Andrea Dinardo, Anxiety, Emotions, Eudaimonia, Fear, Free Spirit, Happiness, Health, Human Nature, Life, Living, Meditation, Mental and Emotional Health, Nature, Quality of Life, Resilience, Spirituality, The Art of Living Well, Well Being, Wilderness

The Power of Nature to Combat Anxiety, Dread, and Fear

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul discusses how spending time in nature — and especially spending time meditating in nature — can combat anxiety, dread, and fear.

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THE CRITICS EXPLODE! “Paul Sunstone knows no more about nature than Rupert Snider, the Denver tourist, once knew about the ravenous hunger of bears fresh out of hibernation.  To the horror of his tour group, Snider tried to pet a black bear in the spring of ’98.  The last he saw of his arm up to the elbow was its being carried off in the mouth of a mamma bear on her way back to share it with her cubs.  To the horror of his readers, Paul Sunstone has written yet another one of is eternally ignorant nature posts. The world would be a better place if a bear could be persuaded to make off with both his typing fingers.”  — Gus “Gunning Gus” Johnson, The Blog Critic’s Column, “Leper’s Gulch Gazette”, Leper’s Gulch, Colorado, USA.

Continue reading “The Power of Nature to Combat Anxiety, Dread, and Fear”

Anxiety, Being True To Yourself, Conservative, Creative Thinking, Creativity, Fear, Free Spirit, Fun, Human Nature, Life, Oppression, Passion, People, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-determination, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality

Our Fear of New Things

(About a 4 minute read)

“Somehow, as adults, we think we have to be perfect at everything that we do. So instead of trying something new, we don’t because we don’t want to make a fool of ourselves.”  — Jennifer Koshak

My mother had a genuine conservative streak in her. By “genuine”, I mean she sought all her life to save the best of what she found in life, to conserve the things of great value to her.

Along with her conservative streak, however, she loved to try new things.  New foods, especially — at least, so long as they were not spicy hot.

Continue reading “Our Fear of New Things”

Alienation From Self, Angst, Anhedonism, Anxiety, Attached Love, Attachment, Buddhism, Delusion, Depression, Emotional Dependency, Emotions, Fear, Fun, Gluttony, Greed, Happiness, Human Nature, Life, Love, Lovers, Marriage, New Love, Quality of Life, Romantic Love, Self, Self-Knowledge, Sex, Wisdom

Pleasure is Like a Fire: It Warms You or it Burns

(About a 6 minute read)

I will be among the last people on earth to become an ascetic.   The idea of rejecting pleasure — all pleasure — for any reason gut-punches me.  It’s alien, it’s unnecessary, it’s outrageous.

Or at least that’s what my instincts tell me.  Whatever the reason, I simply wasn’t born to be an ascetic.  Not my path at all.  Someone else may “get” asceticism, benefit from it, but not me.

So it might seem curious to some of you that I have gone a full two years in my life without even once laughing out loud.  Not once in two years.

Continue reading “Pleasure is Like a Fire: It Warms You or it Burns”

Anxiety, Art, Boredom, Deity, Goals, God, God(s), Gratitude, Homeless, Human Nature, Late Night Thoughts, Life, Obsession, Poetry, Quality of Life, Television, Unconditional Love, Wisdom

Late Night Thoughts: Personalities and Ecosystems, First Dates, Thinking Gods, and More (July 21, 2018)

(About a nine minute read)

It’s becoming evident to me that our personalities are in some ways like ecosystems.  One thing affects another, and if we aren’t careful when we go about improving things,  we can run into unintended consequences.

Back when I was in business, I became obsessed –there’s no other word for it — obsessed with time management and achieving or exceeding my goals.  For some years, I worked hard to improve myself along those lines, and it paid off quite well at first.

Each day, I would, while eating a quick  breakfast, review all my goals, both business and personal, both short and long-term.  By the time I got to the office, I was so focused that very little could completely distract me from what I intended to accomplish for the remainder of the day.

But I took it too far.  One day, I was sitting at a stoplight when it turned green while a pedestrian — an woman perhaps seventy or even eighty years old — was still in the crosswalk.  She was using a walker, you see, and quite a bit slower than I wished.

I didn’t honk at her, creep my car forward — nothing like that.  I had plenty of time that morning.  Besides, it had of course happened many times before that I’d had to wait on a pedestrian.

But this time I became aware, as I never had before, just how harsh were my thoughts towards her.  I was basically treating her in my head like a treat a fierce business competitor.  She was between me and what I wanted to accomplish, and with a bit of genuine shock, I realized what it really meant that I was not seeing her as fully human.

Of course, after that, I began to see other unintended ways my assiduously cultivated ability to focus my efforts had altered me.

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Have you noticed how felt gratitude possesses in some much smaller measure the power of unconditional love to renew us, to make us born again?

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How to save money on a first date…

GLORIA (At Door):  Hello!  You must be Paul, yes?  Well, here I am, Gloria!

SUNSTONE: Welcome, Gloria!  I’m so pleased to meet you!  Did you have a hard time finding my place?

GLORIA:  Not at all, but I must admit, I was a bit taken back at first that you wanted to meet up at your cottage.  That’s quite unusual you know, for an online date.   But then you explained you don’t own a car.

SUNSTONE:  What convinced you to come anyway?

GLORIA:  I was reassured when you said you wouldn’t insist I came in.  Nothing personal, you know, but you can’t be too cautious on a first date.

SUNSTONE:  Thank you so much  for coming. I’ll be ready in just a moment, Gloria.  I have to make a quick phone call to animal control.  My cat has escaped and I’m sure she’s in the neighborhood somewhere.

GLORIA:  Of course please make your phone call.  I’ll wait here.   What does your cat look like, in case I spot one while I’m waiting.

SUNSTONE:  She’s got green eyes, short tawny fur, big paws, and weights about 300 lbs.  You might actually spot her:  She never goes much further when she gets loose than the first pedestrian she spots.

GLORIA:  Three..hundred…pounds?  I can see in your eyes, you’re not joking, or are you?

SUNSTONE:  Oh no, she’s quite the mountain lion.  I raised her from a kitten.

GLORIA:  Oh My God!

SUNSTONE:  You’re welcome to wait inside if you’d like.

GLORIA:  Yes, yes, I think that would be a good idea.

SUNSTONE: By the way, I have Netflix and, even though I’m not much of a cook, it won’t take long to make some of my deep-fried mac and cheese….

GLORIA: I cannot believe this is happening!

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A petite homeless woman knocked on my door one night last winter, the day of the first snow of the season.  She had about twenty reasonable requests of me, not more than one of them that I granted her.  Five dollars for cigarettes was all I gave.

“Uncharacteristic of me”, I thought after I’d sent her away.  But while she still was there, the thought had crossed my mind, “She might steal from me if I let her in, and turn my back”.

It wasn’t much more than a mild self-caution, but it had been enough.

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I have long been uncomfortable with the notion that a god — if one or more exist — thinks.  To be sure the notion is an anthropomorphism: That much is granted.  But it seems to me an especially preposterous anthropomorphism — much on the same level as believing a god had a beard.

For one thing, what we humans mean by “thought” is essentially symbolism.  That is, our thoughts bear much the same relationship to reality that a map does to its terrain.  When we think of a house, we’re not doing anything greatly different in principle from what a cartographer does when he or she places a small dot, a star, or a square on a map to represent that house.

But suppose that’s the same as what it means for a god to think.  Wouldn’t that place god at least partly outside nature — outside the natural universe — in much the same sense a map is separate from its terrain?  I think so, and that rather alarms me.  I’m not a theist, but if I were one, I would believe in a deity that was co-extensive with the natural universe, rather than in any way outside of it.

Yet my preference for a pantheistic deity is merely personal.  There’s no reason to hold that view other than for one’s own reasons.  To me, a more serious criticism of the notion that deity thinks begins with the recognition that thinking takes time.

The thought, “I’ll go to the store, buy some milk, lace it with Colorado weed, and sneak it back onto the shelf — fun, fun, fun!”, doesn’t normally present itself in our minds all at once unless we’ve previously come up with it.  Rather, it takes time for those thoughts to unfold.

But what would that mean to a deity?  Would it not mean the deity was subject to time?  Subject to past, present, and future thoughts?   Or if Einstein was correct in suggesting that time is an illusion, then for the deity to think like a human, it too much suffer from the same illusion.

Moreover, if it is the case that deity is subject to time, then doesn’t that imply the deity is at any given moment (except, perhaps during the very last moment of its existence) not omniscient, not all knowing?  For it would not know what it’s next thought would be.  And if is not all knowing, how can it completely know what it itself is?  As an example, if it was external, it would not know it — being subject to thinking within time.

There are many implications besides those, but I think you might see the point now:  To say deity thinks like we think is at least to say that deity is limited in knowledge and perhaps subject to at least one illusion.

Then beyond all that, you would have the problem that humans have cognitive biases, are notoriously imperfect at predicting the future,  entwine thought with emotion, and can’t keep their minds off the studly guy or beautiful gal next door, etc, etc, etc.

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Fragment of a poem in progress:

How many souls would we need
If we needed one for each soul
Stolen or lost by us
On the way?

And what sum of souls is tallied
By thirty years without loving —
Without loving freely?

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Tonight, it strikes me as curious morality and wisdom are not the same thing.  I often hear people defend the practices of distant ages by saying something along the lines of, “Well, given the morals of that time and place…”.   Perhaps.  But have some things always been wise?

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In a novel written in the 1920s,  a woman is planning a dinner party she’s giving for about a dozen guests.  Carefully, very carefully, she considers each of several seating arrangements,  imagining as best she can the conversations the different arrangements will prompt.  She pays little attention to who has the honor of sitting next to who: It’s the conversations she’s focused on.  And she goes further than that.

She plans how she will prompt each guest at key moments through-out the evening with questions she’s selecting just for them.

My father was born in 1900.  In the early 50s, he noticed the conversations among his circle of friends had begun to shift away from a wide range of (probably pre-selected) topics and towards talking about the high points of the past night’s or past week’s television shows.

“The art of conversation is dying”, he told my mother, “It will be buried soon.”

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“There are no boring speakers.  Only bored audiences.”  — Speaker forgotten, but an English lord, circa 1890s.

One day, an old couple in their 70s came into the restaurant where I had just begun waiting tables.  It was my first day, and I didn’t yet know who the regulars were, but it didn’t matter in their case, because they very quickly told me they’d been coming to that restaurant for lunch almost every weekday for the past forty-two years — ever since the day or so after they’d gotten back in town from their honeymoon.

Before I had time to fully digest that incredible news, the woman pleasantly instructed me, “Just tell Amie” — she was the cook —  “we’ll have our usual sunny-sides-ups today.  And, young man, I’ll need the jar of salsa you’ll find on a shelf in the mini-refrigerator at your waiter station, please.”

It wasn’t until after my shift, and I had time to reflect, that it fully sank in how odd  anyone would spend forty-two years going for lunch to the very same restaurant!

As the days turned into weeks and months, they certainly did come in nearly every weekday, excepting only the weekends.  I noticed they had almost no conversation between them.  They would more or less routinely invite others — usually semi-regulars — over to their table and then they might chat lively enough.  But on those occasions when they sat alone, they were almost totally silent.

Sometimes it seems quite curious to me we get bored with the people we love the most.  After all, isn’t boredom so often a form of turning away, of withdrawing from people in practice, if perhaps not actually in principle?

♦♦♦

Was it television that did in the art of conversation during the 1950s?  Or was it the decimation during the war of the upper classes — the people mostly responsible for sustaining the art?

Anxiety, Bad Ideas, Behavioral Genetics, Belief, Evolution, Fear, Friends, Genetics, Happiness, Human Nature, Humor, Life, Love, Lovers, Neuroscience, Play, Psychology, Quality of Life, Relationships, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Society

Dealing with Fear of Rejection

(About a 22 minute read)

One of the mysteries of my life is that sometime between my 37th and 39th birthdays, I lost my fear of rejection.   It simply disappeared, evaporated, without my having done much of anything to overcome it.

It’s been about twenty years now, and I can only recall a single instance of the fear returning during that time.  That happened six years ago, and though the memory of it is still vivid for me, the fear lasted only a few hours.  I was visiting someone from my childhood, an older man that I had looked up to, and whose rejection I was always afraid of incurring.  It was more of a flashback to old fears, than the emergence of new ones.

Now, it seems to me possible that I’ve had other episodes of the fear during the past twenty years, episodes I no longer remember.  But if so, it does not seem likely they are many.  Instead, my memories are of doing with ease things that would have once made me feel awkward or embarrassed — or that I would have once never risked doing at all for fear of rejection.  To be clear, I can’t say rejection has never concerned me in all that time, but I think I can safely say that any concerns I’ve felt have very seldom risen to the level of fear.

Which is a good thing because the fear can be debilitating.  It can significantly influence your daily life, causing you to behave in ways you might not otherwise behave.  Among other things, the fear of rejection can impact your partnership and marriage prospects, your friendships, your other personal relationships, your career, and the quality of your life in general.  You can pay for it not only in lost opportunities, but also in anxiety, acute self-consciousness, social awkwardness, and even emotional suffering.  It is even for a few unlucky people, significantly more traumatic than hearing my poetry sung aloud!

The Science of Rejection

So far as I can find out, scientists have been studying rejection for about two decades now, but the focus of most of their studies has been on rejection itself, or the pain and suffering it causes, and not on the fear of rejection per se.  In this post, however, I will do the opposite by focusing more on the fear of rejection than on anything else.  Still, let’s start out with a few things the scientists have discovered.

One fascinating discovery has been that the brain by and large does not distinguish between the pain of rejection and physical pain.  Instead, it uses pretty much the same neural pathways to process both kinds of pain.  In brain terms, a broken heart and a broken arm aren’t all that different.

In fact, this is so much the case, that Tylenol can actually work to lessen the pain of rejection.  In one study, scientists placed a group of people on a daily regime of Tylenol for three weeks.  Then, in the actual fun part of the study, they brought the people into the lab, where they arranged for them to be cruelly rejected.  By placing these lucky people in an fMRI scanner, the scientists discovered that the folks taking Tylenol suffered significantly less pain from being rejected than the folks taking sugar pills.  Again, the brain treats a broken heart and broken arm much the same.

One difference, however, has to do with memory.  That is, we can relive and re-experience the pain from rejection much more vividly than we typically re-experience the pain from physical injuries:

Try recalling an experience in which you felt significant physical pain and your brain pathways will respond, “Meh.” In other words, that memory alone won’t elicit physical pain. But try reliving a painful rejection (actually, don’t—just take my word for it), and you will be flooded with many of the same feelings you had at the time (and your brain will respond much as it did at the time, too).  [Source]

So why is emotional pain in the case of rejection so closely linked to physical pain and — at least in our memories — even more vivid than physical pain?

The short answer is, because we’re social animals.  The slightly longer answer is that for millions of years during our evolution, we and our ancestors lived in circumstances in which getting kicked out of our community meant nearly certain death.  Humans generally don’t survive all that well outside of groups, except in the fictional imaginings of some authors, adolescents, and ideologues.  Consequently, those individuals who became our ancestors — that is, lived long enough to have offspring — were the folks who suffered the most from rejection, thus making them the same folks who took the most care to avoid being rejected by their groups.

  Obligatory Warning Lable

The science, while fascinating, is still very much emerging, and does not — so far as I can find — thoroughly address the question of how to deal with the fear of rejection, which I think can be at least as consequential in its own ways as the pain of rejection.

Naturally, at this point, I would like to be in a position to tell you that my years of relative freedom from the fear of rejection have provided me the “the seven secret insights” into how you, too, can overcome the fear of rejection, and that those powerful insights can be yours for only $29.95!  But the fact is, I can’t.  The best I can offer you is a mix of science and personal observation virtually guaranteed to mess up your life that might or might not prove useful to you.  In other words, it’s up to you to test these things for yourself.

Three Things That Probably Won’t Work Alone

Going through the online advice on how to deal with the fear, I repeatedly came across three things that I believe — based on both science and personal experience — are unlikely to work.  As I see it, if you try them and they do in fact work for you, then you’ve beaten the odds.   With that said, here they are in no particular order:

• Overcome your fear of rejection through willpower alone!  This is what I tried for a number of years with limited success.  For instance, when I young, I made a point when attending parties to introduce myself to as many women as I could.  However, it took an act of will to make myself do it, because I was actually rather shy back then.  I did find out, though, that I could indeed now and then will myself to do it, and that it did indeed pay off on occasion.  So why do I say “it probably won’t work”?

Overcoming fear through sheer force of will is problematic for a few reasons.  First, it requires a sustained, conscious effort.  You need to keep reminding yourself, pushing yourself “all night long”, as it were, to stick with it.  If you stop pushing, you stop doing it.  Which means that it’s fairly easy to just give up at some point — especially if you are not met with immediate success.

Again, all the while you’re pushing, the fear is still there.  You are at best overcoming your fear, rather than bringing about an end to it.  And that means you are constantly feeling your fear no matter how hard you push yourself to act in despite of it.  That’s fine and dandy if you’re a masochist, but not so good if you prefer to  live without sweaty armpits.

Last, there’s the backsliding. You can be successful on Tuesday, and yet a disaster on Friday.   Again, this is because you have to keep pushing or you stop overcoming.  Put differently, sheer willpower doesn’t appear to have a positive learning curve.   In my experience, merely willing to overcome fear lasts about as long as most New Year’s resolutions before the backsliding sets in.

To be sure, I’m speaking here of willpower alone.  It should be noted, however, that it can be a vital first step when combined with other techniques.

• Overcome your fear through studying the causes of it!  It’s quite tempting — almost instinctual — to search for the causes of your fear in your past.  People who do this tend to discover any number of life events that caused their fear.  Everything from a hyper-critical parent to social rejection suffered in middle school.   But so far as I can see, all such analyses suffer from at least one major problem: They aren’t solutions.

No matter how accurately you identify the personal causes of your fear, the knowledge by itself does little or nothing to resolve the issue.  So something further is needed, but what?  Frankly, I’ve yet to come across in popular advice a “something further” that seems likely to work.  One author, for instance, advised conjuring up your memories of past fears, and then having the “adult you time travel back in your mind to reassure the child you that everything will be alright in the end”.  Somehow, I seriously doubt that will work for large numbers of us.

To be sure, I do not wish to discourage self-examination.  Knowing yourself is key to so many good things in life, but in this case, it’s just not enough unless or until it can be combined with some other technique that will render it effective.

 • Overcome your fear by focusing on the good things that will come from acceptance rather than on the bad things that will come from rejection!  The problem that I see with this nugget of advice is fairly simple.   Just imagine you’re in a poker game.  You’ve got $100 bet, and your feeling mighty anxious you might lose it.   Would the sensible way to overcome your anxiety be to bet another hundred?  Or a thousand?  Or ten thousand?  As you can see, the more you jack up the potential cost of losing, the more anxious you are likely to become.  So why should “focusing on all the good things that will come from acceptance” make you much more than acutely conscious of how much you’ve got to lose if you are indeed rejected?

To sum up, each of these three things seems to me unlikely to work all that well alone.  Yet, in combination with other techniques, I believe they can often enough make a contribution.

Therapies

Encounter therapy is a standard tool of psychotherapists.  Not to be confused with encounter group therapy, which is a very different thing, encounter therapy involves overcoming one’s fears by physically encountering them, over and over again, if necessary.  For instance, a psychotherapist might encourage an especially shy person to walk up and down a busy sidewalk bouncing a basketball in order to draw attention to themselves.  The shy person is thus forced to confront their fears.

Encounter therapy appears to be at least fairly effective, although I doubt it works for everyone.  For instance, back in the day when I was approaching women at parties, it never did get much more than temporarily easier to do so.  That is, it tended to get a bit easier as the night wore on at any given party, but by the time of the next party, I was back to square one.

 It seems to me that encounter therapy is best combined with play.  Put differently, it’s best to make a game out of it.  For instance, instead of bouncing a basketball down the street — which is for merely shy people — decide to directly confront your fear of rejection by setting yourself the goal of getting rejected by a stranger at least once or twice a day.  Setting a goal turns it into a game. Then go out and find a stranger.  Ask him or her to, say, give you a ride across town.  If by some odd chance they accept your offer, then find another stranger.  And keep at it until you get your coveted daily dose of rejection.

Sounds horrible, doesn’t it?  The fact is, it has actually worked for some people, and in my opinion, it most likely would work for most of us.  But it won’t work unless you begin by making yourself do it — and that’s where sheer force of will comes in.  Apparently, it’s best to keep at it for perhaps 100 days, maybe longer, in order to see decisive results.

If it seems rather daunting to bounce out of bed tomorrow morning on a mission from Café Philos to achieve being rejected by strangers twice before midnight, then perhaps you can ease your way into such a noble pursuit by beginning with visualization.

The basic idea here is to face your fears.  That may sound cliché but it’s actually a fairly effective technique.  You begin by, as vividly as possible, imagining a situation in which you are rejected.  Here, your memories can come in handy.   What was the worse rejection you ever experienced?  Drag that sucker up as vividly as you can recall it.  It can help to write it down in alarming detail.  The point is to get make it as real as you can.

Now intensify it!

Yup, you heard right!  Make it worse!  Think of some way it could have been even worse than it was, and then vividly imagine how you would feel if that actually happened to you.

Next, do it again!  Make it worse than the worse you thought it could be.  Rinse and repeat this fun game for an hour or more daily.  Spend at least ten minutes on each stage in the progression.  And remember — writing it all down is better than just thinking about it.

The astonishing fact is that is a science-backed method for putting a significant dent in your fear of rejection.  Your goal should not be to stop with visualizations though.  You should, when you’re ready, progress to actual encounters.

Frequent readers of Café Philos may be forgiven if — up until this very post — they thought I didn’t know anything about how to have fun.  I am quite certain, however, that I have by now laid that myth to rest once and for all.

A Cognitive Landmine

In general, I’m a great fan of the notion that we are more efficiently changed through our actions than through our thoughts.  Put simply, a hundred days of seeking a rejection or two a day is, in my opinion, more likely to ameliorate one’s fear of rejection than a hundred days of contemplation.

Yet, I have also noticed that sometimes no amount of experience will do the trick because the experience is being interpreted in a counter-productive way.  So I’m now going to mention one belief in particular that has the potential to undermine one’s efforts to deal effectively with the fear of rejection through action, or for that matter, through any other means.

The idea here is fairly simple: Emotions, very much including fear, are reactions to the world as we see it.  But the world as we see it is by and large informed by our beliefs about it.   “Was she laughing at me or with me?’  The answer I give to that question might say more about my beliefs about her, and about people in general, than it says about her in fact.  With that in mind let’s forget all about this stuff, break open the beer keg, and party till it’s Christmas! turn to a belief that could be the cognitive foundation of one’s fear of rejection.

First, I would suggest you carefully examine yourself to see if in anyway you might harbor the desire that everyone like you.  That can be a bit tricky to do because it requires great self-awareness.  Time and again, I’ve heard people say that they do not desire everyone to like them, only to turn around moments later to say something that directly contradicts that notion.  It seems to be a frequent mistake.

In fact, the desire for everyone to like you — whether you are conscious of it or not — is one way to create the fear of rejection.  That’s because desire and fear are companions.  To desire something is to automatically fear that you won’t get it.  To fear something, you must see it as capable of thwarting a desire, unless your fear arises as an instinctual, knee-jerk reaction to, say, a sudden noise.  Otherwise, fear and desire travel hand-in-hand.  So, if you desire for everyone to like you, you fear rejection from anyone and everyone.

Now, the desire for everyone to like you is based on the unrealistic belief that it is actually possible for everyone to like you.  Think about this carefully.  Even though people routinely say they desire the impossible, they don’t really do that.  At least not in any significant way.

For a desire to get hold of you, you must — at the very least — think that it is remotely possible for it to be realized.  You may tell yourself that you truly want to walk through walls, but you don’t fear that you won’t be able to.  You don’t ache when you see a wall you can’t walk through.  You don’t feel frustrated that the wall is solid.  In fact,  you show few if any signs of genuinely desiring to walk through walls.  Thus, if you come to an honest belief that it is impossible for everyone to like you, you will cease to desire that everyone will like you — and with that cessation, you will no longer fear rejection from everyone.  You might still fear it from some people, but not automatically from everyone.  At least, that’s been my experience.

It is important that this is more than a mere intellectual exercise to you.  Instead, the truth that it is impossible for everyone to like you must be real to you.  As real to you as a memory of an actual experience.  So, if you wish to take this approach to your fear of rejection, you must be willing to study the issue until you can all but see the truth.

Once you have become clearly aware of the various reasons not everyone can like you, you will find, I believe, that you have not only lost your desire for everyone to like you, but also quite often your desire for this or that person in particular to like you.

For instance, one reason not everyone can like you is because there are intractable personality conflicts between people that you or they are powerless to change.  But once you see that, you are very likely to recognize when you have encountered someone with whom you have such a conflict.  And you are no more likely to believe they can like you than you are likely to believe everyone can like you.

The bottom line is that if you harbor on any level a belief that everyone can like you, you need to root out that belief if you are to deal effectively with the fear of rejection. In my experience, if you can do just that much, you will have gone a long way toward solving the problem.

Gleeful Summary

There is much else that could be said about this subject but lucky for you, a blog post is not a book.  However, I’ll briefly mention some further ideas you might want to consider:

  • Try setting your expectations of being liked low, but not too low.  Put them in neutral, so to speak, rather than in forward or reverse.
  • Avoid end of the word thinking about rejection.  I have too many friends who bump up their fear of rejection by fantasizing that the actual experience will be far worse than such things tend to be.  Yes, it can be painful, but you’ll survive.
  • Check your motives for wanting someone to like or accept you.  Are they honorable.  Unless you are a fairly wicked person (in which case, we should get together for coffee), dishonorable motives will backbite you.  That is, the intention to, say, exploit someone will increase your fear of being rejected by them.
  • For much the same reason, avoid being hyper-critical of people.  If you are, you will tend to take it on faith that any rejection you suffer from them is because of some flaw of your own.  This is absolutely not true the vast majority of the time.  But if you believe it’s true, it will surely increase your fear of rejection.
  • Even if and when someone rejects you for yourself, try to see it as a compatibility issue, rather than a condemnation of yourself.  “She didn’t like your sense of humor”?  That says little or nothing about the quality of your sense of humor, and everything about her own tastes in humor, and how incompatible her tastes are with yours.  If you see it as a condemnation of you, your fear of rejection will blossom like a weed in your heart.
  • There are over seven billion humans on this planet, and perhaps a few million more politicians, too.  That’s a lot people, human and otherwise, and with that many people, there is no real reason you can’t find at least a few — say a million or more — who genuinely like you or even love you as a person.  But how to filter out the ones who do from the ones who don’t? Try looking at rejection as a filter that is actually helping you to do that very thing.  This might not decrease the pain of being rejected all that much (there is science to suggest it won’t), but it can in my experience at least decease the fear of being rejected — if you take it to heart.
  •  Now, if you take none of my advice save for one thing, then take this: Never, ever universalize rejection.  If someone tells you they’re dumping you because you’re “too kind”, never conclude that means everyone, most people, or even a significant fraction of the world’s seven billions will think you are “too kind”.  Never!  Such thinking is totally barking up the wrong tree, hounding down the wrong trail, sniffing the wrong crotch, humping the wrong leg.  Get my drift?  And worse, it will increase your fear of rejection nearly astronomically.

There ain’t no good guy.
There ain’t no bad guy.
There’s just you and me,
And we just disagree.
— Dave Mason, We Just disagree

Nine times out of ten, Mason is right.

I’m turning the conversation over to you now.  This is your BIG opportunity to cheerfully tell me how wrong I am!  Please feel free to share your thoughts, feelings, opinions, and stories in the comments section!

Abuse, Alienation, Angst, Anxiety, Authenticity, Compassion, Courage, Depression, Evolution, Fear, Free Spirit, Health, Human Nature, Kindness, Late Night Thoughts, Mental and Emotional Health, Oppression, Quality of Life, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Sexuality, Spiritual Alienation, Spirituality, Teacher, Values

Can a Person Who is Alienated from Themselves find Happiness?

Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

–Oscar Wilde

In Artic Dreams, Barry Lopez somewhere talks about an Inuit word for a wise person.  The word, if I recall, means “someone who through their behavior creates an atmosphere in which wisdom is made tangible.”  When I read Lopez a few years ago, I thought of Paul Mundschenk.  As I recall, I never once heard him claim to possess, say, compassion, good faith in others, or kindness.  Yet, he embodied those virtues, as well as others: He made them visible.

Mundschenk was a professor of Comparative Religious Studies, and, as you might imagine, I discovered he was inspiring.  But not inspiring in the sense that I wanted to be like him.  Rather, inspiring in the sense he showed me that certain virtues could be honest and authentic. I was a bit too cynical as a young man to see much value in compassion, good faith, kindness, and so forth.  I thought intelligence mattered an order of magnitude more than those things.  Yet, because of Mundschenk, and a small handful of other adults, I could only deny the value of those virtues; not their authenticity.

I can see in hindsight how I naively assumed at the time that we all grow up to be true to ourselves.  Isn’t that normal for a young man or woman to make that assumption, though?  Aren’t most youth slightly shocked each time they discover that yet another adult is, in some way important to them as a youth, a fake?

Perhaps it’s only when we ourselves become an adult that we eventually accept most of us are less than true to ourselves, for by that time, we so often have discovered what we consider are good reasons not to be true to ourselves.

If that’s the case, then I think there might be a sense in which Mundschenk never grew up.  That is, he just gave you the impression of a man who has never accepted the common wisdom that he must put on a front to get on in the world. He had an air of innocence about him, as if it had somehow simply escaped his notice that he ought to conform to the expectations of others, and that any of us who refuses to do so is asking for all sorts of trouble.

Now, to be as precise as a dentist when untangling the inexplicably tangled braces of a couple of kids the morning after prom night, Mundschenk did not seem a defiant man.  He was anything but confrontational.  Rather, his notably open and honest individualism seemed deeply rooted in a remarkable indifference to putting on any fronts or airs.  He simply couldn’t be bothered to conform.

Often, when I remember Mundschenk, I remember the way he shrugged.  I remember some folks for their smiles, others for their voices, but Mundschenk for his shrug.  It seemed to hint of Nature’s indifference, but without the coldness.  Which, I guess, makes me wonder: Is there anything unusual about someone who is both notably indifferent to himself and notably true to himself?

I was put in mind of Paul Mundschenk this morning because of a  post I wrote for this blog three years ago.  The post was intended to be humorous, but I titled it, “An Advantage of Being Cold and Heartless?“.   Consequently, the post gets two or three hits each day from people looking for advice on how to make themselves cold and heartless.

I can imagine all sorts of reasons someone might want to make themselves cold and heartless.  Perhaps someone they are on intimate terms with — a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a partner — is wounding them.  Or perhaps they are among the social outcasts of their school.  But whatever their reasons, they google search strings like, “How do I make myself cold and heartless?”

Nowadays, I think it is a mistake to try to make yourself tough, cold, heartless, or otherwise insensitive.  But I certainly didn’t think it was a mistake 30 years ago, when I was a young man.

Yet, I see now how my values and priorities in those days were not largely derived from myself, but from others. The weight I placed on intelligence, for instance, was from fear that others might take advantage of me if I was in anyway less intelligent than them.  I valued cleverness more than compassion and kindness because I thought cleverness less vulnerable than compassion and kindness.  And I carried such things to absurd extremes: I can even recall thinking — or rather, vaguely feeling — that rocks were in some sense more valuable than flowers because rocks were less vulnerable than flowers.  The truth never once occurred to me: What we fear owns us.

It seems likely that when someone seeks to make themselves insensitive, they are seeking to protect themselves, rather than seeking to be true to themselves.   If that’s the case, then anyone who tries to make themselves less sensitive than they naturally are runs the risk of alienating themselves from themselves.

Can a person who is significantly alienated from themselves be genuinely happy?  I have no doubt they can experience moments of pleasure or joy, but can they be deeply happy?  It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?  Perhaps a little bit like asking whether someone who wants a melon will feel just as happy with a pepper instead.

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Two Monks, Two Religions, and a Tale of White Lace Panties

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery”.  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Mathew 5: 27-29, New International Version

It is all but certain that Mathew 5:27-29, with its strongly worded suggestion that hell awaits those of us who lust,  has both terrified and dismayed more than one newly post-pubic boy or girl.  At that age, one is scarcely in control of one’s lusty thoughts, let alone one’s lusty desires.

Even though I am now 54, I still have a distinct memory of a moment in middle school when I was absolutely seized by the entirely accidental, one-second-long, sight of a classmate’s white lace panties.  If at that instant a bolt of lightening had struck me, I would not have noticed the additional shock.

It seemed to me at the time that it took ten minutes before I could again think.  And my very first thought afterwards was embarrassingly geeky: I thought of Mathew and wondered how anyone — anyone! — could be expected to control their sexual feelings.

Although it was a trivial event, it played a large role in shaping what I thought of Christianity during middle school and high school.  I had until then fervently embraced Christian ideals — or, at least, what I understood at the time to be Christian ideals — even though I was most days an agnostic.

But I began to suspect the ideals might be hopelessly impractical, and I turned an increasingly skeptical eye towards them.  By the time I began reading Nietzsche at 15, I was pretty well prepared to accept the notion that Christian ideals were not the Alpha and the Omega of values.

Strange how so much seems in hindsight to have ridiculously depended upon the second-long sight of someone’s white lace panties.

Of course, there are varying interpretations of Mathew 5: 27-29.  A lot seems to depend on how you interpret the Greek,  epithumeo.  It is commonly translated along the lines of “to lust”, or “to lust after”, which seems to suggest to many of us that merely desiring to have sex with someone out of wedlock will land us in hellfire.  And those of us who think that way appear to be in good company.  John Calvin, for instance, wrote, “This teaches us also, that not only those who form a deliberate purpose of fornication, but those who admit any polluted thoughts, are reckoned adulterers before God.”

Other folks interpret the passage more kindly.  Some argue that epithumeo should be translated as “a strong desire”, “to desire greatly”, or “to long for”.   And a few go so far as to suggest that, taken in context, it means, “to covet”.  In both instances, the notion seems to be that only an unusally strong or covetous desire will land you in hell.

Yet, regardless of how the passage should be understood, it is a pretty safe bet the passage is quite often understood to condemn those of us who have any desire at all for sex with someone to whom we happen not to be married.  C. H. Spurgeon almost joyfully writes:

So that the unholy desire, the lascivious glance, everything that approximates towards licentiousness, is here condemned; and Christ is proved to be not the Abrogator of the law, but the Confirmer of it. See how he shows that the commandment is exceedingly broad, wide as the canopy of heaven, all-embracing. How sternly it condemns us all, and how well it becomes us to fall down at the feet of the God of infinite mercy, and seek his forgiveness.

On the surface, at least, Christianity seems to raise quite a racket over the notion that our thoughts are absolutely crucial to our moral standing.  Yet, the notion that thoughts — mere thoughts — can be of great consequence to us was not entirely new by the time of Jesus.

The author of Matthew might have been the first person to stir hell into the mix, but the Buddha is alleged to have said some similar things 500 years before him.  For instance:  “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” Again, “Be vigilant; guard your mind against negative thoughts.”  And, last, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.  When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

To me, that last quote is the most significant of the three I’ve presented here because it tells us the benefit of guarding our minds against negative thoughts.  That is, a pure mind, free of negative thoughts, finds “joy”.  And, although I suspect that word “joy” is quite possibly a poor translation, the idea remains that some sort of happiness is to be had by cultivating a pure mind.

If we may now compare the Buddhist notion with the Christian one, we see certain similarities.  First, there is the idea that our thoughts are not merely idle, but have real consequences for us.  Both the Buddhists and the Christians seem to agree on that.

Yet, in the Christian case, as commonly understood, the consequences are potentially devastating: Eternal hell.  Naturally, I wish to say to Matthew, “Lighten up! Those were rather nice panties.  And besides, it was an even nicer person who was wearing them.  For that,  I’m going to hell?  Could you be any more absurd?”  Of course, the Christian emphasis on hellfire is distasteful, unless your aesthetic sense rivals that of a wolverine.

In the Buddhist case, the consequences are much less grim, if no less serious.  Instead of eternal hell, there is dukkhaDukkha is most often translated as “suffering”.   And, while it has that implication, I prefer to return to its original meanings.  There are three that I know of.

First, the word was once used to denote a lose fit between a chariot wheel and its axle, such that the wheel wobbled.  Second, the word was once used to denote a poor fit between a potter’s wheel and its stand, such that the wheel screeched when turned.  And, last, the term was used to denote a dislocated shoulder or hip.  The common meaning to all three cases is something like, “out-of-jointedness”.

Of course, there are many words to describe the consequences of that out-of-jointedness, “…including suffering, pain, discontent, unsatisfactoriness, unhappiness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and frustration.”  Or, perhaps, in other words, “hell on earth”.

If, when comparing the Buddhist and Christian notions of what negative thoughts lead to, you squint very long and very hard, the two notions can seem remarkably similar.  Especially, if you broaden the Christian concept out from its narrow reference to sexual desire, and instead think of the concept as encompassing any poorly managed desire, whether a poorly managed desire for sex, or money, or power, etc.   And after that,  you can take the Christian concept of hell and declare it is a mere metaphor for suffering on earth.   In the end, after all that intense squinting, the Buddhist and Christian notions might seem pretty much the same.

That’s a lot of squinting, though.

I have a little story that illustrates to me one of the most important differences between the Buddhist and Christian views of negative thinking.

Some long time ago, I came across an Evangelical Christian website that was busy conducting an informal survey on the subject of, “Should women and girls dress modestly to help their brothers in Christ avoid lusting for them?”  The question brought to my mind a Zen tale of two monks:

[The monks] were travelling when they came to a swollen stream. Standing in the road beside the stream, wondering how she might cross, was a beautiful young woman. Without hesitation, the older monk picked up the woman and carried her across the stream. She thanked him and went on her separate way. The two monks then travelled on together for several hours, until the younger monk, deeply troubled, could no longer remain silent. “Brother, aren’t we forbidden to have any physical contact with women?”, he asked. Replied the older monk, “I put her down several hours ago, but you are still carrying her.”

Now, the word, dukkha, in addition to all the other many ways it can be translated, can also be translated as “clingingness”, or “emotional clingingness”.  And, when we hear the tale of the two monks in light of that fact, it might become apparent to us that the younger monk was clinging — emotionally clinging — to the young woman long after she was gone and out of his life.  While, of course, the older monk had both physically and emotionally let go of her several hours ago.

To my mind, that tale illustrates that, to the Buddhist, the real problem is not simple sexual desire, but rather, sexual desire that is clung to, that is nursed, that is dwelt on, that is cultivated, and thus sustained beyond its natural course.

Put differently, it is not, perhaps, the thought itself that makes it negative, but our all too human tendency to emotionally cling to the thought that makes it negative — a tendency that, unfortunately, can often lead to “… suffering, pain, discontent, unsatisfactoriness, unhappiness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and frustration“.

Last, it seems to me that the Christian concept of negative thoughts, understood in its broadest possible sense, all too often leads to the notion that others should take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings.  The Evangelical website phrased it as a question, “Should women and girls dress modestly to help their brothers in Christ avoid lusting for them?”  But why should that even be a question?  From a Buddhist perspective, we — and we alone — are responsible for our emotional clingingness.

At any rate, it’s early in the morning, the birds are singing, and it’s time to turn my attention elsewhere.