Understanding habits, needs and negative emotions – The want to escape – Chapter Two

Understanding habits, needs and negative emotions – The want to escape – Chapter Two

The want to escape

The want to escape is a distortion of the need for freedom and fun. It usually rears its head because we are stuck in the other wants; approval, control and security. Suicide is the ultimate want to escape. It is the want to escape the current situation or responsibilities in life. You can’t escape the ups and downs, or the twists and turns of life. It’s a roller coaster ride – not a flat road. Many addictions are formed by the want to escape. People turn to drugs, drink, food or even gambling to escape the way they feel about what is happening, or not happening in their lives. They want to escape not being happy. If you are sitting at work watching the clock and wishing you were somewhere else, this is the want to escape. You have responsibilities and need to work, but you would rather be out playing golf.

You can’t escape the responsibilities of living or of being a parent or partner in a relationship. Responsibility is just our ability to respond. It is our ability to make a choice but sometimes we feel there is no other choice but to try to escape the situation – to run away. You can’t run away from life. Everything is changing and nothing is permanent. Even a situation where a person has thoughts of suicide is in most cases a situation that will pass and resolve itself if that person stays the course. The want to escape comes from a feeling of hopelessness. This is the flight part of our flight or fight response. When you want to escape, you are not focusing on solutions because, in a mind filled with fear, escape is the only solution. There is nothing wrong with wanting to escape a physical threat, it’s our natural instinct. The want to escape an emotional threat is another thing. The needs for freedom and fun are frustrated when we feel disconnected and disempowered. This is when the want to escape usually pops its head up. Why would you want to escape this moment, when this is the only time you really have? The want to escape is the want for something different to what you have now. Drugs, alcohol, food and gambling are just short term escapes. The problems are still there when you get back – and usually with added consequences.

Food, shelter and freedom from harm are all we need to survive.
Image 1This moment is the only time we really have.

The happiest person I have met is a guy called Kevin. Kevin worked on a radial arm drill at an engineering company where I once worked. We used to joke that Kevin was the happiest guy we knew because he wasn’t married. We knew the perils of upsetting the once shy young ladies we had married. Those same young women had now taken on the disapproving looks and lectures our mothers used to give us when we didn’t quite behave the way they wanted. (Let’s face it; men often take a lot longer than women to settle into the responsibilities of being married and rearing a family.)

Kevin was your typical old style Aussie guy aged in his mid-fifties – old slouch hat tipped to one side, checked shirt with sleeves rolled up and a thick leather belt holding up his green work pants. Kevin always had a smile and something to say to everyone who walked past. He would call out ‘Hello gorgeous’ to the office women as they walked past to make them feel good and everyone liked him. You couldn’t avoid it: his happiness was infectious!

I mentioned to him one day that his mates thought he was happy all the time because he wasn’t married. He laughed and said that he had a ‘lady friend’. He saw her a few days each week and had done so for many years, but they didn’t feel the need to change this arrangement when it worked so well for both of them. I asked Kevin why he seemed happy all the time and this is what he told me:

Kevin had a best friend all the way through school and he said they were like brothers. They did everything together, played football and even supported the same football team. One day they were supposed to be going to the football together and Kevin went to his friend’s house to pick him up, but his friend hadn’t woken up. Kevin’s best friend had died in his sleep. Kevin said he couldn’t believe it. His friend had been one of the fittest guys he knew. Then he looked me in the eyes and said: ‘You never know when your time is up. So every day I wake up I am just glad to still be here. If I wake up in the morning then everything else is a bonus. And if it’s my last day I’m not going to waste it bothering about rubbish.’
I asked him if he got bored on the drill doing the same thing day after day, and his reply was this: ‘A job worth doing is worth doing well. You can be happy washing dishes if you are just doing what needs to be done. Some of the people who work here don’t want to be here. They would rather be playing golf or down at the pub instead of just doing what needs to be done. What’s the point of wanting to be somewhere else when this is where you are? That’s just plain silly – It just makes the clock go slower when you watch it.’

This is the gospel according to Kevin; a very simple way of looking at life. Was Kevin successful? If success is the attainment of a worthy goal, then the highest goal of all is to be happy. All other goals are just steps along the path to try to reach this ultimate goal. All goals we undertake are designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain – the pleasure we seek is happiness.

If we look at the Buddha’s teaching, he talks about the impermanence of things. We cling to the good things and feelings and have an aversion to the things and feelings we don’t like. Yet they will all arise and pass away. It is also interesting to note that neurological testing on some Buddhist monks has shown them to be among the happiest people. I find this very interesting as they have virtually no possessions of note. They focus on love and compassion for all living things and let go of craving. They meet their basic human needs through co-operation and contribution. We can now look back at my old friend Kevin’s philosophy of life to see him embrace his own impermanence in much the same way a Buddhist monk might.

I am not suggesting we all need to become monks, meditating in caves to be happy. Kevin didn’t. But there are some very basic lessons we can learn, as we walk through this journey of life, that can enrich our lives and make them much more enjoyable. Too often we postpone our happiness until a time when we get something we want. It stops us enjoying the moment now and yet this moment is all we have. The past is gone and the future is yet to arrive. This moment is the only time we really have. All time outside of this moment is psychologically mind created time and it only exists in our minds.