Tag Archives: emotions

Responding vs reacting

One of the benefits of practicing meditation and yoga consistently is that it teaches you the difference between response versus reaction.

To me, I define the difference in these as temporal, relating to time, and emotional, relating to reactivity. When we slow things down, in our breathing, our movement and our thinking, we can often realize when our reaction to a stimulus may be out of proportion.

For example, when someone make a remark I may perceive as offensive, my first reaction may be to get angry. However, if I give the words a moment to sit there, without immediately responding, I may consider the perspective of the speaker. I may pause and realize that they words they have said are not about me (or someone I love) but they are about them.

In fact, this practice has been so powerful for me, because I know my tendency has been to react, to say something back, or to at least indulge in anger or negativity. But as I have started to consider what I can do to act with more love and less fear in every situation, I realize I have a choice about how I respond.

This is true in meditation and yoga. When we realize there is a little discomfort in the body, maybe in the lower back or neck, we have a choice about how to respond. We can observe and watch the feeling. Sometimes it intensifies momentarily, and then dissipates. We can move and adjust if needed or try to breathe into that area.

This is contrary to the speed of our culture right now. We want more, we want faster, we do not wait to wait for things. Everything is available on demand, and we get frustrated when we have to wait for more than a few moments for a download. So we become conditioned to react, not to wait a moment and respond. Hey, I get it! I am the same way.

But what if we tried to move a little counter to what the culture tells us and we move more slowly and deliberately? We say no to having too many options open, and we take more time to respond mindfully instead of reacting. We improve our relationships, because we may ask clarifying questions instead of getting upset over a remark someone made.

It is worth trying, just taking a breath or two when something seems to “trigger” a response in you. Notice where the emotion lands in your body. Decide if you want to respond or let it go. I am far from perfect at this but I am playing with it more, and forgiving myself for the times when I did not have this skill.

It may have a radical impact on how you interact with the world. Let me know how it goes!

 

Advertisements

Thank you

I often sit in the morning drinking my coffee while I watch the sunrise, along with my cat (Willy) who watches and seems to love it too. Or maybe he is just watching for the neighborhood dogs, I am not sure.

We have a really well-positioned large window in the living room. This photo does not do it justice, but the flaming orange, red, purple and pink colors make me breathless with wonder.

sunrise-jan-19-2018.jpg

It is these intense moments of gratitude when I feel myself losing the need to worry, and coming back to the present, where I have all I need in this moment. Such a simple concept, and yet we are drawn away from the present so often. It can be hard to live right here and now. So many distractions and enticements can take us away from the simplest joys.

Our habits of mind, well-practiced and reinforced by generations, have not placed value on being, just breathing and sensing. But that is okay, it is still possible to learn and practice this new skill. The practice of mindful gratitude, focusing awareness on our breath or just watching the thoughts come and go, is a foundation for joy.

Last night during yin yoga class I noticed my tendency to escape into my mind when I was in a more challenging pose. But I kept bringing myself back, breathing into some slight discomfort but allowing myself to stay with the sensations. This is good practice for sitting with difficult emotions as well.

Life will never be 100% positive, and that is okay. To be fully human is to feel good sometimes and bad other times. The range of emotion is a gift to us as humans, and the less we fight and resist the harder emotions, the more joy we can access. It is okay to feel sad and to grieve losses. It is necessary and good, and allows empathy for others.

Joy comes at moments when we are able to notice all the good within us and around us. It can also be practiced, and cultivated with thoughts of compassion and love. Saying thank you to the universe, to the spirit, to a family member, or to whatever moves us, helps us to access that joy more readily. Thank you, friends. I hope you enjoy your weekend.

 

Emotional hangovers

Do you ever find yourself lashing out at someone you love in a fit of anger at some perceived injustice? But then you realize that it is really your own thinking that is causing the drama, not that other person. In fact, that other person is helpful and loving, and really your anger is misdirected.

Oh, how I wish I did not have to confess to this kind of “emotional childhood” in my own life. I do a lot of work on myself, in meditating daily, doing yoga, journaling and doing “thought downloads” to figure on what’s really going on in that head of mine. And still, there are emotions like anger that feel so powerful sometimes, that it is hard to step back and get some perspective while we are “hooked” by them.

It can feel powerful sometimes, when we are angry. It can feel useful and justified too, especially when we perceive some injustice that has been done to us, or someone we care about. But does being caught in anger actually help us? Or does it do more harm than good?

The Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön refers to this tendency as “shenpa“, the hook that triggers our habitual tendency to close down. It is usually involuntary and gets to the root of why we suffer as human beings. It is that urge that attaches us and causes us to withdraw and perhaps retreat into blame, anger, jealousy, etc, instead of remaining present and calm in the moment.

Some of us have struggled with early programming in which we reached for food or a drink to calm those uncomfortable emotions as they came up. We were taught not to show anger (very common for women) or to stop being upset over something. So this habit takes some unlearning. It takes deep compassion and awareness to sit with those uncomfortable feelings, to allow them to come up, and to recognize the thoughts and stories we are telling about the situation.

When I recognize I am caught in anger, and I can observe it and breathe into it before I lash out, usually I realize it is not the circumstance “causing” the anger, but rather my thoughts about it. For example, if I feel that I am telling my husband and important thing, and he is looking at his phone, I could choose several reactions. I could get angry because I think he is not paying attention I could tell myself a story that he doesn’t care about me. I could yell at him and tell him he is not listening.

Or: I could calmly tell him that I want to talk with him about something important, and ask if we can talk without distractions. Usually he is very willing, and he realizes when something is important to me. Sometimes he is tired, and he does not really feel like working out my latest angst when it comes to my big career change, or the latest drama at work. I get it. I know I obsess and talk a lot about my work these days. Big decisions ahead. And I tend to analyze things to death, in case you had not already gathered that from reading my blog.

One thing he said from a discussion which really stays with me: “I don’t know how to help you.” I realized what I wanted was not help, it was empathy and understanding. When he came over to put his arms around me to tell me he could understand I was suffering, and wishes he could do something about it, I finally melted. I immediately felt bad about my behavior. Here is a man who loves me very deeply, and I was not angry with him at all.

If anything I was angry with myself. I wanted to find the courage to express certain things at work, but not be affected by the “political” ramifications of those truths. I had invented a story in my head about being trapped in a situation that “is not fair” and where I was the victim. But a day and a half later, after some yoga and reflection and a better night’s sleep last night than right after my anger storm, I have more clarity.

I am not trapped in a situation. I choose to stay in a job which provides me many benefits and much flexibility to develop new skills and challenge myself in new ways. I know that the current position is less of a fit for me now that I have begun exploring what my heart and soul are asking. But it is still my choice, whether I stay or leave. At least as the moment, though it’s not a good sign that I keep yearning for an “exit package.”

What I realize today is that I have enormous gratitude for my kind husband and all of his patience and support for me. He is on my side, and he cares deeply for me. My storm of anger was misdirected, probably because he is a person I trust to reveal the more “raw” side of myself. Isn’t there a country song with a line about “we only hurt the ones we love?” I am extending myself compassion right now, as he has so often done for me, when I do something I regret.

It does help to beat myself up over this behavior, yet I feel myself doing that as well. Compassion is hard, but I typically feel it for other people easily. It is SO much harder to extend it toward myself. Yet I will practice that now. We all deserve compassion, and I am no exception. I am human. Flawed. Imperfect. But still worthy of forgiveness. 

 

 

 

 

 

Emotional adulthood

Did you grow up being told “not to hurt others’ feelings?” Many of us were taught that we should not say things to hurt other’s feelings. By extension that meant we are responsible for other people’s feelings.

It was a pretty radical discovery for me last year when I learned in more details how thoughts cause chemical cascades in the brain that result in “vibrations” in the body we call feelings. I encountered this concept from podcasts by Brooke Castillo. While I had studied this concept back when I first learned about cognitive and behavioral therapy in college, I had never fully applied it to my life.

I will use an example, because I think this helps make the concept more accessible. Say someone tells me I’m a smart-ass and nobody really cares about what I write. It’s a waste of time and I should stop doing it. I have a choice about how I respond here.

pain image

Photo credit link

If it this a person I respect, I will probably want to ask some questions and get more feedback. (That’s how I am, researchers want more data and we often get curious.) If my self-esteem is not very strong, perhaps I will take their comment seriously and start criticizing myself: why would I think I have the right to share my thoughts or have a valid point of view?

Since I am fairly confident my opinion is at least as valid as anyone else, and because I write for myself, not for them, my response is likely to be different. I will perhaps speculate on their lack of efficacy and creativity in their life and I will dismiss their opinion. My new favorite way to re-frame this is: it is probably more about them (the reason they said whatever it was) than about me. It is a nice way to gain a little distance from what could have been perceived as a hurtful remark, and realize I still feel confident in my own work and process despite their words.

Granted, when we are actively seeking feedback from a trusted colleague, we sometimes have to be open to things that may not be comfortable to hear. This helps us gain valuable insight that might improve our work. That can be important if we want to hone our craft, or become better managers, or excel in our fields.

When I started taking ownership of my own feelings, and realizing that my thoughts were what created those feelings, it was very liberating. In order to feel different feelings, it is necessary to choose different thoughts. If we are in the habit of thinking certain thoughts, this takes some conscious effort at first, because we are re-structuring those neural pathways in the brain. Some of our old habits may have created deeper “grooves” if we have repeated those habits many times. But they are not fixed, they are flexible, and modifiable.

blue brain

Photo credit: Getty Images

I am so encouraged by the latest research in brain science, that reveals that neuro-plasticity, or the ability to change our own brains is actually more possible than we used to believe. You know the old adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” that we sometimes employ when we do not want to learn something new.

But in fact, you can teach an “old” human new tricks. It takes practice, and it takes commitment. But fortunately it is possible and it is why we humans, using conscious thought and practice, are so remarkably adaptable to so many situations.

I do not encourage you to say things to people that intentionally try to “hurt” their feelings. I also know that my own fear of speaking my truth has decreased. If others are living in emotional childhood and hold me responsible for their feelings, it is unfortunate for them. And when I have feedback to deliver, I try to speak carefully and from a place of caring and concern. If I catch myself reacting out of anger or my own hurt, then I sometimes have to apologize later for saying something I do not truly mean. (We all have our defense mechanisms.)

But I have found this concept of taking responsibility for my own feelings to be game-changing. We are the creators of our own story, in charge of the narratives we bring to our own lives to make sense of them. Why not choose stories that are brave and courageous rather than casting ourselves as a victim? 

If you have been through trauma or other difficult experiences which make it difficult to assess and influence your own emotional state, or are suffering depression, having the help of a therapist or counselor can be an amazing resource. I am not ashamed to admit that I have had wonderful therapists to help me during difficult struggles in my life. It is their insight and caring that allowed me to develop a more evolved understanding of myself. To me, there is no better investment.

Fully embodied

Halloween is a good time to reflect on bodies, and what happens when we become disconnected from our bodies. I am reminded of the headless horseman, or the ways in which zombies are portrayed, often missing limbs, eyes, fingers, etc. Representations of the “living dead” usually involve decaying or decrepit bodies.

Zombies

When I began practicing yoga and meditation more regularly as a part of living more mindfully, I started noticing the ways I had “abandoned” my body out of habit. I had pushed down feelings and not allowed myself to feel where they landed in the body.  I was not comfortable with feelings of sadness or loneliness, and so to disassociate from them, I used various means: food, alcohol, other distractions such as television or social media to disconnect from my reality. But the more I started paying attention to these visceral sensations, the ability to experience emotions fully and in their raw form, the more I realized how fleeting these sensations could be.

By not resisting the painful emotions I was trying to escape, I was able to feel those emotional “vibrations” in the body, and noticed how they passed through. Nothing ever stays the same in our bodies, in our lives. But a good deal can pass through, when we stop resisting it. I may not WANT to feel sadness or loneliness, but when I allow myself to experience them, they are what they are. They will not destroy me, but resisting them causes so much suffering. By embracing what is true for us, in this present moment, we allow it to be there. We do not chastise ourselves, or tell ourselves we “should be happy” or we “should get over it” whatever “it” is.

By coming back to my body, and starting to fully inhabit it, I have been able to access deeper truths about my life. At first it was quite scary, especially when it came to allowing desires. I did not trust my desires – are they not what got me “in trouble” in the first place? Desires for chocolate? Desires for that glass of wine? Desires to buy myself things I did not really need? As I started practicing and allowing emotions to fully express themselves, I realized that there were certain “false desires” that were really masking deeper, more fundamental desires. All humans desire acceptance, and are genetically wired for this, but few of us realize that begins with self-acceptance. Many of us all desire courage, and realize it is fundamental to living in our truth, because not all desires will seem acceptable to our “tribe” or the people with whom we grew up.

Many of us believe we should be happy, and certainly many marketers try to capitalize on our general discontent by selling us products that will evoke that feeling. But human experience is not all happiness and joy. Without the negative feelings we have no contrast and no way to know joy. About half of our lives we may experience negative emotions, and that is okay. When we allow them, acknowledge them, give them space, we also allow joy, peace, compassion and love. When we numb the pain we feel, through food, distractions, or any kind of “false pleasure” we also numb the joy and happiness we could feel.

I believe women have a special challenge in fully embodying their life. We are told how we “should” look, how we “should” feel, that we shouldn’t be so emotional, etc. But the truth is that we look the way we look, and we feel the way we feel. It is true that our thoughts heavily influence our emotions. When I practice thoughts that allow compassion and love for myself, I feel a greater sense of ease in my actions. My old habit is self-criticism and I used to believe this was how I could improve myself. But chastising myself for my shortcomings just makes me feel miserable and wretched. When I forgive myself and have compassion for my humanness, it gives me peace and the freedom to actually make changes in my life, if I choose.

When I return to my body, listening to it, honoring its needs for rest, or sometimes for excitement or adventure, I learn that there is so much wisdom there. I am re-teaching myself this skill, because I believe as young children we have this ability naturally. But as we go through school, through life and through a media-saturated world, we replace these instincts with layers of “should” and “must.” We are convinced that thinking our way through everything is how we must live. While thinking is an incredible tool, ignoring the body happens at our peril. When we return to acceptance of our body as an incredible tool for allowing us to live and thrive, we reclaim so much more peace.

May you, my dear reader, honor your body and live a fully embodied life. May you live not as a zombie, unless it is just a Halloween costume, but as a human fully awake and alive and aware of your miraculous body.