We are a tense gang, us Americans. Most of us are wound incredibly tight and we don’t even know it. We are driven, programmed from early on, to achieve success, happiness, and more success.
When we don’t achieve this Utopia that we have been encouraged to seek, we struggle. We suffer. We brace against disappointment. We hurt, physically and emotionally. Our inner world is one way and it often does not line up with the way we have been told our outer world should look. We are conflicted, out of balance between our inner lives and our outer lives. It’s been called the Tyranny of the Shoulds. We should go to college. We should get married. We should live a good life and look good while we do it.
And when we get the life we are told we should, we ought to be delighted, or so we think.
Sometimes we are.
I am not writing for the delighted ones. I am happy that life is pleasant for them. They will likely not find their way into my office for therapy, much less read a piece about Jizo and mindfulness, physical tension, pain and finding inner solace. I am writing for the ones who hurt, even when things are just swell.
A huge number of people in this country are in physical pain. It has been suggested that a lot of that pain is “psychogenic” — that it has a basis in stress and tension. It is easier for the psyche to process the idea that “my back is out” than “I am angry” or “I have painful feelings.”
When we pause and begin to practice mindfulness, we are cultivating awareness about ourselves. It’s like waking up from a bad dream in which we had to be very different from who we really are. Then comes the best part: once we are aware of how wound up we are, we can begin to unwind. We can make better choices about how to care for ourselves and even make these choices consistent. As we do this, we release tension before it accumulates or we notice its cumulative effect and slow down our lives, before we go into physical pain.
Yes, lots of pain is real. I am not saying that it is not. However, some of that pain does not need to be suffered, but first we must acknowledge its source. I am surprised when people defend their right to suffer tension-based pain because they would rather blame the pain on something they have no choice or responsibility for, rather than trying to take responsibility for whatever they might be able to change.
How to begin: Observe yourself. Cultivate awareness. Consider Jizo, the protector, and Chibi, the little one so full of longing for a dream life. Recognize that pain often comes from the tension created by the distance between What Is and What We Think SHOULD Be. It is simple. Very, very simple. Make a beginning by noticing the Shoulds that rule you and then, please, don’t “should” on yourself.