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Misery: A User's Guide*

How many people out there woke up this morning and said, “Boy, oh, boy! I can’t wait to feel miserable!” No one? Hmmm. If we knew how useful misery is, we might change our minds.

There’s a story of the Buddha that illustrates this well. He was in the town square one day and a man came up and started yelling at him. Berating him. Trying to insult and humiliate him in front of the town. Buddha did nothing. He watched the man, and when the man was done, in a calm and balanced manner, he said, “Thank you.” And went on his way.

After this event, one of his followers asked him how he could do that. How he could stay so calm in the face of such anger and accusations? And he shared this lesson:

“Have you ever had a person to visit you at your house? And have they ever brought you a gift? Did you have to accept this gift? No. It is up to you. You decide whether you want to accept this gift or not. Today, this man brought me his gift of anger, and I chose not to accept it. He may keep it for himself.”

This is the key. Many people and circumstances will present themselves as an opportunity to lose our balance or harmonious inner state. We can all use it as justification for being miserable. And everyone would understand. Yet, it is in these moments that you have the chance to choose to master yourself, master your creative powers — your thoughts, speech, actions and feelings — and actively, consciously use them to keep you balanced, calm and at peace.

These situations where we are triggered to feel anger, or any negative emotion, are here so we can choose not to feel anger. They’re here to allow you to decide what you want to focus on and create. They are a mirror showing you where you choose misery instead of harmony.

Buddha placed joy, calm and balance as his first priority and he didn’t allow anyone to convince him otherwise. Instead of thinking he was the victim of this angry person, he held on to himself as the person in power, in calmness, in balance. He continued to make conscious decisions, even in that stressful moment, about who he wanted to be.

So, how do you do this?

Practice. Just like learning yoga or piano, you have to practice. Practice noticing what you’re feeling. And then decide to take one little step at a time to feel better. Don’t try to deny your feelings. Use them as tools. Use them as signals to let you know, ‘Hey! Something is wrong here! You have stopped choosing harmony.” And now that you know, you can come back.

This is not easy. Do not think that just because I write it and you read it this will be a cake walk for either of us. We will try and fail, like a child learning to walk. There will be bigger triggers, deeper wounds that get revealed. But each time we try, fail and get back up — each time we ask ourselves: “How can I do this better so that I don’t go into pain? How can I use this to let go of my desire to feel miserable right now?” — we get stronger.

Here are the things that have helped me: 1) Get in touch with inspiration and make it a regular part of your life. When we feel inspired, it lifts our energy up to such a level that many everyday problems seem unimportant. 2) Ask yourself: What is the right thing to do now? This means, what feels right, not right v. wrong. 3) Then do what feels right. 4) when you notice that you don’t feel good, calm or harmonious, stop thinking and start working to bring yourself back to a good feeling. Take a nap, take a bath, take a walk, phone a friend. Practice making the harmony of your inner state your first priority at all times. Remind yourself: Your state determines what comes to you. What you put out you get back. So, practice practice practice feeling better.

When we use these moments as opportunities to strengthen our commitment to maintaining inner balance and harmony, we grow not only in joy and harmony, we grow in power.

In fact, as you get better at this, you will start to thank the people and circumstances that show up in such a way that in the past they would have caused you misery. Because, as the old saying goes, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In this case, it’s whatever doesn’t throw you off balance serves to strengthen your foundation of power and your conscious choice of harmony; it gives you another chance to choose who you are and how you want to be in this world. You will soon notice that you can use these situations to increase your own personal power. A little bit more each time.

Until one day, you wake up and say, “I can’t wait to have more misery today!”

*A version of this article first appeared in The Redding Sentinel, Redding, CT in June, 2023.

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