Not a Vanity Project

I was talking about self-portraits to someone the other day. This person mentioned that a relative of hers does self-portraits. Apparently this woman flatters herself by drawing pictures of what she wished she looked like.

That’s one thing I feel sure I can’t be accused of.


Meantime, I’ve been thinking and reading about happiness this week, and pursuing this idea that happiness is created by thoughts, not circumstances.

Something happened today that would have triggered me to feel down in the past. I asked myself two questions:

  • can you really know that things are as you imagine?
  • even if they are, can you change the facts of the situation?

The answer to both questions is usually no.

Bhuddists believe that pain + thought = suffering. We all experience pain, the thinking goes, but we don’t have to layer suffering on top of it by telling ourselves a story about the pain.

What I understand that to mean is this: We fail at something, feel pain, and then mentally beat ourselves up (“you’re so stupid, you always do this, what an idiot” etc.).

Or we lose a friend, feel pain, and then tell ourselves stories about how we have been hard done by ( and how we can picture them having a great time with someone else, and oh my God, they’re not even thinking about me anymore and I’m such a loser and … etc. etc.)

There’s the initial pain, and then there’s the story we tell ourselves that makes it worse. And note that the stories we tell ourselves generally have no basis in fact.

So we could choose another way. We could fail the test, feel the disappointment, and then remind ourselves of all the times we’ve failed at something only to wind up glad that we did (because what happened instead was better). Or we could lose that friend, accept that it’s a sad situation, feel the pain, and understand that they probably feel it too.

Same two situations, same amount of pain. No added suffering.

I find that those two questions are helping me with this…

  • can you really know that things are as you imagine?
  • even if they are, can you change the facts of the situation

If you can’t be sure things are as you imagine, stop torturing yourself.

And if you can’t change the facts of the situation … stop torturing yourself.

So I am working on just experiencing my emotions and accepting them, without adding my painful interpretations and stories on top.




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