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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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12-Hour Day

On Friday, in rare form, I inadvertently scheduled myself into a 12-hour day of plans. It started with an appointment with a friend to look at an old RV he’s getting rid of, which my husband and I would use as a backyard bedroom for a family member who might come and stay with us for a while, and ended with helping at a bake sale table at Big Sky High School’s cabaret show, which my stepson Jaden was in as part of the drama department. I left the house around 9:45am and returned just after 10:00pm.

Upon realizing that I had set myself up for such a full day, I thought about whether it would behoove me to reschedule a thing or two and I decided it was all either important, time-sensitive stuff or stuff I really wanted to do and was looking forward to so I chose to take on the 12-hour day to the best of my ability. And this is an important distinction to pause and highlight here – the fact that I chose how my day would unfold verses what many of us so often do which is to feel as though we’re victims of our schedule or victims of circumstances. One of the biggest transformations for me in the quality of life department was when I started taking responsibility for all the aspects of my attitude, my emotions, my thoughts, my actions, and how my life was playing out. It was a huge realization for me when I discovered the truth of how my quality of life is based solely on the choices I make. Everything is a choice. Nothing is heaped upon me that doesn’t involve a choice that I make in regards to whatever it is that’s happened. No matter what, I always have a choice. And it’s those choices that determine how I spend my time and also the quality of my own well-being.

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Posted by on November 19, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Static

I’ve been having a particular kind of static operating in the back recesses of my mental landscape lately, which has been interfering with my standard modes of frequency. Sometimes it’s more subtle and quiet; and other times it’s clamor is all I can hear. I’m feeling hesitant to go into more detail here on this public platform, so I apologize for speaking in general, nondescript terms.

Really the specifics matter little, when I think about it. Regardless of what static I happen to be experiencing – anger, sorrow, guilt, confusion, anxiety, stress, jealousy, lust, heartbreak, discomfort and so on – the practice remains the same. The first step is acknowledgment, or recognition, followed by: identification, acceptance, and investigation – with the hope of being able to move eventually into the art of embracing and transformation.

There’s no fire like that of lust,
No grasping like that of hate,
No snare like that of delusion,
No river like that of craving.

– Dhammapada

Acknowledgment: This first step may seem like a no-brainer. We have to start by recognizing what it is that’s coming up and running the show – to know what it is that we’re allowing to sweep us away from living life fully, in the here and now. So often, we simply have no idea what’s leading us around and propelling our discomfort and/or discontent, in whatever flavor it presents itself in. Adding further complication to this seemingly simply step is the fact that most of us have been taught and trained into thinking that certain emotions are not acceptable or are inappropriate or make us a “bad” person. So there’s a fair amount that can get in the way of being able to truly acknowledge that we even have feelings of anger or fear or craving, and so forth. The good news is: the more we practice to acknowledge our vast range of emotions that arise, the more we are able to understand them and interweave them into our full embodied experience of being human.

Identification: Being able to simply put a name, or label, on what it is that’s coming up for us and creating this static – as I’m choosing to call it here – may seem insignificant but in reality it can be extremely helpful in regards to stepping into the role of Observer, which can support us in creating some distance from the strong emotional charge that’s kicking up. Even just a sliver of distance can be beneficial in terms of ratcheting down the immediate pull that can so often accompany strong or otherwise challenging emotions.

So we start by saying: Yes, I am experiencing static. Then we call it by its true name, whether it be: fear, anger, sorrow, confusion, aversion, heartbreak, shame, hatred, jealousy, lust, etc.

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Posted by on November 16, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Allowing Others To Be As They Are

This is me crafting a response to a friend that I thought might prove helpful to post here as well. Recently, a friend approached me inquiring about how I was able to manage the ability to stop trying to control my husband. She had spoken to my husband, Mike, and learned that one of the components in his journey of getting clean and sober 5 years ago, while simultaneously healing from a long bout of depression, involved the work I was doing on myself, centered around, among other things, letting go of being so controlling.

With the crucial support of Alanon (a 12-step group aimed at helping people who have loved ones struggling with addiction), I was able to learn a key element in regards to how to cultivate my own sense of deep-rooted joy and happiness, which was to detach from Mike with love. Detaching with love was an alien concept at first. I was clumsy around it and fumbled with it for a while as I tried to understand what it meant, in a real-life application sort of way. But I slowly started to figure it out, using a slightly adapted version of the Serenity Prayer as a guiding principle along the way (see my own re-worded iteration above).

It is my opinion that most of us do not really and truly know that we are not in the position to change other people. I think we have an intellectual grasp that we cannot change others, but when it comes down to it, we think we’re right and others are wrong on a routine basis. And as long as we think our way of doing things is the right way –  maybe even the ONLY way – then we will continue to try to assert control over others, especially those closest to us, in an effort to get them to change.

5 years ago, the work I was doing on myself could be summed up with this statement: I was learning how to take responsibility for the quality of my own well-being. One of the biggest pieces of doing this work involved coming to see how much I heaped the quality of my well-being onto Mike. How oftentimes my mood depended on his. How I allowed his actions to affect my attitude and outlook. I came to see that as long as my mood, disposition, attitude, and outlook relied on his, I was powerless. If I was needing him to be a certain way in order for me to be a certain way, I was going to be miserable, and stay that way.

I’ll take the issue of cleanliness, as an easy and workable example. I am someone who greatly appreciates, and on some level really needs, a sense of spacial orderliness and cleanliness. However, one look through the window into his truck cab, and you would clearly see that my husband could care less about such things. I spent years and years being the sort of wife who mastered the common and destructive patterns of being passive-aggressive: huffing and puffing my way around him picking up dishes and dirty clothes, stomping around on my way to take out the trash or mow the lawn, and washing dishes or cleaning the house with the manic energy of the Tasmanian Devil. And, of course, no master passive-aggressive would be complete without having their own well-cultivated Tone of Voice, indicating to those that know them best to Watch the F*** Out. I remember my mom’s Tone of Voice while growing up. Like mother like daughter.

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Posted by on October 27, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Do your own practice

One of the most valuable practices we can engage ourselves in is not taking on the energy of others.
 
By working on developing our own sense of wellness, balance, joy, and ease we are able to learn how to carry it with us wherever we go and not be swept up by the stressful, anxious, angry, sad, and unhealthy energies, words and actions of others.
 
Keep sitting. Keep breathing. Keep smiling. The fruits of the practice will reveal themselves in time.
 
 

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Just Sayin’

One of the greatest gifts I’ve learned, and continue to learn, from having a mindfulness practice is this:

My state of mind and quality of being are never created or alleviated by anyone other than myself. The more responsibility I take for my thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions, the happier and lighter I become.

 

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A Certain Kind of Insanity

A light breeze blows,
showering me with creme-colored, circular elm seeds,
littering my outdoor work-space with debris.

I huff at my freshly cleared-off tablecloth becoming strewn with seed pods…again.

But, what am I expecting to have happen here? I’m sitting outside under a freakin’ elm tree, after all.

_______________

There’s a certain kind of learned, common human insanity that plagues our patterns of thought in detrimental, destructive ways.

I think it’s worth asking ourselves this question: What percentage of my day is spent wishing something was other than as it is?

I wish I were more _____ and less _____. I wish so-and-so was less of a jerk, for that dude to drive better, and for that lady to pipe down. I wish I had a cup of coffee or a brownie or a stiff drink. I wish it was warmer out or cooler out or dryer out or wetter out. I wish I didn’t have to go to work or do the laundry or haul the kids all over town or make dinner….

Not to sound harsh or anything, but, if you really want to be happy, you’re gonna need to stop trying so hard.

There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.

 

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