It is not always obvious that the suffering that we experience is only partly caused by our circumstances. It makes perfect sense that when somebody insults us, we should get angry. It makes sense to us, because that is what we do. It makes sense that we should be afraid when somebody else gets mad, because it’s frightening to see people lose it. It makes sense that when somebody breaks up with us, we get sad, because that is how we feel. It makes sense we should be happy when somebody we love gives a hug, because that happens again and again in our experience.
It’s no wonder we spend our time and energy trying to get hugs from people we love and creating opportunities for happiness. It is reasonable to build walls to protect ourselves from the scary things in the world. It may not occur to us in the heat of anger that it is our own thoughts causing us so much pain, rather than the person poking fun at us. We may not notice that our own minds have created conditions of safety and security when we get a warm hug from a friend.
Usually, when we find ourselves suffering, we are suffering for a good reason. That reason is likely something in the external world. Rarely do we feel sad, lost and lonely and think, oh, if only I had trained my mind better to be alone with itself. We naturally think that kind of thing about playing the piano or doing math. We think, I should have taken lessons, or I should have studied more. We don’t tend to approach our emotions that way, but we can.
The counterintuitive approach to our minds is to approach the pain, rather than recoil. What does fear feel like? What does sadness mean? Why is anger my go-to response to so many little events in my day? When we start to believe that we can learn new ways to feel our feelings, we suddenly find ourselves with a degree of control over an uncontrollable world. It doesn’t always make sense to sit in sadness rather than running for a hug, but when we take the time to do the things that aren’t the first things to occur to us, we begin to break up life-long habits.
There will always be circumstances to make us sad, people who make us angry and scared, but when we remember that our own minds are the source of those feelings, we can take the time to check in with our thoughts and massage them a little to see what influence we can have in the moment. When our intuition becomes to count our breaths instead of counterpunching, then we will know our counterintuitive approach has changed our minds. We may become more prone to hugging, because that’s something happy people do.