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EAL #7 – Touching the Fire

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But there’s a fire inside, when I’m falling over (Fire, by U2)

We run from discomfort. We flee from difficult feelings like Bambi running from a forest fire. It’s a reflex — there’s a fire inside and our nervous system is screaming run. The only way to tone down that fire is to make a U-turn and touch it. Instead of running, we turn towards the discomfort and work the edge. 

What is going on when you feel the need to run?

Here’s an example of this in action:

A relative of mine has a wealthy neighbor with a monstrosity of a house. I walked into the house recently and I noticed my mind going on about how this guy is probably full of himself and probably inherited it or probably got it in some stupid way, yada yada yada. 

As I watched my reaction I realized that I felt threatened by his accomplishments — diminished, unworthy, insecure, loathsome — and so my mind was cutting him down to size to ease the pain. When I peered deeper under the hood, it felt like touching hot coals. I recoiled from the burning loss and couldn’t be with it. 

I’ve mentioned the term “willingness to experience” before. Willingness to experience varies in quantity, and the stronger the feeling the more of it you need. When a feeling is really strong, I find I need to increase my willingness by giving my mind an incentive, an emotional candy. 

I know that I feel flavors of this loss all the time, my mind is constantly comparing me to others and pronouncing me deficient. What a relief it would be to be free of this relative worth trap. How wonderful would it be if I could walk into that monstrosity and say: wow, it’s beautiful, I’m soooo jealous; I wish I had this, but I hope he really enjoys it and am so happy that he has such plenty! 

Mindfulness texts call this sympathetic joy. I’ve tasted it, it tastes goooooood… like the calm, deeply content, I-could-die-now type good. It’s unbelievably liberating when someone else succeeds and you’re happy. You’ve basically expanded your capacity to experience awesome things from your limited sample of one to the whole of humanity. 

Some people chase the billions, some people chase Mars — I want to feel elation at the success of others. That is wealth as far as I’m concerned — not the Bezos billions, not presidential power, but a mind that walks through the world suffused in the richness of human joy. (Look, I’ll take some of the money if you’re offering it, Zelle to my cell is fine, but no need for billions thank you.)

The doorway to that beautiful abode is the loss I recoiled from. By imagining the freedom on the other side, the promise of walking through the world with a sense of plenty, I become willing to touch the fire.

I feel the fire, I’m going home (Fire, by U2)


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