You’ve been taught to find relief in the world. You’ve been taught that things, activities and people can alleviate the pressure, stress or overwhelem you feel from life. But it’s not actually true. So, if you’ve been starting to get an inkling of that, read on.
Last week I wrote about my client and the beautiful moment of ‘is this it?’ which, through our conversation, opened him to the permanent happiness, freedom and peacefulness — the relief! — that we know is available, but we’ve just not been able to reliably find.
So today I thought I’d expand on why you’ve not been able to reliably find relief in the way you’ve been taught you could, or believed you could. It’s a longer piece — but it could change your life so I reckon it’s worth it!
What seems to give you relief? What looks like it make you feel better?
For that client I wrote about last week, it was work. He could see how work had been like a safe, socially acceptable addiction for as long as he could remember. And that he could absorb into it to keep the existential crisis of the mind from rising to the surface (until this summer when the lid came off). This is the common experience with whichever relief system we adopt — it works for a time, and then it doesn’t.
At this point we can go deeper into it — more, more, more — , or we can find a new relief system, or we can look at what’s actually going on.
Here we look at what’s actually going on, because that’s the reliable relief we’ve really been looking for.
Relief systems come in all shapes and sizes but there is one fundamental thing going on — we believe there’s something wrong and we set about trying to fix that to feel better.
There is wisdom in the desire to feel better
You know deeply within yourself that you’re not designed for stress, angst, overwhelm, abuse, conflict, manipulation, limitation…all the things you try to appease through the Relief Systems I’m sharing with you today.
And yet, you’ve grown up in a world of confusion that says ‘you can fix this, whatever-it-is that looks wrong, in order to feel better — and then you’ll be OK.’ But you were already OK. Always. The confusion is THAT fundamental.
So this post is doing two things — it’s highlighting some of the Relief Systems you’re using, in order to feel better. And it’s pointing you back to see that feeling good is already your nature, prior to the idea that there’s something wrong.
The fact I’m able to share this with you today is only because I’ve used the vasy majority of the Relief Systems I’m writing about. I’ve tried them and found them to be left wanting. So whatever it is you’re doing, know that you are most definitely not alone, and that the moment you get into a conversation that points you out of confusion and towards alignment, you’re on the journey back to knowing your Self as the relief you’ve been looking for.
One last thing before we start, please be really clear — in this I am not saying any of these actions, behaviours or habits are wrong and need to be stopped or changed. The purpose of this is simply to reveal what’s going on in your system, to understand the Relief System and the logic of what it’s trying to achieve. In doing this, as you come to see that what it’s trying to achieve is impossible and an endless tail-chase, and you come to see that what it’s been trying to avoid isn’t dangerous, then any or all of these can be done or not done, without ideas of attachment or need. What a relief!
1. Physical Relief Systems
Maybe you run, or go to the gym, or play in a team, or dance. Maybe it’s walking. Maybe it’s sex. Or maybe you find yourself always doing jobs — diy, gardening, ironing, cleaning — rather than sitting down. These of course can be great for the body! Our system likes movement to greater or lesser extents so…
How do you spot when it’s a relief system?
Rest looks like a non-option. It might feel like you’re compelled to keep moving — ‘I have to run every day or I’m so grumpy’, ‘I have to exercise because I ate more than I should have — again’, ‘I can’t sit and do nothing I feel restless / guilty / lazy’. You feel like there is always something to do and it has to be done now or things will pile up. And I’ll have to do it to make sure it’s done right or on time. Quite possibly this comes with being surrounded by people who seem to be very good at not-doing or who seem incapable. To you, sitting down to do nothing — especially if it was literally nothing, not even TV — looks crazy, pointless, a waste of time, unproductive, lazy.
Pause for a moment. Which of these resonate?
2. Mental Relief Systems
Then there are mental relief systems, anything to keep this busy mind at bay. Anything to stop me hearing those awful things it says. Often for this you turn to work or learning or listening to the radio, podcasts or sporting events. Anything to keep you distracted from your churning thoughts. Or maybe mindfulness or meditation seem to be the way to turn down that noise and get some relief. It can also be work — using the mental activity of a job to distract from the nagging doubts in your mind.
How do you spot when it’s a relief system?
If you say things like ‘I’m terrible being in my own company’ or ‘I hate the sound of silence’ or ‘I just need something on in the background’ then these are probably the kind of relief systems you’d reach for. If it’s mindfulness or meditation, these will look like a requirement to stay on an even keel. There’ll be a sense of fear at the idea of stopping your practice — what would happen then?! Or maybe you find, like my client, that you can’t wait to get back to work on a Monday to reabsorb the mind in something else.
What’s resonating there? Which mental Relief System feels familiar?
3. Physical and Mental Relief Systems
In many ways, all of the above are both physical and mental — this is one system after all. It’s just that for those up there, either the physical or the mental is the predominant form. In these next examples, the physical is more specifically used to quiet the mental.
In this section, we could say there’s quite an obvious scale of Relief Systems; some not so good for the body like drugs and alcohol, through to food, through to those that are definitely better for the body like breath work, meditation, massages, yoga, essential oils. And work too. It provides something physical — going to the office, navigating a journey, moving between meetings — which distracts from the mental.
How do you spot when it’s a relief system?
You might find you’re always looking for an opportunity to go out with friends to the pub, or to celebrate something, or to reward yourself with food or drink after a tough day. Or maybe you say ‘I really need this meditation / yoga class / breathing’. Maybe you notice that the moment you start to feel a bit off you find yourself reaching for your favoured ‘thing’ — the wine, the massage therapist’s number, the essential oil that’s meant to help with stress. It’s like a reflex to reach for the next hit of the thing that seems to ‘fix’ this that looks wrong.
What resonates here?
4. Identity Relief Systems
This one is perhaps the most hidden of them all. The patterns of behaviour you fall into because you think they maintain who you are. They’re hidden because you just think they’re you, or just how things are. But identifications are not what you are.
You think that in the absence of this personality, preferences, patterns of behaviour or opinions there would be no ‘me’…OK, you probably don’t consciously think that, but that’s what’s happening under the bonnet. And possibly what’s happening right now, given I’ve suggested that you are not your personality, preferences or opinions. Is there a rising feeling of fear? Or a resistance to what I’ve just said? Just notice it.
How do you spot when it’s a relief system?
Any time you say ‘I’m the kind of person who…’ or ‘they’re the kind of person who…’ or ‘I just can’t help myself from…’ or ‘I am always / never…’ or when discomfort arises in you so strongly when you can’t speak or act in the way you normally would.
As you come to see more about your patterns you start to recognise how ‘oh, with those people I seem to behave like this’ — even if you don’t like the behaviour pattern or the dynamic, it just seems to happen.
Maybe with a parent you always revert to being a child. Maybe with a sibling it automatically reverts to rivalry and competition. Old friends that you revert to being a uni student with. Colleagues or clients that you are always the helper for. Or you become militant with someone with a different view. Maybe people, situations and the world are always looking like there’s something that needs to be fixed. There’s a relief in the familiarity of the adopting the role.
Generally these patterns are a version of the Karpman Drama Triangle — cycling around the three roles of Persecutor-Vitim-Rescuer, with the roles shifting and changing through the conversation or situation. As one person or circumstance shifts, so the others do. Until one steps out.
Pause for a moment to acknowledge repeating patterns you see for yourself in this area.
With all of these identity examples, and if you’re not open to exploring who you really are, anything that appears to threaten your ‘normal’ pattern is seen as a literal threat to your life and will be met with defence, anger or blame; or retreating, with contact stopping. These responses are the Relief System in action— the mind saying ‘I don’t like it, make it stop, it’s wrong, fix it’ and therefore the body reacting with a threat response to ‘save’ you from the imagined danger.
But in fact, all that’s happening is you’re getting closer-in to the root of what’s leading to the use of all the Physical and Mental Relief Systems above.
Now you’re getting to the heart of the matter (which is why the reaction gets stronger against it) because the activity of thought that thinks it’s maintaining your wellbeing and thinks it’s keeping you alive sees that its existence is being threatened.
What that activity of thought doesn’t know, is that it’s not keeping you safe. It’s keeping you limited. And it’s acutally the disappearance of itself that’s being sought.
Say more about that…
In every Relief System already mentioned, and all the others that exist, the good feelings you get (be it the run…or the sex…or the alcohol…or the breathwork…or the job…or the relationship — including the dysfunctional ones) are the feeling of relief from an idea of self.
It’s the absence of an idea of self that feels good. Not the Relief System.
It doesn’t look like that because you haven’t been taught to look at what’s actually going on. You’ve been taught to believe that something out there can make you feel good and relieve you of your stress, upset, discomfort or feelings of not enough.
When this Relief System looks like it’s not making you feel good anymore, you move on to the next one, or you increase the dose, or the intensity, or the volume, or the frequency. Until that one stops working…reach for a new one, use, repeat.
The mind’s logic says — I feel bad — feeling bad is wrong — I should fix this — [reach for Relief System that fits the context] — mind settles in the presence of what it thinks will save you (the idea of self disappears with that settling of mind) — you feel good*. Mind says — look it worked! I feel better. And misattributes the ‘feeling better’ to the Relief System, and therefore reaches for it again next time.
*This feeling good was the absence of an idea of self. Period.
You see it playing out strongly in teribble or abusive relationships. The idea of self includes the idea ‘I don’t deserve love’. And it’s so strongly held as a belief of who I think I am that you stay in the relationship. The repeating pattern of conflict or abuse could be awful, but to the mind it looks preferable because at least it’s known and familiar and therefore (it says) safe. (The idea of self also can’t bear the idea of uncertainty by the way — something else it’s created an idea of, attached to and is attempting to hold onto via Relief Systems). And so the mind tries to hold at bay the question of ‘who would I be without this thought?’
But this question is actually the route to freedom that’s wanted.
It looks terrifying to the mind because it’s as though it can sense its own demise in the question. It feels threatened and so sometimes you feel worse as you enter this exploration, as the body responds to the mind’s calls of danger!
But something in us knows this is the way to go.
There comes a point when the discomfort and misaligment in the confusion of the Relief System, and the seeing of the temporary, unsatisfactory, repetitive nature of the relief, outweighs the comfort of staying in it.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin
What happens next?
As the tight bud-like-ness of this experience eventually becomes too great, blossoming begins. You’re designed to blossom — not to remain limited within a false story of ‘I can’t handle this…quick get relief!’
And so you begin to be guided back to the good feelings you know yourself to be — and which you see you’ve been trying to find in the Relief Systems.
And that’s amazing. Because then you get to start to ask where the good feelings have really been coming from in all these situations. If the good feelings weren’t reliably coming from ‘the thing’ — which they can’t have been because the thing wasn’t reliable in giving them to you — then where were they coming from?
This leads you to the realisation that the good feelings of relief you were looking for are You. They weren’t being given to you by the Relief System. The Relief System was merely settling the mind and revealing what you already are, prior to thoughts and ideas.
When you say ‘oh I’m feeling myself again now’ — it’s true. You are literally feeling your Self. The good feelings are your capital S Self.
You’re feeling in alignment with what you really are. Unhindered by the confusion of the mind that creates an idea-of-a-you that needs to be a certain way to feel good, that needs others and the world to be a certain way to feel good.
What now? Look honestly at your life
What has ever consistently, 100% of the time, made you feel positive, uplifted, happy? Really honestly look at this.
If you discover the answer is nothing — amazing! Keep looking away from the stuff of life, and towards your Self. Keep looking towards when good feelings arise, and when they don’t.
Notice that when life seems to be absent of good feelings it’s when there’s a whole bunch of self-referential, me-based, past-future thinking going on.
Notice that when you feel good, you’re just in this moment. Indeed even if this moment is dramatic or intense or not what would get labelled ‘fun’ from the outside — and yet there’s that sense of OK-ness within.
Keep looking to this.
The seeing of this, and the recognition that it is You that feels good, already, and that it has always been You that you’ve been feeling when you’ve felt good, or happy, or peaceful or in love, or relieved — then you start to shift into alignment with what’s true — instead of living in the confusion of what you’ve been taught — and so your relationship with the world, with habits, with people also shifts into one that aligns with the happiness, freedom and peacefulness you now know yourself to be. Already.
No relief systems required — You are the relief you’ve been looking for. What a relief!
With love, Helen
I’m running an interactive call about The Source of Happiness for the members of my community on Patreon on 24th September at 12.30pm UK(it will be recorded and shared in the community afterwards). Accessible to Tier 1 and above, have a look at the membership options here and join us to explore happiness in greater depth, bringing your own questions and observations with you.
I coach and guide smart, passionate, curious people who care about improving the lives of those around them. Often coaches and leaders, they’ve worked hard all their lives to be the ‘best’ them and it doesn’t seem to have delivered the happiness, security or freedom they expected. Now they’re wondering what else is available. I guide you back, prior to stories, to remember the real you because that’s what you, me and the whole world really wants! Find out more here.