Walks of Mind

Illuminating What Goes on in our Mind

Please enjoy reading this walk. It has been created by John Cochrane for your interest and, hopefully, benefit.
It is offered in the spirit of one person sharing with another.

Why is Everything in Life Always so Difficult?

The Challenge of Life

©John Cochrane 2005-2006

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Have you heard that wonderful metaphor “seeing your glass half empty rather than half full”? Some of us have that tendency, to focus on what we do not have rather than what we do, to underrate our achievements and overrate our challenges. And, of course, those of us that tend to do this can also tend towards general grumpiness, pessimism, resentment, depression, and so on.

So why don’t we just snap out of it? Why do we stay in this ‘human condition’ for so long? And how did we get into it in the first place? Why do we insist in believing at times that life is so difficult?

This walk is an exploration of why we tend to think of and experience life in the way that we do and why that sometimes can lead to an approach to life that seems so set on being pessimistic, or at the very least cynically detached. We see how that faculty that we are so proud of, the power to reason, can come at an unacceptable price!

This walk is, it must be said, a bit of a wiggly walk. The steps that I am going to highlight are familiar in one form or another to many of us but perhaps not quite in the ways that I am picking out and not linked together in the way that I expose.

We shall be looking at some aspects of our mind that can give us a false idea of what life is all about. And we start off with a look at wants, perhaps not the most obvious place to look for a belief of difficulty!

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‘Wants’ – the Start of the Difficulty Addiction.

Do you find yourself wanting things in life that you do not have? Of course you do, unless you have adopted a particular spiritual path that explicitly addresses personal wants. Most of us though are not monks, advanced spiritual warriors, or minimalists. We live in a world that plays on and prays on our wants, a world that seems to offer opportunity, but at a cost.

What is this ‘must-have’ trap and why do we keep on falling into it? Why do advertisers bombard us with such obviously manipulative images of the good life if only we buy a certain brand of car or shop in certain stores, and why do we keep on, literally, buying into it? Why do we vote for the same old group of politicians when we know full well that many of them are selling us snake oil?

I think the best place to look to begin to answer these questions is at what we do when we want something. There is a very simple process that goes on in our mind that is being exploited here, and it can have some far more serious consequences for us than simply responding to advertising. It all starts with a want or, more precisely, the opportunity to realise a want.

Let’s take this step by step and see what comes out of it.

We start by experiencing an opportunity, for example we may meet some interesting new person, or we may hear of a job becoming available, or we may come across a special deal on a new personal organiser as our daughter’s birthday approaches. You will have your own examples, but I’ll follow these ones through for a while.

In recognising the opportunity we also begin to recognise a want, which is expressed through some of the thoughts that we have and through some feelings of well-being and perhaps excitement; “Oh wow, this person is just so vital and alive and shares some of my deepest interests”, and “I have been wanting to change jobs for some time but there has been very little available”, and “I want to give my daughter something special for her birthday this year”.

As our want surfaces and we also seem to have a chance of achieving it, we may begin to fear that events can come between us and achieving the thing that we want. We may begin to fear that our want will be denied. “Although my new friend is great to be with, they are often away on work trips and they have many other people who want to spend time with them”, and “I’m not sure if my qualifications are all in order for the new job”, and “Finances are so tight this month I’m really not sure if I can afford the organiser after all”. OK, I am sure that these are not exactly the words that would go through your mind, our private thoughts tend to be short and to the point, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Because of the fear we tend to start to evaluate and plan, to attempt to reduce the fear. The more we plan and the more we recognise and give serious consideration to the want, the more we become focussed on the thing that we want and the obstacles that may come between us and it. “My friend is never around and I can’t seem to get to them on the phone – they have not returned my calls and I don’t know what is going on”. “That new job is further away than I thought and the hours are a stretch and they are asking for detailed references”. “There is a time limit on the organiser offer and I have to make my mind up soon or lose the chance of getting it”. Now we are beginning to get some feelings of anxiety.

We are inevitably faced with our own question; “Are you going to go for this or not?”

And we have reached a key piece. One of the prime roles that our conscious mind plays out is that of decision-making. When we reach a point where we start to see challenges to getting something that we want then our mind will get active. And it is a very particular kind of decision-making that is going on, our conscious mind attempts to make a logical choice. Our conscious mind attempts to make the ‘right’ choice. Our conscious mind attempts to make the best possible choice.

In order to make any kind of logical choice our mind needs information. Part of this information will be the facts of the case, the price, the description, the immediate alternatives. However, in reality the majority of information that the mind has to work with is not factual. It is a challenge for most of us to judge just how much we want something, or to be precise about what we are or are not prepared to accept, and how do we compare a financial cost to a personal benefit?

But don’t forget, our conscious mind is just the tip of the iceberg. Our conscious mind may have a logical basis but will also make use of our memories and our existing beliefs to reach a decision, to make intuitive choices. The main difference between decisions in our racial historical context and the decisions we are making in modern society is timeframe. Where our ancestors made relatively immediate choices based on survival, we often have time to choose, to doubt our own choice, to choose again, and to go on doubting and re-choosing. I think that we rely much more heavily today on our conscious choosing than our ancestors did in the past and we spend more time making and remaking our choices. We place more importance on choosing than our mind was evolved to provide for and inevitably we spend more and more time investigating and attempting to weigh the importance of our alternatives.

Personal Power Tip:

If a choice seems really tough to make it often doesn’t much matter which way you choose, the benefits and drawbacks of each are roughly equal .

Our conscious mind, when faced with making a choice based on poor information or making a choice that is closely balanced, will inevitably seek more information and will try to make use of our existing beliefs and memories. Our conscious mind will seek to fill gaps in information and to compare benefits to costs by opening up to our deeper, normally non-conscious, motivations and insights.

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This is how this might play itself out in practice. When we perceive the challenges to our want we also begin to evaluate the benefits that we think we will get from achieving our want, and particularly those that look as if they offer more of what we want or add to our sense of self-worth. “It’s been a long time since I met anyone like this and, when I do get through, they seem really keen that we meet up. I sense that we could build a really strong relationship”. “If I got that job I could afford to get a new car and maybe even move, which would sort out the issues around the working hours and it would also get me into a much better area”. “I forgot my daughter’s birthday last year and I really want to get her something special this year, and this is by far the best thing I’ve seen so far”.

The very act of attempting to make a best choice has us focussed not on the most likely but on the best and the worst that may happen. Our mind spends time investigating that which we do not have and fearing issues that will stop us getting what we want.

 

The Must-Have Trap.

Oddly this step, of evaluating benefits against cost, advantages and disadvantages, of knowing what we want or what is ‘best’ for us, is one where we often think that we are in control. We think that we are pretty good at working things like this out, and we may even take the struggle that we can find ourselves in as evidence that we can do this, that we are able to make tough decisions. But there is something going on here that we are often unaware of even as we go through the ‘logic’ of making a choice.

We like to think that we are rational sensible people, able to make informed choices. But is this actually what is going on? Often we do not have the information we require to make an informed choice, and we may be choosing on the basis of a poorly defined want. Elsewhere we look at the layers of activity that together make up our full mind, which includes both conscious and non-conscious parts. The conscious part of our mind may be able to make use of a form of reasoning, but the non-conscious parts are also active and are directly able to motivate us and influence our conscious thoughts.

Our conscious reasoning mind will make use of any information it can to try to come to a firm decision. If an answer is not easily available it will look for deeper benefits and seek out hidden challenges. If we achieve the object of our want, what will we also achieve?

We begin to attach our opinion of our self to the want; if we get what we want we shall be fulfilled, or we shall be recognised as important, or we shall be able to relax. “I shall be able to open up more if I can find a kindred spirit and I’d love to share my interests with someone that really understands and really cares”. “I could be really proud of myself with this new job, it’s a real step up from the dump I’m in now”. “My daughter would be really happy, she’d know I was a great dad after all”.

We are making predictions about what will happen in the future. On one side we predict the challenges we face and on the other we predict how life will be better if we go with this opportunity. We set fears on one side and a give ourselves a promise of a better life on the other. We are actually beginning to play off our deepest wants and aspirations against our deepest fears of failure.

As in our mind we now have some personal value to gain from getting our want, the fears of not getting what we want turn into fears of losing that self value. If we do not achieve our want then we shall become a lesser person. “I am so fed up with being on my own, I’ve been waiting all my life for the right one to come along and I’ll be really lonely if this does not work out”. “I can’t take my job any more, all the back-biting and politics are making my life a misery”. “I’m going to really be in the dog house if I don’t get my daughter a decent present this year, she deserves a better father than me”.

Do you recognise this thinking? Maybe for you it only happens in one or two areas or you may find yourself agonising over many issues. Clearly here the glass is half empty – the focus of our thought is either on the thing that we want but do not yet have or the challenges that face us and the fears that we have around those challenges.

Our deep feared beliefs may be triggered: “I am lonely”. “I’m unhappy”. “I’m a bad father”.

Our mind has us hooked. Our original want has grown in significance and we have moved into high-stakes thinking without really checking out on the way what is appropriate and what is not. As we now have so much to lose, our want becomes a must-have, something that has become important to our very being to achieve, our want has turned into a demand.

In seeking to make a clear and logical choice, to identify benefits and costs, our mind digs into our deepest wants and our deepest fears. Beliefs that are held and acted on at a non-conscious and non-verbal level are activated, and these directly influence our decision making.

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The basic steps are:

We recognise that we want something.

  • We recognise that there is a chance that we will not get, or may subsequently lose, the thing that we want. In order to give ourselves the best chance of getting what we want, part of us begins to evaluate the possible issues and, by predicting what may go ‘wrong’, we build on our fears that we will not get what we want.
  • To confirm to ourselves whether we really want to go for this opportunity in the face of all these fears we attempt to dig out the personal benefits we may gain and establish whether our want reflects something that is deeply important to us.
  • We may even give ourselves a simple choice to give up or go for it:
    1. Option 1 – Give up on our want: We can reduce the possible loss by ‘not caring’ about the end result and we can thus avoid worry and uncertainty. But this only works if our want is small and it is, after all, also a denial of our want.
    2. Option 2 – Go for it: Look for ways to make sure that we can get what we want. We look at our options for overcoming challenges. This tends to show up both the problems and the personal benefits and has us checking every possible situation, and looking for weaknesses in our solutions. We magnify the issues facing us and demand of ourselves that we make perfect choices. We demand that we keep to a particular and well-defined path of actions to avoid the pitfalls that we have predicted. Our want has been translated into a demand, a ‘must-have’.

Each time we choose to ‘go for’ our want we are, at some level, committing to it, and we are committing our ‘self’ to it as well. In this way we make ourselves more and more dependent on getting what we want. Our self value becomes attached to the outcome.

And this is why and how advertising works, it engages our mind in such a way that we are making choices based on our deepest wants, choices that are not really based on logic at all but based on a must-have demand that comes from our deepest motivations. Choices based on our very sense of self.

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Unless we catch it, from recognising a possible chance we move to a high-stakes game where our very sense of self is vitally attached to the outcome. Whether it be buying a house or car, or stretching in a career, or selecting a school for our kids, or just living life from day to day, we can find ourselves driven to achieve, we can find ourselves stressed and stretched way beyond reasonableness. And often, we do not know consciously how we have got here and why. It may even seem to us that we are driven to focus in on the object of our desire whether we wish it or not, like an addict.

This process of becoming attached to an outcome has us hooked on achievement, and forever conscious of challenges.

When we are young or at times when we are able to achieve much, the challenge of life can seem exciting and rewarding. But there usually comes a time when we find it more and more of a stretch to meet the challenges. When this is running, our mind will focus on the challenge rather than the chance, so of course we will experience life as problematic rather than bountiful, we will tend to believe that life is difficult. And the more we believe this the more we will tend to think in this way, it becomes a self-fulfilling mindset.

Personal Power Tip:

Tune in to your use of the words ‘must’ and ‘have to’. See what happens when you ask yourself “But what do I actually want?”

 

More Problems with Attachment

So now we have uncovered some important points. Even when we are not faced with difficult choices we have a natural ability to convert a want into a struggle. Our very attempt to make choices that are in line with our greater wants and to make choices that are self-supporting and right for us can have us struggling with our deepest fears.

But we have not finished this walk yet, there is more to learn about attachment.

There are a whole series of additional behaviour patterns that we can identify as coming from a state of non-conscious demanding, a state of becoming attached to a particular outcome, and this is particularly so when we look at relationships.

For example, there are several things that are I hold as important to me in relationships of all sorts. I want to be accepted and I want to be valued. I want to be treated fairly and with respect. But what if I have fears of rejection or low self-esteem?

When we are not accepting or valuing ourselves it becomes easy to believe that others do not accept or value us either. Or we may get into wanting people to give us the valuation that we are not giving ourselves. We can end up seeking approval, attempting to please, and avoiding confrontation.

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By seeking approval, for example, we seek feedback from someone else that we are OK. If we get the approval we are seeking then we can avoid some of our own self-belief that we are not acceptable. Just as we have seen above, out of a want to be valued we create an attachment that is an attempt to prove our self-value and deny our underlying belief that we are not of value.

This seeking after feedback from others about our own value, or lovability, or existence, is bound to fail however. If we do get the response we seek, we will tend to believe that we are getting that response because of the behaviour we have put out. We may even realise that we have manipulated to get a given result and so the result will be suspect when we do get it. Also, we will tend to believe that perhaps we are being humoured because, in our secret fears, people can see through our pretence of being. Also, the feedback of others does not directly address our own beliefs about our self, they only give us temporary reassurance if anything at all. Because of these we shall very quickly get over and cease to value any feedback that we do get and shall go back to the beginning again, seeking after confirmation from others. It becomes a repetitive, habitual, behaviour that never gives us what we want.

So, proving-based repetitive behaviour has us seeking recognition that we never really benefit from. We strive and do not achieve.

Striving and not achieving. Working and not getting. Isn’t that another definition of ‘life is difficult’?

There is another point to notice here:

If we do not get the approval or appreciation that we seek then we can take this as our fears coming true! If our behaviour does not give us the response we want then does this not prove that we are actually unacceptable? So we’d better try harder next time! At least, this is what our ‘logical’ mind will tend to deduce if we leave it to itself. And yet again it ends up with a view of life as challenging and difficult.

The problems with attachment, with making our valuation of ourselves dependent on achievement of a particular outcome, are that we tend to devalue the results that we do achieve. The achievement does not disprove our beliefs about ourselves. And, we get to focus on the ‘problems’ of life. Attachment leads to proving behaviour and by seeking to ‘prove’ ourselves of value we reinforce our own poor self-image and we get to think of life as difficult.

Personal Power Tip:

When you find yourself trying to justify yourself or wanting to explain, you are very likely getting into proving. Ask yourself “What am I believing about myself that is not true?”

 

Time for Feeling

How are you feeling as we progress along this walk? I ask this very purposefully right now because I want to highlight the fact that our mind very much includes feelings. This walk is looking at how the apparently reasonable logical thinking that we do every day can lead us to a belief of life being tough, challenging, difficult, or hard. However, when that belief is active we may also notice some feelings. The chances are that whilst you are on this walk you will get some of the feelings that go with your own beliefs. You may feel frustration if you are struggling to understand what my points are, or you may feel fed up if you are getting in contact with your own belief, or perhaps you feel relief as you gain insight into what is going on for you.

The feelings that we typically experience when we are holding life as difficult are the feelings that we associate with struggle, exhaustion, and disempowerment. People will typically talk of feeling heavy, or tired, or frustrated, or lonely.

The presence of these feelings, particularly if there is no direct simple cause, can be one of the symptoms that our beliefs about life are active. We are believing that life is difficult.

 

Seeking a Saviour

We have one more major consequence of a belief that life is difficult to investigate before we move on to look at the belief itself.

It is almost inevitable that if we think at any time that life is difficult then we will have a corresponding thought about our self. If life is difficult then I am ….? Most of us will come up with something like I am not enough, or I am unable to cope (I am weak), or I am alone.

These two beliefs will tend to go together: Life is difficult/hard and I am weak/not-enough. When one is active the other will also tend to be triggered and these will drive our behaviour.

But how do thoughts like this actually drive our behaviour?We touched on this above when we looked at proving behaviour, but I want to give a more explicit example of how this can play itself out.

What we are often aware of is an analytical level of thinking that we do that appears to be logical and which leads to conclusions. This analytical thinking seems always active whilst we are awake and we make use of it to great effect to reason and to make choices. It is this analytical level of conscious thought that is involved in the processing of our decisions, as we have already seen, and also in the conclusions we make about our lives.

If we tune in to what our mind is doing we can also pick up some of the semi-conscious thoughts that we are not always fully aware of but which support our normal conscious thinking. With practice we can become more aware of the less apparent fleeting thoughts that we have and follow them through from start to finish. Let’s look at an example. The following is an extreme version of what might go on starting from the thought that life is difficult:

Life is difficult,

And I’m on my own to deal with it and I can‘t do it on my own

So I have to find some help

But there’s nobody about for me at the moment

Or they are concentrating on their own thing

So even if I do find someone to listen they won’t help much

So I probably won’t find anyone to help me

Nothing will change

There’s no hope

I may as well give up

I’m doomed to a life of failure and responsibility and depression

Which just confirms that life is difficult

So I have to be stronger and tough it through on my own

But success will be tough to achieve

Everything will be a struggle

And I’ll have to sacrifice

Others will tend to benefit at my expense

I’m doomed to a life of struggle and difficulty

Which just confirms that life is difficult

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There are a number of things that we can notice about this stream of thoughts:

  • Firstly, the thoughts appear to lead on from one to another – there is a superficial appearance of logic.
  • Many of the thoughts are assertions that appear as deductions, they are thoughts that are actually reflecting an overall state of mind (depressive) rather than offering a realistic commentary.
  • There is a cycle of thought that is self-reinforcing, in the end it feeds back to the start and so is likely to become repetitively used.
  • There are points at which other streams of thought can start off, for example at the point where the thought about others tending to benefit pops up.
  • There are a number of predictions about how life will be, which are entirely gloomy in this example.
  • There are some thoughts that are establishing actions to be taken: find help, give up, sacrifice. These are the thoughts that directly drive our behaviour and influence our future appreciation of life.

Because our thoughts appear logical we tend to believe them. As in this example, our thoughts will often come out of and reinforce a basic belief.

And some of these thoughts come with an associated feeling. If I think to myself “There’s no hope” then I also get to feel despair and sadness. If I think to myself “I’m on my own to deal with it” I may get to feel loneliness or anger and frustration.

But perhaps there is an escape route! If only we had someone to support and help us. A partner to support us or a friend to understand us or a lover to share with. Such a person could get us out of the loop!

That person will help me and support me

We can face adversity together

And they will support me to be strong and successful I am protected and nurtured by them as I in my turn protect and nurture them Life’s a beach!

The loop is broken and I’m OK!

Hey, this is great! We can get free if we meet someone that is uniquely able to help us. Someone that is perfect for us, and will stick with us and by us. Someone that will share our challenges and our triumphs. A spiritual partner in fact. With our spiritual partner, or soul mate, we can overcome difficulty, just as without them we are doomed to a life of struggle.

But that very special (and important) person is going to be difficult to find

Or they will not always give me the support and understanding that I want

So I cannot trust them to be there for me when I really need them

Sometimes I will be let down and will have to face my difficulties on my own

And they will have their own wants and needs

And I’ll have to support them

I can’t trust to life to bring me who I want

And even if I find someone I won’t be able to trust them to be there for me

Which just confirms that life is difficult.

Well, we nearly got out of the loop there, but only by convincing ourselves that we could get free if we met a spiritual partner. In just a few seconds of thought we have reinforced our belief that life is difficult (too difficult) and that our only way out is to find a perfect partner to save us – which is too difficult to believe in. Now we’re even worse off, we’ve just reinforced our belief that life is difficult and we’ve reinforced our belief that we’re on our own to deal with it!

And, have you noticed how that attachment piece has crept back in? This time we have it set up that we will be OK if we find someone to partner, but not if we don’t. If we do happen to meet someone new, and we get as far as realising that we are interested in them, then we have a very strong personal attachment ready and waiting. We get hooked through our desire to be saved from our own beliefs.

Of course, there are many variations on this theme. There are many times when the solution to our challenge is obvious, when we know that we can get the help that we want or the task we are faced with is in within our capabilities. But it is not the times when we get out of the loop that are important here, it is the time we spend not finding a simple and believable way out.

Personal Power Tip:

One of our biggest pretences is that we know how things will be. The truth is that we do not know the future and recognising that we do not know can be a releasing and an empowering realisation. When I stop telling myself how difficult things will be I get to enjoy myself much more.

The “life is difficult” loop is basically a closed and self-reinforcing loop with apparently just one way out. The promise of a way out keeps us looking for that way out, keeps us looking for the “if-only” solution.

It may not be a spiritual partner, it may be a parental figure, or a pastoral figure. A guru, a spirit guide, a controller, or a boss. Each time we imagine the possibility of finding a partner or guide, one of the consequences is that we re-awaken that “if-only” question and hence reinforce the basic idea that life is difficult. So even the escape solution, the “if-only” solution, will often feed back into the underlying problem belief.

Or perhaps we can use the “if-only” through an act of faith. In this case the partner / helper / guide is God – all-knowing, endlessly supporting (though sometimes inscrutable), and endlessly loving and forgiving. Here is a partner that will not let us down. Through a faith in God, through a belief that we are mentored, we can break out of the cycle of difficulty. Well, actually this looks very much like the original spiritual partner solution, except that the lover now tends to be wearing a beard and has a non-sexual twinkle in her eye. This is not so much a faith in any meaningful God as an expression of our own desire to be supported and loved in the face of “life is difficult”.

Our belief that life is difficult has us looking for a saviour, feeling lonely, and reinforcing our own belief that life is difficult.

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And is Life Difficult?

It is time to change direction in this walk. We have looked at how our natural way of thinking can follow a certain route and how that thinking can tend to build up our beliefs about life being difficult and ourselves being inadequate. A bit like a trick of the light. We have even taken a quick look at some of the behaviour, approval-seeking and saviour-seeking, that can come out of having such a belief in place. But what we have covered so far does not explain why so many of us share this belief in the first place.

What we have covered so far shows how a belief that life is difficult may become more and more deeply entrenched and may result in the playing out of poor-me behaviours, but there is still an important piece missing. Why do we believe that life is difficult at all?

A belief that life is difficult is another way of saying that life is not easy, that we are not getting the things from life that we think that we deserve. We find it more difficult to get some of those things than we think it should be. Basically we have some conscious and unconscious estimates of what we should get for a given amount of effort and it can seem at times that we are not getting our just rewards, or that getting the things we want seems to require an extraordinary amount of effort.

Partly this view will come directly out of experiencing everyday life. Many of the things that we take on will involve more effort, commitment, and focus than we originally thought. From this we may build up a series of experiences of high effort being required to get what we want. We may find that our enjoyment of our success is reduced if we have put in more effort and encountered more obstacles than we originally thought that we would. And if we decide that the reward has not been worth the effort then we may also devalue the reward.

This is very different to situations where we know in advance that the risks are high and that our efforts will be great and may come to ‘nothing’. In these cases we are prepared to put in the effort, to gamble or to race, with the chance of getting a recognisable reward. If and when we do get that reward we will value it highly precisely because of the effort we have put in.

And those things that we get easily we may count as too easy. We may think that we have been ‘lucky’ or we may move straight on to the next ‘effort’ without fully valuing our ‘success’.

When considering ‘success’ in life we are comparing the effort that we expend to what we get. If we get what we expect to get then this is just, life is fair. If we receive more than we expect then we are lucky, and perhaps life is bountiful, or perhaps we will believe we have too much and because we now feel some shame we will reset the balance by giving something away to others ‘less fortunate’ than ourselves. If we receive less than we expect then life is unfair, and if life is unfair then life is difficult and untrustworthy.

We get to believe that life is difficult because we build up a set of experiences that we take as being unfair.

 

Life is Unfair?

Now we are onto something. Let’s peel away the layers a little more.

‘Life is unfair’ is an observation about life, a conclusion that we have come to that comes from our experiences of life – or at least some of our experiences of life. Actually it is not just that we get a conclusion that life is not fair, the unspoken piece is ‘and it should be’. We have a belief that life should be fair, that what we get out of life should relate to the effort and sacrifice that we expend, that we should be rewarded for good behaviour and punished if we err. We have an expectation that we will get what we deserve and that nothing comes without a cost of some sort. And this expectation is not just about us as individuals, we want this expectation to apply to everyone else as well. Wrong-doers should be punished and effort rewarded.

We may ‘know’ at an intellectual level that life is not actively unfair and yet we can find this thought hard to shift because we also believe that life ‘should’ be fair. Believing that life should be fair is a demand that life be fair, whether it is or is not. When we think of life as not being fair, when people ‘get away’ with unreasonable reward or escape from punishment, we experience outrage.

The idea of fairness supports our views of equality and our views of how societies can only thrive if there are rules that reflect public benefit and respect for the individual. A concept of fairness is supported by many of our religious teachings and by our growing appreciation of the rights of the individual in society. However, a concept of fairness does not actually create the fairness that we seek.

Because we want life to be fair and we experience cases when it is not, we deduce that life is unfair.

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And is it?

This is the tricky bit, and the foundation to the whole thing. If I ask myself the question ‘is life fair?’ I am asking a different question to ‘do I want life to be fair?’ Obviously if, as individuals, we are now believing that life is difficult then we have already answered this question at some point in our past and decided that indeed life is not fair, whether we want it to be or not.

What comes to mind if you ask yourself the question ‘is life fair?’ When I do this my thoughts may go to particular memories. I have memories of times when I have received what I thought that I deserved, times I did not get what I thought I was due, and times I got more than expected. In each case we evaluate whether life has been fair or not by looking at a balance between what we get and what we ‘deserve’.

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The problem is that we have an in-built definition of the concept of fairness. To answer my question ‘is life fair?’ we invoke that concept of fairness and then test our various experiences of life against that. Fairness as a concept involves balance, it involves giving and receiving – in equal measure. Obviously life and our experiences in it will include big and small examples that do not fit in at all well with our concept of balance (unless we choose to believe in some sort of Karmic balance over multiple lives). Personal challenges, risks, the avariciousness of others, and so on are facts of life that imply an absence of equality of give and take. Life is not observably intrinsically fair.

Personal Power Tip:

To accept life as it is we must first drop our unspoken belief of how it should be.

So, if life is not in reality based on fairness why do we have any thought at all that life should be fair? How do we come to be asking this question of ourselves at all when much of the real world experience that we have indicates that the question has little meaning?

The answer to this apparent dead end lies in our attempt to think about the issues in a ‘logical’ way. It seems to me that a primary role for our conscious mind is to try to apply logic so that we can make sense of the world and to solve problems. You and I have a conscious mind because it gives us a survival benefit and that benefit comes from the ability to think things through and predict how the world will behave. The only way that we can consciously predict what will happen in the future is by thinking logically. Our non-conscious mind may make predictions as well, for example through visioning, through the resentment process (see the walk on resentment and blaming), and directly from our deep beliefs, but these all tend to be non-specific predictions. I suggest that our conscious mind exists primarily so that we can make deductions about the present and predictions about the particular future that we face right now.

And, if our conscious mind is to make predictions about the future it has to be based on a concept of cause and effect. We can only predict if we have a principle that states that a given result will come from a given starting point. Our mind will have the concept of cause and effect embedded into it as a basic working principle.

Once we have a concept of cause and effect then we will attempt to make use of this in all our experiences. We will apply the same conceptual thinking wherever we are and whatever we are doing. We will expect the world to obey our expectations. And our expectations are that the world will exhibit predictability and that a given starting point plus particular actions by ourselves will end up in a particular end result, will produce a particular reward.

When it rains we expect water to become available in a certain hollow that we know. If we revisit a tree that we saw flowering some time ago then we expect there to be fruits available to eat. When we find fresh tracks in the sand we expect to be able to find buried turtle eggs if we dig a little above the high water line. We anticipate that by building up a set of predictions about our life, that we will be able to reap our rewards. The reward may take some effort, to climb or dig or track or hunt, but it will appear.

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I expect life to be fair because MY mind works on the basis of predictable rewards. I deduce that life is difficult because modern life gives me experiences that do not fit my in-built concept of fairness.

If we have a major success in life (a life changing success), or a series of successes, or we choose to fully acknowledge the successes that we do have, then we can build a belief that life is bountiful.

If we suffer loss, or a series of setbacks, we deduce that life is difficult.

This ability, to remember either our ‘successes’ or our ‘failures’ is what I believe people are referring to when I hear the statement “success breeds success”. A significant ‘easy’ success or a series of successes WILL counterbalance a ‘life is difficult’ belief and this will encourage us to go for more.

We may even choose to go further, to adopt a conscious belief that ‘effort achieves’, or ‘life provides’, or ‘I can do anything I set my mind to’, or some such. This is a form of mental reprogramming that is promoted by some motivational teachers. If we do this successfully then we are more likely to be willing to take opportunities and more willing to do what is required to convert them into achievement – and we will view that achievement as success. Some of these beliefs may be just as ‘unreal’, just as unrepresentative of reality as ‘life is difficult’ but they encourage us to go for success with optimism rather than to hold back from trying with pessimism.

 

Re-View

I could have taken you around this walk the other way around. It would go like this: I would show how a conscious mind will have a concept of cause and effect and that this will lead to an expectation that the world operates in this way as well. Cause and effect implies the availability of reward for the application of knowledge and effort, which is fundamental to the idea of fairness. An expectation of fairness can imply a growing realisation that fairness is often not forthcoming, and we may therefore deduce that life is difficult. A belief that life is difficult will promote a number of fears, behaviours, and thought patterns that actually reinforce the belief and actively undermine the achievement of success.

Our fears and beliefs around life being tough, life being hard, and rewards and success being difficult to achieve, become more and more embedded over time and they derive basically from us having and using a logical mind. They are almost a predefined outcome of the way that we think, given that we tend to have an average human experience of encountering challenges and hardships in our lives.

Our behaviours will include attachment to outcomes, attempts to prove ourselves of value, fear of rejection or abandonment, feelings of loneliness or resentment, and judgments about other people’s apparent ability to succeed with little effort (jealousy!).

The route out of this now becomes more obvious. Our ‘life is difficult’ belief typically becomes active when we are considering things that we want or when we are not achieving the things that we want. Our starting point is to genuinely and honestly recognise our want. It is useful to recognise that although we value our want we will still be essentially OK in ourselves if we do not achieve it. This breaks our attachment to the outcome and still maintains our want as a motivation to succeed. Our value as a human being is in no way dependent on us achieving particular wants. We can simply continue to do this until either we achieve what we want or recognise that it is probably unachievable.

Also, of course, it is important to remind ourselves that life will tend to keep on disobeying our ‘rules’, our expectations. We do not know just what we will get out of the effort that we put into life. In general, we do not have a right to a particular outcome or reward. Sometimes life will deliver what we want, and sometimes it will not.

If at any point we find ourselves predicting that we will not achieve our objectives then it can be useful to look more closely at our fears. Are our predictions realistic or are we getting scared because of a recognition that some events are beyond our ability to control or even to know what is going on. If events are beyond our control then no amount of calculating, scheming, and worrying on our part will make any difference, so we might as well stop trying to ‘think’ our way through to a solution.

Personal Power Tip:

It is a powerful personal practice to deal with obstacles when they become real rather than when we start predicting them. By all means prepare appropriately in advance but aim to act in the moment.

By experiencing life directly and truthfully, and by re-evaluating our memories of past struggles and achievements, we begin to balance out our memories of success and failure. We can correct the ‘learning’ that went into our deductions about life, fairness, and difficulty.

 

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