by Marcus Antebi
Article at a Glance:
I have read many, many self-help books throughout my life. I began doing so at age 15.
I’ve read a great deal on philosophy. I’ve listened to countless lectures on YouTube. I’ve talked to people constantly in the course of living and doing business in New York City for 30 years.
I’ve noted something that I find very interesting. When I look at all of the self-help books that are out there and considered all the philosophies that are spoken of, they are almost all meaningful and teach good things. But I don’t see much instruction on how to let myself do the thing that I’ve been avoiding doing for most of my life: Feeling.
I know that my body is programmed to naturally feel both physical and emotional experiences, and I’m not saying that I think that my mechanism is completely broken. But there are aspects of myself that I know that I’ve lost or trapped somewhere deep inside of myself because I have found a way to shut down my feelings. I learned how to do so in my early childhood.
It’s really incredible that we shut down feelings as a survival mechanism. We don’t have instincts or drives regarding how to hunt or fish or how to support ourselves as children. There are so many things that we don’t understand when we’re very young. But our bodies have these miraculous mechanisms of deflection and denial within us.
If feelings are too powerful and they overwhelm our psyche, we have a way of deflecting them onto something else. We also have a mechanism that lets us deny that something is happening. If a person has a faulty denial and deflection mechanism that doesn’t work when totally overwhelming things occur, then that person is at risk of a mental breakdown.
To engage in self-healing, a person first needs to get the chemistry of the brain under control. If someone has a problem in that area, it is no small task to correct it. Once that is taken care of, the person needs to face themselves and be honest about their shortcomings. As long as a person has the capacity to change behavior patterns, that person has hope of getting better, no matter how far down the road towards destruction they have traveled.
In order for a person to become mentally healthy they have to participate in the process of healing. It is ultimately up to us to take the initiative to help ourselves. When we do so, we can go out and look for others to help us. And we can look outside of ourselves to things such as philosophy and religion to lift us up.
Exercise is crucial in the process of lifting ourselves up. I recommend yoga, but other systems that focus on total fitness are fine as well. Because the body and mind are interconnected, it’s important to engage in physical fitness while in the process of healing your mind.
The thing that we have to be taught (or reminded of once again) is how to actually let our emotions live and move within us. There is a process that has to take place in our mind when we are experiencing any range of emotions, positive or negative. We have to be able to identify the feeling and express it in an appropriate way. So if we feel sad about something, we need to cry. If something funny occurs, we need to laugh.
When things make us angry, we might feel the anger for a moment but then we let it pass. We are not forced to react, especially if our reaction will bring suffering to others or suffering to ourselves.
This is the nature of what deflection is. When we feel afraid, we are likely to subsequently feel angry. When we feel angry and we allow ourselves to react in a destructive way (to self or others), we are deflecting the feelings. It’s the behavior that we are putting the focus on now that’s helping us to not feel. For example, if I smash a bottle against the mirror when I’m angry, that activity is where the energy from the anger is going.
This would be very appropriate if I was the only person on the planet earth and I could not cause any creature any harm by my actions. If the way to express anger was to break something to transfer the energy of anger into the action, then breaking something would be fine under those circumstances.
But that’s not the case. The earth is filled with creatures and people. People experience our anger and all of our feelings. We transfer their energy from our bodies in one form or another to other creatures. And doing so is a big mistake. The most effective way to appropriately deal with your feelings is to sit with them, take a deep breath, and react to those feelings with an appropriate emotional response.
Observe how babies act when they experience anything, from laughter and love to jealousy and anger. They immediately express their emotions. Children in their innocence will probably never feel hate until they’re older and can really understand the difference between love and hate. They might recoil when they experience pain, but their mind has not created hate yet.
Interestingly, though, children will move towards things that they feel a source of love from. There’s something safe about experiencing love that makes us desire it and feel relaxed and pleasurable. And this is very desirable, as long as the pleasure is coming from something natural that is compassionate to the body and to the world around us: If that’s the case, then it’s likely a thing that’s worth pursuing.
Having said that, one must not make the pursuit of pleasure the sole purpose of their life. They’ll be times of pleasure, times during which things are neutral, and times of pain throughout our lives. When we experience pleasure we should be grateful, experience it fully, and try to find a way to make it last by sharing it with others. Of course sharing pleasure with others does not mean that we attempt to share pleasure with people who do not desire it. The people that we share it with must be able to decide whether it’s something that is useful to them at that point in time.
When things and times are neutral, we must make efforts to be present. When we are not feeling pleasure or pain and we are in a sense just floating in limbo, this is the time that we’ll be likely to get the most work done. It’s a time to meditate and be grateful for being in a state of neutrality. Neutrality is a great state of being, although not as exciting as being in a state of pleasure.
Then will be times of discomfort for all of us in our lives. Things such as moving and packing up our furniture, the death of a loved one, diseases in ourselves and those we love, the sound of a loud ambulance waking us up, a coworker that irritates us, or an aching back.
There are billions of things that cause displeasure in this world. Things that cause displeasure to you might not be as displeasurable to others. Certain music brings me discomfort when I hear it. I don’t like traffic. I don’t like to look at spreadsheets. I hate to be distracted.
I could make up a list of at least 10,000 pages detailing things that I don’t like, many of which I can’t do anything about. But I wouldn’t have to focus on that list or worry about any of the things on it. Instead, I could live in the present moment, and when one of those things arrived I could experience it. I could learn how to make the best of any moment in which there is some degree of discomfort. I’m attempting to do that now. I’m training myself to be a master.
I do not want situations in life to master me. I have to train myself to have mastery over the realm that I spend the vast majority of my time and energy in. That realm is in my mind and in my opinions of things. I want to master my judgements and how I place them.
The mastery is in what I think, when I speak, and how I then go into the world and act. I have control over this now as a grown-up. And the further along I go, the more intelligent I become because of experience. But I can’t take this for granted. If I continue to have experiences that are not helpful, then my intelligence can work against me to enable me in my bad habits. So I have to keep my mind fluid and transformable.
I have to be able to transfer my thinking from yesterday to the present, and I have to keep it out of the future as much as I can. Of course the exception to not thinking in the future is when I’m in the process of planning something. But even then I must never take it for granted that the things that I plan will come to fruition. There’s no guarantee about tomorrow. There’s only a guarantee about the present moment.
One could say that the ultimate truth is that the present moment is happening. When the present moment passes, it immediately becomes part of history. It is then part of the cause and effect scenario relating to the next set of moments. So in a sense thinking about the future is a faulty way of thinking about time.
All the future represents is a state of probability: Since there’s a present moment that moved into the past, it’s likely that there will be a future moment that will soon come to pass. Obsessive thinking about the future constitutes fantasy and fiction. The future is a story that has not unfolded.
It has become our nature to be obsessed with the future because we are looking for security as animals on a volatile planet. But in fact when we think about the future we create more volatility in our own minds. The security we look for is in constantly bringing our minds back to the breath in the present moment. Ask yourself what you feel. Can you identify your feelings with specific names?
At any moment I can just recognize that I am in fear and then take a deep breath and let it melt away. I recognized that going back to a default state of fear has been a pattern for a very long time in my history. So it’s going to take a lot of self-awareness for me to catch myself when I’m falling back into that unhealthy way of processing my fear.
A good exercise for me when I wake up in the morning before I open my eyes is to take a deep breath and ask myself if I’m afraid at that moment. If I am afraid I take a deep breath and I tell myself to be in the moment, that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
If you are afraid of something scary happening in the future, stay in the present moment and guide yourself down the path that you wish to see yourself on in the future. But don’t rely on this guidance more than just a little bit, because the future is uncertain.
No matter what we do, one day this particular consciousness in this particular body must come to a physical end. We have to come to terms with this and feel the grief and sadness associated with that. We are (or should be) in love with existence and are grateful. And it is a little bit sad that the show has to end. But we have to teach ourselves that the show rises and falls like the sunset. The show is a series of transformations from one form of consciousness to the next. Birth is apparently the beginning of the life cycle, while death is the apparent end.
It’s very difficult for us with our conscious minds to explain to ourselves that something was happening before birth. We were inside the womb developing. And something was happening before conception in the form of sperm in the egg, and the history of your birth began even before that and goes backwards infinitely to the beginning of creation (if there was one).
In your death there’s a transformation which once again is impossible to explain to people in words. People must meditate and experience or live their life in a specific way that enlightens them.
The nature of reality encompasses a change from life to death. At some point the ego dissipates into nothing but vapor. But perhaps the consciousness transforms in some way and is still involved in existence.