Modern life presents us with many challenges that people never had to face before. We’re the first of earth’s citizens to know what is happening all over the globe almost every minute. Absorbing the violence, suffering, and craziness presented to us daily through the media can cause us to feel overwhelmed, pessimistic, and vulnerable.
I hope that you have figured out how to stay fully informed without turning away from your fellow humans or the issues that humans must solve right now, issues that you can help solve.
Here are some of the key coping strategies people are using to avoid the challenges of modern life. We seekers don’t want to use any of these strategies because they shrink our awareness, make learning impossible and reduce our potential. If you find yourself slipping into one of these coping strategies, now is a good time to move back into a state of poise, a state that allows us to say yes to life no matter what is going on:
Turning off the t.v.
I hear people constantly talking about how they can’t stand the news. They say that the non-stop reporting about human suffering, corruption, and hate poisons their consciousness. Their strategy is to keep the t.v. turned off and to quit reading newspapers or magazines that report on the human struggle.
They can’t stand to know what is going on. They shrink back, claiming a righteous position: I avoid knowing because I don’t want my mind polluted with painful knowledge. They choose ignorance over knowledge, arguing that they can’t stay healthy if they know too much about their fellow humans. The big trouble is that all evil is due to lack of knowledge, as Carl Popper said.
Let’s not push the available knowledge away. As Ram Dass says, our hearts can stand breaking—over and over again. Stay strong: keep the t.v. on.
Playing it safe
Another way to shrink your life is to play it too safe. Afraid to fail, afraid to look bad in the eyes of others, afraid to enter the unknown, people who play it safe shrink their lives down to what they think is the least dangerous path.
They are like deer, always alert to danger that may be lurking nearby. The worst way people play it safe is to refuse to question anything they were taught growing up. Most people play it safe in this way. They still believe most of the dogma their parents, teachers, and other leaders taught them. Many haven’t moved as much as a hair’s breadth away from the foreign installation that got downloaded into them as children.
Playing it safe shrinks life down to predictable patterns. The solution: question everything you’ve ever been taught and reject nothing your own experience convinces you is true.
Lots of modern men and women have become cynical to protect themselves from the rest of us. Cynicism is doubting the motives of others. Pained by modern life, many of us clothe ourselves in the protective armor of cynicism, claiming a righteousness for ourselves that we don’t deserve.
If most other people cannot be trusted, as the cynic asserts, then it only makes sense to judge, criticize, and reject others. The life of the cynic is a shrunken corpse, all potential shut off, love a dried husk.
We have to stay strong to avoid cynicism. Our cynical explanations are always inadequate. Look for better explanations.
Saving too much for the future
If we save too much, we shrink our lives. Saving for the future is wise, of course, but when we save too much we are acting out of fear and insecurity. Starving all sorts of valuable experiences that we could invest in now, super savers dream of a time in the future when life will be really pleasurable.
Worried about a threatening world, people who save too much are attracted to strategies like 15 year mortgages on their homes. The monthly payments may seem egregious now, eliminating travel and other experiences that would contribute to personal growth, but super savers try to create a life of safety in the far distant future. Always overly cautious, they spend their days counting their mounting treasure. Super savers are stingy—with their resources and with their generosity, always fearful that they don’t have enough.
We can save some for the future within the framework of our knowledge that we can die at any moment. Let’s invest fearlessly in our growth and development today, the best investment we can make.
Nursing self-pity and victim-hood
Feeling sorry for ourselves is the most common way that we shrink our lives. When challenges arise, as they inevitably do, most people move into a default explanation: somebody is doing something to me. Because this is an erroneous explanation of what is going on, life automatically shrinks into victim-hood with its tools of anger, impatience, irritation, and resentment.
From the shrunken position of victim-hood, people can see only themselves in a bubble of self reflection. Life has now shrunk into its smallest expression. Feeling sorry for themselves, people create an alternative reality in which learning and love cannot exist. Nothing guarantees a shrunken life like self-pity.
Let’s be warriors fearlessly observing ourselves. Let’s expand our lives by noticing how often we feel angry and resentful, impatient with the people around us, or irritated about what other people are doing. Erasing self-pity is the most difficult and valuable thing we can do right now. Many have done it. Just get on a path of love and stay there, taking full responsibility for the life you are creating.
Arriving at home
Home is our true self. All of the masters of self-awareness have counseled us that we are not our egos—our false self that specializes in shrinking life down to me, me, me.
At home, we are pure awareness. Some masters call our true self the soul. Ram Dass defines the soul as “our loving awareness.”
When we sustain our poise, we have arrived at home.