Handling “What If” Existential Questions / Traversing Spiritual Confusion

Some of us wonder ‘what if’ our life had been different, would we have been happier? But I know some (myself included) have wondered, ‘what if’ our life had been different, would our life have been sadder?

Being cursed causes longing for a better life, and makes you miserable in the present. But feeling blessed (too much of it) can cause an overdose of gratitude, and guilt.

An overdose of sadness creates unhappiness, resentment and frustration. An overdose of happiness creates guilt, shame at being happy when others are not, and fear of your (happy) life being taken away by circumstances outside your control.

Therefore, while it is good to be grateful to everyone and the world for what you have, it is also good to recognize that you don’t have everything. If you are too ‘complete’, you suffer from ‘happiness pain’ – in the form of (1) guilt for having what you have and (2) fear of losing what you have.

If you are too undernourished by life (incomplete), you suffer from ‘sadness pain’, in the form of (1) frustration at what you have, and (2) anger and resentment at what you don’t have.

True bliss is not just elimination of sadness, it also requires us to give up happiness. This is true surrender – you need to surrender your sadness to God (or the universe), and you need to surrender your happiness too.

Then, if you surrender both happiness and sadness, what DO you have left? Just awareness of your thoughts, without judgment. All emotions arise because we judge our actions as good (‘happiness pain’) or bad (‘sadness pain’). When you are in pain, you will never be in a position to understand the pain of another human being or creature, and help them when required. When we break our leg, our own pain consumes us, leaving us blind and deaf to both, the beauty of the world and the pain of others.

The only way to be able to appreciate the beauty and understand the suffering of the universe is to first free yourself of all suffering and pain. Therefore, as they say in the scriptures, you tread a ‘golden mean’, you walk the ‘razor’s edge’ between hope and fear, between happiness and sadness. Only when you are walking on a bridge can you see both sides of a river.

People who don’t handle the ‘what if’ question well get misdiagnosed as having anxiety issues due to crippling fear or shame. Half of our psychological issues today are spiritual conundrums. It takes courage to walk through the mists of our confusion and come out clean and enlightened on the other side. Confusion is good – it indicates you have begun solving a problem. There are only two kinds of people who don’t ask questions – those who don’t care or are not aware enough to question, and those who have already asked the question and found answers on the other side.

Ignorance and enlightenment are two sides of a river, but the river in the middle is raging and flooded, with strong currents, and can easily sweep you away if you are not careful. As we swim through the river, we should make sure we are moving in the right direction. If you get too caught up in the river, you can be swept away into ‘insanity’ due to over-analysis. Some of us swim back to the original shore out of fear, preferring to live in ignorance and fear, rather than cross the river of wisdom.

The river of wisdom asks us to trust it, not worry about the way it is flowing but to merely cross it. Walk on the water, but don’t bathe in it. Swim, but don’t look back. If you do look back, focus on what you are gaining on the other side, than what you are losing on this side. If you must fear something, fear ignorance. But in the end, give up that fear too. An enlightened person comes to realize, understand and accept his/ her own ignorance, and therefore no longer fears it.

In the end, you realize that if you had been ignorant, you would never have asked ‘what if’. And when you are enlightened, you no longer ask ‘what if’. Because the answer to the question is simple – you can’t do everything, you can’t be everything. As long as you live, you have to make choices. As long as you make choices to do or be something, you are also simultaneously choosing NOT to do something else. Consequently, your life will always be incomplete.

When we cannot accept this incompleteness, we ask ‘what if’. When we accept this incompleteness, we no longer need to ask the question. We achieve contentment and peace.

Remember How to Heal, But be More Forgetful

I find many struggling with pain, filling their lives with suffering. It is time to remember that every wound contains within itself the ability to heal. Humor helps.

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

You are a baby, you have just begun crawling. You are excited- you can crawl, you can CRAWL! You give your parents a big toothless smile and accelerate towards them at the (mind-boggling) speed of 2 miles/hour. Increasing velocity, increasing….increasing…and BANG! (Where did that chair come from?) Of course, you have an in-built program to handle just such a situation

1. Begin phase 1- cry: keep checking to see if strange man or woman notices

2. Gradually increase crying volume till your feet magically leave the ground

3. Allow strangers to say random words in unknown language

4. Go to sleep, forget about it

5. Wake up the next day, ready to bump head (or boneless knee) once again

Fast forward a few years. You are 13. You trip down a set of stairs.

1. You rub your butt. Your head is filled with humiliation, your ears with your friends’ laughter

2. Your friends decide to record this for all posterity with their mobile phones

3. You laugh along with them, making a mental note to yourself to keep your mobile phone handy to capture the instant they fall

4. You forget about your butt. You remember your mobile phone.

You are middle-aged. It is a complex world. Charts and figures astound you, people overwhelm you, your body has decided that it doesn’t like that much beer or street food after all. You read news of world catastrophes, poverty and misery. People keep telling you that if you are (or look) happy, it is sinful and selfish. You need to keep worrying to prove to society that you are compassionate.

Your significant other dumps you. You lose your job…

1. You can’t take it anymore, you (decide to) feel whammied

2. You are unable to cope with the situation- the (painful) scene keeps replaying inside your head

3. You are unable to forget- you rush to your (mini?) bar

4. You fall into a stupor, hoping you don’t get up for some time

5. You get up, wonder why you drank so much

6. You actually remember why you drank so much, and you realize…Your. Life. Is. Ruined. Forever.

7. You research online. You seek therapy. You self-medicate.

8. You decide you will never forget this. You decide to never recover.

9. You realize you need to learn how to heal

Babies heal. Adults forget that they were babies once.

You don’t need to learn how to heal. You have simply forgotten. Healing is like your Windows OS (sorry Mac users) pre-loaded into a corner of your laptop’s hard drive. If your laptop goes crazy, you do a factory reset, a system restore and presto, your laptop’s as good as new. You need to do just that to heal- a system recovery. You need to go back into your past to heal your present, but there is no need to stay there.

So, how do you heal yourself?

1. Stop worrying about getting hurt. You will get hurt. There are tables and chairs everywhere, but how will you know where they are without bumping your (soft 1 year old) head once in a way? Next time, you will be careful. You will handle that table when you are ready- you will DESTROY that table the day you turn 2 or 5 or whatever (you don’t know to count yet, anyway). Until then, the table had better watch out. You can’t stop crawling just because mommy or the table said so. You can’t stop living just because life says so.

2. When you get hurt, scream away. Not that loudly (society is watching), but at least inside your head. Use a few swear words, forget about being a gentleman or lady. That way, people watching you will also become traumatized at your behavior and reach out to you for therapy. If someone wants to comfort you, grant them that privilege. If you want to be alone and laugh it off, that’s perfectly fine. Get it out of your system. Life punched your tire, allow it to inflate back with a pop.

3. Make a mental note to learn about what hurt you. If someone is bullying you, learn to stand up for yourself. If someone dumped you, stop carrying them around in your head. In fact, dump them back (mentally, not on the phone- that might be silly). If you got fired, search for a new job…but learn why you got fired to ensure you don’t end up that way again.

4. Keep rubbing your butt where it hurts. Yes, it will hurt for a while, but one day when you are watching Netflix or reading something on Medium, you will forget all about it (there you go, I just reminded you to rub it again).

5. Focus on better things. Most people who try to heal try very hard to forget pain. You can’t forget pain, you can only deprioritize it till it no longer figures in your todo list (crap, I forgot to heal my pain today, but no time- gotta rush). When you have other things filling up your life, you will have little time to remember when and where you got hurt. Remember that time when you rubbed your hand or finger, wondering where you bumped it because you can’t recollect? That’s exactly what I am talking about. Positive focus and a bad memory are two sides of the same coin.

That is all that healing is, in a nutshell. Just don’t keep picking at the scabs or you will end up having a scar- let nature take care of things. Remember how to heal, but the moment you decide to heal- develop a bad memory.

Four steps…Pick yourself up, analyze and forget the incident (you have better things to think about), forget the pain (you have better things to feel)…but remember the lesson (to make sure your future is better than your pa ** — sorry, really can’t recall that last word).