Keeping a Positive Outlook on Living with Diabetes
Yesterday, my friend and I sat in the IMAX theater awaiting the presentation of "Avatar." The preview of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg's new movie, "The Pacific," began showing. Tom Hanks said, "War is part of the human condition." My friend and I looked at each other. She said "no" with some uncertainty. I said "yes."
Throughout intellectual history, this question has been up for debate, but we chose to watch the previews rather than argue the point. Later, I contemplated the battle being fought within the psyches of all human beings.
Thirty years of mindfulness meditation practice has given me a great opportunity. I've had lots of time to check out what's going on inside myself and directly contact the war within. I have learned that the war can come to an end if I relate to myself without aggression.
Eastern philosophers have a word to describe the internal war being fought by human beings. The word is "suffering." Suffering is when your mind and body experiences become an imposition on your sense of well being. The cause of suffering is "attachment." Attachment involves aggression, and people tend to be very aggressive towards themselves. Dialogs such as "I shouldn't feel this way," "I hate myself for being such a fool," " I'm so stupid," "It's my own fault that I have diabetes" are examples. This kind of hateful self-talk is referred to as "beating up on yourself." It is equivalent to attacking the enemy which in this case is you.
There are two human tendencies involved in the war of attachment. One of these activities is "aversion." Aversion is characterized by resistance to discomfort-- mental, emotional, and physical. Having diabetes presents many discomforts, and you may be aware of the resistance and fight against them. The discipline of a specific diet, regular exercise, needing to inject insulin, or swallow a bunch of pills every day, can be very difficult to accept as part of your new, awkward, and possibly unwanted lifestyle. It can trigger many unpleasant thoughts and feelings. With a diagnosis of diabetes it can feel like your life is turned upside down. It's easy to wage war on this potentially painful reality.
The other aspect of the war is what we call "craving." This form of aggression goes in the opposite direction of aversion. It involves the grasping for pleasure. Your desire is to hold onto it, attempting to make it stay.
The aggressive acts of aversion and craving are in opposition to the natural law of existence which is "change." There is no pleasure that will last, nor is there any pain that is fixed. Everything is changing and it's changing right now. The war that you wage against "feeling bad" is a war against nature itself. You fight against feeling bad and you suffer.
In our culture, companies make billions on our inability to be ok with even minor discomforts such as tension headaches, a crappy mood, or having a low-energy day. Notice the array of caffeinated drinks, over-the-counter medications, energy bars, energy this and energy that! In our culture, a day of low energy is equivalent to having the plague. God forbid that even for one day, you fail to accomplish what society thinks you should.
The battle against feeling bad is one that you will always lose. If you can ingest something or do something to make yourself feel better, this is fine. But, beware that it is a temporary solution. Feeling bad will inevitably return in one form or another. I'm speaking realistically rather than pessimistically, now. You can't have your own way when it comes to what arises within your mind and body. What arises within you is up to nature. If nature causes unpleasantness, mentally, emotionally, or physically, and there happens to be no relief in sight, then what?
Mindfulness meditation practice is characterized by gentleness and inner acceptance, which is the opposite of war. It offers a permanent solution to the issue of feeling bad and helps you to feel bad in the right way! Feeling bad in the right way is without suffering or with much less. It involves allowing nature to take its course within yourself. It's about giving up the fight with yourself and opening up to what is. By eliminating the fight of craving for pleasure and resistance to discomfort, a sense of peacefulness sets in, because the struggle ends and the friction within yourself subsides.
One of many simple methods to help end the war is noticing relaxation in your body when unpleasant thoughts, physical sensations, or emotions arise. You can access relaxation at any moment. As you breathe, on every exhale there is a sense of relaxation. Stay with that sense of relaxation. Also, tensing up the muscles of the body and then releasing them will bring about relaxation. You can also notice if there's a particular part of the body that feels relaxed and remain aware of it.
Forming a new habit of focusing on relaxation in the midst of feeling bad will bring about a new relationship with feeling bad. This will help you to train away internal aggression and help you go through your day in peace rather than war.