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My loneliness gnaws at me. I frequently feel restless and bored. I want more stimulation. How can I enjoy life more?

Most of us are faced with the dilemma of how we can most enjoy life. We have developed ideas and behaviors that are partially effective, yet, inevitably we all get stuck. We stop feeling good, high, accepting, loving, clear. We become depressed, apathetic, poisonously excessive, worried, critical. We are likely to react to ourselves and other people with impatience, irritation, or indifference. Are these feeling and behavior changes an unavoidable aspect of our human cycles? Is feeling bad an unpleasant yet mandatory human condition? I believe that we are all subject to moods and feelings beyond our possible control, and that some of these emotions will seem less pleasant than others. I also believe that through increased awareness we can more fully experience and appreciate the pain that is a part of our existence and reduce the “bad” effects.

I am aware of two approaches for responding to feeling bad. One is causality: what has happened and what is happening to cause me to feel bad? The “why?” leads us to lots of “answers.” These answers can be catalytic for producing change; as we understand why we feel and behave, we have the option of using this information to make changes that will allow us less pain in the future.

The “why?” method is only a partially effective tool for change. Intellectual understanding is often not a powerful enough reason to create new movement. Our lives are filled with examples of the ineffectualness of information and reasoning as a change catalyst. In the United States, there is an extensive campaign to inform people of the correlation between cigarette smoking and respiratory cancer. A recent survey indicated that there were more teenage smokers than ever before. This is a population that clearly has an intellectual understanding of the possible health effects of tobacco smoking. Knowledge has not produced change. The study also showed that the number of older adult smokers is slowly declining. The reason that these people are smoking less is not because they have more of an awareness of “why?” smoking is unhealthy, but, I believe, is because they are becoming more aware of: how they feel when they smoke cigarettes (mentally, physically, emotionally), and what the effects of smoking are.

The second approach for effectively responding to feeling bad is to experience what is happening. How do I feel (all levels of awareness: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual)? How do I prevent myself from feeling as I would like? What are the effects of my feelings and behavior? This approach assumes that experience is awareness, and that through awareness we feel better (we have an innate tendency to heal ourselves).

If applied to cigarette smoking, a person might go through a sequence like this: I pick up the cigarette and place it between my lips. I feel a slight eagerness and excitement. My hands feel a little lighter. My heart is beating slightly faster. I feel slightly stimulated, alert. I light the match. The taste is familiar, and I feel a comfort as I smell, taste, and inhale the smoke. My throat and lungs burn a little. I feel a slight pain in my chest, and, as I exhale, my nose is irritated. My tongue has an acrid taste that is unpleasant. My eyes feel a little dry. I feel stimulated. My breathing and pulse are more rapid. Everything I see is hazy, through a cloud of smoke. This awareness technique can be followed through the complete experience of smoking the cigarette and afterwards experiencing whatever is happening.

I believe that experiencing ourselves in the present is a much more effective way to understand, change, and heal ourselves than reasoning and “why?” “Why?” gives us answers that lead to more questions to more answers. Experiencing what we are doing and how we are effecting ourselves gives us integrated awareness. As we observe and feel, two very significant phenomena occur. (1) The experience of our lives seems more full and stimulating, and (2) unpleasant and diseased behaviors are replaced with those that are healthier and more pleasurable. The process (as contrasted to static answers) can be applied to any feeling or behavior and will result in change. Many factors determine whether this change is rapid and immense, or slow and subtle. Breakthroughs do occur, but our impasses, our stuck places, have been developed and reinforced for long periods of time. Change is usually a gradual process.

Life has the potential to be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. When I am not enjoying life (myself), I either act to change what I don’t like, or tune into myself or both. Sometimes change purges me of bad feelings. Examples of this: I am sad → I cry, I am tired → I do yoga or rest. Sometimes, though, the way that I respond to an unpleasant feeling keeps me bogged down in the unpleasantness or merely postpones when I will experience my feelings. I am feeling lonely and restless. I want some stimulation, some change. I eat a handfill of almonds. I now feel lonely, restless, and somewhat full. I eat a peanut butter and honey sandwich, I now feel full (my stomach), lonely, and restless. I smoke some pot. I feel more interested in my environment. Soon, I again feel lonely, restless, full, and stoned. On and on. Each behavior distracts me from myself. I get temporary relief. I now have to expend energy cleansing myself from overeating and drugs. And the feelings have neither been satisfied nor released.

Rather than “solving the problem” of loneliness, I may decide to experience myself. I feel lonely, bored. I am disinterested. I want more. My chest is tight and breath is shallow. My foot is moving up and down. My abdomen feels heavy. My brain seems dull. Hmmmm, I smell the richness of turned earth. I feel incomplete. I want to be clear. I want to be loving and loved. I want to be productive. I want to be in harmony. Hmmmm, I seem to have a big list of wants. How do I keep myself from being loving, productive, clear? I am impatient with myself. I think that I should be different than I presently am. I set goals and am critical and disappointed when I fail. How can I change this? I can make fewer goals. I can trust more that I am doing the best that I can do. I can appreciate my progress rather than beating myself for my “failures.”

Another essential factor for emotional health is correct diet. We can experience what we eat — looking, feeling, smelling, and tasting. Chewing allows us to more fully experience and digest our food. How do we feel as we digest or try to digest our food? Food greatly affects our emotions, energy, and health. Through the process of fully experiencing our food intake, we can discover how foods affect us. A diet that is healthy and replenishing will gradually take precedent over one that is toxic. People often use food to suffocate feelings. Our bodies’ energies become occupied digesting food and discharging poisons, and we do not experience our feelings (ourselves). Everything we consume is either vitalizing or toxic. Poisons only temporarily satisfy and may cause greater overall pain.

As we experience ourselves, LOVE is the most powerful healer that we have. To appreciate our struggle, our difficulties, our failures will give us more energy and awareness. Love breaks our barriers. Love gently eases through our resistance and carries us through the pain. Love motivates us to become aware. Love is the strength to change and grow.