Conscious living is dangerous territory. There are pitfalls, big black holes to be aware of lest you plummet into one! “Oh no!” you say, “Shall I turn back and resume my lame unconscious and unfulfilling life?” I don’t think that’s necessary. Let’s just take a closer look at what happens when we take conscious living to the extremes.
Like anything in life, the extreme gets us into trouble, those precarious edges where something is taken way too far. That’s where we find death by gratitude. Or self sabotaging behavior that chases away our own happiness, like some crazy old lady attacking it with a broom.
The Trap of Too Much Gratitude
When I first started this blog, over a decade ago, I wrote a simple article about how to be happy. I kind of want to puke when I read it now, it’s so cute and elementary. But it also reminds me of the time of my life where I fell into the trap of too much gratitude. I spent years smiling at the flowers in my garden, because I didn’t want to face the problems in my marriage.
Eventually, I stopped being grateful for a life without intimacy, and I’m divorced now. For us, the process wasn’t some big nasty drama. It was a slow and painful honoring of truth and authenticity. We weren’t in love anymore and we were no longer compatible, and no amount of meditation was going to change that.
Since then, I’ve learned to recognize the danger zone of conscious living where gratitude becomes complacency. It’s a subtle shift in the landscape. Like those partly cloudy days where it’s sunny then not quite so sunny. You think you might need a sweater and then a moment later it’s sunny again.
Both gratitude and complacency are feelings, not just thoughts.
The body can help us recognize whether or not we need a sweater. Likewise, it can tell us if we are being grateful or its evil twin, complacent. No matter how much we try, gratitude doesn’t feel good if we are settling for something that we shouldn’t settle for. Such as bread crumbs tossed to us by relationships that aren’t fulfilling. Or work that doesn’t pay the bills and eats small moth holes in our soul.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with practicing gratitude in our daily lives. But it can also be a smoke screen. Conscious living requires the discernment and courage to face the things that aren’t working.
Self Sabotaging Happiness
Now let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum of conscious living, far away from gratitude. This is the realm of ambition and desire, where we crave evolution. This is where we are hyper aware of the parts of our life that have room for growth.
But wait! Slow down there, tiger! There are also pitfalls to ambition. When we audit our life, we see all the places that we can improve. I’m extra good at this practice. I’m a master at finding problems to solve in my life. 😐
I’m going to explain how this is a form of self sabotage with a random and somewhat convoluted metaphor that just insists on coming to mind when I think about this behavior.
Imagine a huge factory, a rather impressive building in a desirable urban location. But it is fenced off and boarded up and not presently operational. Plywood covers some of the windows where the glass was broken by who knows what. Some of the bricks on the exterior are crumbling.
But the factory is valuable, because it has so much potential. It can create so much if it’s managed well. If it’s used to make the right product. Or perhaps transformed into an intentional cohousing development, with communal gardens and dinner gatherings. Anyhow, you get the picture. The factory represents the potential we all have in life to be something amazing, someone useful, the best version of ourselves.
However, the owner doesn’t know what to do with this asset yet. (That part has to do with finding purpose in life.) So in the meantime, there’s a security guard who wanders all around the factory day and night, evaluating the present state of life compared to its potential, or just seeing if anything isn’t as it ought to be.
Sometimes I feel like that security guard, guarding my security. Walking around the factory of my life, at night, with my flashlight shining on every alley and crack.
When I’m in this mode, I’m not at my best. My pants don’t fit me quite right. Maybe they’re a little too high in the waist or a little too tight and my belly hangs over the waistband in an unappealing way. I’m eating some shitty sugary snack, some piece of junk food, something that on a better day I’d steal from my kids Halloween bag and throw away. I have a dark view of the world when I’m behaving this way. I’m disgruntled. The collective hangs heavy over my thoughts. I’m upset about something I read in the news and I’m grumbling to myself about it. All while wandering around the empty parking lot at the back of the building, or the dark stairwells inside. I’m shining my flashlight left and right and here and there and looking for anything that’s wrong.
Eventually I will find something, it won’t take long. Ah ha! There is the problem I’ve been looking for. Then I sit down and overthink it for many days until it becomes this huge thing, and suddenly my life has a crisis or some drama. This process is the self sabotage of my own happiness.
It’s as if ambition turns into its shadow form. It becomes discontent. I’m complaining instead of evolving, and there’s a very different energy to that. I wreak havoc on my self worth. And if I shine this flashlight on the people around me, I sabotage relationships too.
Conscious living is not all love and light. And it also isn’t about judging ourselves and our life and our relationships too harshly.
We can recognize these extremes when something feels off. Misapplying the tools of living a conscious life, such as gratitude or ambition, just feels bad. Emotions are a powerful guidance system. Staying present means we are aware of our true feelings. Authentic living means we honor them.
I don’t want to be that security guard. I want to be a business savvy owner, realizing that I have this resource and finally making a wise decision about what to do with it instead of paying this weird guard to protect my asset. Maybe I can sell the property and go to Bali, and practice lots of gratitude.