Scratch the itch because the itch tells you where you need to go

There are places in my life that are uncomfortable (that nag at me)—I can choose to ignore them and I can choose to follow them down each of their particular rabbit holes

Sometimes they're physical—a stomach ache. Sometimes they're mental—I'm listening to someone speak and something they say troubles me. I don't even know why—all I know is I'm troubled. Or that of all the people in a room, one draws my curiosity. It could be because I like them—it could be because they annoy the hell out of me

In life, we have the choice to be disturbed. We can remain undisturbed. Meditation is a way (as Pema Chödrön says) to not bite the hook. To not scratch the itch. Sometimes it is valuable to see a thing and just let it go by. You're married, and you see an opportunity for infidelity. That's an itch you don't have to scratch if you want to keep a peaceful life. Or you could scratch it if that itch is telling you something about yourself that is insatiable and true

If I am obsessively literally scratching every itch that presents itself, my skin will be full of scars. If I never scratch an itch, I will have pure skin but will spend my life in discomfort

The itch is a signal—a sign—telling you where you need to look for your next lesson, your next direction of journey, in life

Scratching itches is a way to become more comfortable. When I lie down to go to sleep, sometimes I notice which part of my body is least comfortable. Then I move so that part is comfortable. Then I notice which part is now the least comfortable, and I move so that part is comfortable. Soon I'm so comfortable I fall asleep

I think similar processes are the ways in which we make our lives great. What parts of my life hurt? What parts itch? In her song The Power of Good-Bye, Madonna sings, "Pain is a warning that something's wrong"—this seemingly pedestrian lyric points so well to something critical that's happening here. The body sends us signals to let us know when something's wrong! (So we can fix it! Or avoid making it worse)—our mind, our spirits, our higher selves also send us signals that something is wrong. That's the type of itch I'm talking about

Today I read a news article about Nike executive Larry Miller who is also a murderer. He says he had migraines and nightmares until he wrote his story down. Those nightmares were the itch. Writing his book was the scratch. Something was hurting in him, he (eventually) paid attention to it, and the itch subsided

Larry Miller didn't want to live his life in discomfort. So he scratched the itch

The itch wasn't there primarily to hurt him—no itch is. It's a signal from ourselves that something needs attention. It's a signal that says, This is not comfortable. If I'm constantly itched by opportunities for infidelity, that is a signal that something's wrong with my marriage. That is uncomfortable! Having an affair is not necessarily the best way to scratch that itch—looking at my marriage might be better. But ignoring the itch is a recipe for lifelong stagnancy and unhappiness

How has my life itched me? And what have I done about it?

I had an itch when I was a very young kid that was a philosophical itch—an itch with the religion I grew up in. The itch said, This doesn't make complete sense to me. The things they have said raise questions in my mind. I could have chosen as a young person to ignore my pain, ignore the itch, ignore my questions. Instead I scratched the itch—I asked hard questions in church and the answers the pastor gave me were unacceptable! They also didn't make sense to me so I kept scratching and I'm scratching still and my life has become rich because of it

I had an itch in my programming career (many, huge ones in fact)—I can sum it up by saying that the way I was treated by my bosses has been bothering the fuck out of me since my first job. I don't like being told what to do by people who are less capable than me, by people who know less than me, by people whose intentions and values I vehemently disagree with. I don't like to be told to do immoral actions as part of my job—that's an itch that is so uncomfortable to me that the way I scratched it the last time was simply by quitting my job. By doing that, I've entered a world that is far different than the world of making middle-class money writing code for other people—into a world where I live on less than the income of one minimum wage job. But guess what? I'm happier now—and I'm happy because I'm a lot less itchy than I was before

What I originally thought was an itch having to do with my jobs and bosses has turned out to be an itch about my dad. I have come to see that my unhappiness with my bosses is really unhappiness with my dad. A dad who was not there for me when I was young and who has continued to be absent and inconsequential to me (and everyone in my family)—so one itch, when scratched, sometimes leads to another, leading me in this case to an itch that was buried so deep it took layers of uncovering and scratching to get to it. If I had never paid attention to that first itch, I would never have been able to scratch it, and I wouldn't ever have been able to go as deep as I have

I had an itch when I read my first few novels. It was clear to me way back then that the scratch for this itch was to write motherfucking novels. I've been scratching at that one for a long time. I've written novels. My itch is much less now. I don't know why I wrote novels except that I had an itch that needed scratching so I scratched it

I recommend that you follow this pattern. I will be reflecting upon it and learning about it and continuing to follow it too. Itches are signals from something beyond us, quietly (or loudly) suggesting that we look at this thing over here. We are not right—not completely. The universe gives us the chance to set things right. We can't do that if we don't pay attention to the signals the universe is sending us. The universe is nudging us. It is hitting us over the head. It makes us uncomfortable so that we can be more aware. We need to listen to what is being said to us—to the pain and pleasure signals, to the itch. When we listen to whatever is curious to us, and follow those rabbits down their holes, life becomes less of a torture—it becomes wonderful