Porn, Buddhism and missiles.

Not last Saturday but the one before that, the residents of Hawaii were informed by text message that a ballistic missile was heading their way.

45 minutes later, they were subsequently informed that the initial warning had been a mistake and that it was safe to come out from shelter.

15 minutes after receiving this particular news, the website, Pornhub, an online platform for, you guessed it, watching porn, noticed that their page views surged +48% above typical levels.

It seems that the relief from the anxiety of believing they were going to be blown to smithereens, caused quite a few Hawaiians to go and seek, well, a little more relief.

We all do this, right? I mean, we don’t all watch porn, of course, but us humans do tend to seek relief from our emotions, often in food or drugs or shopping for things we don’t need or over-working or alcohol or gossiping or exercise.

Buddhists call this relief-seeking behaviour, shenpa.

Shenpa is the itch you just have to scratch. It’s viciously flipping off the lorry driver that just cut you up or downing 3 large glasses of Rioja when you’ve had a bad day at work. Shenpa is the constant seeking of reassurance from others or the drag of a cigarette when we feel anxiety creeping. It’s opening your mouth and saying something cruel in the heat of the moment, even though there’s another voice in your mind suggesting you stay silent.

Shenpa is the restlessness and agitation that arises in us from a strong, perhaps uncomfortable emotion. It’s the all-too-vivid experience of being hooked on an emotion, and disappearing into a vortex of relief-seeking behaviours and habits as a result.

I must admit, shenpa feels fucking lovely in the moment. It temporarily paves the path for us to escape our current reality and suffering and bullshit. It tends to numb and comfort and soothe in a twisted, self-righteous kind of way.

But it never ends well. Unless you’re watching porn to escape your emotions that is, and then, I suppose, there’s generally a pretty good ending….

Anyway.

I have been practicing not escaping my emotions for years now, especially the ones that bring up a lot of discomfort for me, like uncertainty and anxiety and fear.

This practicing has involved a lot of meditation and mindfulness and learning to notice my emotions and observing how I tend to want to escape from them when they arise. As my favourite teacher, Pema Chödrön—a Buddhist nun who is partial to the odd swear word from time-to-time—once wrote, “We use all kinds of ways to escape. All addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”

This is what I have learned about the ways I tend to escape:

When I am feeling sad or lonely, I notice just how much I feel the urge to eat pizza and potato croquettes and chocolate.

When I am feeling anxious, I notice just how much I fantasise about drinking wine (even though I gave up drinking alcohol at the end of 2016).

When I feel angry or irritated by something or someone, I notice just how much I feel the urge to complain and whine to anyone who will listen to seek some kind of validation that I am right.

When I feel worried or unsure about something, I notice just how much I feel the urge to reach for my phone and start Googling and looking for an answer even though I probably already know the answer.

When I feel nervous, I notice just how much I feel the urge to zombie-like scroll through Facebook or watch stupid videos about ghosts on YouTube.

When I feel uncertain, I notice just how much I ruminate. I think and think and think until I feel like my brain is going to implode.

When I feel scared, I notice just how much I feel the urge to quit, give-up or emotionally shut down.

When I feel frustrated, I notice just how much I shift my focus to blaming other people and things outside of me.

I pretty much do anything to not feel what I am feeling.

I am desperate to zone out or think my way out of the feeling.

And yet instead, for all these years now, I’ve been learning to just simply sit with my feelings.

Which makes it sound easy, doesn’t it? Just “simply” sitting with my feelings.

(It has not been easy at all.)

But as I research and read and delve deeper into Buddhist practices and mindfulness and the huge benefits of meditation, the more I am realising that most of my unhelpful or unhealthy habits and behaviours stem from my strong and very human resistance to feeling my feelings all the way through.

So feeling my feelings is what I’ve been learning to ‘do’ for quite a long time now.

And it’s been hard and very, very, very uncomfortable and I have mostly wanted to climb out of my own skin, to be honest, but somewhere, somehow, in the midst of all the staying present with my feelings, I have noticed that I have started to become much calmer and more curious and content than ever before.

It’s difficult to describe what happens, actually, but in all the focusing and noticing and observing of whatever emotion I am experiencing, I have somehow learnt to not respond so much to my urges. I don’t manage this all the time, of course. I still semi-regularly find myself in the freezer section of my local supermarket staring at pizzas or lost in a rabbit-hole vortex of video-after-ghost-video on YouTube, but I have become far more observant of my emotions and the knock-on behaviours they often stir up. I guess Buddhists would say that I am learning to be less-attached to my emotions so that I don’t feel so tormented and entangled in them like I used to.

This practice is something I help my clients with too, especially when they feel overwhelmed with ALL THE FEELINGS. I encourage them to be curious about their emotions and to observe them from different perspectives. I ask them, “How would you describe the anxiety you’re experiencing to an alien from outer space who has no concept of emotions?” or “Can you sit, even for just 90 seconds and allow the anger in you to rise without acting out or trying to make it go away? What happens then?”

I remind them that it’s a life-time practice. Because it is. Nothing happens overnight and it takes a considerable amount of dedication and patience to even slightly begin to tame our wild minds and inner 2-year olds.

But it’s worth it. And it’s pretty simple (yet also so, so hard) to do.

It takes courage too, I think. To just sit with your emotions. It feels—for me at least—a little like sitting in a room with a hungry tiger* and just sitting there with the fear. The urge to get up and run for the door can be incredibly overwhelming and uncomfortable.

I guess this is why, in so many ways, it’s far easier to just shout at your kid or the dog when you’re feeling irritable. Or, when you’re feeling scared out of your mind, to just reach for your laptop and watch porn, like half of Hawaii seemed to do a few Saturdays ago.

Anything to bring quick, mindless and easy relief, right?

 

 

 

*If you do ever find yourself in a room with a hungry tiger, I would not advise you to just sit there with the fear. I am not a tiger expert, but I cannot imagine this would end well at all.

By | 2018-01-28T16:32:24+00:00 28 January 2018|