From the Editors / Snow Lion Articles

Everyday Neurosis

Book coverThe Tibetan word which is often translated as “neurosis” literally means “the failure to accept things as they are.” The failure to accept people and life as they are is a powerful source of personal suffering. This does not mean that we should not pursue happiness and work for change for the better where possible. It means that there are aspects of life over which we have no control, and the greater wisdom is to accept the fact calmly. We must accept that we cannot control others, except as they voluntarily submit (and we will pay a price for their submission). We cannot entirely control the course of our lives. We may make choices, but their outcomes depend upon many outer factors. We may have total control over our input into life, but we have much less control than we wish over its outcome. Trust in ourselves is the confidence that we can deal with it.

We often become angry (or depressed) when life does not live up to our expectations. Our expectations function like unexamined, often unconscious, basic assumptions. We make all kinds of assumptions of how we should be, how others should be, and how life should be. One of the most prevalent, frequently unexamined assumptions in contemporary culture is the idea of progress, the idea that conditions will continuously improve. People take this idea personally. They expect more. They expect they will be able to move from a hut, to a shack, to an apartment, to a house, to a mansion.

We harbor expectations the way a path can harbor land mines. When life contradicts our idea of how things should be we often automatically respond with disappointment, anger, or depression. Disappointment is dashed expectation. It can disguise itself in many ways, especially as righteous indignation. If a man who gets angry at a slow waiter is not really hungry, then his anger wasn’t fueled by the desire for food but by his desire to feel important and the expectation that he would be served promptly in accord with his high sense of himself. The ego is a trickster.

—This introductory excerpt is from Vinegar into Honey: Seven Steps to Transforming Anger, Aggression, and Violence by Ron Leifer, M.D.

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