Throughout one’s day-to-day experience there are events, situations or people who bring out a reaction in us. These reactions can be perceived to be either positive or negative. It is these reactions that are our “hooks” in life in which we are journeying our own issues. This week’s blog is in a response to a request by a reader to provide further dialogue and insight into “the hooks.”
Let me first provide some context around what “the hook” is about. Pema Chodron uses in term and has written about it extensively (see below reference). I have referred to the hook issue in previous blogs as attachments in which we become identified by events or people who come into our lives. When these events occur we become attracted liked a magnet to them because of the beliefs, thoughts and feelings we hold within ourselves. Once attached, as if in a spider’s web, it is very difficult to be come untangle. What is helpful for us is to see the spider’s web before we become wrapped up in it.
Some of our hooks in life are conscious. These are ones which we know we have but consciously choose to encourage. For example, food can often be a hook for people. I know for myself desserts are a strong hook. When presented with cheese cake or Napoleon slices I am more often than not hooked into having a piece. The temptation is too great and I am so attached to the feeling I get when having it. Fitness can be another form of conscious “hook.” The experience we get from being at the gym, yoga studio or hiking outdoors can be so exhilarating that we become attached to it when given the chance. These are often the pleasures we have in life. However, our level of attachment to them can be felt when we stop doing these things that we enjoy. How much suffering does it create in your life when you stop? This is not to say that pleasure is a bad thing – far from it. The point being that we can become attached to things we like and also to things we don’t like. Each are doorways into learning more about ourselves in our journey.
Relationships are another area in which we can become consciously attached. This is especially true in new relationships in which we feel exhilarated and euphoric. The pleasure is so great that we soon become attached to the person we perceive is causing these feelings of love in us. We forget that our feelings are our own and come from within us. We believe others are able to give us the feeling of love. We generate these feelings for ourselves because the other person reminds us of our true loving nature. Despite this knowing, we want to hold onto the other that can cause us to feel so much love and so we marry them to keep them close. Over time, the shine on the new relationship diminishes and we begin to see the cracks in the patina of the other person. However, by this time we have become tangled in our own web of relationship only to realize that the other person is a mirror for us of our own issues and challenges. The hook is in place and we are journeying on the roller coaster of life.
For the most part, most of our hooks in life that cause us the most challenge are unconscious. We don’t often see them before they appear and in many cases because of conditioning we don’t know there is a web in front of us until we are entangled. You will know that you have become hooked in this way when you have a reaction to something or someone. An event will occur and it will set you off usually in frustration, anger or disappointment. For example, we can all probably recall an event at work or in our personal life that caused an instant reaction in us. The boss asked you to do something and you got mad. The client wasn’t happy with the work you provided. The salesperson didn’t give you all the facts before you purchased your item. Some event occurred and you reacted BECAUSE you felt it should be other than it is. Our reactivity can be so heightened that someone we know could walk by or come into our space and we react instantly. They don’t even have to say anything and we are so hooked in our suffering. Once hooked, it is like sitting in the middle of a hot stew or like having gum on your shoe that you can’t get rid of. We don’t like being in this situation, feeling the things we are feeling and yet we simply can’t get the smell out of our clothes.
So what can you “do” when you become hooked? How do you untangle yourself from your own web? Unfortunately, there is no magic trick that will take our self-inflicted suffering away. The most conscious approach is to be aware of our own hooks and not get entangled in the first place. However, once caught in the web, here are some things I have found helpful:
- Acknowledge that you have been hooked. Awareness is the key to becoming untangled and preventing yourself from being hooked again.
- Don’t try to escape. Trying to avoid or get out of the stew that surrounds you will not work and in some cases only intensity your own suffering.
- Don’t enroll others in your unconsciousness. Misery likes company. You may try to enrol others or find others who are equally unconscious to validate your own experience. This just keeps you going around and around. It may provide some illusory sense of comfort but it will be short-lived and in the long-term only keep your unconsciousness alive.
- BE in your own stew. Notice what is going on for you. How you are feeling? What is at the root of your feelings? What is the belief that you are holding onto that is ultimately causing you pain?
- BREATH in slowing taking all of the pain and suffering you feel as well as the pain and suffering of others in the world who are feeling the exact same way. Now, exhale and let out how you would like to feel in this moment for yourself and others in the world who are feeling this way. Take two more deep breaths with the same focus and awareness.
- Be GRATEFUL for having created the situation so you can learn about your hooks. Be thankful that you have the opportunity to have awareness so you can be more attentive next time. And when the hook surfaces next time, because it will, continue the practice and notice if the intensity is just a little bit less than the last time. Life lessons are ongoing. The suffering that we create for ourselves around them doesn’t have to be. Buddha’s enlightenment was based upon a journey of helping to eliminate suffering in the world. By eliminating your own suffering you are helping to liberate others.
It is much easier to see other people’s hooks than our own. You will likely have noticed this when others come to you with their attachments. Think of a time when someone came to you all upset. You listen wholeheartedly but you couldn’t fully understand why this situation has caused such a reaction for the other person. In these moments, you can see someone who is hooked and you can be aware of what has caused them to be hooked. These opportune moments allow us to learn from others so when we have situations occur for us we can possibly prevent ourselves from becoming entangled. You may also notice compassion surfacing for the other person not because of the situation but because of the self-suffering they are creating for themselves through their thoughts and feelings. Hopefully you will be able to have compassion for yourself when you are hooked.
My challenge to you for this week is to watch for situations or people who cause reactions within you. Become aware of the underlying beliefs that you hold within yourself that is the dangling hook in front of you. Sometimes, seeing the underlying hook is not so easy as we have become unconsciously conditioned over time. You may want to meditate on you hooks or contemplate them. You could also speak with a friend who isn’t hooked by the same issue to get some perspective. Alternatively, finding someone who has journeyed their own unconsciousness to the point of some self-awareness may be helpful in looking at the hooks that surface in your life.
May you be filled with happiness and the roots of happiness
May you be void of suffering and the roots of suffering
May you not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering
May you dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression and prejudice
(The Four Limitless Ones Chant – Buddhism)
PS. Pema Chodron has written a book about this very topic, which I would encourage others to read called “Don’t bite the hook.”