Everyone keeps telling me that I get to make the choice that happiness and peace are only one option away It's frustrating to then find myself in moments that don't seem to offer the possibility of different ways of being and I'm hopelessly overcome with old patterns I've been asking myself why I'm not strong enough to make the right decisions instead I just keep stumbling But I think I finally realized when people say we all have a choice that doesn't mean the choices are limitless or that we all have the same options Sometimes at first your scope is small I still can't choose unconditional compassion when my heart is sealed closed with anger but I can make the decision to be mindful I can witness myself from a few steps off in a way I never was able to before I can get curious about my intention and question my automatic reactions Sometimes I can stay silent and still or even smile as I watch these impulses swiftly rise, then subside and pass by right now the changes I make are subtle Mindfulness is a muscle that with effort will provide a wider range of motion new choices will arise naturally if I am patient and keep practicing
Let the Universe Lead You
The modern world is overflowing with choices, whether it’s the twenty plus breakfast cereal options, the millions of bands there are to listen to, or even the possible career paths you can pick from. Generally, having a lot of different choices is a good thing. Never before have we had the ability to completely and utterly personalize every aspect of our lives. Whatever your interests are, there is a seemingly endless amount of content and products just for you.
Despite the positives of our diverse, jam-packed environments, there are also negatives. Have you ever heard the term “analysis paralysis”? Essentially it means being so overwhelmed with options that you cannot come to a decision. It becomes impossible to know what the “best” choice will be, so you end up not making any choice at all, just wasting time weighing your options until you run out the clock or give up out of frustration. I’m not sure if this is something that affects everyone or if certain types of people are more inclined to experience this, but I personally have never identified so much with a term before. It feels like I am in a nearly constant state of analysis paralysis.
I struggle and fret over every single decision I make. The more options I have to choose from the more incapable I am of choosing any of them. Especially when it’s a purely subjective decision. No choice is necessarily going to be better than another, yet I am fixated on somehow finding the “perfect” selection. Not only that, I also spend time after making a decision wondering, with mild regret, if I should have chosen something else.
Until yesterday, I never really had any possible solution to this dilemma. As I was scrolling through Pinterest, searching for artistic inspiration for my daily drawing, an interesting thought occurred to me. I was puttering around, going back and forth about what I’d like to draw, when I considered how I might feel differently about the situation if I was someone who subscribed to the believe that “everything happens for a reason.” What if instead of fretting about the other possible ideas I haven’t found yet, I simply commit to one that has been presented to me?
Intellectually, I know that it really doesn’t matter what I draw or write about. I am only doing these things because I enjoy doing them. The end result is basically irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. So I know I could be equally satisfied with whatever I choose. The anxiety and discomfort of searching for the “perfect choice” is definitely not worth it. But even constantly reminding myself of this fact, doesn’t seem to override my natural desire to pick the “right” thing and be able to weigh absolutely all of my options before coming to a decision about what that thing is, regardless of how innocuous of a decision I may be making.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in the past few years, though, is the importance of perspective and mental framing. Instead of viewing it as a highly important decision versus one that doesn’t matter at all, I’ve decided to try a different angle. From now on, I want to view the initial options presented to me as special, meaningful selections being offered up by the universe. Whether or not you genuinely believe this to be the case is irrelevant. You can choose to suspend disbelief for your own purposes. I want to choose to believe the first few things that jump out to me or spark my interest aren’t just random, I am drawn to them for a reason. I don’t need to shop around for all the other billions of options out there before making my choice. In fact, I could even close my eyes and click a random image. Whatever thoughts or inspiration bubble to the surface from that are what I am supposed to be focusing on, not everything else that might be available.
I think actively engaging in this mode of thinking will serve me greatly. Not only will it help me make decisions more easily, but it will remind me to have fun and keep a lighthearted attitude. I think it will also allow me to be more confident in my decisions. Believing that the few options initially presented to you are significant and hold meaning prevents you from endlessly second guessing yourself and wondering if there might be something better if you keep looking.
This mindset is also beneficial in your everyday life. If we can truly practice the belief that everything that happens to us is important and was supposed to be that way, then we can avoid that fear of missing out or the displeasure of wishing things had been different for us. Trusting that the universe has placed us on a particular path for a reason keeps us in the present moment. Without the constant tendency to feel cheated by reality when it doesn’t match what we wanted or expected, we are able to fully embody and benefits from the experiences we actually have.
With time and perspective we often look back at horrible times in our lives with understanding or even gratitude. We realize that sometimes the worst things that happen to us become opportunities that lead us to where we want to be. The only thing we need to bring the comfort of that perspective to the present moment is trust. Trust that each moment in your life was specifically selected just for you, that it was something you needed, even if it’s a hard lesson, even if you don’t understand it yet. Trust that the things presented to you in your life are meaningful, not random. Even if that’s a load of shit and isn’t true, what does it matter? We’ll never really be able to know if that’s true or not, so we might as well live our lives believing what makes us a happier, more grateful person. I used to be someone that believed the truth was all that mattered at any cost. But now I see that was only making me miserable, and in so many circumstances “truth” is subjective and dependent on your perspective and what you decide to focus on. What really matters in this life is being happy, loving, and grateful.
Learning to Be Happy (Even When You Don’t Get What You Want)
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.
Trust and the Universe Will Provide
The other day, I was exposed to Covid and feared I would have to quarantine the very weekend my boyfriend was supposed to come home for a few days. I wrote a post about it earlier in the week, right before I went and got tested. In that post, my focus was on learning to sit with uncertainty. All at once, a four day weekend I had been looking forward to for over a month threatened to disappear in an instant. Not only had I been exposed to Covid, but there was a tornado near where Nate was away at training. Nate was sent home early, with the caveat that he may also have to go back early, spoiling our plans.
That night as I talked with Nate on the phone, I could hear the unrest and discomfort in his voice at all these sudden changes. Neither one of us knew what would happen in a few days time. I tried to remain hopeful while also making peace with the worst case scenario. No matter what the outcome was, I was prepared to stay positive. For the first time in a long time, I had complete faith that the universe would deliver me exactly where I needed to be, even if that wasn’t where I had wanted to go.
When I received my email with a negative test result yesterday evening, I felt overjoyed. At nearly the exact same time, I also got word from Nate that he would still be allowed to keep our plans. Not only that, but now we would have an extra day together. It felt as though the surface tension of uncertainty had finally broken. All was well. I was relieved, grateful, and even felt proud. I was proud of myself for being able to surrender to the unexpected. It felt as though my trust in the universe had resulted in a reward. When all these issues first arose, I told Nate that we had either been blessed or cursed. Only time would tell which. Turns out that we were blessed.
I feel so reassured and even emboldened by the events of the last few days. I had been able to surrender to the universe, to the unknown, and I had been rewarded for my faith. Normally it is quite hard for me to lean into unexpected situations. But this experience has taught me an invaluable lesson: that it is okay to trust. I have everything that I need. I have always had everything that I need. I will always have everything that I need. The universe has and continues to take such excellent care of me. I am so grateful.
Sitting with Uncertainty
In the digital age accessing information is faster and easier than ever. No matter what question you may find yourself asking, you’ll likely be able to google it and receive an answer, or at least more information, in a matter of seconds. While this is extremely satisfying and a great benefit to society in many ways, like anything, it also has it’s down side. Uncertainty has always made us comfortable, and for good reason. Uncertainty leaves us vulnerable, to the elements, to predators, etc. Knowing is always safer than not knowing.
Unfortunately, despite all the benefits we receive from technology, it also has created even more discomfort around uncertainty. It has become nearly intolerable, for even a short length of time. We have developed a sense of entitlement to information. It is overwhelmingly frustrating when we can’t find that instant gratification.
My first real encounter with the idea that people hate not knowing was when I became a vegan. Despite the fact that I certainly didn’t know anything about veganism before becoming a vegan and doing hours upon hours of research, random people in my life still liked to assume they knew more about it than me. I began to notice that people get aggressive when you challenge their knowledge on any topic, even one they have little to no interest in. It’s also rare, regardless of what you’re asking, that someone will answer honestly with: I don’t know. We all want to believe we know everything or at least present that all-knowing façade to others.
The recent Covid-19 pandemic has once again highlighted humanity’s fear of uncertainty. Almost as soon as people started discussing the virus, everyone wanted to pretend that they new the latest and most accurate information. You still see thousands of people proclaiming to know more about this new virus than the doctors and scientists that are studying it. You can see the reluctance people have to even acknowledge that experts know more than they do. In addition to that we are constantly asking ourselves and those around us, when will this end? Even though we all know that no one knows the answer to that question.
I’m sure on a smaller scale, you are able to recognize your own discomfort with not knowing in your day to day life. This is one of the reasons why we are so upset when things don’t go as planned. Today in particular I am getting the chance to practice sitting with uncertainty. When I woke up this morning, it was just another day. I was looking forward to having appointments scheduled at work, seeing our new intern, and marking off another day before my boyfriend comes home for the holiday weekend.
As I was leaving, I noticed a group text from my boss, but didn’t think much of it. I assumed it was something I could look at later when I got a chance. When I got to the office, my friend told me that text was telling us our new therapist tested positive for Covid despite being vaccinated, and that now we had to get tested and work from home until further notice. This caused a lot of mixed feelings for me. Part of me was happy. I’ve been hoping I would get to work from home again. However, another part of me was terribly angry.
I knew it was no one’s fault, but I couldn’t help myself from arbitrarily assigning blame, to my coworkers, the government, the school systems, even (and perhaps especially) myself for not being more cautious. Normally I would be elated at the idea of isolating myself for a few weeks, but not this week. Tomorrow I had planned to finally start a podcast with my two best friends. Now that would have to be postponed, unless I am able to somehow get a negative test result by the morning.
To my horror, I also realized that this may completely derail my plans to see my boyfriend. We certainly won’t be able to go out to all the vegan restaurants we had planned to go to. Nor will we be able to go out to the state parks and hike like we had planned. I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to see Nate at all. We are both vaccinated, but if I test positive or can’t get my results in time, will he want to risk seeing me regardless? Should I even let him? I would hate to jeopardize the training he is doing for his job. I have no idea what it would mean for him if he tested positive while staying in a dorm at a college campus. Would he have to resign from the rest of the training?
I woke up this morning feeling confident, collected, certain of what my day would hold. Now that certainty has turned into a churning mental storm of questions and concern. I’m doing my best to stay positive. Life is full of uncertainty and I am lucky that the curve ball thrown at me today wasn’t something worse. I could have had a car accident on my way to the office. Someone I love could have been hurt or killed suddenly. I could have not woken up at all. Instead I was given a gentle, although inconvenient, reminder that things don’t always go as planned.
Rather than slip into irritation and despair, I am going to use this experience to practice patience. I’m going to let it be a reminder of all that I have to be grateful for, of how fortunate I’ve been to not even have to be tested until now, to be privileged enough to have been vaccinated, to live alone so I don’t have to worry about exposing my loved ones, to have an employer that will allow me to work from home, and perhaps most importantly, for this young, healthy, strong body. Today is also a lesson, teaching me that anything can be a blessing if you choose to see it that way.
Your Worst Enemy
“The worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests.
Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”Friedrich Nietzsche
We have such a unique and complex relationship with ourselves as human beings. We can simultaneously be our biggest advocate and our greatest enemy. The various sides of who we are are somehow able to exist within us at the same time. It is a power play between these contradictory parts of ourselves. Sometimes it may seem like that harsh, hateful bully is the only one left, demeaning us, discouraging us, telling us stories of failure and hardship. But even in our darkest hour, that advocate is still within us somewhere. All we’ve got to do is listen for her voice. We have to fight the narrative being sold to us by our inner enemy.
We have to realize that regardless of which voice is speaking to us, we are neither of these voices. We are the witness, the watcher, the observer of our thoughts. Imagine yourself as the viewer of a TV show, this drama called life. The character called us may only be able to see a limited version of the events taking place in the show. As the viewer, we have the advantage of a wider perspective. We can see that there is a bigger picture that can help us understand and accept whatever the character might be going through, even if it’s unpleasant. We can sometimes get caught up in what we wish would happen or what we hope for the character, but in the end we have to trust the writers and the producers of the show to make it all work out.
We have to step back from our hopes and desires and expectations for ourselves and our own lives in a similar way. We have as little control over what happens to us as we do to what happens to our favorite TV characters. All we can do is watch, and that’s enough. We have to surrender to the universe and trust that things are happening as they should be. It seems like a tough choice to make, but really it’s the only one available. Otherwise we will be grasping and clinging to a mere illusion of control and causing ourselves even more suffering trying to maintain that illusion.
I would perhaps go even farther than Nietzsche does, and say that we are our only real enemy. Think about it. Do you really think anyone else cares as much about our success or demise as we do? Does anyone else even have the ability to make us suffer or fail? Sure those we share this life with have an influence on us. They have an effect on our lives for sure. But at the end of the day, we get to make the final decision. Will these new challenges we find ourselves forever faced with be chisels that chip away at us until there is nothing left? Or will they be the building blocks, the brick and mortar we need to build ourselves up bigger and stronger than ever before? There really is no objective reality. There is only our subjective experience of it.
Nobody can hurt me without my permission.Gandhi
I’m sure I would have always understood and accepted the first quote by Nietzsche. After all, I have plenty of experience being my own enemy. However, when I first heard this second quote by Gandhi, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It stayed in my head for a long time though, rolling around, challenging my concept of the world and what it means to be a part of it. It’s really difficult for me to express what exactly helped me to change the scope of my perception on these types of subjects. I vividly remember how I used to take such expressions: Nobody can hurt me without my permission? That’s bullshit! You’re saying not only have I been the victim of something awful and unfair, but also that it’s my fault for the suffering it’s caused me? It didn’t take much for me to feel attacked and misunderstood. I refused to take any of the responsibility for the ways I found myself feeling.
My inner enemy had so thoroughly convinced me that I was nothing more than a victim in this life that no matter what the world offered me, that was going to be my role in the story. So of course when I heard Gandhi’s quote, I played the part of the victim once again. How can you blame me for the awful way I feel? I was looking for someone to blame and nothing more, instead of seeing these words of wisdom from the perspective I do now. Again, I’m not sure how I finally made the shift, but eventually I realized that this quote was extremely empowering. It’s not about blame, it’s about power. Who do you place your power with? Is it the people around you, the random events in your life? Or is that power yours to do with as you see fit?
The enemy within us tries to convince us that we have no power, we are helpless pieces of a fucked up puzzle. The advocate within us understands that we actually have all the power. It doesn’t sell us the delusion that we can control the world around us, but it does show us that we don’t need to. The only power we need is the power to choose for ourselves how we want to interact with and conceptualize the world. That is the greatest power of all, and we all have it. It’s not the toxic kind of power that can be bought and sold and used as a weapon against others. It is a power far more personal and pure, a silent power that no one else can see, but has limitless potential.
Don’t allow that enemy inside your head to convince you to play the victim in your own story. You can be the hero. You can play any part you want to play. This is your story and no one else’s. Even being our own greatest enemy can be positive or negative. How do you want to view it? Woe is me mentality says: I’ll never be able to have success or happiness because I’ll never escape myself, and I’m the one holding me back. That’s the enemy talking. Our advocate, forever full of loving kindness, says: If I’m the only thing standing in my way, then I am completely capable of overcoming that. I am the master of my own destiny.
You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.Nightbirde
The other day my friend at work showed me this video from America’s Got Talent. At first, I was just watching to be polite. I didn’t have much interest until this small, beautiful woman began to sing. Immediately her voice struck a cord in me. I got chills all over my body. I nearly began to cry, her voice and her words were so beautiful. Then just when I thought I couldn’t be any more moved she said the words I quoted above. Absolutely perfect. I felt like it was a sign from the universe that I just so happened to hear her words and her heartfelt song that day at work.
Then just as the power behind those words began to fade from my mind, they were reinforced by a video I watched earlier today. I was learning about Fyodor Dostoevsky, since I love to read classic authors. Somehow I haven’t read any of his novels yet. The video talked about the morals of a lot of his stories. A reoccurring theme was the idea that suffering is something that follows us, no matter how “advanced” our civilization becomes, no matter how many ways we seem to overcome suffering in society as time goes on. A new type of suffering will always emerge to take it’s place.
This is quite easy to see all around us. Compared to most of human history, we are living in a magical age of ecstasy and abundance. We have found the cure or at least treatment for most of the diseases and ailments that have plagued humanity throughout our existence. We have technology to make every aspect of life more convenient. Advancements that wouldn’t have been thought possible even just a few decades ago. Yet somehow we seem to be suffering as much as ever. Now instead of physical illnesses, we suffer from mental illnesses. Rather than hunger pains, we moan about social injustice. No matter how many problems we solve, new ones arise to take their place. The more we try to “fix” things, the more clear it becomes that suffering is an inevitable part of existence.
The point of Dostoevsky’s stories isn’t that we should despair at this fact. Quite the contrary, in fact. Just like Nightbirde so eloquently stated, the point is that we can’t keep waiting for life to stop being hard before we allow ourselves to be happy. We are so easily distracted by the little issues that pop up along our journey. We delude ourselves into thinking, if it wasn’t for this, or if only that, then we could really be happy. We toil away in an effort to solve all our problems and finally reach that perfect life where we will be happy forever. But we shouldn’t fall for that intoxicating delusion.
There is nothing that can stop us from being happy. Happiness and joy are our birthrights. They are a part of us. They are as much a part of existence as the suffering we keep trying to avoid. Suffering does not disqualify us from also experiencing moments of bliss. In fact we can be joyous despite our suffering. And doesn’t that just make our joy all the more potent and delicious? We are so incredibly powerful in that ability to defy all that stands against us. Just as we can always find something to be upset about no matter how great our circumstances in life, we can also find happiness no matter how destitute we may find ourselves.
Nightbirde’s song, “It’s Okay” is a testament to that inspiring truth. Our joy, as well as our suffering, comes from within. In this way we are all truly free. External circumstances cannot dictate our internal experience. I find one of the greatest challenges in life to be remembering that. No matter how many times we are taught that lesson throughout the course of our lives, we always seem to revert back to blaming the world around us for how we feel. In doing that, we are giving away our greatest power, our power to choose in each moment. It’s time for us to take our power back. We can choose happiness or we can choose suffering. It’s not always an easy choice, but it’s always there for us if we’re willing to look for it.
Waiting for Life to Begin
It feels like I am always waiting, either for something I’m looking forward to, or more often, for something to be over with. Once I get home from work, then my day can really start. Once winter ends, I’ll feel better again. Once the holidays are over… Once I’m not so busy… Once I graduate… Once I start my career…. Once I get married… Once I lose ten pounds… Once the kids are out of the house… Once my house is remodeled… Once the New Year starts… Do any of these phrases sound familiar? We become so fixated and ensnared by this mindset that we never really take the time to realize that our list of things to do or benchmarks to achieve before we can be happy or before our real life begins, never seem to end. There is always something holding us back.
The same principle applies to waiting for inspiration or waiting for the right moment. They are likely never going to come in the way that we want them to. While we waste our time waiting, life is passing us by. I’ve been reading a book lately that made an excellent point, it said something along the lines of: We must accept that our “in-box” is never going to be empty. Despite having our lives remind us of this each and every day, it is a rather hard concept to consciously accept. We so desperately want to believe that someday, somehow all of our chores and errands will be complete. That one day we will have time for all of the things we dream of, but keep putting off into some imagined future. It is hard to acknowledge that that future will never come. All we ever have is the moment that we are in right now.
Most days I save the activities that I really want to do until the very last moment. I want to play my new video game, or do some brainstorming. But first I have to clean the house, workout, do yoga, read, study, meal prep, etc. Then by the time the end of the day rolls around, I am so mentally exhausted, that I don’t even want to play my game anymore. The worst part is, I never seem to learn. Yet I get so frustrated with myself, day after day, for not doing enough. If only I were more organized, if only I had more energy, time, whatever, then I’d be happy, then I could really start to live the life I want.
The saddest part of it all is, there isn’t anything we could do or obtain that would put us in a better position for happiness than we’re in right now. We are the only one who has the ability to withhold our own happiness. These stories we tell ourselves make us believe that we have to finish everything, make everything perfect before we can focus on anything else. Despite having this realization many times, I still need a constant reminder that this is it. This is my life. I’m living it right now.
My life is never going to be perfect. I’m never going to have my in-box emptied. There will always be responsibilities and struggles and set-backs. And that’s okay. That’s life. There is nothing wrong with that. Having things left unchecked on my to-do list, isn’t the end of the world. It’s the way of the world. That doesn’t mean I can’t be happy right now. That doesn’t mean I can’t rest until everything is done. It will never be done.
It feels like a lot of us, including myself, go through our daily lives as if our commute to work, our studies, our chores, our self-care are all hurdles we have to jump over. Then and only then will we be able to really live. But that is all an illusion we’ve created. Brushing our teeth every morning, making coffee, making the bed, driving to work, buying groceries, cleaning the house, that’s life. Sure it may seem tedious and monotonous sometimes, but that’s only because we are taking these small moments for granted. Seldom are we truly focused and engaged in what we’re doing when we’re washing the dishes. We’re hardly ever fully present and in the moment when we’re stuck in morning traffic. Yet these things are ultimately what make up the majority of the time we have here on this earth.
At first this thought may seem depressing, but it doesn’t have to be. We get to choose whether or not these things are a burden or a blessing. It’s all a matter of perspective. We don’t have to brush our teeth twice a day. We get to. We don’t have to clean our house. We get to. We don’t have to take the time to prepare ourselves healthy meals. We get to. These are all moments that we try to exclude from what we consider our “real” lives. But why is that? Going to the bathroom isn’t any less a part of life than painting a masterpiece. We can find peace and contentment in both.
As you go through your day today, try to take notice of when you’re mind is waiting for a chance to relax, waiting until after work to feel happy. I’ve spent most of my life waiting. Now we have a choice to make. Will we keep waiting indefinitely? Or will we decide to live now, be happy now, be at peace now, regardless of whatever it is we’ve been waiting for?
Staring Down Anxiety
Anxiety is a bully. It feeds off of the fear that it creates. The longer you avoid something because of anxiety the harder it becomes to face. Fear is a powerful motivator. It doesn’t really matter if the fear is rational or not. Sometimes anxiety and fear become inseparable. They swell and become monstrous in size, looming over us. We do our best to hide from them. But they are inside of us, so no matter how hard we try, how much we practice, there is nowhere safe to seal ourselves away.
The good news is just like a schoolyard bully, anxiety is easy to defeat. Bullies rule by fear more than might. Standing up to them is all that we really need to do. When we experience anxiety, the body is on high alert. It is telling us to get the fuck out of there. It feels like we will certainly die if we do not somehow escape the situation and the emotions we are feeling. Thankfully, there is still some part of us that knows this is untrue, that these feelings are unfounded.
When we listen to our anxious feelings we are reinforcing the brain’s believe that this fear response was correct. The good news is we don’t have to listen to our anxiety. It feels counterintuitive. Centuries of evolution have programed us to heed these warning signals from inside. Luckily we are intelligent enough to outwit our instincts. Don’t allow your anxiety to bully you anymore. Here’s a little meditation I am working on to help me stand up to my anxiety.
Face Your Fears Meditation
- Take a deep breath and notice what anxiety feels like in your body. Do you feel tense? Numb? Energized? Do a full body scan and take note of any places you can feel nervous energy in your physical body.
- Now start to take more deep, conscious breaths. Inhaling for a count of four. Hold for four. Exhale for four. Hold for four. Repeat this cycle a few times.
- As the nervous system begins to relax, try to release any tense areas you identified earlier.
- Let the breath return to its natural rhythm as you turn your thoughts to whatever is making you anxious.
- Visualize yourself accomplishing or overcoming whatever it is you’re anxious about, experience the positive emotions of your success in your body.
- Imagine what it feels like to be powerful, confident, brave.
- Imagine how good it will feel to face your fears and overcome your anxious feelings.
- Repeat to yourself softly, “I am brave. I am brave. I am brave.”
- Now imagine it has already been done. Your anxiety vanquished, it evaporates.
Feel free to use, edit, or tweak this meditation any way you see fit. If the suggested mantra feels a bit empty or corny to you, pick one that resonates with you more. If that particular form of pranayama doesn’t suit you, incorporate another such as nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath.) The words and breath you use in a meditation aren’t necessarily important. The most important thing is the emotions you draw forth. If the words courage or bravery don’t make you feel anything, instead you could try to imagine a time when you felt brave or imagine what it would feel like in the future.
At the end of the day, anxiety can only win if we let it. I know you are strong enough to face your anxiety and overcome it. It may never go away, but we can learn how to work with it instead of against it. We get to decide how we perceive this life. For so long now I’ve chosen to view my anxiety as a burden, something that constricts me and holds me back from living the life I want. But I don’t have to look at it that way. Instead, I am going to use my anxiety to my advantage. I don’t have to feel ashamed that things that are easy for others may be quite difficult for me. Each challenge I face, however small, is a gift. It is a chance to step into my own power. It is a chance to believe in myself. It’s an opportunity for triumph, an opportunity to be brave.
Yesterday as I was winding down and the day was coming to an end, I was struck by a thought. How long do I intend to keep feeling sorry for myself? I finally found myself in a position of actually wanting to let go of all this pain and regret I’ve been clinging to for years now. I’ve simply started to get tired of it. For the first time in so long, I felt capable of putting down this weight I’ve been carrying.
I am so relieved that I’ve somehow found myself back in this state of mind. I had it once before, but I felt like back then it was a response to hitting rock bottom. I was faced with a choice between staying there at the bottom of the ocean with this weight around my neck, or freeing myself from it and finding my way back to the surface alone. That was the first time in my life that I can remember facing tragedy and deciding to be happy anyway. I had decided that I wasn’t going to waste anymore time being sad over things I couldn’t change or waiting for something that may never come before I would give myself permission to just enjoy my life.
Somehow I found myself dragging that same weight around once again. Somewhere along the line I picked it back up without realizing it. The story I’m writing of my life isn’t the story of Sisyphus, though. I have not been cursed. This burden is not my destiny. I still have free will and I am tired of choosing needless suffering.
Often I’ll look at my situation from an outsider’s point of view to get some perspective. Usually I cringe at how pathetic and pitiful I seem. But as I look at it now, that same pitiful nature appears simply inconsequential. I can look at it as if it’s sad I cling to something so far gone. But I can also look at it as something so distant and silly that it will be easy to release myself from it. From this perspective I feel almost like laughing at how simple it seems.
When did I allow myself to fall back into the shadow of that sad teenage girl who desperately needed someone else to make her whole, to validate her? That girl hasn’t been me for a long time now. I know who I am now. I am strong and smart and self-sufficient. I can give myself anything that I once thought I needed from someone or something outside of me.
I won’t chastise myself for all this time I’ve spent wallowing. Perhaps it was something I needed. However, the time has come for me to step back into the light, my own light. It is time for me to start enjoying myself again. I plan on making this coming spring yet another rebirth. To shed this tight, dry, winter skin and step back into the person I was meant to be. To step back into my power. The power to create my own dazzling sunshine of happiness. And for the first time in a long time, I am so excited.