The "If, then" Trap

There’s little more gratifying to me than the lightbulb switch going off in my head as I learn something new about myself or my relationship to the world. But many times I mistake that momentary gratification for personal growth.  Not quite.  Growth isn’t knowledge.  Growth is something that happens when you absorb knowledge into your life and actually live it.  Just like anything in school, just like learning a language, or learning how to cook, life lessons take repetition and practice to be fully integrated into our everyday experiences.  So, I find myself confronted with the same lessons over and over.  The “If, Then” lesson is one of my most frequented.  The “If, Then” rule by which most of us live our lives states that “If” certain criteria are met, only “Then” will we be happy because those criteria will result in social acquisitions such as love, money, careers, marriage, homes, etc that our society tells us we’re supposed to have.  If we lose weight, then we’ll be happy because we’ll feel more attractive and self confident.  If we get a promotion, then we’ll be happy because we’ll have more money to do all the things we want.  If we can sell our artwork or bring in more clients or publish that book, then we’ll be happy because we’ll have a successful career.  If we meditate everyday, then we’ll be happy because we’ll be less stressed. I can obviously go on and on with examples, and I'm sure you can too.

The “If, Then” mentality is an imprisoning life structure. It’s a 100% guarantee against ever reaching contentment, the happiness that we’re ironically trying to find by using this very structure.  Living by this mentality inherently suggests the following underlying assumption: I am not good enough and my life is not good enough to be happy.  Pema Chodron writes in Comfortable with Uncertainty, “Abandon any hope of fruition.  Fruition implies that at some future time you will feel good . . . As long as you’re oriented toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or are.”  There’s a sanctity that exists in living the present moment that doesn't exist anywhere else.  Needless to say, it's not an easy place to find, and especially not an easy place to stay. 

I've been trying to write this post for 3 days now.  And every time I come back to it, I realize how difficult this concept is and how difficult it is to write about it because I haven't yet discovered how to live in this way consistently.  It’s a concept that directly opposes everything we’ve ever been taught.  We’re so ingrained to believe in goal setting and consequently, that reaching our goals is what will make us happy.  How do we balance this hunger for life we’re taught to have with being content with now?  How do we push ourselves to become healthier, more creative, more confident and self affirming, to find love . . .  all while accepting where we are in the moment at the very same time?  As one of my yoga teachers says, there is no such thing as balance.  I imagine life as a multitude of seesaws.  For me, yoga is where I learn how to become aware of the times where one side of the seesaw is getting too heavy and where I should distribute the weight.  

Keep practicing.