Can you imagine a life without one of your five senses? Maybe, but it certainly isn’t something you would joyfully embrace. Even if having all five senses means you sometimes see, smell, hear, touch, or taste things that elicit a negative reaction, you understand the gift of having all five far eclipses those unpleasant moments.
Being human comes with the ability to experience life in many different ways, through a body, a brain, and a spirit. You may not always think so, but your emotional range is also a gift. Though you will face negative feelings on and off throughout your life, you probably would not give up the ability to feel simply because, sometimes, emotions are incredibly painful or challenging.
There are many ways people try to avoid unpleasant feelings, and addictions top the list. Engaging in obsessive-compulsive or addictive behavior pushes unpleasant thoughts and feelings out of conscious awareness. Sometimes, that can seem like paradise; unfortunately, the long-term negative effects outweigh the short-term gains of numbness and forgetting, as once the drug or activity is over, all those painful feelings come back. Let’s face it, if addictions really worked, we would all be addicts. Who doesn’t want a bit of relief from life’s stresses? The problem is they are a short-term fix. It takes great courage to move through dark emotions but ignoring them, or sweeping them under the cognitive rug, just makes them less accessible for healing.
How can you make it safe to feel emotions that potentially trigger a sense of devastating loss, wild rage, or deep depression? By cultivating the inner, loving parent who is always there to comfort, protect, and remind your inner child how you are a spiritual being having a human experience.
Life’s trials don’t come with a manual, so you can’t always figure out what the lesson is. Patience, and faith in yourself will reveal their purpose, even if it is simply to show you how much you can bear.
Developing confidence in your ability to deal with all your feelings only comes from practice.
First, allow what is true for you now. Give yourself a cosmic permission slip to feel everything without judgment or censorship.
Breathe into your emotions. Tell yourself it’s OK to experience whatever is true for you now. You may not like it, but you can handle it.
Next, remind yourself of other times when you thought you couldn’t stand something, but did. Allow that memory to access feeling empowered, courageous, and competent. If you can, use all five senses to fully remember the details of your experience.
Talk gently and lovingly to the frightened part of yourself, your inner child, who doubts his or her ability to face this challenge. Tell that little soul you are here for her. You can protect and support her. Use a litany of reassuring phrases, like: “It will be OK. I am with you, and I always will be. Everything is fine. You are safe. I love you..” Say these over and over again until they come unbidden, calming, and soothing your inner child.
When the situation has passed, be sure to give yourself and your inner child credit for bravely weathering the storm.
Another useful strategy is to view your urge to self-medicate with an addictive behavior as an invitation to plumb your depths. Ask yourself: What am I trying to avoid by engaging in this activity? Is it a situation, a relationship issue, or a life decision (like a career choice or a move)?
The more frequently you remember to use these techniques, the more quickly you will assimilate them into your inner dialogue. In time, you will notice how loving, non-critical self-statements are your coin of the realm. Your cognitive default becomes a string of supportive phrases that help you navigate all the vicissitudes of life.
On a more mundane level, there are many things you can do to build up your resilience to stress. Eating high quality, nutrient dense foods, taking appropriate supplements (like vitamin D3 if you live in a Northern state), sleeping enough, moving your body, adopting some type of meditative or spiritual practice, and surrounding yourself with supportive, open-hearted people.
In addition, you may want to make a list of activities that energize you and another of those that enervate you. This will enable you to choose more from the former and fewer from the latter, designing a life that sustains you, body and soul.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
We’re All In Recovery, So Welcome To The Club July 26, 2010
Whether it was a parent, teacher, grandparent, uncle, aunt, friend, boss, sister, brother, classmate, or co-worker, at some point, everyone has been affected by damaging remarks, criticism, physical abuse, harassment, or sexual abuse.
You may think it extreme to say that we are all in recovery, but you don’t have to be a mathematician to add up the numbers: one in five women is a victim of sexual abuse, one in ten adults is addicted to alcohol, and one in four women is likely to experience domestic violence during her life. Then there are all the other issues flying under the radar, like elder abuse, bullying, and living with someone who is suffering from depression, guilt, or anxiety.
Each person who is directly affected by these issues indirectly affects many more. And how could that be otherwise? Even the kindest soul reacts to abuse either by taking it out on others, himself, or both.
When we look at the statistics, the chances of not having some toxic interactions are infinitesimally small. If that is true, and we are all negatively affected by verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, perhaps post-traumatic stress disorder is far more common than we think.
Surely, growing up in a family with an addicted parent leaves one traumatized. The trifecta of unpredictability, lack of primal trust, and insecurity, often all shrouded in a family pact of secrecy, is more than enough reason to embark on a recovery mission.
If the Buddhists are right when they say our suffering is our benefit, we can all help by first recognizing how pervasive emotional trauma is and developing more compassion for ourselves, and each other.
What would happen if our society recognized this epidemic of PTSD? Ideally, we would cultivate gentleness for ourselves and our fellow travelers. We would all embrace a culture of recovery by speaking more kindly, acting more considerately, owning our own issues, cooperating rather than competing, embracing our natural sensitivity, and remembering that everyone struggles at one time or another.
If we assume that each of us has been hurt, probably numerous times, we might be tempted to chalk it up to human nature and suggest everyone simply buck up; but, isn’t developing a thicker skin part of what led to these issues in the first place? Furthermore, how does burying our true feelings help in the long run? Doesn’t it simply make it more likely they will come out inappropriately in sarcasm, or even abuse?
What if we used our collective pain to catalyze our evolution?
What would our better selves look like?
Would we be more generous, more patient, more tolerant, and more sensitive?
What about how we treat ourselves? Could we show more generosity, patience, tolerance, and sensitivity towards our own sweet selves?
What if, for one day, none of us took anything personally? Remembering that each of us is carrying far more baggage than is obvious.
What if after being cut off on the road we thought, “I wonder what that person is dealing with that made them so distracted?”
What if we assumed that every single person was dealing with something difficult, and we cut them some slack?
What if we smiled at everyone, whether we knew them, or not?
What if we practiced compassion?
These days, there is a great awareness of how we have hurt the environment. When will we own up to how we hurt ourselves, and each other?
Isn’t our treatment of the environment, animals, and others merely a projection of how we treat ourselves?
I believe it is.
By hurting anything we hurt everything.
Today, why not vow to start a real new age by taking the very best care you can of your sweet self? If you do, you will see that inner love manifest to everyone’s benefit.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Feeding your brain July 14, 2010
Let’s pretend you’re washing lettuce for a salad. You see a few rusty-edged pieces and remove them. It’s second nature. You didn’t have to consciously think, “I don’t want to put something unappealing or toxic in my body.” You intuitively knew. Unfortunately, it is not that easy when it comes to your mind. Allowing unwanted, unhelpful, and upsetting thoughts may seem to come naturally; not to mention all those times you cultivate them. The good news is, just as you learned to ditch the rusty lettuce, you can also learn to discard toxic internal refrains.
Meditation is one way of retraining your mind and making it an ally. The practice not only works by quieting your brain, but by helping you notice what scampers across it. For most people, getting in touch with automatic thoughts is like panning for gold: it takes patience and a willingness to carefully look at everything in the pan, in this case, your brain pan. Once you do that, you will notice the tendency for certain thoughts to repeat. Perhaps, you are preoccupied with an upcoming event, money worries, or a medical issue. Often, it can be something much more mundane, like: I wonder if she likes me or is just being polite? How can I remember to put the garbage out before tomorrow morning? Should I do the laundry now, or can it wait another few days?
Practicing meditation is like having an inner coach. The yogis love to say, “That which you seek is already within you.” I couldn’t agree more, though accessing that knowledge can be difficult. Building awareness is just like exercising a muscle. You may not notice day-to-day changes, but after a while you’re suddenly more in touch. Pair that consciousness with a slower breath, and you begin to feel more mastery over your thoughts. Since thoughts create emotions, you now have a greater ability to sculpt your inner dialogue. This leads to more serenity and increased self-control.
In addition to meditation, or in lieu of it, you can consciously feed your brain material that makes you feel better. Louise Hay has been practicing a ritual where she looks in the mirror as often as possible and says: ‘I love you, I really, really, love you.” Try it.
Émile Coué, a French psychologist and pharmacist who discovered the placebo effect, introduced a self-improvement program in the early 20th century based on auto-suggestion. His most famous mantra was to say to yourself: Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.
Captain Picard on Star Trek Next Generation used to direct his staff with the words “Make it so.” You can use those same words to govern your thoughts. Rather than thinking of what you don’t want, focus on your desires. Play with them. Use whatever ruminative or OCD tendencies you might naturally have to dwell on positive outcomes for anything you find yourself obsessed with.
If saying loving, positive things to yourself is a challenge, why not start by listening to others say them to you?
Text copyright Nicole S. Urdang
Mindfulness July 6, 2010
While walking in the park this morning I happened to notice a man ambling along engrossed in a book. Curious as to what was so compelling, I glanced over and saw it was a large book of watercolors. This perplexed and amused me, as the morning was exceptionally beautiful: a rich blue sky punctuated with clouds of all hues and shapes against a landscape of fully leafed out trees. Frankly, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect example of a Spring morning.
As stunning as his impressionistic watercolors were on the page, I wondered how they could compete with what was right in front of him. Of course, he has free will; and, if he truly prefers a book to reality, that’s his prerogative. I just saw an opportunity to enjoy what was right there, right then. It reminded me of how easy it is to be oblivious to what is available in the moment when internal preoccupations are allowed to take center stage. I also remembered many walks when my mind was so cluttered and churning I couldn’t focus on what was right in front of me.
If you find yourself similarly absorbed in your thoughts, obsessions, or worries, take a break to re-ground in the present moment.
Look around you, wherever you are.
Notice the colors, shapes, temperature, sounds, and scents; anything that enables you to be here now.
This moment, this second, is the gift of life. Obliviousness lets it pass by.
Stretch, feel your body.
Take a deep, slow breath, and exhale completely.
You won’t be incarnate forever. Enjoy everything you can right this minute, even if your life is excruciatingly challenging.
The leaves are still green, the sky is still blue, and you’re still breathing. Take comfort in the most elemental things and they will sustain you.
If you aren’t in a place where you can find joy in these simple pleasures, just acknowledging they are there can boost your spirits.
No matter what your state of mind, anything that connects you to all that is will ultimately make you feel more grounded, more secure, and more open to life.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang