Using Curiosity to Combat Fear

Social anxiety disorder: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

I’ve struggled with social anxiety for the majority of my life. The only time I can remember interacting with other people without hesitation or fear was when I was a very young child. It used to be so easy to go up to another child that I didn’t know at all and become friends with them in a matter of minutes. I miss those simpler times. The longer I’ve lived, the harder it has become for me to make new friends.

The last few years as a social worker have really inspired me to try harder when interacting with others. I see the way that my coworkers are so easily able to make meaningful connections to the clients we meet everyday. I’ve tried my best to mirror their social behaviors and improve my own ability to connect, but it always feels somewhat gross and fake. It’s impossible to make a real connection with another person when you are wearing a mask. Even when they don’t know you, there is a different energy that I think we are all able to pick up on whether we consciously realize it or not.

I used to make excuses to myself about why it wasn’t even worth my time to put in the effort to bond with new people. I had convinced myself that the vast majority of people just aren’t worth getting to know. Everyone is an idiot with nothing interesting to say. At least that’s what I used to believe. However, after meeting so many shockingly amazing people in the last few years, that conviction has all but eroded. Now I am happy to say that I truly believe their are still wonderful people out there for me to meet. The issue now is, how do I learn to put myself out there and keep my heart open to that possibility each time I meet someone new?

One thing I have been trying to work on is focusing on curiosity instead of fear. One of the most anxiety provoking parts of my job each day is sitting with the child while my coworkers discuss the next steps with the parent. I am always extremely nervous any time I am alone with someone I’m not close to, let alone a child that has just disclosed horrific abuse of some kind. Even though my time one of one with the children has always ended up going well, often resulting in a swell of admiration and tenderness toward them, I still can’t manage to placate my fears for each new case.

I’ve noticed that when I am faced with these types of situations, my initial instinct is to shut down. All I want to do is run out the clock or avoid the encounter entirely. I also struggle to avoid prattling on about myself instead of getting to know the person I’m talking to. I guess I find it easier to talk about myself because it’s always easier to talk about what you know. And what do we know better than ourselves and our own experiences? I think this is also a subconscious attempt to control the conversation and avoid being taken off guard. When asking questions, you can never predict where the conversation may lead. One of the hallmarks of social anxiety is attempting to plan out a conversation before it happens. Obviously this never works. It just makes you less able to immerse yourself in the natural flow of conversation.

I’m working on letting go of my need to control the situation and open myself up to discovering what/who is in front of me. I would consider myself a very curious person. I am always wondering about the way others think and see the world, what interests them and why, what their goals are, etc. However, my fear easily overpowers that natural curiosity under the pressure of meeting new people, especially in a work setting. It’s always been hard for me to toe the line between authenticity and professionalism. But I’m hoping if I can keep guiding my attention back to that curiosity inside of me, eventually it will become easier to overcome my fear so that I may learn more about the person I’m talking to.

I want to practice shifting my focus from myself, my fears, worries, what this person may be thinking about me, etc. I’d rather focus on the other person and finding out who they are. I’m sure that with enough experience I can teach myself that there is nothing to fear. Sure, maybe it will be an uncomfortable conversation, but it may also be a lovely, enjoyable interaction. Based on anecdotal evidence, I’d have to say the latter is even more likely. Either way, I am going to keep trying. This world is filled with so many fascinating people with minds as mysterious and unique as my own. I can’t wait to meet them. That is going to be my mantra from now on when we have a new family coming in: I can’t wait to meet them! I wonder who they will be.

A Look at Social Anxiety Disorder | Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health

The Nature of Wanting

how I deal with wanting to disappear | by Anthony James Williams | Medium

What are you wanting right now? Perhaps it’s to go back to sleep or for the weekend to finally arrive or maybe even something more significant like a new job or to leave your partner. Whatever it is that you are longing for, have you thought about what will happen if and when you get what you want? I know whenever I want something, the unspoken assumption is that once I get this thing, life will be better, my nagging desire will finally cease. I have to laugh at myself, because even though years of experience have shown me this is not true, I still believe it in the back of my mind. I think we all do to some extent.

It dawned on me this morning that wanting is part of what it means to be alive. Even though we may reach our goals or obtain whatever it is we desire, that wanting is not going to go away. There will always be something else to fixate on. We are all going through life chasing a moving target. At first this can seem rather depressing. Will we never truly reach happiness then?

Like most things in life, there is more than one way to look at this. Rather than feeling defeated, we can feel freed. “How on earth is that freeing?”, you may ask. Well think of it like this: we won’t ever be able to end that wanting sensation within ourselves, however knowing that, we can redefine what happiness means for us. If we’ll never end all desire, we can stop focusing so much on the ones we have. We can realize how foolish it is to think, “I’ll be happy when this or that happens.” Instead we can make the decision to be happy right now, knowing that happiness no longer means we lack all longing. We can make peace with our desires, accepting that whether or not we reach them isn’t what determines our ability to be happy.

Instead of spinning our wheels endlessly trying to get more and more and never feeling satisfied, we can use that energy to hold space for and accept our wanting nature. In this way, wanting and anxiety are quite similar. We are spurred to action in an effort to avoid the discomfort of wanting as well as the discomfort of anxiety. The sensation of these mental states in our bodies seems intolerable at times. We distract ourselves from these unpleasant feelings by convincing ourselves that we can “fix” them. That we will reach some distant point in the future where wanting and anxiety are just not a part of us anymore. When we can stop running and realize the futility of this exercise in avoidance, we can learn to make friends with these aspects of life.

I’m not saying that we just give up on achieving our dreams or trying to make our lives more comfortable. I’m just saying that as we work towards our goals, whatever they may be, we can be happy whether we reach them or not. And we can be happy while we’re reaching for them.

As you move through your day today, notice when you find yourself wanting something. Whether it is something big or small, just pause and explore what it feels like to want. Is there a sense of urgency or anxiety there? Do you feel pressured to take action, to obtain whatever it is you’re wanting? Can you remain still and just breathe into this feeling? Try acknowledging the importance of this feeling. Say thank you and offer gratitude to this nature of wanting within you. Be mindful of the ways in which this internal motivation has helped you get to where you are today. Practice enjoying the chase as well as the reward at the end.

Happiness is not ahead of you in some distant future. Happiness is not something to be earned or captured. Happiness is our nature in the same way that wanting is our nature. Both can exist simultaneously if practice opening our hearts and minds to that possibility and allow them to.

Learning to Be Happy (Even When You Don’t Get What You Want)

True Contentment: In Simplicity — SECOND CITY CHURCH

The other day, while listening to a talk given by the American spiritual teacher and guru, Ram Dass, he said something along the lines of: Learn how to be happy even when you don’t get what you want. For some reason, the way he said these words really struck me. There is something about listening to the gentle, slow, thoughtful voice of a spiritual leader that allows simple ideas to penetrate directly to your soul. Since then I have kept that idea close to my heart.

It’s so easy to forget that external circumstances don’t dictate our internal state. Finding contentment where we are now, doesn’t mean that we won’t want things anymore. However, we won’t allow the outcome of these wants to decide how we feel. Certain desires are easier to let go of than others, but it’s important to remind ourselves that we always have the power to let go and reside in happiness.

All of us already know how to do this to a certain extent. We have varying levels of wanting. We may want to have a certain fruit for breakfast only to realize that it has spoiled and we must find something else to eat. Depending on who you are, this usually isn’t enough to ruin your day or mood. We simply think, “oh, rats” and prepare another food. On the other hand, we may be planning to get married only to have our
fiancée leave us at the alter. That’s not going to be as easy to let go of as a rotten mango.

I wonder, though. How much the variation in reaction has to do with our preconceived ideas about the “appropriate” reaction in each scenario. When I used to get upset, it genuinely felt like I had no choice. Then in addition to not getting what I wanted, I felt an added level of suffering due to a feeling of powerlessness. There is a certain freedom in simply knowing we have the ability to choose.

When my ex left me the last time, I remember feeling frustrated that now I’d have to go back to being sad and miserable. The idea of doing that seemed so repulsive to me that I decided I didn’t care if that’s what I was supposed to feel. I decided to discard my ideas of what I thought society expected of me in that scenario. I didn’t want to be sad anymore, and for the first time in such a situation, I realized I had the choice not to be.

Sometimes just remembering that we have that choice is enough. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never experience sadness, anger, frustration, or suffering again. There are some times in life that we actually want to feel sad, and that’s okay. There is a difference between holding space for a genuine emotion and feeling trapped by one.

The next time I find myself not getting what I want, rather than getting upset and ruminating, I’m going to use it as an opportunity. Each time something doesn’t go the way you planned, it’s an opportunity to practice being happy anyway. One of my favorite questions to ask myself is: Can I love myself even though…? Fill in the blank. Now I’d like to add another question: Can I be happy even though….? Sometimes phrasing the issue in this way allows us to see the choice we have. When I’m getting down on myself because of some small flaw, asking the question, “can I still love myself,” brings things back into perspective and reminds me what really matters. If I can still love myself anyway, why bother being upset about whatever it may be? The same goes for “can I be happy anyway.”

Asking these types of questions also helps me be more lighthearted about the problem. Sometimes the answer isn’t clear in that moment. Then I become curious. Can I? Let’s find out. It can be fun to explore our own hearts and minds and find a path back to happiness. And just like paths in the forest, these paths become more worn and easier to follow the more we use them. So don’t worry if your mind seems like particularly dense woodlands right now. You can still make those paths. Even if it’s hard at first, know that it only gets easier.

Ram Dass talks about 'Becoming Nobody,' the documentary on his spiritual  journey | Datebook

Don’t Look Away

Master of aversion
I practice impressive techniques
of avoidance
a concentrated gaze
that blurs my vision's edges
don't look, don't look, don't look

It's too painful to see the full picture
selective sight suits me just fine
but there is always something 
looming just out of view
a premonition
that prickles the skin

Downcast eyes can't
keep me save forever
harsh light touches everything
eventually
when the time comes to surrender
don't look away, don't look away, don't look away
Dry Eyes Treatement | Eye Doctor in Billings | Wardell Vision Center

Attachment

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the feeling of absolute devastation when we lose someone that we love. Whether it be through death, divorce, distance, or any other circumstance it always seems unbearable. I am reluctant to even remember the many times I’ve lost someone in my life. These events led to some of my darkest moments. At times I even contemplated giving up all together. The lingering memories of that pain cause me to have great caution when forming new relationships. I am always trying to brace myself for the worst. Trying to keep just enough distance to keep my heart safe.

I remember recently being afraid for my sister in this regard. She has been living with her new boyfriend for around a year now. She was telling me how everything is okay now because she has him. While I was happy for her, I was also terrified to hear those words. I was afraid for her. What would happen if he decided to leave? I gently brought this to her attention, urged her to try to keep her heart and mind safe somehow. The thing is, we both knew that wasn’t really possible. You cannot ration your love for someone. You can’t plan to protect yourself from future pain, no matter how much you want to.

Even though I’ve only had a boyfriend again for a week, my mind is already flooded with future scenarios. Now that I’ve invested my feelings in another again, I am terrified of the wrenching pain that would ensue if he leaves me. To lose all of my newfound happiness and hope in one fell swoop. I don’t know if I could bear going through that type of pain again. But that is the price we pay for love. In order to experience it, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. And to be vulnerable means risking being hurt, perhaps even ensuring that we will be hurt. We only have one decision to make: is it worth it?

I’m not going to allow the fear of the future to keep me from loving will all of my heart. Love is what this life is about after all. It’s always worth the risk. It’s always worth the pain. Even if I tried to lock my heart away, there will always be painful moments. After all, we all have to let go of everything in the end. What’s important is learning how to appreciate and be fully present with what we have while we have it. It’s okay to need other people. It’s also okay that they sometimes let us down. Both of these things are important parts of what it means to be human.

When my boyfriend comes over today, I am going to let all of these worries go. I am going to simply enjoy the time we have together right now. I am going to be present with him in every moment. I am going to be grateful for what we have today, even if it doesn’t last forever. I will no longer allow fear to close my heart. I will love with everything that I’ve got. And I’ll keep loving until the day I die, no matter the cost.

Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

Breathe Into It

One of the first things you tend to learn when getting into yoga philosophy is that resistance to unpleasant feelings, situations, or emotions only leads to more intense, prolonged suffering. In fact, it could be said that all of the suffering we experience stems from our aversion to certain things. Life is about perspective primarily. So if we can teach ourselves to see everything through the eyes of loving kindness, there is no where for suffering to take root.

This principle of non-resistance can be seen in the mind, but also in the physical body. I have always been someone who detests the cold and avoids it at all costs. Unfortunately for me, I also happen to live in the northern part of the country where winters can be pretty intense. I read the other day that when you brace yourself against the cold and try to resist it, you are actually only making yourself feel colder! When we tense up our bodies, our blood vessels are constricted. Therefore less blood is able to flow to our extremities, making us colder. If we can breathe deeply and relax our bodies, we won’t be as uncomfortable with low temperatures.

This also works with other types of pain or discomfort. The breath is such a powerful thing, if we can only learn to utilize it. I often notice when I am in some type of physical pain whether it be a stomach ache, a sore throat, or just muscle cramps, I desperately try to avoid and disassociate from that area of my body. Sometimes as a kid I would even visualize boxing that body part off from the rest of me. Needless to say that type of response has never worked for me. Despite my best efforts I am unable to ignore my body’s painful cries.

The other night as I was struggling to fall asleep due to such a pain, I decided to try embracing that pain instead of attempting to push it away. I turned to focusing on my breath. I imagined sending the swirling, healing oxygen to that painful part of my body with every inhale. As I exhaled, I relaxed and accepted the unpleasant sensations. This didn’t make the pain go away, but after a few moments I felt much better. Today I am struggling with a very upset stomach from overeating yesterday. Stomach pain has always been one of the hardest problems for me to deal with ever since I was little. I’ve felt tense and uncomfortable all morning. Nothing I’ve tried seems to have helped. However, as I sit here writing this, I’ve been trying to also take slow, deep breaths down into my belly. I can definitely still feel some discomfort, but it’s much less pronounced than earlier.

Just like with most meditative practices, the hardest part is staying focused. Even after years of practicing yoga and meditation it can be hard for me to take deep breaths as I move through a normal day. In fact, a lot of the time I find that my breath is exceptionally shallow or that I’m holding it! It can definitely be frustrating when it feels like despite your best efforts you aren’t making much progress. The good thing is each breath is another opportunity to practice. Breathwork is something we are able to work on anywhere no matter who we’re with or what we’re doing. Not to mention it’s free! It can even be quite fun once you start to notice the connection your breath has on your body and mind.

I find it really helps me to attach an image or an emotion to my breath to help me concentrate. Recently I’ve started to imagine each sip of air as a delicious food, drink, or even a drug that I get to consume. I look forward to every inhale and exhale. I savor the way it feels as it moves through my body. Sometimes I’ll also picture all of the wonderful things my body will be able to do with so much fresh oxygen. I imagine it providing me with energy and happy feelings. I imagine my body using it to perform all of it’s vital functions: building new cells, cleansing toxins, healing me, etc. Just thinking about it makes me so grateful for this body I have been blessed with. It inspires me to breathe deeply as a gift to this body. Inhale – I love you, body. Exhale – thank you, body.

The next time you are feeling upset or you’re in pain, whatever it may be that you find yourself resisting, try to honor that feeling rather than running from it. Perhaps it will even turn out to be a gift. It is easy to go through life without growing or changing when things are going well. However, pain and discomfort are necessary signals that we can learn so much from. For instance, my stomach hurting this morning is a reminder to take better care of my body. It is my body asking me for love, kindness, and respect. Instead of being frustrated and upset with my body for not behaving the way I want it to, I am going to listen to it’s urgent request. I am going to use this unpleasant morning to push me to do better for myself today and from now on. It all begins with the breath.

So just breathe

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Being Better

Sometimes I get frustrated by the seemingly endless cycle that my mind traps me inside of. I spend most of my time just anxiously trying to occupy myself with nonsense activities to make the day go by faster. It seems like I am always looking for things to waste my time with. What makes this so frustrating is that there are actually a lot of important, helpful, productive things I could be doing with my time instead. I come up with lots of great ideas of how I can be more helpful around the office. I am always getting excited about all the ways I plan to improve my performance at work and prove that I am a valuable asset to my friends and coworkers. But despite all of my initial enthusiasm, once the time comes to sit down and do the work I’ve planned for myself, my anxiety always overwhelms me, paralyzes me.

I spend so much time feeling guilty for not being better. I am so smart and capable. I know I could do far more than I currently do. It’s just difficult for me to switch my energy towards more important pursuits over the ridiculous personal projects I am always working on. I blame my anxiety, but even that doesn’t fully make sense to me. I don’t have any explanation as to why doing these things cause so much fear and hesitation. In the rare moments when I am feeling calm, it seems more than possible for me to accomplish all of these lofty self-improvement goals, but once I begin to feel those first twinges of anxiety, it seems like all I can manage to do is survive. Avoiding that anxiety becomes my top priority, the only thing that matters above all else.

With our therapist at work leaving this fall, I feel even more pressure to amp up my work performance. It’s made me realize I’ve been leaning on my coworkers too much. I feel like I’ve been making them carry a lot of my weight this past year and a half. It’s crazy to me it’s only been that long. It feels like I’ve worked here all of my life. I really don’t want to ever leave. And I’m so tired of feeling guilty for not being more of a help to the people I work with. I’m tired of being afraid of them resenting me for it. Also as a state funded facility, I become more and more anxious about job security every day. At a small organization like ours, we really can’t afford any extra dead weight. I want to do my part. Even more than my part. I want to secure funding so that we can all feel safe to continue working here. I want to go home at the end of the day feeling proud for all I’ve accomplished for this organization that has given me so much. I want to feel like what I do here is really making an important difference.

I think one of my main issues is getting carried away when I am in my more upbeat, hopeful moods. I come up with so many ideas and tasks for myself to complete. Writing them out in never-ending lists only serves to make me feel even more overwhelmed. I know that what works best for me is to break down those long lists and schedule one task or so per day. That way I am able to actually accomplish a lot of my goals without feeling suffocated by the pressure of doing them all at once.

It is quite fascinating to me just how eager, happy, and excited I am able to get at the idea of doing all these extra tasks, but then just to put pen to paper or pick up the phone to make a single call sends me spiraling into fear and self-doubt. Not only that, I feel guilty for always using my anxiety as an excuse. I shouldn’t need someone to hold my hand and force me to do the things I want to do.

For the rest of today at least, I am going to try to stop my thinking mind from keeping me crippled and terrified. Instead of spending my energy contemplating and worrying about what I’m going to do before I do it. I am going to try my best to pick a task, take five long deep breaths, and then just do it. No more thinking. No more wondering if I should be doing something else, if I could think of a way to do it better, etc. I am grateful for my intelligence, but often it feels like a curse more than a gift. Wouldn’t it be lovely to just be able to act without thinking all the time?

Sometimes it helps me to remind myself that this is just one single day of my life. I remember all of the countless others that have come and gone without much consequence. It won’t kill me to do things differently or test my limits for one day. If it turns out to be unbearable, I don’t have to do things the same way again tomorrow. There is nothing to fear in trying and failing. It’s okay if something makes me feel anxious. There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling that way. It is the avoidance of that feeling that is truly causing me all this grief. I want to practice making peace with my anxious feelings rather than running from them. I am going to make today different. Even if it’s just today.

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Meditation on Death

Due to my morbid obsession with death and dying this past week, I started looking for some books to read in order to better cope with these grim ruminations. After a little searching, I came across a book that seems perfect for me. It’s called Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Face of Death by Joan Halifax. I haven’t gotten past the first few chapters yet, but it has already been a great comfort to me.

This book approaches the subject of death from a Buddhist perspective. It highlights the different ways that western and eastern cultures deal with death. It calls attention to the way the fear of death dominates western culture. We do our best to hide it away out of sight. We live most of our lives without ever thinking about the fact that we are all going to die some day. Avoidance seems to be a primary part our lives, especially in America.

The best part about this book is that it is written as a resource for everyone, in any stage of life. It can benefit teenagers, the elderly, caregivers, medical professionals, healthy people, and people that are terminally ill. This book reminds us that death is a natural part of life. It is something that has the potential to bring us all together. It is ultimately the great equalizer. It is a phase of life, a culmination of everything we have experienced here, a right of passage, a necessary darkness we will all pass through one day.

One of the ways I believe this book will help me is by preparing me to be there for my loved ones when they die. I still feel tremendously guilty about how little I was around my grandmother as she was slowly dying from cancer a few years ago. For the most part, I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it. I saw her when we went to my parent’s house on holidays. It was painful just to look at her, to be in that room with her. Even though it was actually the room I grew up in, my childhood bedroom. What a sad, beautiful mixture of things that have gone on within the walls of that room.

When I sat by her bedside those last few times I saw her, I felt paralyzed, petrified. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to hold her. I wanted to cry. I wanted to ask her so many questions. But instead I sat silently at her side, waiting for any opportunity to leave. I still wonder how she must have felt in her final days. Was she afraid? Did she resent us for not being there for her? Did she find peace? Did she have regrets? Were there things she wanted to tell us, but didn’t? Did we leave her feeling alone? Unloved? What is normal, what is acceptable to say or do around a death bed? Is anything? Does it even matter?

I think our society’s fear and avoidance of death leaves a lot of people to regret their incompetence when dealing with the passing of a loved one. When you avoid something all your life, how can you possibly be expected to handle it when it is in front of you? When it can no longer be avoided? When my other grandmother passes, when my parents pass, I want to be ready. I want to be everything I wished I could have been for my dad’s mom. I want to be brave enough and comfortable enough to discuss these difficult topics with them. I want to be prepared to give them everything that they need, even if they are unable to ask for it when the time comes.

Being with Dying provides exercises to help us work through our aversion and fear of death. The first meditation it suggests is to contemplate both the best and the worst case scenarios for your own death, in as much detail as possible. I want to have my grandmother and my mom do these exercises with me at some point. I want to know everything that I can do to make their deaths peaceful and comfortable and meaningful. However, even the thought of writing such a thing down seems terrifying to me. At the same time, that terror is quite fascinating. To confront this reality, the certainty of death, why is it so very painful? Why does my mind want to avoid even the thought of it at any cost? Do people in other cultures feel the same way? Or are they able to embrace this inevitability with grace and humble surrender?

I think my greatest fear surrounding death, is simply not knowing. It is the ultimate loss of control, a nosedive into a vast unknown. Perhaps it is less daunting if you believe in an afterlife of some kind. But it seems impossible that anyone could have total conviction as they are facing down their own end. There must always be some doubt, some uncertainty. It is not only not knowing what happens after we die, but not knowing when or how we will die that is frightening. I suppose a lot of people are also deeply afraid of death being painful. As someone who hasn’t experienced hardly any physical pain yet in my life, I find this hard to imagine well enough to be afraid of. Besides it always seems like pain can be escaped, even if that escape is death itself. However, that not knowing, that final surrender, will always be there.

I am looking forward to reading more of this book. I am hopeful that it will give me the tools I need to prepare myself for this stage of life, this end of life. Not only for myself but for those around me as well. Even if you think I’m nuts for believing the science that says soon the oceans will be dead along with all of us, I would still recommend this book. Regardless of when you imagine death will touch your life, the fact remains that it will, no matter who you are. It’s much easier to avert our eyes as long as possible, but if you are ready to face that fear head on and take the steps you need to in order to be prepared, Living with Dying seems like a great place to start.

Please make the wonderful effort to show up for your life, every moment, this moment – because it is perfect, just as it is.

Being with Dying
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The Monotony of Life

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Some days I start to feel really overwhelmed by the way it seems like I am living nearly the same day over and over again. I wake up, I let my dog out, I feed my cat, I make coffee, I pick up clumps of white cat fur from every room, I collect up several lady bugs from the windowsills, etc. I start to feel weighed down by these mundane maintenance activities. The idea of doing something you’ll just have to do again tomorrow or at the end of the day or even an hour from now has always frustrated me.

Maybe it’s just that same idea of feeling forced to do something over and over that I don’t want to do. It’s hard to accept in the moment, but in reality I do want to do those things. Maybe not directly, but I want the results. I want my pets to be comfortable and happy. I want my house to look clean and orderly. I definitely want to drink that morning coffee. Focusing on the giving myself the result rather than being burdened by the process might be helpful. Instead of thinking: Ugh, here I am filling this dog bowl for the hundredth time, I can think about the love I have for my sweet dog daughter and how grateful I am to have her in my life to care for. But even that takes mindful awareness and lots of practice.

I’ve been experiencing mild physical pain the last few days. Although it’s quite aggravating, it has also been helping me understand something bigger. I’m very fortunate in the sense that I don’t experience pain or illness very frequently. However, in the times I do, especially thinking back to being sick more often as a child, it almost feels like my whole body is in a panicked revolt against the area that is experiencing distress. I so desperately want to isolate and separate from that area of my body, to numb it, to detach it. I’ve even heard other people express this idea by wishing they could just remove their head when they have a migraine or head cold. It seems counterintuitive to actually embrace that troubled part of our bodies instead. Yet that is exactly what we need to do.

It only increases our suffering to try to avoid pain, physical or otherwise. Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I remembered this tidbit of yogic wisdom. I allowed my awareness to caress that painful place. I sent my breath there. I sent loving kindness there. It must have worked well because the next thing I knew I was waking up to a bright new morning. I think this principle can also work in the other difficult parts of life.

Instead of resisting my monotonous morning routine, I’ll practice embracing it. Sure, maybe I’ve done these things a million times before and will probably do them another million in the future, but what does it feel like to do them today? And I don’t have to lie to myself and pretend it’s fun. Maybe it does feel frustrating. What does frustration feel like? Can I allow myself to experience that?What does my body feel like? Can I move mindfully? Can I find something new even in these repetitive tasks, just like I do in my yoga practice? Does my body feel stiff and achy from hours of sleep? Am I feeling sleepy or awake? What does it feel like to be experiencing these things? Can I practice gratitude and mindfulness even in the dullest moments? Can I remember to breathe deeply in discomfort? Can I experiment and find new ways to be kind to myself with my thoughts and movements?

All of these things are obviously easier said than done. Usually when we are feeling tired and irritated, the last thing we want to do is pause and be mindful or grateful. But I think just taking a few moments now and then to set these intentions for my everyday life helps me to remember to at least try. Even though I may not “succeed” I’ll know that today I can at least give myself some credit for trying. And those small moments of practice add up.

Do We Know What Will Make Us Happy?

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I remember reading once that when put to the test, what we think will make us happy usually doesn’t end up actually making us all that happier when we get it. I’ve noticed this in my own life, especially recently thanks to this pandemic. One of the things I’m always longing for is more free time. I’ve always wished that I didn’t have to work so I could spend my days any way I choose, with no obligations or responsibilities. Yet after just a short time “working from home” (I don’t find myself having much actual work), I was even less happy than I was when I was waking up early and spending eight full hours every weekday at my job.

Now this could be just because I have an exceptionally amazing job with coworkers that I consider dear friends, but even when I lost the job I hated and got to spend a summer on unemployment, I was miserable. Back then I attributed it to having to fret about finding another job, but now I think it was more than just that. What I always imagined would make me happy, even what I thought I needed in order to be calm and happy, turned out to be completely wrong.

Why is that? It’s impossible for me to wrap my head around it for very long. After a few weeks back in the office full time, I was already back to daydreaming about having more free-time. Even though I just saw that it would do me no good! I’d just spend it being anxious and depressed rather than doing all the productive things I’d pictured myself doing with it. It could have something to do with another interesting tidbit from Time Warped, the time perception book I’ve mentioned.

Apparently we often put things off or make plans we can’t ultimately follow through with because for some reason we imagine ourselves having more time in the future. Yet if we imagined ourselves moving up the date to tomorrow or next week, we’d find our plans ridiculous and out of the question. I definitely think this mindset contributes to my procrastination. It does often seem like things will be easier in the future. I’ll have more time. I’ll be in a better place mentally. I’ll have fixed all the problems I’m struggling with by then. Etc, etc. Humans always have a tendency to be over-optimistic about the future. I always though I was the exception to that rule, given I fear the end of society is just on the horizon. But when it comes to smaller things in my personal life, I fall into the same flawed thinking.

This may seem like depressing news, to find out you actually won’t have more free time or be happier in some imagined future where everything has gone your way. But there is a silver lining. We no longer have to feel like we’re waiting for something before we can be happy. Chances are we wouldn’t be happy when we reached that idyllic future anyway. It’s a useful lesson. We should just learn to enjoy where we are now. We can be happy where we are with what we already have.

Not only do we not need to wait for a distant future to find happiness, we also don’t need to be so afraid of things that may happen in the future either. We may overestimate how happy something will make us, but we also overestimate how detrimental something will be in our lives. Both lottery winners and holocaust survivors both end up pretty close to everyone else in the end when it comes to happiness and a sense of well-being. We will eventually adjust to anything, no matter how amazing or horrific.

With this knowledge we can learn to relax. We can ease into the life that unravels before us each moment. There is no need to become attached, try to avoid/resist, or get upset when something doesn’t go the way we think it should have gone. After all, what do we know? Once we give up our obsession with trying to control every little aspect of our lives, we may find that we are able to live with much more ease. Have faith that this universe is playing out exactly as it should be. Have faith in yourself, in your ability to handle whatever life presents you with. Let go of expectations. They always seems to let us down or prevent us from seeing life for the incredible, beautiful thing it really is.

I know that all the happiness I will ever find is already here inside of me. I’ve been struggling to arrange my world to my whims, when in the end I don’t even really know what will turn out to be best for me. So instead I will try to let go. I will try to take each day for what it is with curiosity and a grateful heart.