About 10 years ago, I was struggling.
I had experienced years of anxiety and was in and out of an 8-year bulimia habit. I also happened to be trained as a psychologist, helping others with their struggles but never finding the sort of deep-enough, lasting-enough freedom from my own issues I hoped was possible.
Then I was introduced to some psycho-spiritual ideas that, for whatever reason—the simplicity and conviction with which they were presented, or maybe my readiness to hear them—changed everything for me. Right away, I realized that anxiety and eating issues were not who I was and would not be part of my experience forever. Within months they weren’t, and they haven’t been since. There was nothing I had to work through, and no recovery to maintain. Just a deep knowing that the habitual thoughts and feelings that had previously felt so overpowering were not as threatening or personal as they appeared.
It’s difficult to summarize the ideas that made such a difference because my change didn’t happen because of facts or intellectual knowledge. It came because I deeply saw—in a way that became my new frame of reference—that the default, immutable nature of all human beings is wellbeing.
I learned that all people are full of the deep peace of mind we so often chase. Innate health is our birthright and can’t possibly be lost. The only thing in the way of us feeling our true nature is identification with our coming-and-going psychological experience.
In other words, when we aren’t feeling well, it’s only because we’re identifying with thoughts and feelings as if they are “us” or “ours”. We’re so zoomed into the show our psychology is putting on that we miss the peaceful backdrop in which it appears. We get so immersed in the me-focused stories our mind creates that we lose sight of the love and expansiveness that is always there just beyond our fleeting experience. That expansiveness is who-we-are; coming-and-going experience is not.
Waking up to this changed everything about the way I saw myself and the experience I was having in life. I thought (and was innocently told by many professionals) that I was an anxious, disordered person. I carried those characteristics around in the form a thought-created identity.
But what I began to realize is that the exact opposite is true. I am the peace beyond the repetitive thoughts and behaviors.
Suffering is Feedback
Suffering is always showing us that we’re latched onto a limited story, mistaking thought for truth. In this way, suffering is an amazing feedback system that works to our benefit when we know how to interpret it. Unfortunately, very few of us are taught how to interpret it. We understandably come to see suffering as yet another problem on our list to solve. We take it personally, resist it, fight it, and try to change it, all of which add more suffering.
I used to interpret anxious feelings and uncomfortable urges as problems I needed to solve.
But as I saw that uncomfortable feelings were simply showing me that I was resisting my temporary psychological experience, treating it as if it was stable, solid, and personal, that same discomfort became a reminder that I wasn’t simply “in my right mind” at the moment. Suffering became a prompt to lay low and not take myself too seriously, knowing that these feelings would pass to reveal the wellbeing that lies beyond them.
When we see that we are fundamentally well, and that suffering is a loving guide back home, our capacity for any psychological experience goes through the roof. There is nothing to fear and nothing to fix.
Over the years, I’ve shared this understanding with people experiencing “suicidal ideation”; planning for, or fantasizing about, suicide.
So many of these people come to see that all thought, even thoughts about suicide, are not who-they-are.
I’ve seen these people realize that the heavy feelings of depression and hopelessness are showing them that they are thinking. Period. Those feelings show them that they’re identified with thought rather than feeling into the wholeness of who-they-are; that they’re treating their ever-changing psychological experience as if it’s stable and meaningful.
So many of them eventually say something like, “Now when my mind starts fantasizing about suicide, I know there’s a lot going on up there. I back off and let my mind settle down.” They see that these feelings are simply what a human mind does sometimes when it feels overwhelmed–it looks for ways to feel better.
My mind found rumination and food rituals as an attempt to feel better. Suicide is just another very final, very desperate, attempt to feel better.
In a world where the medical model reigns supreme, where we’re diagnosed and medicated at the drop of a hat, this may sound too simple. But what if mental health is far more simple than the medical model has led us to believe?
You are well, and you think. Could it be that simple?