What’s your pleasure?
Almost everyone has some sort of distraction they typically “treat” themselves to when things get tough. There seems to be no shortage of triggers. A rough day at the office, an argument with a significant other, a general state of loneliness or anxiety among other things leads you to what?
Chocolate? Shopping? Excessive working? Netflix binging? Or an extra glass of wine or two? Death by duvet?”
What’s your creature comfort when you face emotional turbulence? Your distractive pleasure is not my business of course, but it most certainly is yours. These habits are a signal to us that there’s something we are avoiding or distracting ourselves from in our lives.
I’ve had several in my life. I’ve had unhealthy relationships with alcohol, with chocolate, with work, with marathoning, even with meditating. I’ve used these things in varying degrees to distract myself or avoid something that needed my attention, but it felt too painful to fully pay heed.
That may have been a job that didn’t satisfy me, a relationship that was unhealthy, or more subtly an opinion of myself that was substandard.
What is your pleasure? Have you been jonesing for junk food, obsessing about shopping, reaching for that extra glass of wine, or engaging in unhealthy relationships? Examining these truly requires the bravest kind of honesty. Such inquiry can be dismissed as unnecessary.
Why should we care about distracting ourselves from uncomfortable situations or emotions when they overwhelm us?
In the short term, the downside to these behaviours seems to be fairly benign. But over time, they can turn into addiction, while that which we are avoiding becomes chronic and detrimental to our emotional and physical health. It is far better for us to take a mindful approach to all things as they arise in our lives. That means, we spend time with them, without assigning judgment or a story, just observing. At first, one might wonder what benefit that could have at all. Before scoffing, try it.
All of these emotions we have were built into our system for a reason. They are an early warning system, and require us to pay full attention to them, preferably in a certain way. It’s not easy, as emotions can be quite etherial, and difficult to set our attention on them.
Happily, there is always a physical component to emotions: We feel them somewhere on our body as they arise. Those physical sensations are what we set our attention to mindfully—that is, without judging them as good or bad, without assigning a story, and without identifying with them. In other words, our emotions do not define us.
When we watch the physical sensation, we get curious about the physical characteristics of it. How big is it? Is it warm or cool? What colour is it? Soft or hard? Is it moving, etc.? When we do this, a most fascinating thing occurs. The sensation will often reveal things to us we that might never have learned through analyzing them.
I have personally done this with success countless times, with great success. My students report the same positive results when I walk them through it. So, what is your creature comfort? And more importantly, what is causing the apparent need for it? Once we recognize it, we have made a huge leap forward in a healthy way to deal with difficult circumstances in our lives.
It doesn’t mean we have to give up chocolate, or shopping, or whatever puts a smile on our face. We just have to be honest about whether or not it’s just something we are using as a distraction. If in doubt, simply watch that sensation. Physical feelings never lie.
The truth, when revealed, will be liberating.