Tired of the Hamster Wheel

Tired of the Hamster Wheel
Jim Trofatter
September 2, 2020

So much of our lives are spent trying to perfect ourselves, trying to prove to others – our parents, teachers, peers, bosses, spouses, tribe – that we are capable of living up to their expectations of who we ought to be, all the while foregoing our personnel needs, desires and urges to be who we actually are. It’s tiring, exhausting work that never seems to end because in reality we will never be able to live up to the expectations of others. And frustratingly others continuously change the bar of what they expect of us as soon as we reach the original goal set for us by them, moving it higher and further away, always further away. And once again we must put our “nose to the grindstone” to strive even harder, even longer than before to satisfy these new goals, these new expectations. Why is it that whenever we reach a perceived endpoint, a specified goal, that that endpoint, that goal is shifted further away, is never enough? This is the trap of the “Pleasing The Other” game that most human beings fall into at a very young age.

This trap was created so early that we don’t even know that there is another way of being in relation to another. It’s the way we minimize confrontation with others, that we compromise our authenticity, that we control and have power over others, “toe-ing the line” so that we stay in the good graces of the tribe, that essential sense of community that all humans crave. To be without a tribe is to be an exile, isolated, a loner, someone who must fend for themselves in a seemingly cruel and chaotic world that is out to get us. The ultimate fear of a social creature: exile. We will do anything not to be exiled. Now, one of the rules of this “Pleasing The Other” game is we must forego our own needs for those of the other and the collective. Constantly giving of ourselves to please others, to cajole others to do what we want, to manipulate others to like us, to give us love, to give us human contact. Society and our families haven’t given us a different model to follow so this is all we know and it is tiring. But we continue to try, try, try. What other way is there?

So in order to push ourselves harder to reach perfect equanimity with others and attain those unattainable, ever-changing goals set before us, we join gyms, try various religions, take countless self-help courses, find spiritual disciplines and teachers that set up structure and order in our lives, whatever it takes to prove to others that we have what it takes to be a “good” human, to be a productive member of the tribe. And all of these approaches do help, a little, for a while, but the emptiness and sense of futility always return. They will always return because we both compromise the expression of our authentic self doing all these practices instead of following the voice of our own heart which has the unfortunate consequence of turn crushing our soul and abandoning our heart, our inner voice; and at the same time we are looking outside of ourselves for qualities that are actually inside of us. But we are taught to look outside of ourselves not inside, we are taught to give our authority to others to tell us what to think, to do, to believe, we are taught that the voice we hear inside our hearts is just our imagination and that it should be doubted, that’s what everyone else does. It’s what we know. How could we not act otherwise?

And of course, the newest, most radically modern teacher is always arriving on the spiritual landscape. Something so new, so innovative. Constantly seeking, seeking, seeking. And we always try the next best, newest, most innovative teaching knowing that this will finally be the one. “I know this teaching will be the one.”, “This teacher really gets me and will lead me to the freedom I’m so desperately seeking.”, all the while our own expectations of who we should be for others tainting the process of trying to get to our true authentic self. This seeking is another layer to the old “Pleasing The Other” game, that we are not good enough for others and the tribe and must do everything we can to get better, to prove ourselves worthy of their love and respect. Again, it’s tiring, it’s exhausting, and over countless years leads to a sense of utter hopelessness and helplessness.

There comes a point when we feel it would just be easier to give up the whole search than do anything else, to stop the seeking. The internal pain has become too unbearable, the existential angst of being human has become too much to bear, too much to experience. Getting up in the morning becomes a chore, driving to work becomes a chore, doing our jobs becomes a chore, being in toxic relationships becomes a chore, life becomes a chore. We begin to look up at the ceiling, the sky, the heavens and cry out important questions: “What’s the point of going on?” “Does my life have purpose?” “Why have I been forsaken?” “Does anyone hear me?” “Does anyone actually care about me?” “There must be something in life better than this hamster wheel I can never stop running on lest I fall on my face and fail?”

And always there is in the back of our minds the haunting knowledge that failure is not acceptable to ourselves or to those around us. And this knowiledge activates our “Please the Other” internal mechanisms which then dictates our actions and behavior aimed toward placating the other, the tribe. We know that the tribe is quite intolerant of failure especially in adults. It’s just another demonstration of how we fall short, how we are inadequate, how we are incapable of meeting their expectations of who we are supposed to be for them and the tribe. In addition, our failure is often taken personally as a failure of everyone in the tribe, so we must avoid failure at all cost. So we tighten the reins on our life and become hyper-vigilant of our impact on the other tribe members. This, of course, forces us onto the hamster wheel again looking for the slightest infraction, running ever faster and harder for perfection, always striving to be better, Maybe the next teacher will be the one. Soooo tiring, sooo exhausting.

The last question two paragraphs above “There must be something in life better than this hamster wheel I can never stop running on lest I fall on my face and fail?” is a really important one. It indicates that we have experienced a profound insight that has arisen from the depths of our Being, a shift in understanding that is telling us that what we’ve been doing, what society has been doing, maybe, possibly doesn’t actually work and there might be another way to approach life that is more empowering, more nurturing, more in line with Reality. For some unknown reason, the old paradigm, the old model of how we used to live is falling apart, is rotting away, is crumbling to pieces but nothing has come forward to replace it yet and to start another teaching at this time seems futile and pointless. So we cling desperately to our only known Reality which at the moment is a slowly breaking branch to which we are feverishly clinging to on the side of cliff a thousand feet from the bottom populated with jagged rocks. Snap!!!! We feel like our life suddenly goes into free-fall, without a parachute, with only the jagged rocks below approaching faster than we are comfortably feeling. “Is this terror?” “How did my life come to this?” How fast the distance of a thousand feet can be traversed. With what looks like an impending death, what are we to do?

The community of Trillium Awakening teachers would say that we are now in a space to be receptive to the transmission of this profound work. It is a work primarily for those of us who have a deep desire to awaken to our true and total selves, our authentic selves. It is place to start unwinding from the whirlwind of society’s demands, a place to get off the hamster wheel and relax for a moment, to take a deep breath and begin to settle into the depths of who we truly are. It is a work that helps us reconnect with our physical body, to embody – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritual – in ways we had forgotten since childhood and we find that as we fully deepen into our body that sense of coming home to who we truly are is experienced.

And who we truly are is not broken, is not damaged and is not less than. We are innately good, loving, capable and whole. There is a realization that no human is perfect and it is by our imperfections that we can explore our genius, our creativity, our potential as humans. What a relief not to have to be perfect!! This does not mean that we immediately release all of the traumas we’ve experience throughout our life, but we do find that we are more capable in holding those past events with love, allowing them to be “digested” and “processed” so that wisdom and understanding can replace the pain, sadness, grief, anger, confusion we’ve always felt. We begin to understand why we feel so split in body and mind and spirit. And the paradox of being both a finite and infinite being can be held without feeling overwhelmed by that existential angst or pain.

And then one day we begin to feel the deep stirrings of our hearts again and that a loving sense of self-compassion, self-love can actually be experienced in a safe place, while relating to others – teachers and other disenfranchised seekers – in a mature and healthy manner. This is so unlike the way most people interact with each other on a daily basis that at first it doesn’t seem real. It’s not the way the typical societal tribe functions. But relating in this way, in which our innate qualities are nurtured and mirrored back to us in a healthy, loving, parental manner, feels welcoming and we realize that that is all we’ve actually always been seeking, been looking for. For someone to accept us just as we are without expectations, without having to please them, without having to walk on eggshells every time we open our mouths. In this work, we find home not just within ourselves, we unexpectedly find it with others.

After being shut down for so long, as our tender hearts slowly, gently, cautiously open we find that we have the amazing capacity for deep intimacy with other people and we come to the recognition that these others are crucial for our unfolding, for our embodied awakening. That mutual, healthy relationship is fundamental to our evolution as a human being. We realize that we do not need to constantly please or be pleased by others, we do not need to cajole or cajoled by others for our safety, we do not need to manipulate or be manipulated by others to get what we want. We begin to experience what the word “family” actually means and this nurtures our deeper nature, it nurtures our Soul. We have found our new tribe, people who get us, real gets us for who we truly are.

And as we deepen into and move through this rotting process, we realize that everyone else, all those people we’ve been trying to live up to for all those years, are also on the hamster wheel. And we find we have great compassion for everyone else, for the whole tribe, for all of humanity because we’re now consciously aware of just how truly tiring it is to be on the hamster wheel, and how tiring it must be for all those others still unconsciously running feverishly to reach their unattainable goals and to please others on a daily basis, to play the “Please the Other” game. How could compassion not arise in the newly opened heart, the settled mind, the embodied human? It’s always been there. It’s always been an innate quality of who we truly are. And it feels right and proper for it to come forth, it’s what a truly embodied Being naturally and effortlessly expresses.

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