Can you feel the weight of it?
It’s oppressive; heavy, dark, and uncomfortable.
The pressure of it wakes you at 2:00 a.m., and fills the dark hours with thoughts of disaster. And you can’t seem to pull your mind back from ruminating about the worst.
You wake feeling edgy and impatient — irritable with even minor issues.
Then there’s the constant undercurrent of fear and feelings of being alone, helpless, and vulnerable. You’re always on defense, constantly scanning for (and finding) problems.
It makes you doubt yourself, uncertain of how to proceed. So, you do nothing.
You try your best to hide it. To stuff it or vent it or distract from it, but it always resurfaces. Always limiting your enjoyment and pointing out how much is lacking in your life.
It’s the heavy weight of undue stress and anxiety. The ghostly voice of our own criticism and disappointment, creating a wearisome burden many of us are far too familiar with.
The failure of unhealthy stress
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” — William James
Because most of what we worry about doesn’t come true, our brain links anxiety and worry as a solution to what stresses us.
But unlike the small doses of healthy tension that provide motivation and energy, unwarranted stress can have devastating effects. It cripples us socially, decimates our confidence, and wreaks havoc on our mental and physical health, relationships, finances, and more.
Unhealthy stress make us worry about things that haven’t happened yet and stew about events that are long over. Then we stitch the bits together into a tapestry of catastrophe, prophesying a doomed future.
And the really dirty side of undue stress is the fact that we do it to ourselves. We let our thoughts run amok, firing off stress hormones and creating feelings of danger. Even when we’re perfectly safe.
But it’s only a mind game. Because if you’re not in immediate danger, the disaster movies are happening only in your head.
Unfortunately, the more we dwell on our perceived problems, the more real they become.
But there is a silver lining…
The natural antidote
“Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.” — Buddha
The upside to our mind games is this. Our thoughts, along with intense emotions, have tremendous power over our perception. And this impacts how we experience life.
This means that if we can produce fearful states out of thin air, we can produce the opposite as well.
States where we’re capable, competent, and connected. Where we’re steadily developing our coping abilities while reducing confusion, crisis, and drama.
But to do this, you need to break, then replace your old thought system. The habitual loop of subconscious thoughts, emotional reactions, and automatic behaviors.
Mindfulness practices, like acceptance, are one of the most effective ways to break these automatic cycles. And their predictable results.
Used for millennia in several cultures, they’re now increasingly popular in Western society — thanks to their success in self-realization therapies and personal transformation practices.
Mindfulness shines a light on our habits, and how we constantly affirm our identify with them.
Once we’re aware of our limiting patterns, we can then choose to shift our perspective. In this way, each moment gives us the opportunity to step out of our routines and choose stronger thoughts, elevated emotions, and positive actions.
They’re a natural antidote for unnatural levels of tension and uneasiness.
But don’t be deceived by their simplicity.
Trying to manage undisciplined thoughts and emotions is akin to corralling a herd of feral cats. Your first efforts can be both revealing and humbling!
Be patient with yourself and diligent in your practice. It won’t be long before you begin to feel the power of their soothing effects.
The surprising freedom of acceptance
“To get what you want, want what you get.” — John Gray
It’s ironic how much resistance there is to the idea of acceptance.
Many people mistake acceptance as a passive act. A resignation to what’s seen as distasteful, unfair, or wrong.
And it’s often seen as weakness — a capitulation to stronger forces.
But the true meaning of acceptance is that of giving consent to receive, or to engage in an offering.
To accept life as it is — to receive it without biases or judgements or preferences — takes tremendous commitment, courage, and stamina. Particularly when life is slapping you in the face.
Acceptance requires that we resist the urge to bolt when things seems boring, unfair, or too hard. That we stay present and engage fully with what’s on our plate in each moment, no matter how we feel about it.
It takes grit and tenacity. And there is nothing — nothing — passive or weak about the work of acceptance. Acts of liberation always require inner strength and perseverance.
And why do we need acceptance?
Because resistance, the opposite of acceptance, adds a thick layer of suffering on top of any existing pain.
Life dishes out plenty of painful experiences for us. Not surprisingly, we resist receiving and engaging in them. Based on past experience, we want to avoid or resist repeating them.
The temptation of resistance
“The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment.” — Eckhart Tolle
Resistance seems to be an act of strength. But actually, it makes us wimpy.
It comes in many disguises. It’s addictions, disappointment, fighting, freezing, jealousy, overthinking, overwhelm, resentment, self-doubt, and much more.
It makes us blamers and complainers and buck passers as we desperately hope someone else will take responsibility for our unhappiness.
It’s our long-running narrative of inadequacy and fear of every shape and form.
It’s piling on. A manufactured, internal conflict with only one combatant — you.
Resistance arises from the belief that what we’re going to receive or engage in is going to be painful. Like the past.
But it doesn’t undo the past. It doesn’t change circumstances. And if definitely doesn’t bring inner peace.
Acceptance doesn’t change the past, or current circumstances either.
But it does bring inner peace by removing the layer of suffering — our anxiety, stress, and worry. It removes the temptation to resist and returns us to the only true control we have. That of our inner world of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.
This doesn’t mean we have to like crappy events or circumstances. But changing them requires a clear, critical eye — which we don’t have in denial or resistance.
Seeing things without selective filters gives valuable insights into what’s really important to us. We’re better able to see the big picture. Which leads to accurate, informed decisions and control of your own well-being.
Acceptance also builds psychological toughness and confidence. And reduces the occurrence and intensity of painful emotions in the future.
It frees us from our addiction to the past and proves that we can take what life dishes out — and not crumble.
Go cling-free with detachment
“A burning passion coupled with absolute detachment is the key to all success.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Like acceptance, detachment gets a bum rap.
It’s often seen as emotional blunting. Or indifference or aloofness.
But it’s not about non-feeling. It’s about disentangling ourselves from the feelings and patterns that create our personal suffering.
We suffer when we identify with thoughts and feelings of lack, then look to external solutions to supply the lack.
Detachment lets us objectively explore our complicated inner world. It creates a safe distance in which to witness our fearful and restrictive thought processes— without getting dragged away by them.
Because you can’t see the forest if you’re a tree. And you can’t witness your crazy, chaotic thoughts with the same mind that’s thinking them. You need the inner witness for this, and detachment opens the door to its abode.
Among the multitude of voices in your head awaits the inner witness. At the core of consciousness, it’s the part the doesn’t age, doesn’t change, and doesn’t watch the clock. And it’s not emotionally entangled in your rules and results.
It let’s you observe your mind’s activities with neutrality so you can recognize that your anxiety and worry is not you. You’re just experiencing them in that moment. And if you don’t like them, you can begin to loosen your identity from them.
From this place of neutrality, it’s clear that we don’t have to act on patterns or compulsive feelings. Instead, we can release predictable reactions and choose a better path of action.
Sit in the fire to stay present
“Never underestimate the inclination to bolt when we hurt.” — Pema Chodron
Detachment creates the space to witness our mind’s worrisome thoughts and the feelings produced. Sitting with them dissolves their power.
To shield and sooth our fragile egos, we try to avoid uncomfortable emotions by ignoring, dismissing, or stuffing them. Or we distract ourselves with alcohol, drugs, gambling, gaming, overeating, shopping, social media, TV, and so on.
In short, we bolt.
At the first inkling of repeating unwanted feelings we run away. From our minds, our lives, and out of this painful present moment — pronto.
Unfortunately, this adds to the layer of suffering.
And avoidance simply don’t address the root cause of our perceived problems. Instead, it heaps on guilt, lowers our self esteem, creates dangerous addictive patterns, and further solidifies our lack-based identity.
The thing to remember about painful emotions is, like thoughts, they’re transitory. And regardless of how bad you feel right now, it will pass.
Sitting with uncomfortable emotions doesn’t mean wallowing in them. It’s just a practice to stay present and watch them without judgement. And without judging ourselves for having painful emotions.
The benefit is that each time you stop and face them, they diminish in strength, losing power until they disappear completely.
Staying present lets us dis-identify, or defuse from them. And this reinforces the awareness that our core identity is separate from them.
At the same time, we’re also witnessing that we can experience distressing emotions and not fall apart. We’re building the confidence that we can cope — without avoidance, distractions, or numbing.
The practice encompasses the three components of acceptance, detachment, staying present.
1. Witness your judgement — without judgement
To witness your automatic and selective judgements, you need to catch yourself in the act.
It’s helpful to first identify any problematic thought patterns. Use questions such as: “When do I become judgemental?” “How does it show up?” “What does it look or feel like?” “What are my triggers?” and so on.
When triggered, let go of resistance to the situation — even if it’s just for 5 minutes. Objectively watch your thoughts and the feelings they invoke.
Explore the timber and energy of the feelings, but don’t engage with them. Don’t try to sort them, fix them, stuff them, or get rid of them — simply notice how they make you feel.
Your job here is to be neutral, detached. Curious, but not personally involved.
2. Look for the positives in what you’re finding difficult to accept
Judgement is a selective process that requires a narrow focus.
When we struggle to accept something, we typically focus only on the negative aspects — which reinforces our resistance.
To step out of resistance, look for something positive in the circumstances, events, or person you find challenging.
If you can’t find anything positive in the external aspects, look for lessons in personal growth. Every situation contains opportunities to be confident, forgiving, generous, mature, and so on.
It’s helpful to jot down some of the positives — we do like to gloss over them!
3. Witness your accepting thoughts and feelings
As you review your list of positives, check in with your emotional state.
Shifting your focus from negative to positive changes the way you feel. From the anxious, uptight, defensive position of resistance, to one that’s more relaxed and open.
And with the shift comes the more elevated emotions such as appreciation, charity, compassion, and optimism.
This is the acid test going forward. How do you want to feel? Anxious and worried, or calm and in control?
You can choose either one. But not both.
Make your decision to feel good while feeling good — it adds stickiness to your decision, making your choice easier the next time.
Rest easy in the peaceful present
You can put away the constant uneasiness. The frustration, tension, and irritability caused by undue stress and anxiety.
Starting right now, you can be done with the chaotic thoughts, emotions, and behaviours that cause your discomfort.
Start with the small stuff to develop your skill set, your “minor” irritations.
Make a daily commitment to respond to stressors with a new mindset. In ways that have a positive impact on yourself, and those within your sphere of influence.
Break your habitual patterns and watch your thoughts. Challenge their veracity.
Then practice acceptance, detachment, and staying present to dissolve fearful states.
It won’t be long before you experience the peace and calm of your updated mind game.
The one where you are enough. Where you cope and thrive in the peaceful present.
Excellent returns for simply watching your thoughts!