A mostly unspoken ideal in the world we live in is unfettered stoicism – we all admire people who don’t flinch in the face of adversity. People who don’t whine or complain about their problems. People who work hard to achieve their dreams with nary a complaint. Even in relationships, people never seem to tell each other how they feel directly. We play these little word and mind games with each other, and then complain when we are misunderstood. Essentially, we have entire societies filled with people who aspire to live with no attachments or messy emotions.
It’s unsurprising, really. In a world where we can, for fun, literally put our lives on display for the world to see, how could we not try a little too hard to paint ourselves in a completely positive manner?
But the truth is this: we can’t avoid having negative feelings. No matter how hard we try, we can never get away from the chemical secretions our brains periodically use to colour our perceptions – even if, sometimes, the colours are kind of ugly. Our attempts at maintaining a constant, Zen-esque calm at anything and everything life throws at us by emotionally distancing ourselves from anything is… well… laughable. Consider this quote from Buddha himself, the one guy we all look up to when we want to stay cool and zen:
“The root of all suffering is attachment.”
Most of us know this quote – you’ve probably seen it on the feed of some hipster’s Facebook page, typed out in cursive font underneath a badly cropped pictured of the Buddha. What most people don’t know is that, according to Zen Buddhism, this statement is generally considered a type of ko-an, which is basically a riddle of sorts designed to screw with your head.
You see, if one were to follow through with this statement – get it tattooed on your left buttcheek, shave your head, sell off all of your possessions, and fly off to Nepal or something to live in the mountains with a bunch of goats, you would find yourself completely miserable still. Think about it. You’d be enjoying that awesome mountain view, but somewhere in the back of your head you’d still wish you had a phone to snap a picture of the moment with (#eatpraylove #wanderlust #findingmyself #positivity #nopainnogain). Three days later, while picking at the bowl of grass that is supposed to be your breakfast, you’d quickly get an insane craving for chicken nuggets. Give it another week or so, and you’d get on a plane back home, ashamed and frustrated with yourself at your failure to rid yourself of desire.
Why? Because, as the Buddha discovered during his days of meditation under a tree, it isn’t possible for one to live without emotion, or attachment. The desire to not desire is still…well, a desire. See? You can’t win! In fact, a huge source of anxiety comes from the frustration at having the desire to not desire, on top of all those other desires you can’t get rid of anyway.
If we are to truly find happiness and satisfaction with our lives, we have to understand that we are only human, and that the negative feelings and attachments we form are perfectly normal, and nothing to be ashamed about. Let’s be open with our feelings, our wants, and our desires, all so we can better control what we do with them.