I was walking along the beach one day, having a nice vacation, when I stepped into quicksand. It wasn’t a deep pit like you see in the movies, the kind that can swallow a horse and rider, but it was quicksand, just the same. I soon was in up to my knees, just like in the movies. The more I struggled to pull my feet out, the more stuck I became.
Perhaps you’ve noticed by now that you get more entrenched in your issues the more you try to solve them; just like quicksand. You have a library of self-help books, have seen a score of therapists, attend groups, seminars, and yoga classes, you take medicine, and practice mindfulness. All this and you are still anxious. In fact, you’ve gone from being anxious to being anxious about being anxious. If your method of escaping is similar to my method of getting out of quicksand, you will get more stuck. You’re doing it wrong.
People always think they can learn to manage stress by stopping stress. They think they can overcome anxiety by calming down, discard irrational thoughts by discrediting them, overcome traumatic memories by forgetting them, stop drinking by removing alcohol from their lives. These methods work a lot of times, but, in special circumstances, they can get you even more stuck than you were before.
The reason I couldn’t get out of quicksand was because, whenever I attempted to pull one foot out, all my weight went to bear on the other one, causing it to sink more. I had to take an indirect approach. The only way to get out of quicksand is to get in it. I had to lay down, spread my weight across my whole body surface, and roll. I can testify that, while this seems easy to do, it’s hard to want to do. Everything in me suggested that I minimize contact with the quicksand, rather than maximize it. I was wrong.
You don’t get rid of stress and anxiety, you learn to live with it. You don’t banish negative thoughts from your mind, you place them side-by-side with positive thoughts. At first, if you want to stop using alcohol, it makes sense to get away from it, but eventually you have to be around it.
Not everyone steps into quicksand. I did; it was one of the high points of my vacation because it gave me a story to tell; but everyone experiences psychological turmoil. Everyone gets stressed, anxious, and down. Everyone has irrational thoughts, bad habits, and does things they regret. Everyone gets ill. Everyone dies. These things are inevitable. Suffering is optional.
Suffering is when, by struggling to eradicate pain, you just add to it. Suffering is a lot like getting caught in quicksand.
I eventually rolled my way of quicksand, or I would still be there, immobile on a beach. I guess there’s worse places to be than on a beach, unless you’re caught in quicksand.