Category Archives: Mindfulness

Where does the power to do what is right come from?

why bother

What is it that drives us to make a choice to follow one path or another? To commit to one thing but not another? We certainly don’t know what we are actually signing up for when we make that choice. Emotions change. Life changes. People change. Perhaps what we are going off of is an innate desire to find or feel purpose in our life.

We are born with some deep ingrained intention (which could be also seen as a “purpose”; i.e., “why am I here?”), which is likely developed by either what is fed to us as children, something we create on our own, or a mixture of the two. In most cases we don’t fully understand this “purpose” or “intention” until we’re older (some never understanding or even contemplating it).

Nevertheless our actions are guided by these, whether they be conscious or subconscious. But somehow, in our darkest moments, our intentions/innate and individually defined purpose(s) sneaks back into our mind and reminds us who we are, and to hold strong and move forward, or else we will be violating our ‘agreement’ to our purpose in life. It serves as a motivation in life and an internal compass when we’ve lost our way. Some people refer to it as our “internal GPS”.

And that’s where struggle and suffering comes in. That’s where maturity comes in. Until we see life as it really is (shit doesn’t always work out in our favor, things don’t go according to plan, and sometimes we gotta jump ship and give up), BOTH the great and the devastatingly disappointing pieces of life must be accepted, or we won’t be able to fully mature. And when things go south, there’s that miraculous reappearance of our “internal GPS”. As humans we are constantly going off course from our “path”. Did you know planes are off course 90% of the time?! They just keep correcting according to the GPS. And so do humans. We just don’t realize we have this internal GPS that’s guiding us.  Those who are more aware and in tune with their internal GPS tend to self-correct frequently and very quickly. Those who are not as aware tend to take a bit more time (and unfortunately some end up crashing, having to put themselves back together and trying over again).

Getting in touch with our internal GPS is risky, scary, and quite challenging. It means sacrificing temporary moments of pleasure or pleasantness for a longer, and much more delayed gratification. And in that time of sacrifice, we know nothing. Will it work out? Will we fail? Will our partner cheat on us, or lie to us, or die on us? Is this a good investment? Will I lose my job? Will I get cancer? We never know. One thing we have to remember is that our purpose is never fulfilled. Goals can be fulfilled, but our purpose isn’t. Because that is our lifeline. If I were to tell you my intention is “to be the best version of myself” in all times, I could also tell you that I fail majority of the time, and that I can’t say “I did it!” 6 months down the road, or even 20 years down the road. It’s a constant battle that guides me, my choices, and how I life my life daily.

Why bother!?
That’s where faith comes in. Following our internal GPS requires devotion; not to a person or thing, or even an idea, but to something bigger than ourselves. A faith that when we continue to follow our path, we will find what we are looking for. And this is the beauty of life. Balancing our reality of being human with our hopes, dreams, and desire to fulfill our “purpose” while we are alive here on Earth. We balance it all, taking care of ourselves along the way. Balance…

Letting Go

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It is extremely challenging to remember in times of strife to “let go”. It’s difficult because oftentimes we don’t catch ourselves in the moment trying to control things. Leaving our lives and will to an unknown (some call it a higher purpose or “god”) can feel like throwing away or abandoning all our hopes and dreams. But by practicing the art of letting go, we later learn that rather than destroying our identity or what we believe is important to us, letting go is more like simply letting go of our attachment to the outcomes. We still have dreams. We still ambitions. We still have desires. And we should.

But after a while, we come to understand that the process of “letting go” isn’t something we just “do.” It’s something we experience and apply daily in all aspects of our life. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard. It can’t be rushed, pushed, or forced. But it can, for certain, begin, after we take that first step. And then the second. And then the third. And keep walking forward. Step by step. Day by day. We move forward courageously as we are not used to letting go of our perceived control over life.

It meant trusting. Just like knowing the feeling of warmth by experiencing cold, we must learn trust by experiencing deceit. Sometimes life’s greatest blessings are life’s toughest lessons and without them we would not be where we are, who we are, or have what we have.

“Letting go” to me, meant trusting that life isn’t happening to me, but for me, and that it’s ok to let go of the desire to only feel “warm”, and just allow it to be cold sometimes.

We come to trust and believe in something bigger than ourselves and that whatever that is, it knows exactly what we need in order to get to where we need to be, and we acknowledge and accept that even though sometimes we think we know better, the fact is that we don’t. We make mistakes. We are all human.

We come to understand that our strongest moments are not when we are fighting against that which simply is, but when we learn to find peace in the midst of it all. Looking back, we see courage and resiliency.

When we are able to find peace in the moment, it gives us clarity into the situation, the people we are dealing with, and who we are and how we want to respond. It gives us strength to hold off on impulsive reactions that we may later regret, and guides us into making decisions we know we can live with. Sometimes “to let go” is something big like entirely letting go of the situation or relationship, and sometimes it is simply putting ourselves in a “time out” while we calm down and open ourselves up to a higher power or “divine guidance” or “intuition” or whatever you want to call it.

When we are able to calm our mind, body, and spirit, it helps us “see” what is going on without any of our default filters (e.g., anger, sadness, insecurity, etc.). By letting go of our need to control things and people, we find something we never expected: that we are in good hands- always have been and always will be. We are surrounded by supporting, loving people. We have the tools and resources we need to get through this.

We reconnect with ourselves and our heart. We come to understand that our heart, like any muscle, can only get stronger through exercise. It is normal to find ourselves tired of exercising our minds, hearts, and bodies, because it requires quite a bit of effort, consciousness/mindfulness, and a little bit of being uncomfortable. It’s ok to rest sometimes. But exercise, we know, is the only way to get the results we want (a better body, a better mind, or a better heart). So we bravely continue exercising our heart, which can sometimes feel like tension. We know tension all the time is not good, but no tension at all is also bad for us. In order to have strong hearts and minds and bodies, a good balance is all we need. When we start to understand that (and don’t let ourselves fall into one extreme or another) in a sense we are beginning the process of “letting go.”

When we let go, we find a sense of calmness, which in turn makes us better prepared to make decisions that will positively help us through sticky spots, rather than “shoot from the hip”. When we make well-informed and aware decisions, disappointments affect our inner peace much less. But when we get ourselves to this place of calm, we begin to truly feel like the captain of our own ship again.

A Prayer for World Peace

monk-hands-faith-person-45178.jpeg(This excerpt is from the book is called “Pray, Meditate, or Both?”)

A common question is, “What’s the harm in praying for world peace?” And the problem is in the idea that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to make peace happen. It begins with you. So if you want to know how close we are to world peace, look within.

Prayer and meditation are both wonderful. In-fact, reciting a prayer is a common meditation practice (like the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, for example). Where there is hatred within, train your mind to sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. Do not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; or to be loved as to love; for it’s in giving that we receive, it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it’s by letting go of the concept of a separate “self”, that we are born to eternal life.

By being grateful for what we have, we generate energy toward more of the same. So don’t focus on what you DON’T have, because energy flows where attention goes (you would just wind up with more of what you don’t want). Meditate to keep your mind firmly fixed in the right direction, and it will raise your awareness of things to be grateful-for in your prayers. See the beautiful relationship between the two practices?

 

On Being Lonely

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We become lonely because we yearn for connection from another human being. We desire to be heard, understood, and appreciated. And when these fundamental needs aren’t met, we feel lonely.

With these feelings we look outward for friends, events, romantic partners, and sometimes even addictions to fill that empty feeling looming deep inside of us.

And when we finally find that friend, romantic partner, or we go to event after event, we still feel empty in the short breaks in between. And we take great notice of that lonely feeling, and more often than not, we are pulled to fill even those small moments with anything so long as we don’t feel that loneliness.

The moment in which we feel the most connected with another person, is when we feel vulnerable. Why? Because we have exposed ourselves, our hearts. We have allowed another person to sit with that with which we were uncomfortable sitting alone with. And when we find that even under our deepest vulnerabilities and flaws, we are still loved, we are still valued, we are still WORTHY, it is then that we feel complete.

Paradoxically, without other people, we are incapable of “exposing” our vulnerabilities, yet it is precisely these vulnerabilities that we are afraid of exposing for fear that we will be rejected. Being vulnerable takes risk. It takes being humble, and a bit of humility. Being vulnerable takes a tremendous amount of courage. Most importantly, being vulnerable means being human. We are all flawed.

There’s a catch, and it’s a rather big catch. The trick to maintaining that feeling of being whole is to embrace all those vulnerabilities on your own. Being whole isn’t contingent on anyone but yourself. So if you find yourself courageous enough to humble yourself and become vulnerable, in that moment of vulnerability, know that it is not to gain acceptance or love by another but to live in your truth. And yes, if there is anything that you see in yourself that you do not like, you alone are responsible for changing it.

People are mirrors that reflect both the things we love about ourselves and the things we despise. This is why being vulnerable and true in your relationship is so important- to clearly see what is being reflected back to us.

When you begin loving and embracing who you are, we begin to love ourselves, and when we end up in moments with ourselves, we suddenly realize, we are not alone, and we are whole.

A Mindful Toolbox

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When asked about meditation or mindfulness, we need to be careful about the use of certain words that can be a real turn off to many- like “spiritual”, “light”, and “energy”. While there’s nothing wrong with those words, it’s like throwing a bucket of water on a lit match- the match being those who are curious but weary of trying it out. When you’re going through a hard time, no one wants to hear “I’m sending you love and light”. What the hell is that?! Will I feel it when it arrives? Am I now obligated to send it back?

When I’m asked about coping mechanisms, therapy options, and ways to overcome the hard times, I have to be very cautious about what words I choose and with whom, because while the tools I’ve learned or know of are effective, they are not easy to “sell” if you label them with religious and spiritual tags. If presented in the wrong way, they can either come off as overwhelming, impossible to implement, or even boring and ineffective. The problem with this, is that we’ve seen through science and research that these “mindful tools” actually work in treating anxiety, depression, addiction, codependency, and can positively promote one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Over the weekend, I was speaking with someone who was at the end of their rope dealing with their partner’s addiction and PTSD. As I was trying to explain the benefits of mindfulness and being “present” (as opposed to ruminating on past events or future desires) I explained that I’m not always “being mindful”, and when I’m stressed I don’t always go find a cushion to sit on and meditate my stress away. Practicing mindfulness, meditating, practicing gratitude, patience, compassion, etc., these are all just tools that I selectively choose to pull out of my “Mindful Toolbox” when I find myself in a rut. Using the right tools at the right time is the key to effectively solving problems. It is easy to think drinking (or any addictive behavior) our problems away is an effective tool for reducing stress or eliminating our problem, but unfortunately as much as we want to believe it, it just makes our problems worse or can extend the length of time we suffer. That is obviously not the right tool for those times.

And while it would be nice if we could just have that one “Swiss army knife” that “did it all” unfortunately, there isn’t one in life. That said, here are just a few tools that I’ve found work well for me, and when I use them:

Gratitude: Like a screwdriver, it can be used to put together almost anything. So long as you have screws. In life, when things don’t go our way, we feel “screwed”. We often don’t see anything positive about what we’re going through. Everything is so immediate. Practicing gratitude is an awesome tool to use, not just when things get sticky, but daily. Every morning, the moment you wake up, take a few deep breaths and think or say out loud: “Thank you for another day. Thank you for this breath.” Because frankly, the alternative is you don’t get another day and you don’t get another breath… yikes…

Patience: Patience is comparable to a cordless power drill. First, you need to know how to use one, and second, if you don’t have the right charge, your tool is useless. Patience isn’t about sucking it up and bottling up all your disappointment and anger. It’s about realizing you can’t build anything unless you’ve got a positive charge, and in order to do that, you can’t have a negative charge. Take a time-out if you need to. Breathe, and get positively charged. Not everything needs your immediate response. Patience is what keeps you from saying and doing things that hurt yourself and others in the long run. And although it seems counter-intuitive, it actually gets the job done much faster than shooting from the hip. You can see clearly and because of that, your chosen response comes from a place of meaningful and positive power as opposed to negative chaos.

Compassion: The glue that binds everything together. There’s this famous story in Buddhism about lunch in heaven and lunch in hell. Both places have a gorgeous set up with huge dining tables covered with the most delicious food, and both places require that the only way to eat the delicious food is to use the forks provided. The problem is the forks are 5 feet long. Obviously, in hell, they suffered for eternity, unable to eat because the forks were too big. In heaven, they were happy and full, as they used the forks to feed each other. This is compassion: the conditions in our human life can be the same, but depending on our attitude and beliefs, the way we experience life will vary significantly.

Love: This is about as close as we will ever get to having a Swiss army knife. Love truly is the answer to everything; but the problem with this is that very few people understand what Love really is, and out of all the tools in the Mindful Toolbox, is probably one of the most difficult to master.

What is love?

Love can be understood and experienced in so many ways. But to me, my favorite definition of love is found in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4-13:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, is not selfish, and does not become angry easily. Love does not remember wrongs done against it. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices over the truth. Love patiently accepts all things. It always trusts, always hopes, and always continues strong. Love never ends… When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child; I made plans like a child. When I became a man, I stopped those childish ways. It is the same with us. Now we see as if we are looking into a dark mirror. But at that time, in the future, we shall see clearly. Now I know only a part. But at that time I will know fully… So these three things continue forever: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.

How to Solve Our Human Problems

New reading and it is beyond AWESOME. Just wanted to share…

When things go wrong in our life and we encounter difficult situations, we tend to regard the situation itself as our problem, but in reality whatever problems we experience come from the side of the mind.

If we responded to difficult situations with positive or peaceful mind they would not be problems for us. Eventually we might even regard them as challenges or opportunities for growth and development.

Problems arise only if we respond to difficulties with a negative state of mind. Therefore, if we want to be free from problems, we must transform our mind.

 

-How to Solve Our Human Problems, by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Life Hack: Feeling is Healing

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Feeling is healing. But “feeling” is not the same as “expressing our emotions”. A great example of the difference between feeling and expressing is this: The other day my older son took a toy from my 1 year-old. My 1 year-old felt really upset about that. He expressed his feelings in two ways: first, he screamed, and then he tried to hit his big brother. While neither are what we would call “good behavior”, unfortunately, they both are pretty normal for that age. Fortunately, we grow up and realize that hitting and screaming don’t get us what we want and usually don’t solve the problems we think we have. Ideally, with the help of positive role models and experience, we learn alternative, more healthy and productive ways of expressing what it is that we are feeling and are able to discern if expressing is even necessary.

Paradoxically, when we feel something and are unable to express it, the feelings are left unattended and can lead to personal and internal negative consequences like a build up of resentment, anger, self-loathing, and sometimes even depression. What’s interesting, though, is that even if we do express what we feel, if we do it in an unhealthy way (like hitting, yelling, screaming, threatening, hurting ourselves, getting drunk, engaging in unhealthy sexual behavior, etc.) we are still left feeling pretty crappy in the end, maybe even a little embarrassed, and mostly unresolved.
*** This is the beauty of life. ***
I think being human IS THIS. An experiment (maybe even a game?) of feeling something and then trying to express it so that it can be resolved. If we are successful, we identify and implement the healthy ways of expression (which for me usually comes with trial and error…lots of error…). If you think about it this way, literally EVERYONE can be a winner! Every opportunity that passes through our life is an opportunity to learn expression – and from expression comes resolution. From resolution comes resilience and ultimately, an openness and love for all that life has to offer (good and bad).
Feeling to heal isn’t just about expressing negative feelings. Positive feelings also need equal expression. Did you know there are actually people that have a hard time expressing gratitude and joy? I know because I used to be one of them (and sometimes still struggle with this). People afraid to show ANY emotion. Interestingly, the consequences of not expressing even our positive feelings leave us (and sometimes others) feeling bummed. Imagine feeling immense joy at your baby’s birth but being completely expressionless and not showing any emotion? Imagine being at your own wedding with an expressionless face? This is why how we express our feelings is so important! It’s a way to connect with ourselves and others.

But in order to heal what’s hurting inside us, we first have to feel it, and to “feel” it means we open ourselves up to it. In other words, we look at it, we allow ourselves to have those feelings, face them, and honestly acknowledge them. They are real! If they weren’t, you wouldn’t have them. To open ourselves up to what is going on inside of us and allow it to flow through is key. Yes, sometimes that means shedding a tear or two! But sometimes the feelings can be so intense we freeze or want to run from them! The good news is that feeling our feelings doesn’t require us to express it immediately or at all. It just requires you to honestly see it and say hello to it.

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This is where the magic lies! Once we are able to honestly see it and say hello to it, somehow, we then are able to successfully and productively express it.
So the next time something happens and you feel something (let’s take anger for example), try saying something like, “oh, something in me is feeling anger. Hello anger. So this is what anger feels like. Yes, I am feeling anger right now.”

I know it sounds cheesy, but it works! What do we do with that anger once we’ve said hello to it? We’ve owned it, we’ve acknowledged it, and we’ve totally taken it in our complete control. We are now empowered with a life-changing opportunity to ask ourselves, “OK! I see am feeling anger right now. How do I want to express that?”

Oftentimes, we realize that we either don’t need to after all, OR we are at a MUCH better place emotionally and mentally to find a truly positive and productive (and less harming way) of resolving the underlying problem.

Life can be hard. Why make it more difficult than it has to be?

A Journey to Inner Peace

I think we spend our whole life wandering for something we lacked at some point in our young lives. For me, it was a relationship bond. Since I didn’t get it from my parents or siblings, my whole childhood and young adult life was spent on a subconscious journey looking for something or someone that would make me feel “bonded” like one would feel in a deeply intimate relationship found in a parent-child relationship. That feeling of being unconditionally loved, protected, supported, maybe even adored… Even if I thought I had found someone to fill my void, somehow I always felt afraid, anxious, and isolated. Would they leave me? Hurt me? Abandon me? Abuse me? Betray me? I felt as if I was a beggar for “love”, and that even a small crumb of affection was enough, so long as I felt someone “cared” about me. This was truly a life lacking inner peace.

What I’ve learned through years of failed relationships, rejection, and loss is that we will always feel fear, anxiety, and “lonesomeness” if we are always looking for strength from external sources (other people, money, sex, drugs, you name it). It’s cliche and frankly pretty annoying to hear that over and over again, but unfortunately (and fortunately) it’s true. It’s unfortunate because that leaves us completely responsible for our own inner peace and strength. It’s fortunate because that gives us complete power over our own inner peace and strength. When we are at peace, genuinely, from the inside, there is no sense of lack. We feel full and are thus not grasping at the false sense of security we cling to on external matters like money, what our body looks like, and the “bonds” of relationships, etc.).  In other words, we are at peace with what we have and who we are, and we are not obsessing over what we feel like we need or currently don’t have.

I was always looking for security in the bonds of relationships when I was supposed to find it in myself. Even now as I am grieving the loss of my marriage, I have to be honest about what it is that is shaking my inner peace. Is it truly grief? If it is grief, how much longer is it going to be grieving before it’s me just throwing an extended self-pity party? Perhaps this sadness is me feeling bitter for not getting the “bond” I was hoping to get through my marriage.

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If I had to be brutally honest, the ironic thing is I never “really” had it in any relationship. That “bond” never existed in any previous relationships, nor did it exist in the marriage I was so desperately trying to hang on to. The reason I didn’t have it wasn’t necessarily because the people I was with were jerks (most of them were! But that’s not why I didn’t get my “bond” I was looking for). The main reason was because I was looking for it in the wrong places.

I was SO desperate for that bond that I kept desperately grasping for that thing that I’ve never had like a mad man blindly grasping for anything in the darkness. I started noticing a pattern in how my relationships developed. When I thought I was close to getting that “bond” or even thinking that maybe I “had it”, somewhere in my subconscious I may have thought that it was something I was naturally entitled to, and thus when my relationships didn’t make me feel secure the way I thought they should, I got angry.  I lashed out. I blamed. Maybe I even subconsciously believed that the other person “owed” it to me…?

But is it possible to miss something you never felt? Is it possible to grieve something you’ve never had and thus never “lost”? If I had never known the flavor of chocolate, would I live my whole life searching for my long lost chocolate? Maybe I had a sniff of it, or thought I saw someone else with it… or maybe I even heard an amazing story about it and it peaked my interest so much that I set out looking for this amazing chocolate…It sounded divine…It sounded like heaven… “I MUST HAVE THIS!” I told myself…

Getting out of meditation is usually when I get my “aha moments” and today I had this one:

“Just let it go. You never had it and you obviously don’t have it now. It doesn’t mean you’ll never have it, but just that you don’t need to throw a fit because you can’t have what you currently don’t have. If you really needed it, you would have it! The fact that you don’t have it and have made it this far in life, means you don’t need it. At least, for now…”

**Granted, I actually do have this with my children, and with so many of my friends and family members. Sadly, I was only looking for it in a romantic partnership and thus couldn’t see that I had it already.

While I can’t say this is true across the board, it just resonated with me today. It told me it was time to get over it and live life already! I’ll be fine! Just like I’ve always been! Me chasing after something I obviously didn’t need has only gotten in my way, kept me from my purpose and passion, and created unnecessary suffering. Ugh…so much needless suffering… Why would I do that to myself?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be loved and valued, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be in a meaningful and loving relationship, but there is something seriously wrong about demanding it and throwing a fit or allowing your happiness and inner peace to disappear if you don’t get it.

Reminder to self: 1) If you want something, you have to be willing to give it, and screaming and demanding shit isn’t going to make you or anyone happy. BE LOVE. That shit makes people happy, including yourself (yup, even when things aren’t going your way). 2) Sit tight! Enjoy the ride. Literally, that’s your only choice at this moment anyway! By being love, you get love. By being present, you find inner peace. And THIS is where true strength and joy are found.

Soulful Detox Moment for Reflection #1: JOY

Sometimes I don’t have much to say on a topic, so instead of trying to make some lengthy article, I’ll make small reflection bits I’ll call “Soulful Detox Moment for Reflection”. Starting today!

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Reflection #1:

Joy…

What if JOY was not something that you feel; not something that someone “makes you feel” as a result of something outside of your control, but a REWARD that comes to you when you are being “other-focused” and less self-absorbed.

How motivated would you be to stop focusing on yourself?

 

Sending Love…Instead of Hate

I came to realize that when I held negative feelings or thoughts toward another person, I began to suffer. I felt pain. Heartbreak. Sadness.

Yet nothing inside me wanted to feeling anything more than that, toward the person that had hurt me the most.

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So the longer I held on to those negative feelings, the deeper they grew inside me. The sadder I felt. The lonelier I felt. But what was worse, was that his behavior never got better. In fact, it got worse. And the worse he got, the more bitter I got (you can see where this goes, right? Nowhere.)

I began to take a step back from my own personal experience and thoughts toward this person and tried to put myself in his shoes. This man was clearly suffering. Yes, I too, was clearly suffering. That meant we had something in common. If we were both suffering, was I contributing to his suffering in any way? I definitely could identify how he was contributing to my suffering. What I hadn’t realized was that a lot of my suffering from his actions was the beliefs I had about them. I thought they were personal.

What would happen if, instead of seeing his behavior as personal, saw it as a “lack of skill in dealing with his suffering”? What would happen if, instead of muttering hateful words about him, I said a small prayer for him? Dear God, bless his heart. May he know peace, kindness, compassion…

It didn’t take away the fact that he was responsible for dealing with his suffering in a more skillful way. It didn’t justify his behavior or make it “ok”. What it did was to help me take it less personal.

If I were him, with all his experiences in life, would I make the same choices? Would I feel the same? I don’t know, and that is a fact. All I did know was that he was dealing with it the only way he knew how.

Why do we do the things we do? Why do we choose the way we choose? I believe it’s because all of us, no matter how good or “bad” we are, simply don’t want to suffer. So we make choices daily, hourly, and sometimes by the second to avoid suffering in search for joy.

Sometimes our choices hurt others. Sometimes our escape from suffering comes at the cost of other’s pain. We, too, are just as guilt of causing others pain.

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We will never have the ability to make people change, or learn better coping mechanisms so that they can stop doing what we don’t like (and if you try, you will constantly subject yourself to more suffering, which is insanity), but what we can do, and where our power lies is directly in how much negative energy we put into ourselves and onto others based on circumstances that are completely out of our control.

When it is raining, you can curse the sky, but the rain doesn’t care. It still rains. How you feel about it and what you choose to do in the rain is your choice.