This article is created in partnership with Ana Verzone, host of the Rebel Buddhist podcast and spiritual mindset coach for freedom seekers. She is dedicated to giving us the tools we need to live our most adventurous and mindful lives. We’re honored to work with her. ~ ed.
“All the suffering there is in this world arises from wishing ourselves to be happy.” ~ Shantideva
It’s so interesting how the weight of our stuff and the weight of our bodies are similar.
One of the issues I notice a lot with my overeating clients is clutter and lack of organization. So much of our stuff is just a buffer. It’s a distraction. It creates overwhelm so we don’t really experience what’s going on in our lives.
As a spiritual mindset coach and creator of the Rebel Buddhist podcast, I talk a lot—and not just to those who overeat—about buffering.
Buffering shows up a lot because it’s something we all do. The only difference is what we use to buffer with. Whether it’s food, alcohol, shopping, Netflix, or social media, it all gets us to the same place: stuck in a loop of self-soothing, unable to fully show up in our lives, unable to experience true freedom.
Buffering may make us feel good in the moment, but it’s a false pleasure.
A false pleasure is something that your brain has an excessive reaction to that it’s not evolved to handle and, therefore, has a negative consequence. For example, when we concentrate grapes into wine and drink it, we give our brain an extreme burst of dopamine.
Since your brain is not used to such an excessive dopamine response, it thinks that wine is a very important thing for your survival. Therefore, you’ll drink it at the expense of other things. It’s the same with sugar. It’s the same with flour. It’s the same with heroin. It’s the same with cocaine.
We take all these naturally occurring things in the world and we process them so they affect our brain in a way that is artificial.
Your brain is like, “Wow, this is amazing. This experience is much more amazing than my usual life experience.”
Maybe we’re feeling anxious, stressed, or frustrated, and we eat to get that pleasure which helps us escape from that emotion for a moment. Now, does it mean that we’re actually happier? Does it mean that we’re actually having less negative emotion, or have we just put ourselves into a space that makes us less aware of it because we’ve given ourselves this artificial dopamine hit?
That’s what buffering is. It’s when we use external things to change how we feel internally.
Why do we buffer? Two reasons: 1. We don’t want to experience any type of negative emotion and 2. We feel entitled to feel happiness and pleasure all of the time.
It’s okay to feel unhappy sometimes.
Part of what fuels this behavior is the fact that we are constantly bombarded with ways to feel pleasure. You should go eat something. You should go buy something. You should go drink something. See, there’s a lot of money to be made on pleasure.
It becomes a perpetual issue in our lives because pleasure wants us to beget more pleasure. The more we purchase, the more we purchase; the more we eat, the more we eat; the more we drink, the more we drink; the more we watch porn, the more we watch porn; the more we Netflix, the more we Netflix; the more we scroll, the more we scroll. And, ironically, the unhappier we feel.
We’re sold on more—and more is never enough. We’re resistant to the point of being terrified of being uncomfortable, of having less around us to buffer our real feelings.
I get it. I remember feeling that same way. I remember feeling that if you take the parties and the overdrinking and other sources of concentrated pleasure out of my life, you’re going to take all the fun out of my life.
But what actually happened when I stopped buffering with these things is that I gained true freedom.
The thing is, to experience true freedom you’ve got to be willing to be uncomfortable, to feel pain, to suffer. Since that’s the reality of life, right? In all its good, bad, happy, sad-ness.
Constantly rejecting those things you don’t want to feel, like unhappiness, and trying to solve them by seeking false pleasure means you’re never going to get yourself out of that loop.
We say we want an “authentic” life, but the truth is we’re actively avoiding it.
What is the world like if you don’t ever overeat, overdrink, overspend, or overwork? What is your world like if you don’t seek the false pleasure and you just go for the true, honest, authentic life?
You’re probably left with all the emotions that you’ve been unwilling to feel, and life feels terrible. That’s exactly what happened when I stopped overdrinking.
But on the other side of this is the realization that none of these uncomfortable emotions need to be eradicated immediately. I can sit with them and be okay.
In fact, when you allow yourself to really feel unhappiness, you get to know yourself in a much deeper way. When you get to know yourself in a much deeper way, you start finding the causes of that unhappiness, and then you can start to change them.
What you notice about authentic happiness versus false pleasure is that the authentic emotion is sustainable. That’s the pleasure that we are meant to experience in our life.
That is my invitation to you, to give up—or at least release your attachment to—the false pleasures so you can enjoy the full pleasure of well being. The full pleasure of well being does not mean that you don’t experience negative emotion—it just means that you have no problem when it’s there.
You can handle it. You’re not constantly being a victim of your own emotional life. You’re willing and able to walk into any negative emotion. When you’re willing to do that, buffering will become unnecessary, and all the negative consequences will go with it.
How to know if you’re buffering:
Sometimes people will ask me, “Well, is it buffering if I watch documentaries all day on a Saturday? Is it buffering if I watch Netflix all the time? Is it buffering if I’m constantly going to the movies?”
Does it give you a negative consequence on the backend, and are you using it to avoid negative emotion? If the answer is yes to either one of those, then yes, it is buffering. If you’re willing to feel your emotions and you’re willing to go through those things and you go to the movies or you watch Netflix and you don’t experience a negative consequence on the other side of it, then rock it out.
Not everything is buffering.
You will know if something is buffering because it will have a negative impact on you. You will know because you will be creating it through negative emotion.
When you stop buffering, you will feel pain—temporarily (all emotions are temporary). Buffering is what we do to avoid pain, so it makes sense that when you stop, you’ll feel it.
It’s similar to walking into a house and turning on the lights. The house is a mess. The obvious and easiest answer is to simply turn the lights back off (buffer) so the mess will “go away.” But obviously the mess doesn’t go away—you just can’t see it. It’s the same with emotions.
Buffering or avoiding emotion does not make the emotion go away—it just makes us not see or feel it. We pretend it isn’t there. But it is there, and for a reason. All emotions have a cause.
So stop buffering and turn the lights on.
The mess might seem overwhelming, but we can handle it. We can clean it up. The pain is temporary. When we stop buffering, we start living the truth of our lives. We start seeing exactly what is going on in our minds and in our emotions and our actions.
When we stay conscious, we can evaluate these patterns in a way that motivates change.
You don’t want a life where you have to keep turning off the lights. You want a life where you are proud to keep the lights on. A life where you can stand firm on both feet, head clear, eyes open, and say, “Bring it! What else do you got?”
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