A lively conversation in my early twenties returns to me now with fresh meaning. We were discussing people’s capacity for change. I held that people can change; for me life was about growth and evolution. In contrast, my boyfriend at the time, believed you have to accept who you are. We agreed to disagree.
What I see now?
We were both right.
Another one of the beautiful paradoxes of being human is that only through radical acceptance of our moment to moment experience can profound change happen.
Earlier this week coming out of a ‘funk’, as I call it, where I felt blue, I saw something new.
And the subtle, slippery thing I saw seems like a tiny detail I have missed even though I have heard so many people point at this.
I recognised that until I radically accept and give permission or right of passage for ALL thoughts and feelings to come through, I am going to get caught up doing battle with those I decree are unacceptable (and my list is still pretty big). And the irony is by doing battle with them, I hold the insecure feelings in place, innocently feeding them so they get bigger and more uncomfortable.
Now this radical acceptance is the exact opposite of sitting, dwelling in negative thoughts and feelings. It is knowing insecure thoughts are going to pop in our heads from time to time and make us feel uncomfortable in the moment. There’s no escaping that. And that there is no need to worry about those uncomfortable feelings. You just have to…. well….. feel them (for a moment) and realise they are transitory and meaningless.
Sounds too simple?
Don’t take my word for it. Try it. Take down the barricades and let the thoughts and feelings flow. And see what happens.
Once your thoughts and feelings have arrived it’s too late to fix, change or try to stop them.They’re already out the bag. Instead try and leave them be and look to what new thoughts might be coming next.
When we see that having insecure thoughts and feelings is not the problem. Worrying about them is the problem. That having them is part of being human. Then, we can relax, feel the unpleasant feeling, see it for what it is, a transitory state of mind and then paradoxically those feelings lose their grip on us and our experience changes. It feels like some trick of the mind that we can’t see or feel until we do.
What do you see or hear in this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
My thoughts are with all those affected by Hurricane Irma.
When, out in the world a huge physical storm has/is affecting millions, it can feel crass to talk about internal mental storms and yet when you’re trapped in one, it can feel overwhelming.
Lost. We panic and desperately look outside for a life vest. We reach for anything to avoid feeling the feelings: talking, alcohol, medication, arguments, meditation, running, drugs, reality TV, Facebook, whatever your opiate of choice.
Not understanding what the storm is and how it gets created, we don’t realise the life vest has been inside us all the time. This is a short post about how my experience of those storms is evolving.
I see the mental storm begins when I innocently go into battle with myself. There’s a feeling and I don’t like it. I don’t want to have that feeling.
So I beat myself up about having that feeling.
Beating yourself up mentally is exhausting.
If they did Doctorates in this, I’d have one.
Once you’ve come across the Three Principles and been impacted, it can get worse.
It goes something like this.
If I understand crappy feelings are internally generated then I should know better and not feel this.
Down goes the mood even further.
I can wallow around in this for hours, sometimes days, distracting myself and ‘getting on’ as best I can.
Slowly, slowly like a particularly obtuse slug, it dawns on me,
There is nothing in the content of this mood of any use to me.
This mood isn’t real (though it sure feels real).
This mood actually wants to pass on through without having pitchforks thrown at it.
When it goes it may take with it, stuff that no longer serves me
So eventually I stop. Withdraw from the battle I created. Remember the life vest I have, have always had and will always have.
I get quiet. Get still. Be open.
Let flow whatever wants to come through.
On the other side is quiet, peacefulness and from that place, life flows again with a little more understanding, a little more grace, ready to help me through the next time.
My relationship to low moods is evolving little by little. Nowadays quite a few float through without too much bother but every now and then one gets under my skin. The good news is: the intensity of the battle with those ones is gradually reducing. From being in full scale Lord of The Ringsesque fighting orcs with all the attendant drama and exhaustion to a quieter nonetheless unpleasant mental swamp, to noticing physical alerts that things were off, and a lower level skirmishing, war of attrition, rumbling with the occasional flash of lightening rather than an all out storm. Grateful for this evolution, the awareness, the understanding, the bouncing back quicker.
Slowly, slowly dawning on me, all I ever need to do is settle down, settle down, settle down, let wisdom arise.
(I’ll probably forget again, but each time, the intensity is coming down a notch or two and for that I am grateful). Universal mind, wisdom, whatever you like to call it, that’s the Life Vest. There in the stillness. Always there to guide and support us.
I’d love to know what you heard in this, what you recognised or what’s new or made you curious.
Juliet Fay based in West Wales, UK, is a Marketing Geek and Three Principles Facilitator. Facilitating conversations in person and online with individuals, groups and teams to point people towards more ease in life and work. She also writes poems, articles, essays, prose and short stories. Contact Juliet via the Solcare website. To get email updates about new writing, events, programmes and meets ups, sign up to the e-mailing list here.
To learn more about the Three Principles ask to join Love Your Life Again, a Facebook group hosted by Juliet Fay of Solcare, for individuals social care workers and social entrepreneurs experiencing mental stress (or serving those that do). A place to look towards a deeper understanding of who we are and how our experience gets created. In this group you can connect with others and share insights into a new understanding of how the mind works known as The Three Principles as first articulated by Sydney Banks.This is an extension of the work Juliet does at a local mental health charity facilitating conversations with members, staff and volunteers. Please ask to join. Once you are a member you can invite others into the group.
I remember my first time in a Canadian canoe on the River Wye in the UK. I had this mental image of the trip. Idyllic. Floating gently down the river listening to the birds, watching dragon flies and passing a pleasant afternoon in this way.
The reality was somewhat different. There wasn’t much flow that day. The river was sluggish which meant actual paddling was called for even going downstream because we were trying to get somewhere! And somehow in the reverie I’d conjured I’d completely forgotten about paddling back to return to the starting point all within an allotted time frame.
Well. It was hard work. With young children in tow who tired easily, the lazy summer trip on the river turned into something of an endurance test, stress levels rose. Any thought of contemplating the wildlife was forgotten as it became a matter of cajoling everyone to keep paddling. We ended the trip with relief.
It struck me, we often do something similar in life: setting expectations and then creating stress for ourselves
We create a mental image of how something in our life is going to look, it might be family life, a holiday, a new job, a work project, a relationship or our retirement plan or simply that we should be in a happy and contented state of mind.
Unfamiliar with how life actually works, we blithely create what I call a Kelloggs Cornflake picture of how it should look and feel. Complete with rose tinted edges.
Then the reality shows up and something is off. The children are arguing, the weather is poor, the new boss can’t delegate, the project is going to take far longer than you’ve allowed, the man or woman of your dreams snores, your pension pot was raided by Fat Cats while you’ve been working away these past 40 years, you feel not serene, but frustrated and bored.
So we put our heads down, grit our teeth and try to work harder
We stick with the plan as best we can, feeling that familiar tinge of disappointment. Because we have set our minds to how it must be, there is no room for deviation or fresh thought.
There is another way….
When we understand that nothing on the outside can ‘make us happy’ (because our well-being is inherent, we’ve already got it) then we find we are more inclined to settle down and tune into the flow of life.
We realise we can slow down, and go with flow of life instead of against it
It’s like putting ourselves into the flow of the river and letting it take us downstream. We might use our paddles to stay in the flow but when we realise being in the flow is all that matters, we suddenly begin to notice the scenery and our whole awareness shifts from reaching our destination to simply enjoying the journey.
In the same way in life, when we realise all we need to do is set the general direction we want to head in and then let the flow of life take care of the details we can allow our awareness to expand and enjoy the amazing show that life will deliver for us when we are awake and aware enough to notice it. The general direction can apply to something big or small.
From this settled down place, even our wish list has a different feel. It becomes more about things that occur to us to do that might be fun, fulfilling, exciting, joyful etc rather than goals we are setting to help us ‘be better’ or ‘do better’.
For example, we might want to finish a work project; be promoted to head of department in our company; learn to ballroom dance or meet a life partner. Knowing that none of these things are the source of our happiness, takes the pressure off. Allowing things to unfold has a totally different energy from the push and striving of trying to force things to happen.
When we try and direct all the proceedings we think only about how to achieve the end result. Any hiccup feels like a spoiler and we can feel like a failure. Letting go of the ‘how’ and trusting that life will take care of those details allows a completely different relationship to time and your experience.
‘Slowing down to the speed of life’ (Richard Carlson)
Each moment becomes an unfolding as we slow down enough to notice those small nudges that prompt us to go get some breakfast, send an email, take a different route home, call up an old friend, check the job ads and a myriad other expected and unexpected cues which move us step by step in the general direction of the things we’d like to see take shape in our lives.
It may not look that different on the outside but on the inside, the experience is incomparable.
So rather than going about life as if it was just you in this poor form trying to paddle up and down your stretch of life in the allotted time, how about you put your canoe in the middle of the flow, hold on lightly to those paddles and allow the river of life to take you downstream? Who knows what wonders you might see on the way: a kingfisher, a dragonfly, an otter or a water vole?
What have you got to lose? Is paddling upstream working well for you?
I’d love to hear what you are seeing …. please add your comments.
© Juliet Fay 2017
Juliet Fay based in West Wales, UK. is a Marketing Geek and Three Principles Facilitator. Facilitating conversations in person and online with individuals, groups and teams to point people towards more ease in life and work. She also writes poems, articles, essays, prose and short stories. Contact Juliet via the Solcare website. To hear about new writing, events, programmes and meets ups, sign up to the e-mailing list here.
To learn more about the Three Principles ask to join Love Your Life Again, a Facebook group hosted by Juliet Fay of Solcare, for individuals social care workers and social entrepreneurs experiencing mental stress (or serving those that do). A place to look towards a deeper understanding of who we are and how our experience gets created. In this group you can connect with others and share insights into a new understanding of how the mind works known as The Three Principles as first articulated by Sydney Banks.This is an extension of the work Juliet does at a local mental health charity facilitating conversations with members, staff and volunteers.Please ask to join. Once you are a member you can invite others into the group.
When a storm hits, and the wind is whistling, windows rattling and the rain beating hard on the roof, the world can feel like a scary and intimidating place. There’s not much you can do when a storm is raging other than batten down the hatches and wait for it to pass.
In the same way, when our mood dips, our experience of the world can change dramatically and problems can seem to run hither and thither through our minds. Yet rather than allowing the storm of problem thinking to pass we often feel compelled to act on the feelings we experience in a low mood.
I found myself caught in a hilarious little thought routine this morning. I went from feeling a little irked about something minor to deciding that several things in my life were utterly pointless in the space of about 15 minutes.
And then I noticed what just happened and saw the comedy in it.
What I am seeing more and more clearly is that it isn’t the world out there that has changed but simply my mood (or level of consciousness).
I realised that the only thing that needed to happen for all to seem well in my world again, was my mood or level of consciousness to rise.
And that means there is nothing to do in a low mood but simply ALLOW my mood to change…. and it will.
What a relief!
I don’t expect this is really news to anyone.
In low moods life seems a struggle, overwhelming and it feels like everyone wants a piece of us. When a more relaxed mood occurs, all those feelings melt away and the world once again seems friendly and benign.
Have you ever noticed, when you feel good, you glide through tasks and whatever comes up feels manageable?
On the other hand, in a low mood, when life seems full of problems, it can look like those feelings of discomfort are telling us something important about ourselves, our situation, our work or our relationships. If so it may look as if we should set about trying to fix or change things about ourselves or our circumstances.
This can lead to actions that at best are unnecessary and at worst actually work against our best interests.
When in reality, our world changes depending on our mood or level of consciousness. Not just our view of our world, but actually our experience of our world.
Just knowing this is often enough for the thoughts and feelings to get less compelling. We realise all we need to do is batten down the hatches and wait until the storm passes. Our mood or level of consciousness will naturally rise and open all by itself.
And know too there will be more storms of problem thinking, some bigger, some smaller, some lasting a few minutes, some a few days or weeks; because we are human. There’s nothing to worry about and definitely nothing to do.
What is your experience of letting low moods pass through?
© Juliet Fay 2017
Juliet Fay writes poems, articles, essays prose and short stories, also one time Marketing Geek and Three Principles Facilitator based in West Wales, UK sharing The Three Principles as first articulated by Sydney Banks. Contact Juliet via the Solcare website. For articles, occasional poems, book reviews and programme news from Solcare, sign up to the e-mailing list here. To learn more about the Three Principles ask to join Love Your Life Again, a Facebook group hosted by Juliet Fay of Solcare, for individuals, social care workers and social entrepreneurs looking for more ease and flow.
A place to look towards a deeper understanding of who we are and how our experience gets created. In this group you can connect with others and share insights into a new understanding of how the mind works known as The Three Principles as first articulated by Sydney Banks.This is an extension of the work Juliet does at a local mental health charity facilitating conversations with members, staff and volunteers.Please ask to join. Once you are a member you can invite others into the group.
No stress here but for some, Christmas means dealing with lots of stress
A while back, I was driving down a track at night towards a farm B&B (Bed & Breakfast) when my car hit a large pot hole unexpectedly. My car bounced in and out of the depression, and I found myself tensing as I braced ready for further bumps. Sure enough there were more up ahead. I tried to go round them but some stretched right across the road and I couldn’t avoid them. Not fun. Though the B&B was lovely the approach was far from pleasant.
For some people, the run up to Christmas can feel like that farm track. Whether it’s worrying about how to deal with a seemingly awkward family member, or how to afford to buy presents, or how to get round to see all the relatives (or get out of seeing some of them), or even worrying about how to do the roast potatoes, it can seem like Christmas comes with a whole load of pot holes that result in a whole load of stress. To top it all, they can also feel they shouldn’t be feeling stressed. Asking themselves, “Why does Christmas stress me out”. This may be your experience or you may be working with those who fear coping with Christmas stress.
Read on to find out how to see Christmas stress differently and how to worry less.
How do we know we are feeling stressed about Christmas?
Stress comes in many forms. If it hangs around for a while, you may start to notice you are irritable, tense or snappy. If it starts to get chronic then you might start not sleeping very well, having digestive disorders and a whole heap of other symptoms. You’ll notice symptoms become more intense whenever the thought of Christmas occurs to you. At this time of year, that can happen several times a day. The build up to this kind of stress can start many months before.
Where is Christmas stress coming from?
It may look like the holiday period, known as Christmas, causes stress but that’s only how it appears. If you pay close attention to what is actually going on when you experience stress in relation to Christmas, you soon see it isn’t Christmas itself but the thinking you have around Christmas that is causing your feelings of worry and stress.
The reason it looks like we have a lot more stress around Christmas rather than around say any other day, like for example 5th December, is we generally have a lot more thinking around Christmas than we do around 5th December. In fact some of us can have piles and piles of thinking around it, all past or future based. Thinking about Christmas can kick off any time of the year. Some of that thinking has come around year after year for as long as we can remember.
So much so, that we’d say that thinking has taken shape as beliefs about Christmas, such as:-
- Christmas is a time for families to get together
- Christmas is a time to celebrate our Christian faith
- Christmas is a time to be generous
- Christmas dinner must be really special
- It’s good to make an effort at Christmas
- It’s awful to be alone at Christmas
- I hate the commercialisation of Christmas
Then we have our specific thoughts about this Christmas. Here’s a sample just to give you an idea:
- Is Ben’s girlfriend vegetarian or vegan?
- I hope Aunty Beth doesn’t get drunk again this year
- Do I have to bother with sprouts, everyone hates them?
- What day can we get the Northern branch of the family down? I don’t know what they’re all doing
- With Alan’s redundancy how are we going to pay for Christmas this year?
- I’d really like a new sofa for Christmas
- Where is everyone going to sleep?
- I hope I can get out of the work do this year, I really hate it
- I’d love to go to midnight mass but it’s such a long way
Just for fun, why not write your own list of thoughts about Christmas. It can be quite entertaining when you see what’s going on.
Why does our thinking create Christmas stress?
Our thinking can create stress for all kinds of reasons but there are two in particular that cause difficulty.
- We believe all our thoughts matter
- We believe thoughts about the past and future matter now (in this moment)
Let’s look at each of those in turn
1. We believe all our thoughts matter
This may sound odd but it’s true that many many thoughts drift through our minds each day to which we pay little attention. For instance, we might idly wonder what the driver in the next car does for a living when we’re stopped beside her in traffic but as soon as the queue moves off, the thought is gone. We don’t dwell on it or pay it much attention because it doesn’t matter. In fact none of our thoughts matter, until or, unless, we think they do. A lovely neighbour of mine, a retired Royal Air Force pilot who smoked like a chimney, used to say,
“Everything matters, nothing matters very much”.
Much of our experience of stress around Christmas comes from our mistaken belief that it matters a great deal. In the big scheme of things, it matters very little. It is just another day. What may help you realise that Christmas doesn’t matter much is when you realise that however you feel in the run up or during the festivities themselves, Christmas will come and go, as it always does, and you will remain substantially unchanged. That inner essence of you, the spirit of you is intact, solid and timeless whether you get worked up about Christmas or not.
That understanding, if you can really feel it, takes the pressure off. Even if you can’t feel it, it is still true. The other trap we can fall into is losing our sense of this moment, right now.
2. We believe thoughts about the past or future are helpful to us right now
Most of our thinking, when we look closely, is about the past or the future. Neither of which actually exist except via our thinking about them.
Memories from the past and plans for the future can be fun and pleasant but oftentimes our thoughts about the past and future are unpleasant and make us feel uncomfortable. That in itself isn’t a problem. It only becomes a problem when we get caught up in those thoughts and start to lose ourselves in them or worse start all kinds of internal debates, arguments, judgments, criticism and opinions about past memories or future plans.
That gets us in a mess.
We get caught in loops where we turn the same thoughts over and over in our minds. More thoughts pile in until we are caught in a very constrained mental space a bit like being stuck in a lift with very loud piped music.
Very few of our thoughts are about the present moment. Most of them, especially if we find our mind crowded with thoughts, are based on the future or the past. They are generally not helpful to us, as I found out recently.
Early in December I was having lunch with my daughter and found myself getting tetchy about arrangements for various family get togethers over the Christmas holidays. I was a bit snappy and complained about how difficult it was to organise things because people didn’t respond in a timely manner. My daughter got a bit sulky.
I suddenly realised I’d been doing an awful lot of thinking about the get togethers but this was actually the first time I had mentioned Christmas to my daughter either in person or by text or email. As soon as I saw that, the tension eased and I laughed! I apologised for being tetchy and told her I just realised I hadn’t spoken to her before about Christmas. She agreed, no I hadn’t.
All that thinking had been going on in my own head. A heated conversation in which I played all the parts. I still don’t know quite how all the logistics might work but that thought isn’t bothering me so much any more. When we pause for a second, some of the things we stress about at Christmas, can look a bit silly or funny to us quite easily but what about more intense emotions?
What if Christmas brings up painful memories?
If Christmas has always been a time of painful memories, how can you stop yourself feeling stressed during the festive season? My father passed away suddenly on Boxing Day in the year 2000, so I know how this period can be a time of sorrow as well as joy. There is no need to try and stop the feelings of sadness, you can’t anyway, but you can see, it doesn’t matter if you feel sad, snarky, miserable or any number of other feelings about Christmas. For starters you are not alone.
Many, many people have mixed feelings about Christmas. The stress comes when we start criticising, judging and berating ourselves for how we feel. How we feel in the end doesn’t matter, in the sense that whatever we are feeling just now, will soon pass, all by itself, to be replaced with a new feeling.
Like getting to a B&B down a bumpy farm track, you may have a few pot holes in your thinking about Christmas. Some of them you might be able to drive round, others you’ll fall into. Christmas is going to happen anyway, so what about you let thoughts and feelings about Christmas come and go, without worrying too much about them?
Do share this article with others who might find it helpful.
What have you seen in your thinking about Christmas? Let me know in the comments below.
I offer coaching conversations (the first session is complimentary) if you’d like to explore this further. Take a look at the options here.