PAIN AVOIDANCE/PLEASURE SEEKING
In general, we seek to feel good and to avoid feeling bad. We make choices based on the probability we believe that they will either make us feel better, or avoid our feeling worse. The problem with the way we tend to do this, is that we primarily look outside ourselves and use our choices seeking to control our environment and others.
We think that if we control others, control the circumstances, we can avoid encountering undesirable stimuli and be provided desirable stimuli. We place the locus of control outside of ourselves. We wait to be presented with things to make us happy and try to set things up so we don’t encounter those things that make us feel bad. And in doing this, we position ourselves for repeated frustration, disappointment and suffering.
It can actually be very freeing to realize that the only thing we “control” is ourselves. As part of a large dynamic system of life, we influence and are a part of co-creating external reality; however, the only piece we alone are in charge of is ourselves. No matter how any situation or person has impacted us, we are still responsible for our choices. These choices may be made under duress, or unconsciously, but we alone make them. And, our choices are always made within a dynamic relationship with others whom they impact. Every action ripples into the world and influences things, sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously. Choice is intimately wrapped with uncertainty, unpredictability and change. You can always choose your own words and actions, but you never choose what others do in response.
With any choice,there is always the possibility of consequences that you cannot predict. Risk and uncertainy are the norm, and must be accepted, as well as expected.
Life is always happening and changing, independent of our likes and dislikes. The more time we spend trying to direct and control external circumstances and people to fit our ideas of how life “should” be, the more overwhelmed and inadequate we feel. Many times
Many times, when we realize that we don’t directly control circumstances outside ourselves we feel powerless and defeated. When we feel powerless, our belief in the importance and efficacy of our choices shrinks, and we become depressed.
When our efforts to find something “outside” of us that can make us feel more worthy, adequate and loved don’t work anymore, we become depressed. Depression is a sense of scarcity, in self or in the environment, that leads us to feel as if no matter what we do, there just isn’t enough of what is needed to fix the problems we encounter. There are two basic ways we experience depression, which are really two perspectives arising from the same source: 1) The lack is seen in one’s self. We are flawed, needing to be "fixed"; and 2) the lack is in others, or in the environment’s inability to fix the problem to accommodate our needs.
Whether the lack is seen in ourselves and our innate ability to feel fulfilled, or in the ability of the external environment to provide fulfillment, we say to ourselves “I’ll never be fulfilled. Either because I’m worthless, or nothing will ever fulfill me because it’s worthless."
With all this uncertainty, the consistency of food, its flavor and comfort it brings, are predictable, and we seek it like a lifeline. Food feels like something we have some control over, and the type of fulfillment it provides is satisfying and temporarily fills the physical aspect of our sense of emptiness.
If depression is about the feeling of scarcity, it makes sense that one of the most commonly chosen legal substances we use to treat our depression is food. Feeling full, sated and warm is equated with abundance and happiness.
***Here is a simple 5- minute energy boosting meditation exercise which you can use that helps you to create, from your internal resources, that wonderful warm, and abundant feeling that might have thought that only a good meal could bring.
- Get into a comfortable position (seated or lying down).
- Close your eyes if you are in a place where that is okay to do. Otherwise, pick a focus spot on the wall or horizon to place your gaze.
- Begin noticing your breath and how it moves in your body - do this for at least three breaths.
- Begin noticing your entire body head to toe - how you feel, and how the environment feels around you - any sounds, smells. Do this for at least three breaths.
- Once you can feel really "in" your body, you are ready to move on to the next step.
- Inhale, and imagine that you are bringing in sustenance. Give this sustanance a color that you associate with feeling happy and satisfied, or a word that makes you feel good, or a musical tone that makes you smile. Feel it come in and fill you with what you need.
- Exhale, and imagine you are releasing whatever you don't need, whatever doesn't sustain or help you in your life. Feel it leave you as a color, word or sound as well.
- At each subsequent inhalation of breath, let what you are bringing in fill the empty spaces left by what you release on each exhalation.
- Imagine your body becoming filled with what helps you and emptied of what doesn't.
You can do this before you eat to help you to eat less, but with more true pleasure, or after a difficult emotional or physical encounter in order to regain your equilibrium.
Let me know how this works for you. Happy New Year.
This article was edited by Douglas Castle.