The world's in conflict, because we are all internally in conflict a lot of the time.
We all just want to be happy and stop suffering, so we keep running away from uncomfortable situations, but there's always another one just around the corner. We can not escape from external discomforts, so we have to learn to deal with them internally. It is totally possible – you just need to understand one thing:
You are not your thoughts or feelings .
Thoughts are not good, bad, right, wrong, true, or false; they are simply an incessant flow of information, spewing through your mind. Just as our respiratory system breathes for us and our cells repair themselves, thoughts arise for our survival, to protect us. But, in the same way that we do not associate our digestion process as being inherently 'us', we do not have to believe that our thoughts are 'us' either. Thinking has proven to be a handy survival technique; it works, so it continues to happen, generation after generation.
Whenever you have a thought about anything, it is merely evolution acting through you – it's nothing personal. If you were watching TV, and a message came up on the screen saying 'You will never amount to anything', it's unlikely that you say, “Well, the TV knows what's best for me, so I'll just give up now “. But, we do listen to our thoughts in this way, and our feelings, too. We relate to them as if they were true, but we do not realize that we are simply watching TV – the TV screen in our mind.
It's important that you do not push your thoughts away or feel ashamed of them. Your thoughts are simply brain activity, they stay inside your head, and they can not hurt you or anyone else – you have to vocalize them or act them out before they can do any harm in the world. You have no choice about which violent, lustful, or socially unacceptable thoughts pop into your head, but repressed thoughts have a nasty habit of lying low and returning with a vengeance, like a simmering saucepan, just waiting to boil over. Of course, it's not that we should act out our lustful or violent desires either – we live in a civilized society where it's not acceptable to harm anyone or force ourselves upon others. Instead of choosing betweenression and expression, you can practice not identifying with your unhelpful thoughts, letting them pass through your consciousness without believing them to be true or a solid part of you.
If an undesirable thoughts enters my mind, I simply watch it pass, like watching a cloud float by in the sky, not pushing it or pulling it, and not even making it mean anything about me, but just allowing it to dissipate, leaving me to calmly get on with whatever I'm doing.
Cutting up the stream of consciousness
A film is a series of still images, played at the rate of twenty-four frames per second, creating the optical illusion of a moving continuum.
A single thought is like a single frame on a reel of film. It is complete and independent; If you were to chop it away from the rest of the reel, you'd be left with a stand-alone photograph. When we link thought after thought after thought, it gives us a sense of identity and an illusion of continuity, but really it's just one thought after another after another, on and on. It's like watching a film and believing that the action is really moving, instead of remembering that it's a series of still independent images played faster than the eye can detect.
Visualizing your thoughts as still images on a reel of film is helpful because it allows you to deal with just one thought at a time, rather than becoming bogged down in the entire narrative of the movie. Rather than acting like the melodramatic superstar of your film, you can practice being the editor, keeping hold of the useful stuff, and leaving the rest on the cutting room floor.
Thoughts create feelings
We're trapped in a prison of our senses. We think we experience the world, but really, the only things we ever experience are our pleasant or unpleant body sensations. Many of our feelings are created by our thoughts. Often, if you change the conversation in your mind to a more positive one, you can create a more positive mood for yourself.
You can not stop thinking and you can not stop feeling. But you can stop believing that your feelings are a true representation of reality. Feelings are simply subjective body sensations, which are always bearable, and never last forever. Our emotions only cause us suffering when we believe that they should not be happening, but our emotions are as unpredictable as the weather. One minute you feel good, and the next minute you feel wretched. Sometimes you know why you're feeling a certain way, and other times you just wake up feeling sad. There's so much happening beyond your conscious awareness that it could take a lifetime to figure out why you're in the mood you're in. A bad mood does not mean there's anything wrong with you. Just do not identify with the emotion. This is not about brushing your feelings off as unimportant – you definitely should not repress or deny your emotions. It's about accepting that you're currently feeling a certain way and that at some point soon you'll feel different, because everything is constantly changing. Emotions are a transitory part of you, not who you are. Rather than saying to yourself, 'I'm sad', you can give yourself a big hug, and say to yourself, 'There is sadness moving through me' – sadness is not a solid and fixed trait of yours. Emotions simply travel through you, like food passing through your digestive system, and there's no need to take them personally.
Humans need emotions
Neuroscientist Antonio Demasio believes that emotions are vital for human interaction and civilization. If it was not for emotions, we'd find it almost impossible to carry out the relationships with each other that make our lives so fulfilling, because we've got no way of relating to other people – no empathy or compassion, no laughter or joy – these are the things that make our lives so rewarding.
But, we modern humans do not have to take our emotions as truth. We can bring awareness to our emotions and watch them as they pass through us; no longer being a slave to them. Rather than allowing yourself to be drawn into the unstable dramas of your emotions, just enjoy the ride – they're part of what makes living so wonderful. I enjoy Bob Dylan's music because of the emotions that are incited within me when I listen; the music pours over me and the lyrics stab at my heart; I crumple with elation, get drunk on desolation, and drown in dramatic self-indulgence. But, when the music's over, I always know that it was just a game I was playing, and I can leave the dramatics behind in that moment.
It's important to enjoy your body sensations – you're a human, not an android; you can not stop yourself from experiencing feelings! Have a good cry if you feel like it, but when you stop crying, do not be duped into believing that the tearful, dramatic victim is an intrinsic part of your identity.
Just as you are not your thoughts or feelings, other people also are not their. Just as you do not have to take your own thoughts and feelings as the truth, you can now stop taking other people's so personally, too. The words that other people speak can not hurt you – they are merely the vocalization of their incessant inner dialogue, and you do not have to believe them to be the truth. Thoughts and feelings are never going to go away, but they are not a true representative of reality, so you can let them pass without grasping them – it'll make your experience of life an easier and more pleasant one.