Regardless of the source or the circumstances in which our upset occurs and whether its source is internal or external, we are trapped. We’re feeling big feelings. We’re wanting to feel anything but the pain. We want to press 'delete' or 'rewind' and go back to the prior moment and the reality that preceded this one. Anything but this. Ugh! Life!
There are two chief causes for upset in this life, including the essential suffering of existence (i.e., the Buddha’s first teaching); one is when we’re not chosen and the other is when we don’t get what we want.
And then we do what we’re conditioned to do: We identify the cause of our upset and yearn for an apology.
There are two chief causes for upset in this life, including the essential suffering of existence (i.e., the Buddha’s first teaching); one is when we’re not chosen and the other is when we don’t get what we want. Often, we identify the cause of our upset as other people — people who didn’t choose us or the person, group, or institution that didn’t give us what we wanted. Our friends will commiserate with us, “You got screwed, man,” and they’ll agree that we deserve some kind of acknowledgment or apology. It's no surprise, for that is how we’re conditioned (and our conditioning isn’t a “bad” thing — it just is). We tell our toddlers to apologize when they grab another child’s toy and we repeat it over and over through the years until we release them into the world.
Does the expectation of receiving an apology contribute to our upset in adulthood?
Does the focus on the cause of our pain contribute to it rather than help to release us from it?
Identifying a scapegoat is a distraction. Apology is only salve. But being with and inquiring of your pain will always yield truth (and thereby the ease you’re actually after).
If we encountered an empathetic person, rather than offer us a sandwich (I'm referring to Brenee Brown on empathy) they would sit with us and with our pain. Sandwiches are salves. An empathetic person might, in addition to sitting with us, get in touch with pain they felt in a similar situation to yours and “be” with that similar feeling. They wouldn’t offer you a sandwich — because however nourishing it may be, a sandwich offers a surface level of help. A sandwich touches the surface of your upset just as the figure-out-who-is-to-blame/get-them-to-apologize-method does. If we can, ourselves, be the empathetic person, then we can sit with our own upset without distracting ourselves with fixing it.
Feel, don’t fix.
If you’re reading this blog, you’re interested in what’s available by going deeper than the conditioned, the surface, and the status quo. You’re interested in the true self and the lessons beyond the blame dimension. Enter lesson five from A Course in Miracles: “I am never upset for the reason I think.”
One, if you dig deeper, you’ll find a truer reason why you’re upset; and two, our conditioned self and true self operate differently.
I take this lesson to mean two things: One, if you dig deeper, you’ll find a truer reason why you’re upset; and two, our conditioned self and true self operate differently. In many ways, the way the conditioned self operates is automatically whereas the true self needs us to manually operate it.
As you think about the source of the upset, let yourself consider the possibility that the source you think is the source…isn’t.
Bring to mind something you’re upset about -- something you’re just a little bit upset about. What’s it about? Were you upset because you were disregarded or because you didn’t get something you wanted (or both)?
As you think about the source of the upset, let yourself consider the possibility that the source you think is the source…isn’t. (That’s not going to be easy for everyone. We like to identify the accused and decide he’s guilty before examining the evidence.) This will beg the question, what is the source? If you’re not upset for the reason you think, then why might you be?
I believe the reason is this: Unmet, unconscious expectations or desires are usually the source of upset. (Do your own investigations to see how that theory holds up.)
I worked with a woman who was upset about a social etiquette issue. She was in the right, they were in the wrong. The error others were making was omitting her name on Christmas cards they sent to the home she shares with her longtime boyfriend. Now, it was only a couple friends of theirs who did not include her on the holiday cards; other friends began to send cards addressed to them both sometime over the dozen years they’d been dating. She said, “It’s so rude of them not to include me on the card!”
She was being disregarded.
We talked about what the intention, if any, was behind their omitting her name from the holiday cards. She asserted, “These people are friends of his from when he was married — maybe it’s their way of refusing to recognize that life has moved on, my boyfriend has moved on. I’m in his life now. Maybe they don’t like that fact — or me.” One of my guesses was that they simply considered themselves friends only with her boyfriend rather than as couples who are friends with other couples.
We went around and around, attempting to dissect the intention of the object of blame (the people sending cards without her name on them). Yet nothing lessened her upset. Finally, I asked, “What does it mean to you that your name isn’t on those cards?”
“It means that I’m not a permanent part of my boyfriend’s life,” she said.
So I asked, “Aren’t you?”
And she said that of course she’s a permanent part of his life, adding, “We’re as good as married.”
And then an interesting thing happened. Her eyes filled with tears. “I guess there’s a part of me that doesn’t consider myself a fixture of his life in the eyes of others…” she said, discovering her truth as she spoke, “because…we’re not married.” She then discovered and admitted that there’s a part of her that wants to be married and a part of her that feels there’s a hole in their commitment without marriage. “But—we both agreed neither of us wants to get married again,” she added. (Her boyfriend was in the room during this discussion.) So, there it was. Truth.
She wasn’t upset for the reason she thought. She wasn’t upset about the holiday cards. She was upset about the feeling of vulnerability in her
She wasn’t upset for the reason she thought. She wasn’t upset about the holiday cards. She was upset about the feeling of vulnerability in her, which may or may not have to do with being unmarried to her longtime boyfriend. (One could unravel that next “source” of upset, too: The source of her next level of upset may not be due to wanting to be married but rather to something beneath that.)
If you’re interested in this kind of exploration, here are a couple additional ways to ask this question, also found in lesson five in A Course in Miracles:
I am not angry at _____ for the reason I think.
I am not afraid of _____ for the reason I think.
I am not worried about ____ for the reason I think.
I am not depressed about ______ for the reason I think.
I was able to fill four pages of my journal this morning with ideas about my being upset yet not for the reason I thought. By the end, the source of my upset wasn't interesting anymore and the upset had transformed into a kind of grief-y hope.