along this path, the more I realize how deep that truth really goes. As such, the process with others, is relatively similar to the process you go along with yourself. Before I get into the actual details, we need a bit of a metaphor to work with.
Let’s imagine for a moment that all your thoughts and voices, are similar to your dreams. When you’re “in your head” or dreaming, it’s the same. You have a point of view, you’re observing all the voices, or the dreams. You make decisions based on that experience. The funny part about this, is that you are actually the observer in the dream, as well as the environment of the dream or thoughts. You are both. When you develop compassion for yourself, you start to realize this.
Now let’s apply that same type of thinking towards the “real” world. All those others walking around, cutting you off in traffic, asking favors of you…Are similar to your own thoughts. You observe them in the same way. You react to them the same as if you’re in a dream. So let’s just apply the same solution!
Cultivating compassion for others is the same as for yourself. Every interaction you have with someone is like a thought popping into your head. Don’t reject it (them) out of hand, hold it (them) in your awareness. Develop compassion for it (them). Then let it go. This works well for good interactions, and bad ones. If someone pops into your reality sphere and they are yelling at you just remember they are like a thought that you don’t like. Accept them as they are, develop compassion for them, and when it’s over, let them go.
The path to no-self
I’ve woven a subtle thread through this realization. That thread is the message this focus on self vs. other, “me” vs. “my thoughts”, is the path to sadness. Is the path of separation. Compassion is one of the biggest antidotes to this dysfunction. Compassion is the path of unity. The way it does that is by mentally reducing the distance between you, and the “other”. Through unification of mind, and super-mind, we can truly find happiness!
If you follow this thread all the way to the end, you end up with no separation between self and other. That is, how you end up with no-self. You end up alone, or as Osho likes to say “all-one”.
Meet the Author
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals…” - Henry David Thoreau
Cian is a teacher of Yoga and Zen, and a sought after business coach for start-ups and boardroom executives alike. Known for his unique perspective on productivity, this serial entrepreneur and investor is a wealth of fresh ideas, constantly seeking new ways to 'do business better'.