What's Next Syndrome
“Once there was a tree....(read the story)…..and the tree was happy.”
- Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
Just take this moment and check in with your day so far. Since your day began, how many thoughts have you had about what you want? How many about what you don’t want? How much of the wanting is about getting an object of desire such as a new job, relationship, sex, food, clothes, house, car, etc., fill in the blank. How much of the not wanting is about the exact same things?
Like a Tasmanian devil, we are frantically seeking endeavors that consume our time and energy on gaining something, getting pleasure, improving our status, and getting approval. Yet, we can also assess that these same conquests bring pain, loss, disrepute, and attack.
The Industrial Revolution changed our lives, yet most of our desires began to revolve around acquisition of “things.” In the late 1880’s, Sears and Roebuck started mailing consumer good catalogues to customers. Their motto was “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake” because there’s a money back guarantee and these "things" could be returned or replaced. Catalogue advertisers spent approximately 90 million a year (2.3 billion in today’s dollar). Today, a whopping 100 billion is spent for online advertising alone.
At any given time, we have just about any possible desire at our fingertips, literally. Google anything your heart desires and within seconds hundreds of thousands of opportunities will present itself. If your desire is for food, check out how many restaurants offer delivery to your home so no need to go anywhere. If you want entertainment, it’s endless. Sex, check out pornography, or the 2,500 dating websites promising your soulmate. And, of course, shopping opportunities galore for clothes, appliances, books, yoga mats, shoes, cars, homes, etc. all awaiting a buyer. And, in "The Giving Tree" as Shel Silverstein writes, “You may cut off my branches and build a house … then you’ll be happy," but not really.
The United States is one of the most unhappy countries on the planet despite what’s available to us. This “what’s next syndrome” keeps us seeking and hoping and fused with a “believable” reality outside of ourselves. Consider making your “what’s next” a pause. Slow down the process of getting, having, wanting, and craving and take note of what's present in those moments. Observe how the wanting is mostly tied into a very frenetic, panicky energy and the not wanting with aggression and discontent.
There is a way of not falling into the trap of what’s next. Think of what’s been on your mind regarding a desire or some dissatisfaction. Now take it through this mindfulness exercise called RAIN (by Jack Kornfield):
Next time you feel the urge to “get something” or “get rid of something,” practice this process. Happiness is an inside job. Rearranging the furniture, so to speak, is only an attempt to keep you away from what’s really going on inside. It may be that the new pair of shoes or ending the relationship or enjoying sex is the most authentic way to proceed. But until we pause and look at what our mind wants us to believe or not believe, then we will continue on the “what IS next syndrome” ride that produces more of the same – unhappiness.
After the boy had taken everything the tree could give, it's leaves, branches, and trunk, the tree invited him to sit on his stump because the boy was an old man now and needed rest. Before we waste our entire lives on "what's next," rest now. Rest with ease and peace of what's now. Just as it is. However it is. Be mindful. Be authentic. Be happy …. and the tree was happy.
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Sherri Aikin is a Fellow of Integrative Medicine, Nurse Practitioner, Sex Counselor, Mindfulness Facilitator, and Life Coach.
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