For my first blog post in this new website, I wondered what to address. So in the spirit of first things – I decided I would write about the first things that I want my new clients to learn when they start therapy. There are a lot of things to emphasize in the beginning, but maybe the most important thing is to just get a very broad view of what our suffering is all about and why it is there.
Each of us feels emotional pain in different ways, but we all feel emotional pain for similar reasons. At the core, it seems that the truth is that we do not suffer because the way things are; we suffer because of what we think about the way things are. And though I believe this ultimately applies also to physical pain, to start with I think it is useful to distinguish between physical pain and emotional pain – so there is pain and there is suffering.
Simply by being born as a human we inherit a certain amount of unavoidable pain. There is the pain of illness, the pain of loss and separation, of failures. These are simply pieces of what life is all about. You can’t avoid them. And they are not problems – until you think they are.
We collectively and culturally agree that pain is bad (which of course makes perfect sense). But the result is that when we encounter these inevitable pains in life, we push against them. We fight against them, we struggle with even the fact of their existence, and this turns pain into suffering. Feelings of sadness, anxiety or discomfort are not, in fact, problems. But our reaction to them is to say, “this should not be here. This should not be like this.” And a thousand stories of anguish arise out of these basic, unconscious ideas that are at the core of all of us.
Then, we create all sorts of coping strategies – largely based on control and avoidance – in order to somehow not experience the initial experience. As far as I can tell – this is the very creation of all our neuroses: from procrastination to addiction to anger and depression. All of it is a response to various aspects of our self and life.
All suffering is made out of resistance.
A huge part of what healing, growth, and happiness is all about is the learning of the skill of meeting emotions, thoughts and events without the resistance that is such a habit for all of us. That is certainly easier said than done. But the acknowledging of this theory seems very helpful in selling our minds in why we might even bother.
Much of what we may be doing in therapy is answering the question, “What are you resisting?” – and developing new emotional and cognitive skills to find and stop the internal wars we are waging on both ourselves and the world. How do we do that exactly? Well that is something that I will talk about further – that is all the art and techniques and treatments of therapy.
When we start doing that – even a little bit – most of my clients see that their lives start to truly open up. When we treat the present moment as an ally, instead of an enemy, we can work with it to take us where we want to go.
I may not like this snow we are getting at the beginning of March, but it also gives me permission to get some of this writing done – cozy with a cup of cocoa and warm tunes tucking me in.