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Awkward & Uncomfortable

The more we practice to observe, accept, and embrace discomfort, the more grounded, connected, understanding, and resilient we can become as a result. Grounded in the present moment; connected to our breath and body; understanding of our own inner and outer landscapes; and resilient amid the swells of change.

As soon as we’re born, we start acting out when we’re confronted with discomfort – and for the first few months it serves a crucial function. We cry and carry on in order to communicate that we’re hungry or tired or cold or that our diaper needs changing. But it seems this sets the stage for a lifetime of detrimental behaviors accrued for the sole purpose of avoiding or managing discomfort. We would do well as parents, family members, and caretakers of young children to work on not over-manicuring the environment and experiences of our little ones. As soon as a baby starts to develop other ways of communicating – which doesn’t take long, just a few months – we can start teaching skills of mindful speech and deep listening, tools for self-care, and coping mechanisms for weathering physical and emotional discomfort. The more meticulously we try to groom the lives of our young children, attempting to keep at bay any modicum of discomfort, the more we rob them of the opportunity to practice training in the art of building strong and healthy relationships with themselves in the present moment.

We are not taught how to interact with discomfort. We are only taught how to avoid it or cover it up. I believe that most, maybe even all, detrimental/unskillful behaviors have a root embedded in a strong desire to get out of feelings of discomfort as soon as possible, and by any means necessary. We may look to numb those feelings with drugs or alcohol; or cover them up by over-working or over-eating or over-shopping or cramming our schedule with things to keep us occupied and exhausted. We may look to sex and love as an escape; we may use Netflix or TV or gaming or pornography, the list goes on and on.

The more uncomfortable we are, the more distracted we become. And this cycle perpetuates itself. So the more we give into distraction tendencies, the more uncomfortable we find ourselves. To break this cycle we need tools and practices to lean on and utilize throughout the day. So, where do we start? Here’s what I suggest, based on my own experience of what I’ve found helpful for myself: Notice when discomfort arises, ask yourself whether it’s time to step into that particular discomfort or not, and then proceed to make a plan of action based on whatever you decide.

In order to expand our capacity for skillfully tending to feelings of discomfort, we have to first be able to recognize them when they come up. As you’re going about your day, practice to pay special attention to when you start feeling “off” or fidgety, as often this can indicate such feelings of discomfort or awkwardness. Notice how often you whip out your smartphone when you don’t really need to or when you use it to avoid doing something else more important. Identify the common and frequent triggers that cause you to feel awkward or uncomfortable or self-conscious (which involves feeling as though OTHERS are looking at/judging/critiquing you). Some common causes of discomfort are: when we’re in larger social situations, when we’re by our self somewhere out in public, when we’re not in control, when we don’t feel skilled at something, or when we experience lag time or moments of quiet/silence/inactivity.

Once we know when it is we are experiencing feelings of discomfort we can then ask ourselves this important question: Is this a moment to practice stepping into it? Allow this question to settle into your body, as this will enable you to get in touch with the clearest, least obstructed answer, verses your habitual tendency to say: Nope, this isn’t the time, I’m getting the heck out of here! It’s important to know that we all generally know what to do when it comes to matters of uncertainty in our lives. The trouble is we’re either too disconnected from being able to listen well to our inherent wisdom and/or we simply don’t want to do what our inner voice is telling us to do. It’s also important to understand that every situation is different. Whereas one day we might feel ready to step into, let’s say, a social gathering where we know very few people, the next day, when the same situation presents itself, we might not. That’s normal and super okay. What’s helpful to us here is that we’re actively engaging with what’s going on and we’re making a conscious and informed decision about what to do.

So, if we decide that yes, this is a time to practice stepping into discomfort then we would do well to start with small steps in this regard. For example: If we feel uncomfortable going by ourselves to certain things then we might try flying solo to a movie that we’re wanting to see – but we might also bring along our smartphone or a book to help keep us company. One thing at a time! Or if we’re more uncomfortable when hanging out with others and more prefer to go unaccompanied to things, then we can try reaching out to a friend or two and invite them to come along with us. Or maybe we find ourselves standing in a line at the grocery store and feelings of discomfort arise and in that moment we make the decision not to reach for our phone to check our texts/emails/facebook in order to occupy our time – our practice in that moment can be to simply not take out our phones. Any time we go against the grain of our less than helpful habit energies is a victory, in terms of strengthening the energy of mindfulness. So try not to underestimate the movement and progress you make when it comes to taking small steps to accept and embrace, and not run away from, feelings of discomfort.

And if we decide that no, this is not a time I choose to step into discomfort then we would do well to practice fully allowing that decision to take affect and not second guess ourselves or give ourselves a hard time about it. There will be times to step into discomfort and times not to, for a variety of reasons. So make peace with that. And maybe, if you’re up for it, you can make an agreement with yourself to work up to something in the near future, when it comes to a particular aversion you have that brings up a lot of discomfort.

Start with small, relatively easy things and then work your way up to larger things. If we attempt to take on super big matters of discomfort before training with smaller situations, we are likely to find that we do more harm than good to ourselves in this undertaking. So set yourself up for success and start small.

Utilizing moments of discomfort can be a tool to help us cultivate our mindfulness practice and build resilience. The smaller our comfort zone is, the more we suffer when things and people don’t adhere to how we think they should be (which, let’s face it, is most of the time). And, in turn, the wider we can extend our comfort zone, the happier and more at ease we’ll be in a variety of situations. So get your practice on!

You might discover, like I did, that it’s a game changer.

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Discomfort

What do you do to make sense of the world in moments when you wish it were different? How do you run and where do you go? Have you found tools for working well with fluctuations of every conceivable flavor of situation and spirit or are you bound to the same detrimental deviations perpetuating a lifetime of remorse, beholden to the swift allure of misery?

It might be drugs or alcohol we turn to for solace, it might be video games or TV or sex, or maybe it’s food we lose ourselves in – it could be overworking or overexercising or overmaintaining our small bubble of comfort or over anythinging that helps to dull whatever pain is present if we were to press pause in the moment.

There are a myriad of ways to run from the same pains that affect us all – and while some cause less harm than others, they all have the potential to unravel us one thread at a time.

We would do well to practice how to sit, settle, and be with the nature that surrounds us like the air we breathe: the nature of discomfort. And we need tools and skillful practices and things we can do to move through what would otherwise be an unsettling, disjointed, unexpected sliver of unfolding time, the likes of which leave a bitter, bile taste on our pallet.

As a woman I know who was me once said: There is nothing more potent than befriending that in which our inclination is to apprehend as suspect, to our own discomfort.

We need to get our friendship on with ourselves and everything which offers itself around us to the point of where regardless of what’s happening we can meet it as an opportunity to embrace verses an obstacle to run away from.

And the more we embrace the less we evade – the more we embrace the more space we create to allow the results that come having less baggage pitching and heaving in our wake to take place. A joyful life is possible – absorb this truth into your bones.

 

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Familiar Suffering

17 percent:
the success rate of the oldest residential drug & alcohol treatment facility in the world.
17 percent
of people stay sober for a year after they leave.
17 percent.
And it’s the highest success rate of any treatment center in the w h o l e world.
17 percent.

*Data from the book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, published in 2003.

One of the most recent studies on recidivism rates – which most often refers to the rate at which a person relapses back into criminal behavior after being released from prison – showed that 67.8% of people were rearrested within 3-years of being released from prison, within 5-years that number increases to 76.6%. And of those prisoners, a little more than half were arrested by the end of the first year of being released.

I often ponder why it’s so hard to break our cycles of detrimental behaviors and habits. These are more extreme examples, of course, but the thread is the same for all of us. We all have a hard time letting go of the suffering we’ve grown strangely accustomed to. Even when we know what we’re doing is not working. Even when we’re miserable. Even when we’re crippled by shame and guilt and fear.

A common deterrent towards making positive changes that I’ve heard often from people, in a variety of contexts, involves the deeply rooted and long-held view that they’re broken, un-fixable, damaged beyond repair. My husband used to think he was one of those people. I have at least two friends and a family member I can think of that feel this way, too. And it makes sense to me that if we think we are broken then there’s little sense in trying to change course – because there’s a core belief that nothing will work.

“Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to spiritual growth.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

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Posted by on October 12, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Sovereignty

The best definition I found for the word “sovereignty” is stated in the image above: autonomous; free from external control. I’ve been resonating with this word over the past year and find that my personal sovereignty is developing and deepening along with my mindfulness practice, as they seem to go hand-in-hand.

I’m finding that the state of sovereignty is much like the state of joy in that when I talk about it people inquire further, not knowing how to develop such qualities of being. So, this is my first attempt at trying to put into words what this particular characteristic is about, from my own experience that is.

Sovereignty, in regards to oneself, is about having a strong and unwavering sense of self-reliance, internal direction, and self-assurance (in a humble and well-grounded fashion) – it’s about taking and claiming full and total responsibility for one’s own quality of life and state of being. To summarize, sovereignty is about being at home with yourself wherever you go, regardless of outer circumstances. And this is the crux of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness tradition: to come back home to ourselves in the here and now, with joy and ease, so that we can then be of service and benefit to others.

Developing our own sovereignty is not about disconnecting from others or regarding ourselves as superior or becoming a “lone wolf.” It’s about being able to depend and trust in our capacity to generate joyfulness and solidity no matter where we are or who we’re with – to befriend and keep good company with our own selves and emanate that outwards, un-tethered from the clutches of self-consciousness, self-judgement, and self-doubt. It’s a state born from mindfulness, concentration, insight, and diligent practice.

I’ve often mentioned my interest in breaking down mindfulness/Buddhist-based teachings in order to make them more palatable and practical so that they might become more applicable to a wider demographic of people, especially those who are looking for more straight-forward “how-to” guidance. So with that in mind, what are some actions we can take to actually practice the development of sovereignty? Let’s see what I can come up with:

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Posted by on September 21, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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The Art of Organizing (part 2 of 2)

This is part 2 of a two-part post, to read part 1 click here: https://goingoutwordsandinwords.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/the-art-of-organizing-part-1-of-2/

Please note: All of these suggestions are simply what I find useful in my own life.

6. Meditate in the mornings. Starting the day with a few minutes of meditation helps to lay the groundwork for a more solid and stable platform in which to build your day upon. Having a regular meditation practice allows us to strengthen our inner muscles of resiliency, concentration, solidity, ease, patience, openness, and equanimity, all of which serve important functions in our day-to-day lives. And being well-organized internally translates, over time, to being well-organized externally, too.

7. Make self-care one of your priorities. I believe that for a person to be well-organized and have it be a sustainable and prolonged way of living, one must find ways in which to replenish their own energy tanks. If self-care is ranked low on the list of importance, the chances are good that eventually we’ll burn ourselves out and become stressed, overwhelmed, and utterly exhausted by all of the things we choose to do with our time. In an effort to address a common misunderstanding, self-care is not the same as being selfish or self-indulgent. For me, investing in acts of self-care has to do with understanding how my well-being affects that of those around me – when I’m taking good care of myself I am also taking good care of others, there is no separation. I practice to care well for myself in order to care well for those around me, and to continue being active and productive in all the ways I want to be without getting overly taxed and depleted. Self-care will look differently for each of us – for me, since I live with chronic pain and illness, I’ve found that taking a short nap most everyday is vital to my ability to function optimally and manage my pain levels. I also make sure to set time aside to do the things that I most enjoy, such as: writing, playing music, volunteering, going on retreats, paddle-boarding, and photography. It’s important to investigate what self-care looks like for our own individual needs and to practice not feeling guilty about making it happen.

8. Don’t compare. One of my favorite quotes is from Theodore Roosevelt: Comparison is the thief of joy. To continue with his train of thought I’d like to add: Comparison is the thief of time and energy. From an efficiency standpoint, getting stuck in comparison games is a huge waste of time and energy that could be much better spent elsewhere. When we’re constantly weighing, judging, and re-evaluating what we’re doing in comparison to what someone else is doing, it often leads to second guessing, hemming and hauling, and non-action. Drop the tendency to compare and strengthen your confidence in your own capacity to take decisive action.

9. Practice belly breathing. When breathing, many of us use primarily our upper register to inhale and exhale, aka: our lungs. When we practice to deepen our breathing – bringing it from and into our belly – there are certain very practical and helpful benefits. Deep breathing aids us in raising our mental clarity, focus, and alertness – all of which, of course, are key to being well organized. It also helps increase circulation, reduces fatigue, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion, and bolsters our immune system.

10. Take responsibility for your life. It’s easy to operate in such a way where we feel life is rather heaped upon us, as though we were a victim of all the things needing to be taken care of. But the truth is, the life we lead is made up of our own volition, consisting of the results of our choices and decisions we make. The quality of our lives is up to us – we can either view challenges and difficulties as opportunities to grow or as occasions in which to complain about and blame others for, the choice is ours.

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