These days it seems as if every website, book, and podcast is encouraging self-compassion as a path to inner freedom and peace. And rightly so. Showering yourself with loving kindness will surely make you feel better, no matter what’s ailing your body, mind, or spirit. The problem is, how exactly do you do it?
While self-compassion may include physical self-care, like eating healthily and exercising, it goes far beyond that. Those wonderfully supportive habits build resilience and stamina to navigate life’s vicissitudes; but, when emotional distress is flooding every cell of your body-mind you want reliable calming techniques that work quickly.
Some of the deepest self-compassionate behaviors require a fair amount of practice before they naturally show up during stressful events. It’s almost like learning a new language, a vocabulary of self-care. Since so much of that inner work benefits from repetition, the sooner you start, the sooner you reap the rewards of being able to self-center in challenging times.
Alleviating emotional storms often comes down to using techniques that will reliably derail your sympathetic nervous system’s fight, flight, or freeze response. Nothing is as easily available as the breath. Learning to breathe deeply allows you to switch from your sympathetic nervous system to your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). You can find an array of breath practices on this site under Breath Work. By consciously befriending your breath, you instinctively breathe more slowly and deeply in stressful situations. But, self-compassion is far more than learning new ways of breathing. It runs the gamut from the most basic life skills to the deepest spiritual practices. The following is a partial list of compassionate behaviors which I will add to as I think of new ways to steep yourself in loving kindness.
Allow whatever is true for you in this moment, no matter how odious and how strong your urge to flee from it like from a rabid dog.
Actually staying with what is is far harder than it sounds. When every cell in your body is crying out for relief it takes a boatload of courage to abide with what may be extreme emotional, spiritual, or physical pain. Yet, that is exactly what will move you through it faster.
Talk to yourself. Figure out what you would most like to hear in this moment. It might even help to write it down and read your thoughts out loud. Read them again, and again, until you feel them taking root.
Back to your breath. Don’t try to control it, just notice it, and allow it to be exactly as it is. The length, shallowness, depth, pace, temperature, where you can feel it in your body as you inhale and exhale, how it disperses through you, and anything else that captures your attention. Not only does this center your mind by giving it something tangible on which to focus, it actually alters you physically.
Remind yourself that life can change in an instant, and often does. Everything, from the ecstasy to the misery will pass.
There are no bad thoughts or feelings, just whatever comes up.
Access that deep place in you, your essence, where everything is OK in spite of the turmoil disturbing your peace at the moment.
Repeat Louise Hay’s favorite affirmation: “Everything is happening for my highest good,” and give yourself the gift of believing it.
Work with a therapist to heal past traumata that might be blocking your path to self-compassion.
Develop a yoga and meditation practice to help calm you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Practice Jin Shin Jyutsu finger holds. Jin Shin Jyutsu is an ancient Japanese healing art that can be learned in seconds. The finger holds offer incredibly simple and amazingly effective ways to calm you, whether your stress is from anxiety, grief, anger, or other unpleasant emotions. An excellent site to explore is: http://jsj-holds.blogspot.com/
Envision how you would like to handle this feeling, situation, or physical condition. Ask yourself: “What could I change right now to bring me closer to that ideal?”
You may want to cultivate what I have come to call my Inner Dharma Teacher (IDT). This is your inner repository of love, kindness, patience, curiosity, intuition, nurturing, innate wisdom, and experience you can access by consciously calling on it for support when life is being especially challenging. It really doesn’t matter what the difficulty is because anything you find threatening wants to be soothed and reassured that you can cope. The more you access your IDT, the more he or she will be there for you when the need arises.
Partners, friends, family, teachers, clergy, and therapists can only do so much. At some point, it is a question of what have you digested and incorporated into who you are so you can call up self-compassion in all its forms when needed.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Self-Compassion: The Way August 29, 2012
Useful & Appreciated July 9, 2012
Man cannot stand a meaningless life.
Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” focuses on the importance of finding a sense of purpose in life, no matter how heinous your external circumstances. The first half explores different ways his fellow prisoners reacted to incarceration at Auschwitz, while the second part details Logotherapy, the psychological model he developed from the death camp experience.
If you are reading this you are probably not in as horrific a situation as Dr. Frankl was; however, it can still feel mighty challenging to infuse life with meaning when issues with work, health, family, finances, etc. weigh you down. Often, one’s internal list of priorities doesn’t even include a search for meaning; and, more’s the pity, since finding meaning in anything you do makes it easier to bear the more odious experiences life hands out.
There are as many ways to find meaning in life as there are people. Typically they have two things in common: feeling useful and appreciated. The first one is fairly obvious, the second, less so.
No matter how spiritually evolved you are, you still have an ego, and it will express itself until your last breath. By feeding it a healthy dose of appreciation (whether from external sources, yourself, or a combination of the two), you infuse your time on earth with more meaning.
Just as eating does not mean gorging, some external ego nourishment will not turn you into what Albert Ellis called a Love Slob, someone who thinks it’s horrible if they don’t get massive amounts of approval from others. Here, balance is key. You don’t want to be so dependent on other people’s approbation that you shrivel up emotionally without it; on the other hand, setting up your life so you get regular doses of appreciation simply feels good. While doing good is its own reward, few people are truly satisfied with absolutely no recognition. Nor, is that necessarily a wise goal, since it is through interacting with others that you can feel validated for your unique contributions to society.
A healthy ego is not an inflated one. It enables you to go out into the world with enough confidence to do what fulfills you and benefits others. Knowing what you do well ignites your vibrancy and engagement in life, while giving you the strength to acknowledge what doesn’t come easily and address those areas.
Here are a few reminders of all you do to contribute your unique talents to the world:
taking care of yourself
being considerate to others
caring for elderly relatives
rehabbing or repurposing things
giving to charity
caring for animals
growing a flower or vegetable
planting a tree
helping your friends, family, and neighbors
Forms of appreciation might include:
saying thank you
keeping a gratitude journal
noticing ways you are changing and growing
sending cards, texts, or emails to let people know you value them
One could argue that having a life full of meaning might preclude the desire for appreciation, but feeling valued often adds to one’s sense of meaning and joy in contributing to the world, thus insuring you keep sharing your unique gifts.
The ultimate way to guarantee you will feel appreciated is to practice appreciating yourself. It is easy to keep the focus outwards, seeking what you want from others, but one way you can be sure of getting approval is to make it an inside job. You may think it won’t feel as good as it would if you get it from someone else, but that simply tells you how little you value your own opinion. Practice dwelling and basking in the myriad joys you create every day for yourself and others. Something as simple as fully acknowledging another soul with a smile, hug, handshake, or deep listening has an enormous impact on the world.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
People Are Who They Are June 26, 2012
God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me.
Variation of an excerpt from “The Serenity Prayer”
People are who they are and they will show you who they are. To be mad at them for expressing their true nature is like being angry at birds for flying.
Of course, accepting this can be extremely difficult and frustrating. Most people want to think they, or the force of their love, can change someone. Others believe if their partner, child, or parent loved them enough they would alter their behavior. While some simply can’t accept how family, friends, or co-workers behave, persisting in blaming them for not changing. All variations of non-acceptance are rooted in the ego’s unrelenting tendency to take everything personally and think those near and dear should conform to your expectations.
The good news is: it is not about you! That is not a judgment of your value, simply an acknowledgment of how strongly each soul inhabits itself and its own way of being in the world. Fortunately, or unfortunately, that unique package of thoughts, feelings and behaviors is driven to express itself 24/7. (Even if someone manages to suppress their true nature, by middle age it will break through those dams and assert itself even more strongly.) Again, this is all about each person being his or herself, not about how wonderful a sister, brother, daughter, son, employee, parent, or partner you are.
Since everyone has an ego, it is incredibly easy to think other people’s behavior is a commentary on how they feel about you, but it really is about them, not you. Just like you, when they look in a mirror they see themselves, not the significant people in their life, no matter how central those folks might be.
What complicates this is how other people’s behavior, even though it is all about them, affects you. If a drunk driver ploughs into your car you are definitely affected by their action, even though its creation had nothing to do with you. Similarly, if your friend, relative, or partner behaves badly towards you it may be very unpleasant, but it really has nothing to do with you. I know this can seem a little mind bending, and you might think, “Well, what if I did something bad, like gambled away all our savings?” Again, you can’t cause a reaction in someone. They create it themselves; otherwise, everyone would respond exactly the same way to all situations. In fact, people may react differently to the same situation at different times in their life, depending on their mood, hormones, diet, age-related issues, health, etc.
Not only is their behavior not about you, even when it looks as if it’s directed at you it is still about them. If someone behaves insensitively, or cruelly to you, it is a reflection of them, not you. Even if you behaved badly first, their reaction is theirs to own.
Even if you are the most loving, supportive, generous soul on earth some people will just take advantage of you. If that seems to happen frequently, it is far better to learn to set boundaries and develop assertiveness skills than to bemoan the fact that others don’t behave as you would, or you would wish them to. Accepting people as they are, for who they are, is not an easy task; but, once you detach a bit from your ego and resist the temptation to equate their behavior with their love (or lack of it), it becomes possible. Even a little taste of accepting others is a heady experience. Just imagine how free you could feel if you let people be themselves. You may not like them, you may say good-bye to some, you may see others less frequently; but, at the end of the day, not only will you enjoy what they bring to the table you will also find you accept your own sweet self more easily.
It is also wise to remember how most people don’t wake up, rub their palms together, laugh devilishly, and plan ways to harsh your mellow. They are simply trying to get through their day with some equanimity, kindness, and ease. They may accidentally bump into you, step on your foot, or unleash some pent-up anger in your direction. It probably wasn’t with any conscious intention to hurt you. Yes, it still smarts and annoys. Perhaps, during those moments when you might want to retaliate, conjure up an image of a time you accidentally lashed out at someone with displaced fury or ignored their smile when your mind was a million miles away. Wouldn’t you want them to have some compassion for you, and cut you a bit of slack? Gift your open-hearted understanding to anyone who inadvertently projects their issues onto you and watch how it heals both of you.
Another antidote to those situations is to behaviorally be the change you want to see. Practice awareness and set an intention to connect with anyone who crosses your path, whether family, friend, or stranger. Give what you seek and, miraculously, you will find it reflected back to you.
While changing oneself is challenging, thinking you can change someone else is a bee-line to misery. Even if they do change, they are likely to go back to their old ways of being. People can ditch an addiction, develop an exercise habit, change their diet, and even stick with those things, but changing their personality is quite another matter, and not likely to last because personality is pretty hard-wired.
What you can do is shift the focus to you, change your perspective and your behaviors. Sometimes, associating with a different group of people, whether a self help oriented one like a 12-step program, or a social or special interest group through meet-up.com, or your local religious community, can kick some new ways of thinking into gear, and allow you to let go of old, unhelpful perceptions and behaviors. You may not be able to change someone else, but you can certainly change the way you perceive their behaviors.
Not taking things personally, allows you to better evaluate what is wonderful about the relationship and separate it from those aspects that are merely a reflection of someone else’s demons, like their addiction, for example. (See If You Love an Addict.)
If you look back on any long term relationship you have had, you will notice how many times someone has shown you their true nature. Of course, if you were young, you may have thought you, and the force of their love or your love, could alter them. Even if you succeeded in bringing out some latent qualities, their deepest personality traits will ultimately surface. The one thing you can trust is they will be who they are meant to be, whether that’s Cruella De Vil, Mother Theresa, or, thankfully, all the options in between.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Obstacles into opportunities June 20, 2012
One of my favorite yoga teachers, David Magone, talks of turning obstacles into opportunities. It’s uncanny how you don’t really have to wait to get psyched to deal with something because an obstacle is a motivator in and of itself. That very roadblock will jump start change and push you into learning new skills and ways of being with yourself and in the world.
If you practice yoga, you have probably experienced numerous frustrating times while learning a new pose. Even more annoying are those experiences of approaching a tried and true pose and finding it challenging. Both are easy to view as obstacles. Yet, wouldn’t the incredible feeling of accomplishment when you do finally get it be marred if there were nothing to overcome? What adds to these kinds of experiences power is a combination of renewed knowledge, some might call it faith, in your ability to conquer ignorance and fear, with a sense of mastery and appreciation for your potential. That heady brew of thoughts, feelings, and new neural pathways in the brain prime you to be more open to life and whatever challenges present themselves in the future.
In Hinduism, Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, is known as the remover of obstacles. But you don’t need to be a god, or invoke one, to practice thinking differently and turn roadblocks into pathways. (On the other hand, if you would like a little assistance, you may want to look at the mantra section and try out: Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha, which specifically invokes Ganesh’s power/energy in removing obstacles. Mantras are not magic, even though they may seem a little woo-woo. They may work by auto-suggestion. Repeat a concept 108 times a day for 40 days and it is bound to influence you.)
One of the most difficult hindrances, is the challenge of accepting what seems undesirable, or even abhorrent. Ultimately, there is no trick or specific technique to transforming what is seen as horrible into a benefit; but, by choosing to think differently, in time, shift happens. Here are some tried and true affirmations that can help you re-program your brain.
Everything is happening for my highest good.
This challenge will bring me unexpected benefits.
Not only can I stand what I don’t like, I can use it to transform myself.
Everyone is my teacher.
Right this moment, I am handling things.
Gandhi was right: I can be the change I want to see.
Lest you think this is a lot of hooey, current brain research shows we can actually build new neural pathways in the brain by thinking and acting differently. The old pathways don’t disappear, they fade away, but not completely. With any new stressful situation, they reassert themselves. That’s why, even if you have been sober for twenty years, some cataclysmic life event can make you think of taking a drink. Similarly, if you have post-traummatic stress and you face a new stressor, it’s as if all the old demons have come home to roost. (Of course, you now have new reserves of strength that make choosing wisely a bit easier.)
After reading that, you might wonder, “Why bother?” The compelling reason is that you not only build emotional muscle by re-training your brain, body, and emotions, you strengthen it for any future onslaught. Not to mention the good feelings that come from self-mastery, self-determination, and self-nurturing, all of which are crucial in starting and maintaining these transformative practices.
While cognitive restructuring, a fancy name for changing your thoughts, is essential, it is also very helpful to have physical and spiritual practices to help support your journey. The physical components of good self-care are, essentially: exercise, nature, a healthy diet, some daytime rest, and enough sleep. The spiritual aspects might include: prayer, meditation, mantra work (see the chapter on Mantras), walking a labyrinth, journaling, gratitude practices, music (listening, playing, singing), nature, joining a sangha, attending religious services, volunteering,
Motivation and making lemonade out of lemons
Acceptance an be very difficult because it is all too easy to block it with internal demands. People shouldn’t act that way, life should be fair, I shouldn’t have to deal with this, I can’t stand this, The sooner you dispute some of these unhelpful, but fairly ingrained beliefs, the sooner you will enjoy the peace that comes with accepting what you don’t like, respect, or want in your life.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Intuition June 10, 2012
“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”
Intuition is like wisdom, it builds over a lifetime. While people generally have no trouble enlisting their intellect to make decisions, using intuition is slipperier and more elusive. Western culture typically trains us to trust our brains and distrust other ways of knowing, which can be very limiting. Intuition is the dynamic blend of knowledge from all sources, not only intellectual and historical. Your body, and each of your five senses, remembers things on a cellular level that resist description and purely cerebral understanding.
Intuition is multi-faceted, comprehensive knowing. It is the synthesis of wisdom, physical experiences, your own nature, personality, spirit, and myriad other ways life gets processed that defy understanding. Luckily, it isn’t necessary to fully comprehend something to employ it.
The following are a trio of techniques to enhance your relationship with your inner guru. With practice, you will come to trust and rely on your intuition, make better decisions, and increase your self-confidence.
TRAIN yourself to hear that knowing voice, the repository of your life’s experiences on all levels.
Practice deeply listening to your intuition and sitting with whatever comes up. You may not be ready to act, but you can be aware.
Each time you tap into your gut feelings you enhance the communication between your conscious and unconscious mind.
The goal is to appreciate this holistic way of knowing, even though you may never understand it fully.
TRUST in the mystery, as you allow messages from your brain, heart, and gut to converge and guide you.
Consciously choose to have faith in yourself. This radical choice grounds you more deeply into your unique ways of being in the world.
Develop appreciation for your inner wisdom. In time, acting on your intuition will become second nature.
TRIAGE. Sit with a question until solutions appear. They will.
Be patient, not every situation requires immediate attention.
Some things are like tea, they need to steep for a while.
Waiting can be like a buried seed in winter. It appears to be unproductive, but it’s gathering steam to burst forth and flower.
Whatever you decide, don’t ignore the whisper or the roar. It’s very easy to push these tendrils of intuition back underground, as fears trigger suppression of that inner voice. The fear might be of the unknown, of taking a chance, of trusting oneself rather than others, of upsetting your status quo, of failure, of success, of standing up for oneself, of what others might think, of disappointing someone, etc. All conspire to keep you from following your gut. They are just distractions from betting on yourself and life. It’s not about playing it safe, it’s about living fully, which is different for everyone. In “Romantics Anonymous,” a sweet little French film, the male lead says he was incessantly told by his father, “Let’s hope nothing happens to us.” It may be amusing in the movie, but it’s a recipe for a very constricted experience of life. (See “No Mistakes, Only Lessons” chapter.)
All too often, the things you ignore come back to bite you. The bite may manifest as interpersonal conflict, work issues, depression, health problems, anxiety, avoidance, inner dissonance, addiction, suicidal thoughts, or self-destructive behaviors. It takes courage to listen to that inner teacher and act on what you hear. Sometimes, the immediate result doesn’t feel good. There will probably be some emotional, behavioral, and life changing consequences since intuition is typically activated when an important decision needs to be made. Don’t mistake unpleasant, scary, or threatening fall-out as proof you shouldn’t have listened to your inner GPS. It’s just your body, mind, and spirit adjusting to something new. These repercussions might last minutes, weeks, or years, depending on how many aspects of your life were affected by your decision and to what degree.
In our culture, patience is not a virtue it’s practically obsolete. Buck the tide. Be gentle and tolerant with the time it takes to make changes and adjust to them. Practice meditation and yoga to cultivate the art of sitting with frustration and not knowing. As you do, you will become more comfortable with allowing growth and change to unfold in their own good time, rather than forcing them into some rigid or limited idea of the only options you can see now. (See “Responses To Get Over It Already.”)
Another useful technique is to use your body as a way to connect more deeply with your intuition. When you have a sense of something being right, or not right for you, go inside and find where you feel that physically. Is it in your chest? Your gut? Your lower back? Some people use this as a short cut to intuitively knowing what they don’t want to do. For example, you may say yes to something and immediately get a pain in your neck. With a little practice acknowledging that pain, you can say no to what triggers it. That may require some assertiveness skills, especially learning how to disappoint someone tactfully and with resolve.
What might interfere with listening to your intuition? Mindless activities, or anything done in a rote, unconscious way, like addictions. The purpose of all addictions, or obsessive-compulsive behaviors, is to push unpleasant thoughts and feelings out of your conscious awareness. So, if you have been entrenched in an addiction, or any other obsessive-compulsive behavior, this work may seem daunting. In time, as you deepen and strengthen your recovery, you will begin to hear your intuitive voice. It’s a slow process, so be patient. If you haven’t heard it for years, it will be a faint whisper. Later, as you develop more trust for your inner guidance, that little voice will get louder and louder, until it is almost impossible to ignore. Making decisions becomes easier with this deeper synergy between your heart, mind, and gut.
What you appreciate grows. Be grateful for your ability to sense situations, people, and your path. If you can only tune in to the tiniest whisper, be happy with that. If you are not ready to let your inner guru guide you, just wait. Eventually, you will come to trust your intuition and reap the rewards of following it.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Ask the questions April 25, 2012
We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.
What makes asking the questions and working on their answers such a courageous act is its potential to shatter our status quo. Yet, it is precisely by plumbing our depths that we move towards greater self-compassion, self-knowledge, and self-actualization.
Abandoning the idea that there is one, right answer is also crucial, as many paths may lead you to the same place. Different answers are just better suited to different ages and stages. By consciously detaching from seeking the one, perfect answer, you can let the ebb and flow of changing thoughts, feelings, situations, and sensibilities encourage greater openness and flexibility in your journey.
Naturally, your responses to these questions will shift and morph with time. Thinking about your answers grounds you through increased awareness of thoughts, feelings, and dreams. Bolstered with self-knowledge, you are more likely to make better choices.
As you look at the following list, it is helpful to have an almost playful attitude. They may be serious questions, but you can approach them in a more light hearted way. Be open to devoting a minute, a day, or a week to each. Alternatively, you can intuitively pick the one that speaks to you now and allow your mind to freely meander around it. As you do, you might find it useful to write down what comes up. It may be a thought, bodily sensation, memory, or feeling, all are worth exploring. Another illuminating option is to come back to the same question later and answer it again, without first looking at your previous responses. This can be especially enlightening and surprising if you have waited months between writing, as it shows you, in your own words, how you have grown.
If you are part of a self-help group you may want to choose a question and allow everyone to share their responses within the safety of a deep listening paradigm, where each person speaks without interruptions or comments from others.
Think of the questions as catalysts to greater self-knowledge. Choose a way to work with them that speaks to you. Running through the list like a locomotive may capture immediate uncensored reactions, while savoring each one separately gives you time to mine it for all its potential. Feel free to add any other questions that occur to you.
What makes my spirits soar?
What makes me feel safe?
What reliably improves my mood?
How do I show myself compassion?
How do I nurture myself?
What, or who, helps me unburden myself?
With whom do I share my deepest thoughts and feelings?
What parts of my shadow am I projecting on to others? (You might want to read the Demons chapter for more on this Jungian concept.)
What do I do every day to replenish my spirit?
How do I support myself: emotionally, spiritually, financially, physically, intellectually, socially?
How often am I truly living in the moment?
What are my hot buttons, and how do I allow other people to press them?
How do I want to approach the challenges in my life?
What am I practicing? This could be a formal practice like yoga or meditation, or an informal one, like taking a daily walk.
What am I unconsciously practicing, my automatic behaviors and knee-jerk reactions?
Assuming I get to choose my thoughts, what would I like to think about myself, work, family, home, body, friendships, nature, and spirit?
What can I do to increase my financial stability? (You may want to check the book: “Your Money or Your life” by Vicki Robin, Joe Dominguez and Monique Tilford )
With whom do I spend my time? Is it gratifying?
Am I comfortable with solitude?
How do I relax?
Whose company nourishes my spirit?
What makes me laugh?
Am I paying attention to everything that is going well in my life and taking time to feel grateful?
How often do I consciously choose thoughts that help me feel positive, balanced, or peaceful?
How can I anchor myself in this moment?
Am I creating the life I want?
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
No mistakes, only lessons. March 27, 2012
The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.
From a very young age we are trained to seek out and notice everything that is wrong. Beginning with our earliest days in school, we are told how to correctly spell, add, subtract and multiply. This vigilance for mistakes can be extremely helpful; however, there are times when it is inhibiting, like when the art teacher corrects our drawing, or the music teacher tells us the song we wrote is too weird. Of course, not all teachers take that approach, but if they do, it cramps our creativity. Picasso’s lopsided faces or Loudon Wainwright’s lyrics never would have gotten “A”s.
If we choose a profession like medicine, law, accounting or plumbing, we are again trained to seek out and eliminate what is wrong. Of course, you want your dentist or electrician to notice what’s amiss and fix it, but perfectionism in all areas of life is stifling. If you think you have to do everything perfectly from your first attempt, you won’t try many new things, and your days will be less rich.
On a more global level, we watch or read the news and learn of wars, floods, financial collapses, famines, and, once again, focus on everything that is broken or hurting.
It’s no wonder we see ourselves as lacking and needing repair.
What if you took the radical approach that you are perfect just the way you are, right now? Yes, you, with all your thoughts, feelings, talents, yearnings. You are whole, complete, and fine just as you are. You don’t need to lose weight, make more money, have more friends, or meet your dream partner to feel good and peaceful in yourself right this minute. You can choose to go against all that training of looking for defects and focus on the positives. In a way, this is similar to a gratitude practice, though in an evolved gratitude practice you can be just as thankful for the things you don’t enjoy as for those you love, since you assume everything is happening for your highest good.
By thinking you are complete as you are and you don’t need anything or anyone to make you better, you open your heart to your own sweet self, just as you are right this minute. You may not like everything about yourself or your life but you can work on accepting things and people as they are, including you.
Instead of doing a daily or hourly inventory of what’s wrong, look for what is right. By seeing everything as part of your journey, even when you you don’t like it, you can practice radical acceptance.
Here’s a different twist, try noticing what is upsetting as a way of reevaluating your judgment about your perception. It is a lot easier to accept things we deem difficult or unpleasant when we stop telling ourselves they should be different. Clearly, we don’t control the universe; but, we can learn to think differently about everyone, including ourself. By focusing on what is going well, and you can choose to view life positively if you change your attitude, you will feel more bouyant, open, and joyful. In the meantime, by embracing what you have previously shunned you welcome all life’s experiences, not just the puppies and rainbows.
Why not assume you are here for the full catastrophe, as Zorba the Greek said. Practice a bit of Buddhist mindfulness, or yogic witnessing, and observe without judging or evaluating. This doesn’t mean you will welcome a divorce, bad diagnosis, empty nest, bankruptcy, or other big challenges, but you will approach them as opportunities to learn, grow, and experience life in this moment, in this body, on this planet.
We yogis like to say everyone is our teacher. Everyone and everything. Some lessons are very hard and others easy; with practice, you can embrace them all.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Sitting With Discomfort September 1, 2011
I have a confession to make: I don’t believe you can feel happy 24/7, any more than you can feel anything every minute for your entire life. We are designed to feel a broad spectrum of emotions because, so far, they have kept us safe and helped perpetuate the human race.
We all know how something that feels bad can actually redound to your highest good in the future. But, being the hedonists we are designed to be, we naturally avoid pain and seek pleasure. What if sitting with discomfort helped us make peace with it, increased our frustration tolerance and our ability to accept life as it is? As Albert Ellis used to say, it’s a choice between short-term hedonism and long-term hedonism. If we forego the pleasure of the moment we can reap greater benefits in the future. In today’s society, delaying gratification is not popular; however, when we learn to sit with what we don’t like we actually build emotional muscle and can handle the next challenge with greater ease.
When we feel anxious, for example, our first inclination is for relief, which usually consists of avoidance. We can distract ourselves with TV, video games, pornography, food, alcohol, drugs (including prescription psychotropics), gambling, etc. and create new problems; or, we can do the last thing we instinctively gravitate towards: sit with the feeling. Yes, just allow it. Breathe into it. Can you feel the discomfort physically? If so, notice its characteristics. Is your breathing shallow? Is your back tense? Do you feel a headache coming on? Is your jaw clenched Are your shoulders hunched up? Is your abdomen tight? Breathe into whatever you notice.
Give yourself permission to feel your feelings. With practice, it will help you accept yourself and your reality. By resting in awareness you stop fighting what is true for you now and open to the possibility that it is all OK. You can handle what you don’t like.
Many incredibly intelligent and insightful souls, like the Buddha, Ram Dass, and Tolle have encouraged us to be here now. That means being with whatever comes up. Your job isn’t to like everything, but to be aware and open. Luckily, this becomes easier when you remind yourself everything passes, the pleasant and the unpleasant.
It is crucial to understand that the goal here is not necessarily to figure out why you are feeling what you’re feeling, but to stay with the discomfort. You may even want to cultivate some curiosity about what you are feeling.
Granted, mindfulness practice is counter-intuitive, but when you are fully in the moment you can actually relax into what is. Resisting your feelings often increases them and their power. No harm will come to you if you embrace your feelings, though it may be uncomfortable. In time, you will notice a feeling or sensation and, rather than avoid it, you will label and accept it. Another great benefit of this practice is that by gently and lovingly accepting where you are you become more compassionate with yourself and others.
Impermanence is the name of the game. Nothing lasts, good or bad. You may not care to remind yourself of that in the middle of an ice cream sundae (though it might make you more appreciative and increase your enjoyment), but it is helpful to remember when times are tough.
Once you allow yourself to be with what is true for you now, remember the quote: “Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” By resisting the urge to rate your feelings, or yourself as bad for having them, you will begin to know the peace that comes from acceptance, and your discomfort won’t morph into suffering.
Here are some exercises to help you on your path to emotional freedom:
Consciously stop yourself a few times a day to do an internal check.
What am I feeling now?
Can I allow this feeling, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, without trying to repress it, or distract myself from it?
Stay with whatever comes up, especially if you don’t like it.
Try to label what you are experiencing. For example: tightness in my throat, muscle spasms in my low back, tension in my jaw, etc.
Name your emotions as if you were simply observing them, like: anxiety, sadness, anger, resentment, grief, etc.
Breathe into any area of discomfort, and keep drawing your breath there until you feel it relax.
Immerse yourself in Buddhist thought by reading books by Pema Chodron, and listening to podcasts on iTunes like: A Quiet Mind, The I.D. Project, or interviews on Sounds True.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Love Is Not a Faucet August 31, 2010
Love is not a faucet you can turn on and off at will. If you have spent years, or decades, with someone, even if that time was not always so wonderful, even if you came to disrespect or feel contempt for your partner, the simple act of sharing a life bound you on a cellular level. That emotional glue often feels like love. Is it? I don’t know. It can certainly seem as deep as a well and impossible to leave behind. Luckily, a feeling is not a fact. You can get unstuck, though it may be a slow, arduous process. Typically, the longer you were coupled, the more time it takes to grieve, let go, and embrace a new life.
What do you do when your mind says I don’t want to be with this person anymore, but your cells feel drawn to resume the relationship? It’s best to assume you ended things for very good reasons, as people rarely split over superficial, trivial matters. (See Second Guessing Yourself.) At this moment, those reasons, so compelling at the time, may look less important. But that is an illusion brought on by the many challenges of divorce: financial, social, emotional, lifestyle, familial, and spiritual. When you are lower than a snake’s wiggle everything looms scarily above you. It’s temporary. Just as every molecule on earth is moving, your life is changing, whether you see it this minute, or not.
It’s easy to look back and think your greatest joys are behind you. But that’s not true. Your grief will slowly ebb away, your loneliness will turn to peaceful solitude, and you will make new friends. It doesn’t happen overnight. You can cultivate patience by looking around you and noticing all the people who have found their way to the other side of divorce living full, satisfying lives.
You may be feeling sad and lonely, but that doesn’t mean you always will be. Perhaps, you have not yet met someone else. If that is your desire, you certainly can. Transitions take time. Growth happens in spurts, some lightening fast, and others achingly slow. Riding the emotional waves isn’t always easy. Give yourself the gift of time. Time to heal so you can be open to enjoying your own company, being with friends, nature, family, and possibly a new romantic relationship. Taking time to re-establish your sense of yourself as an individual, after being part of a couple, can be daunting, but it is worth it. Remember: You deserve happiness just as much as anyone else, though it may not come knocking at your door. You have to pursue it, when you are ready. Taking as much time to grieve is crucial. Jumping in to a new love relationship because you are lonely is very tempting, but it deprives you of the opportunity to practice loving yourself.
Sometimes, letting go seems impossible; but, day by day, whether you are consciously aware of it, or not, you ground more deeply in the present moment. When you fully understand the past is over you clear an emotional path and open up to new experiences. It requires primal trust in yourself and the universe. Be patient and things will change. You have no idea what great joys are to come. Waiting, allowing, and imagining all ready you for that new phase of life. Endings and beginnings are as natural as each inhale and exhale. Relinquishing the pain and welcoming the new will happen organically when you trust the process. Sometimes, if you are not in that trusting place, the best you can do is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Life will naturally carry you along to renewal and wonderful experiences you never dreamed possible.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang