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The Ramifications of Emotions (continued)


We have previously seen how a single episode of a strong degree of wanting can cause considerable distress. But in addition to any current "Wanterfalls" (the emotional effects of wanting) we all carry a large store of memories about the past and ideas about the future – any or all of which may come with their own Wanterfalls attached.

Now, whatever we want, wish, hope or even politely express a slight preference for, in relation to one of these memories or ideas, is not at all likely to mesh exactly with our preferences regarding all the others! The laws of probability will see to that. In other words, at least some of our desires will be incompatible with each other – whether we like it (which we won't) or not.

We won't always be able to "have our cake and eat it" – even when we feel that is really necessary. If our desires include mutually exclusive imperatives, we cannot possibly satisfy them all – sometimes, we cannot even get a reasonable proportion of what we consider absolutely essential.

The unwinnable mental wrestling match between this desire, that desire and maybe various other desires takes place in the arena of the mind. You could therefore call it mental conflict. However, when the context is clearly psychological, it is usually just called conflict.

A very simple example of conflict would be wanting to eat the preferred amounts of favourite foods and also maintain a preferred shape. For many people, these desires are mutually incompatible. Especially if the favourite foods are chocolate and ice cream, and the preferred shape is some variant of thin.

Of course, there is nothing very logical about struggles of this nature. Indeed, conflict is not at all logical. It is a game played by two or more Wanterfalls, after all – and Wanterfalls are surely the most illogical things known to man. But human beings are notorious for suffering, even when logic does not strictly require it. So conflict remains a very important phenomenon to understand.

And the first requirement, if we are to understand conflict, is to notice its existence. We will not get very far otherwise. This, incidentally, provides a good example of that essential feature of self-awareness previously stressed – it must be non-judgmental. Otherwise, we would skip over such a silly thing as conflict very smartly, in order to spare ourselves the discomfort of our own contempt.

We saw under Guilt and Shame that our own condemnation, always ready to pounce when self awareness is judgmental, is not only very painful in its own right, but is also the essential ingredient which allows the disapproval of other people to wreak its cruel havoc.

In the present context, though, an even more important characteristic of self condemnation is that it makes self exploration so painful that it quickly grinds to a halt. So we can only explore our conflicts with dispassionate fascination (recommended) if we practise non-judgmental self-awareness.

I offered a deliberately simplistic example of conflict a little earlier. But here is an example which is rather more complex. Imagine that you are employed, and have been offered a promotion. It will bring you more money – something you could use without trying very hard at all. But it will also require Saturday work, and you play sport every Saturday. You don't want to give that up.

Your best friend is next in line for the job in question. You don't want to seem to be elbowing him aside. Especially as his house will be repossessed unless he gets a raise soon, and his wife is very ill. As a matter of fact, you think he deserves the job more than you do, and would do it better, too.

Once, however, he was made captain of a team, when you were the obvious choice. It would certainly balance that ledger a bit. On the other hand, you are currently pursuing a co-worker, and she thinks that your friend should definitely get the job. She even suspects that you have been doing some questionable things to neutralise him.

As a matter of fact, you have been doing some questionable things to secure this job. You feel guilty about that. And, as you have always thought guilt rather ridiculous, you feel pretty silly about feeling guilty. But you still feel guilty. And silly.

You have also been offered a job with another company, for even more money – but it might not last more than a year or two. It involves importing products made by child labour. You don't like the idea of child labour – but you also think that, without it, those children, and many of their relatives, would probably starve to death. So perhaps you have nothing against child labour. Or perhaps you do. You can't decide at all.

Basically, you want to be a good friend and earn more money and get even and have a new girlfriend and discourage bad things and encourage good things and play sport on Saturdays and not feel guilty and not feel silly and not get caught and whatever else I've missed.

Some of these things are compatible with each other, but plenty of them are not. Any that seem imperative to you but are mutually incompatible will create a double bind, as discussed under Stress. You can see that no perfect solution is likely – but you keep struggling to solve the problem, anyway.

You almost convince yourself that one course of action is the best overall. Ten minutes later, you realise that you simply cannot take that course. You have quite a few drinks and you think it will be OK in the morning. It isn't. You even wake up at night, going over the possibilities. You lose too much sleep.

Your doctor gives you some sleeping tablets. They work for a while, but the unsolved problem is always there in the morning. After some weeks, you find that the tablets only work if you take two. This makes you suspicious, and you flush the rest of them down the toilet.[47]

You still have to make that decision – perhaps more than one decision. After that, you will have to live with the effects of the decisions. And you will also have to decide what, if anything, to do about those effects. Welcome to the world of conflict. As if you hadn't been there before. The world of conflict is, after all, the world most of us live in, a great deal of the time.

Incidentally, although it had a number of potentially emotive elements to it, and rambled on for paragraph after paragraph, that was actually a pretty tame example of conflict. There were no unwanted pregnancies, no unfaithful lovers, no religious taboos or demands, no rapes or murders, no bankruptcies, no wars and no prisoners to torture in the public interest. However, conflict doesn't have to be dramatic, to be painful.

Conflict is certainly not a pleasant thing to notice in one's own mind. But noticing it, and understanding it better and better as time goes on, is the first step towards freedom from it. So, like all the unpleasant phenomena discussed in this book, conflict is an excellent thing to explore during Wanterfall work.[48]


(Click the number of a footnote to return to its reference in the text)

[47] You had a lucky escape there, as addiction to sleeping tablets is almost as hard to kick as addiction to heroin. You could have gone from conflict to addict in about six more dose increases. You could also have crashed your car, killing whatever number of children can fit into a bus shelter, etc etc.

[48] Remember that the second pillar of Wanterfall work will not be solid until the whole of this book (available as a free download HERE or to read online starting HERE) has been read and digested. It is wobbly until then!

(Click the number of a footnote to return to its reference in the text)


Tao symbol modified to depict conflict


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