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How to Stop Suffering

health & vitality mind & meaning Jan 15, 2022

As we continue grow and evolve, we may experience some "opposing" energies in the form of negative emotions or unexpected life events. 

Whether it’s caused by past trauma, loss, or other intense emotional events, experiencing depleting emotions ("suffering") is an inevitable part of life. But fortunately, we each have the power to ease our own suffering—even if the process requires tiny incremental improvements.

"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." - Haruki Murakami

This power stems from the fact that our brains and nervous systems are programmable mechanisms, and by becoming agents in our own programming, we can move closer to the happier, more fulfilled and productive lives we deserve. 

In Episode 76 of The MINDset Game® podcast, ordained yoga master (and my Yoga Nidra certification instructor) Eric Walrabenstein discusses the concept of brain programming as he shares various events in his personal life that eventually led him to yoga. Eric began his career as a U.S. Army Infantry Officer—an experience that ultimately did not provide the sense of meaning and purpose he was seeking. After transitioning back into the civilian world, Eric realized that he was struggling with PTSD caused by a violent attack he had experienced at age 17. When he began incorporating yoga and meditation into his journey to healing, Eric discovered valuable lessons about the body-mind organism. He shared some of these lessons in his conversation with me.

“As we roll through life,” says Eric, “we are always programming ourselves or being programmed by our experiences. Sometimes that programming is helpful, and sometimes that programming is unhelpful…but it’s always possible to make movement in the direction that we want to if we use the right techniques and practices.” 

Some of those techniques and practices include examining your samskaras, which Eric defines as impressions or activators—little bits of mental programming that shape your view of the world. To release the samskaras that are no longer serving you, Eric suggests starting with a commitment to being curious and asking questions about why you feel the way you feel and react in the ways that you do. 

Another important step is to realize that negative emotions, such as frustration, impatience, and anger, do not come from external circumstances alone—they are the results of your circumstances combined with your programming. And since you can’t always change your external circumstances, the most effective way to overcome these negative emotions is to “do the inner work” and focus on transforming your brain programming.

…but what about when you are navigating very difficult circumstances, such as grief over the loss of a loved one?

While grief is a normal and natural process that we all experience in life, Eric says that it’s important to approach the grieving process in a way that’s optimized for healing. For instance, while it may not be possible to make your grief better in a particular moment, you can certainly make it worse through psychological resistance—layering regret, anger, and other negative thought patterns on top of the grief.

One helpful technique that Eric suggests is asking yourself, “How can I come into the most harmonious relationship possible with what is happening?” He notes that in devastating situations, the goal is not to move from being completely miserable to perfectly happy, but rather to move from being 100% miserable to 99% miserable, and so on until you’ve “synthesized a different experience in the midst of the same circumstance.”

Other lessons that Eric shares include:

       The true meaning of karma. This commonly misunderstood concept is not some divine accounting of what you’ve done right and wrong—rather, it is essentially a law of cause and effect. The most important parts of this cause-and-effect process are happening inside of you, which means that you have the power to alter your own karma by altering your samskaras, programming, habits, and beliefs.

     •  Strategies for managing the energy of your body-mind organism in a positive, productive way. For instance, Eric suggests focusing on your breathing patterns and striving to make them mimic the patterns you have when you are feeling calm and relaxed, as well as being deliberate about where you direct your attention.

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