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Feeling well, feeling good

February 28, 2011

It is self evident, that feeling well, being settled and content, at ease and in peace with the world is a nice state to be. Which able minded person would ever want to feel bad and upset? Who would ever want to feel unhappy and miserable?

It is self evident, that feeling well is very desirable, yet it is also evident, that many people feel bad, and that they suffer and are unhappy and miserable. Many people are desperate and angry, many feel hopeless and life makes no sense to them. This widespread desperation and misery occurs despite all the presumed intellectual and technological advances of mankind, despite the ever increasing production and ampleness of goods, despite the growing numbers in most columns and rows of economic statistics.

Why is it, that so many people feel bad? Is it the lack of means to fulfill their basic needs and achieve their goals? Is it because of unrealistic expectations? Is it the lack of knowledge and misconceptions about life in general?

“Life means suffering”. This is the first of the four noble truth of Buddhism — or at least one of the many possible translations and interpretations of the original text. I don’t want to discuss the translations and interpretations of this and other Buddhist sayings here, though I have to disclose that I pondered about it many times and discussed it with friends and with myself and in the end came to conclusions that were surprising similar to what I found out years ago with my own methods in my own way using my own terms.

What were this conclusions?

Love your cat!

As I write this text, little Wendy is sitting on my lap and she is purring and kneading and she looks at me with big round eyes. Wendy is a dark grey (nearly black) longhair with a very soft and fluffy fur. She is a crossbreed of a persian cat with a tabby cat, in the right light one sees even the typical tabby M on her forehead. She has not the flat face of a persian cat, for me she looks very pretty (of course, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder).

Wendy has a sunny nature and is friendly to every other cat of the family. She has shorter legs than her fellow cats and she jumps around and wags her tail in a funny way and she also has a funny voice, she is rather squeaking and chirping than meowing. When she is in a reflective mood she sometimes sits still with wide open eyes and then she looks like an eagle owl.

Sorry that I was drifting away from the original theme but the impression of a purring and kneading cat on my lap was just too strong not to be incorporated in this text. If I would have been together with my wife I would of course have written:

Love your spouse!

If I would have been together with my wife I would certainly have put this conclusion in the first place. If I would have been together with my wife I would though not have been able to write this text at the same time, I would have had to give her my undivided attention. Please don’t misunderstand the succession of my conclusions as a ranking! Again:

Love your spouse — love your wife or your husband or your mate or your boyfriend or your girlfriend or whatever person is near to your heart.

Love your parents!

I have lost my parents unfortunately in my early years but I still think about them and I hold them in high esteem. As I grew older I realized how much I owed them, but it was too late to give back, they were gone and I had forever missed the chance to show them my love and respect.

Love your children!

If you don’t have children, love the ones that are around you. The children deserve it and they need it. This world would be a better place if all children would get unconditional love from all the adults around them!

Love your friends!

Well, there are friends who are a bit bothersome and exhausting. Just love them — or at least ignore them… There are all your Facebook friends, some of them you would never have accepted if you would only have known how annoying shrill and irritating they would be. Didn’t some of your Facebook friends turn out to be real morons making you wonder how mankind will be able to survive with such an abundance of ignorance and stupidity? Just love them — or at least ignore them…

Love everybody!

Huh? I will try, but it will be hard! Does that mean that I should love all the dictators, all the corrupt politicians, all the slick business men, all the bankers and the millionaires and the billionaires who siphon off the wealth of the nations? Does that mean that I should love the weapons producers and traders and the generals and the mercenaries and the terrorists and the soldiers and hunters and butchers and all the other mass murderers who are rampaging along with their guns, killing everything what comes in their way?

=====================

Back to square one (or was it square two?)

“Life means suffering.” How true for many of us! But as I said before, I don’t want to discuss this Buddhist saying here and I don’t want to get stuck in an abstract philosophical discourse. I leave that for another day and rather go way back to the very start of this text and try it once again:

It is self evident, that feeling well is wonderful and desirable (at least if common sense applies). If we accept it as a fact, that feeling well is wonderfulI, we should do anything possible to feel well and that leads us to one crucial question: What concrete actions could we take?

First we have to find out, what makes us feel well and that will be a lifelong learning process with many trials and errors. We will often be disappointed. We will find various things that makes us feel good for a short time but cause misery in the long term. Other things will be hidden treasures that we only accidentally discover.

Some examples of things that make us feel good for a short time but cause subsequent misery:

Consumerism
Alcohol and psychedelic drugs
Excitement caused by overwhelming sensory inputs
(like loud music and flashing lights in rock concerts and dance clubs)
Excitement by excessive risk taking (with the prospect of reward)
Crushing the competitors and exterminating the foes
Amassing a fortune by cheating, deceiving, and stealing

Some examples of the hidden treasures:

Silence
Watching nature
Laying quietly together with our mate
Listening, composing, performing music, and other creative artistic activities
Helping and protecting our fellow creatures
Finding our niche and accepting our limits

Beside finding the things, that make us feel good we also have to find out, what makes us feel bad and we have to avoid negative influences or try to change our situation or try to adapt as good as possible to unfortunate circumstances. In short term: we have to make the best out of our live.

I made the experience over many years, that it is easier to feel good, if I reach a certain state of mind. A state where I am calm, composed, settled, focused, peaceful, wise. I tried it countless times, and still try it every day to approach this state of mind. It is an ongoing process and it will be my goal till the end of my life. Meditation and music (and my cats) are my preferred personal methods to advance my cognitive state. Other people may find other methods helpful.

I also found out over many years, that it is easier to feel well if my fellow creatures feel well. I hate it, to see people in misery, The idea, that 25,000 humans die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes makes me terribly sad. The idea, that the sixth mass extinction in the history of this planet is going on and some 30,000 species are lost every year, makes me feel very uncomfortable.

I cannot help myself, I feel empathy.

What is this feeling of empathy, compassion, sympathy, kindness or whatever one would call it? According to the dictionary, empathy means a mental or affective projection into the feelings or state of mind of another person. Recent neurological findings suggest, that “mirror neurons” are responsible or at least involved in this feeling of empathy. Empathy is such a fascinating aspect of our consciousness that I would like to discuss it in detail and write a whole chapter about it, but as I’m unfortunately are running out of time and as I’m getting tired now I will have to spare this for another day.

Just let me add a few points that I consider as crucial:

The feeling of empathy is not universal and its intensity and reach differs. Some people feel empathy only for humans, others restrict their feeling of empathy to a certain race or nationality or only to their nearest friends and relatives (a study on racial empathy by Gutsell/Inzlicht found physical evidence that white people have difficulty empathizing with non-whites).

People, that cannot feel empathy are often described as sociopaths or psychopaths.
I ask myself the following questions:

Are people, who kill other people mentally sick?
Are people, who order other people to kill mentally sick?
Are people, who don’t protect other people from being killed mentally sick?

What about our fellow creatures on this planet?

Are people, who kill animals mentally sick?
Are people, who order other people to kill animals mentally sick?
Are people, who don’t protect animals from being killed mentally sick?

How can soldiers, mercenaries, military contractors, terrorists, mass murderers, torturers and executioners go on with their business? Are they mentally sick? Or mentally challenged?

How can generals, politicians and CEO’s cope with their responsibility for the death of humans and animals? What about a judge that hands down a death sentence?

How do hunters, anglers, butchers feel? What about non vegetarians? What about all of us, who contribute with their wasteful lifestyle to the environmental devastation and to the suffering of humans and other animals?

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I will try to formulate my personal answers in following blog posts. Right here for a start just a few key words:

Studies of Salovey and Mayer suggest, that there is a positive relationship between empathy and emotional intelligence.

Darwin discussed the importance of emotional expression for survival and second adaptation.

It is likely that our human ability to empathize with other humans contribute to the survival of the species.

Could it be that our human ability to empathize with other creatures contribute to the survival of nature?

I raised many questions and I promise to discuss possible answers in forthcoming blog posts. This could be an entertaining and maybe even useful intellectual exercise and I hope the visitors of this blog will enjoy it with me. For those who are tired of the many words I want to disclose that in the end anything could point to one final answer. In the end we maybe don’t have to look so far and try so hard for answers to all these questions that I wrote down before.

By the way, it just comes to my mind, that I forgot to mention the most important thing that makes me feel well: Giving love and experiencing love makes me feel well. Love helps me feel good. It makes me feel good more than anything else!

Didn’t I tell that already at the start of this text, when I wrote about my conclusions?

Love your parents
Love your spouse
Love your child
Love your cat
Love your friends
Love everybody …… Hm, still conflicted!

One of my favorite jazz standards is “Nature Boy” by Eden Ahbez, published in 1947 and sung by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Abbey Lincoln, Kurt Elling and many other artists since then.

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy
And sad of eye
But very wise
Was he

And then one day
A magic day he came my way
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings
This he said to me
“The greatest thing
You’ll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved
In return”

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