June 23, 2017

How to Relax with Yourself

We tend to turn away from the uncomfortable, from pain, from darkness. Even the heroes in fairy tales are the ones who fight darkness and win, defeating it forever, saving the people from it.

But all darkness on the outside stems from darkness inside. Slaying the monster outside will not give us the control we crave.

When we feel uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, anger or sadness that threaten to take over us, we fight back. That's what we do when we feel threatened, we fight back. We stiffen, tighten, harden and do everything to keep our control, to not let these feelings win.

We want to control who we are on the outside--our behavior--by slaying what we have inside. By trying to hide it, repress it, push it away.

It's a battle inside of us. We fight, because we feel like if we don't, these feelings will take over us and we will lose control of ourselves.

Even if we seem okay on the outside, there can be a battle raging inside of us. A battle that will never end. Because we will always have feelings. The will start over and over again; whenever our feelings come in, we will be up in arms. It's like fighting every wave of the ocean. If we continue being afraid of our feelings, wanting to defeat them, the battle inside of us will continue as well.

The strongest power we can ever have is accepting what is in us. By allowing it to be, almost with pride.

Whatever we fight, we strengthen. If we attack a dragon, it will fight back. But if we relax with it, allow it to be, it will relax with us.

Our feelings will not take over us or make us lose control. They mirror us. What is inside will be outside. If we relax with it all, if we accept whatever's in there, the outside will follow.

We have to have peace inside to have peace outside. Not fake peace like the fake smiles we force on our faces, but real peace. We can't achieve that by fighting.

There are two ways to smile. One is to hide what's inside, and the other is a peace offering to ourselves. We can choose which way to smile.

There is no greater power than accepting what is. Not judging, just accepting. Nothing is as bad as we think. If we manage to let fear go, no experience will ever be as bad as we thought.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” - C.G. Jung

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June 16, 2017

The Breathing Pattern of Calm

There are many reasons we concentrate our attention on our breathing during meditation.

  • we train our focus not to wander
  • we come back to the present moment
  • we step away from our thoughts and see they're just thoughts
  • and last, but not least, we communicate with our body

Our emotions are accompanied by specific breathing patterns. When we feel strong emotions, we breathe faster. With anxiety, our inhales are long, our exhales our short. With anger, our inhales are short and our exhales are long. And because breathing is involuntary, most of the time we don't even notice when it changes.

Thoughts come and go in our minds, feelings and emotions come and go as well. It's not easy to control them, and it's not healthy to suppress them either. Through our breathing, we can send a message of calm.

When feeling a strong emotion, we can communicate with our body and mind through our breathing. Since our brain ties our breathing patters to emotional states, we can send it the message that everything is okay through our breathing. That's why breathing techniques are so frequently used in different therapies.

To send the message of calm to the body, we can do the following:

  1. Straighten the back
  2. Breathe into the abdomen instead of the chest
  3. Breathe slowly
  4. Calm breaths, not forcefully deep

Contrary to popular belief, deep breathing does not refer to inhaling and exhaling huge gulps of air like a human hurricane. That is the opposite of the calming breath, and it is more like hyperventilation.

Deep breathing refers to the area of the body we breathe into, which, in this case, is the abdomen. We tend to breathe from our chest when we are stressed.

When we are stressed or experiencing difficult emotions, we can communicate with our bodies through our breathing. We can send it the message that everything is okay. When we breathe this way, we can soon notice how our body relaxes with our breaths. How our mind's grip loosens on the thoughts it has been holding so tightly.

We can allow our attention to rest on our breathing and kindly calm our body with this loving message of peace. Our breath is the link between us and life itself--it anchors us to the present moment. There is no future in the breath, there is no past. There is only now.

Spending time with our breathing is a useful exercise through which we can learn to communicate with ourselves and also strengthen our connection with reality, the present moment.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

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June 8, 2017

How to Accept Yourself When You Want to Change Who You Are

Often, we think we need to change who we are. In order to be better or even acceptable. That we have to leave our old selves behind, shed it off like an old skin, because we cannot live with ourselves anymore.

We dislike our thoughts, our feelings, ourselves. We want to be someone different, who has different thoughts, different feelings, different skills. We all feel like this at one point or another. And we think the answer is to destroy our old selves and create a new one.

Wanting to leave a part of yourself behind is a harmful attitude, because it feeds off self-hatred. A non-acceptance of yourself.

Imagine everything you don't like about yourself as your shadow. A darkness that is always there. You didn't choose your shadow. But it's part of you anyway. You can't tear it away.

Everything we don't like about ourselves is a part of us that developed for a reason. Everything has a reason for existing. Maybe what we hate so much once saved us, helped us or kept us safe.

So the question arises: What is a person without a shadow? An unnatural being who has lost the thing that proved they were alive. Who has lost a part of their essence and is no longer alive.

What doesn't have a shadow doesn't exist.

Every part of ourselves we don't like, every thought, every feeling are the bases for all the things we do like. Without pain, we wouldn't understand joy. Without chaos, we couldn't know peace. And until we see someone's darkness, we don't know true love.

This darkness, this shadow we so desperately want to tear away is actually our very essence. It's this darkness from where everything grows. From where we grow. Like the lotus from the mud.

You don't need to fix yourself. You need to understand yourself and accept yourself. What you understand cannot control you.

Everyone has a shadow. All the energy we put into wanting to destroy it, we can put into learning to live with it. With peace, with acceptance, with kindness. And our shadows cease to control us. We are in charge.

Nothing inside of us needs to be banished. Because nothing inside has the power to control us. What is inside, we can accept with peace and understanding. And our shadows will not be as hard to live with anymore. After all, they are the bases of everything worth living for, they are the proof we are alive.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

"I myself am the enemy who must be loved." - Carl Jung

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May 26, 2017

What is Mindful Presence? And How to Use It with Anxiety

There are many different descriptions of mindfulness. Psychology Today writes:

"Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience."

Mindfulness can be used during therapy, with many different therapeutic methods built specifically around it.

I struggled with anxiety all my life and I still have an anxious brain in my head. Mindfulness was what pulled me out of rock bottom. It's still the tool I use every day so I can live my life rather than be a victim of it.

All my life I had been told that I cannot do anything for myself. That I was a victim of my circumstances. I had gone to multiple therapists, and neither one of them ever told me that I could do something for myself. (I had gone to the wrong therapists, I know that now. Therapists who work with CBT and mindfulness can be of great help, so don't hesitate to reach out to one if you feel like you could use some help.)

But then I started reading up on things, and I realized that there was plenty I could do. I was not a victim of anything.

Thoughts are just thoughts. Not reality. A thought can only hurt you if you believe it.

This is the basis of mindfulness. To recognize our thoughts as just thinking. I remember that I never used to do this. When I read or heard people talk about changing our thinking, I didn't even understand what they were talking about. It sounded like unscientific gibberish, but it couldn't be farther from that. There is scientific evidence that mindfulness not only improves health, but changes the brain as well. 

With anxiety, we believe our thoughts unconditionally. We believe something horrible is about to happen. But if we practice mindfulness and presence, we can see our thoughts for what they are--just thinking.

Our body follows our mind. It doesn't know the difference between a threat actually happening and just us thinking it will happen and believing it.

We don't have to follow our thoughts, believe them, act on them, we don't even have to destroy them. We can just let them be. If we see them for what they are, they can cause no harm.

Whatever happens, peace is always a possible reaction.

Still, anything can happen in life. You cannot convince yourself that nothing bad will ever happen to you. That's just believing a thought once again. You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.

I remember this realization of mine clearly. It was such a huge burden lifted. What's about to happen doesn't matter, only how I react to it. Life is not defined by what happens, but by our reactions to what happens. And peace is always an available reaction. With it, any situation can be transformed into a peaceful one. We can even be at peace with our non-peace.

Jiddu Krishnamurti has said, "Do you want to know what my secret is? You see, I don't mind what happens."

Nothing needs to change inside of us.

It is very common to want to eliminate negative feelings and thoughts and replace them with positive ones. In my experience, this is not the most effective approach. Because what this means is that we don't fully accept ourselves in this present moment. That we want something different. And what we resist, always persists. What we fight, we strengthen.

With mindfulness, we accept everything that is in the present moment. We don't resist it. We see it for what it is. We have arrived, We are home. Peace and calm will come if we stop resisting what is; not if we try to force it.

Once we see thoughts and feelings for what they are, they can no longer control us. We are witnesses observing, not victims being controlled. The mind is a beautiful servant, but a dangerous master.

We are free to do anything we want, since nothing can hold us down anymore. Even if we feel anxiety, we can do what makes us afraid. Thoughts are just thoughts. We can do what we want. We can be who we want to be.

The now is all there is. Nothing else can come.

Anxiety always makes us feel like something horrible is about to happen. Something that we cannot deal with. Of course we can't deal with it, because it is in the future, never now. 

We can only deal with what is happening now, and anxiety is not about that. It's about what's about to come. But what we fear is about to come will never ever come. All there will ever be is now. The always manageable now. What you think about is not true.

As you can see, there is plenty we can do to help ourselves. We are not victims of our own heads. We don't need to somehow morph into different people. We can learn to understand and live with ourselves. Peace is every step.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” - Pema Chödrön

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May 22, 2017

The Drama in Your Head: Don't Think So Much, You Can't Control Anything Anyway

Do you know the feeling when somebody wants to start unnecessary drama and you simply don't want to take part in it? I'm sure everyone knows that feeling.

But what if the drama is not coming from someone else, but it's taking place in our own heads? 

It's easy to see needless behavior in others. It's not so easy when it comes to ourselves. Because everything we do makes sense in our own minds. Our own drama seems very much necessary to us.

Ask yourself the following: How much time do you spend with the drama in your own head?

What goes on in a person's head is highly personal. But we all have our inner dialogues that are unique to us. We can practice recognizing them and stepping back from them.

Lots of times, we are problem-solving in our heads, troubleshooting issues that are not actually there in real life. It's a way of trying to have control, so we feel less vulnerable and more ready, more in power.

It's a common misconception that we are entirely responsible for what happens to us. This belief brings with it the grasping for control, since we feel like we have to be in charge of everything.

The victim blaming mentality is incredibly common, and it doesn't simply affect victims of crimes, but everyone who thinks this way. Since a person who blames others for what happened to them also thinks that we are all responsible for what happens to us, and we should aim to control everything about our lives for harm to elude us. If harm doesn't elude us, it's our fault--we did something wrong.

This is a coping mechanism for a lot of people. If they can feel in control, they can believe that horrible things will not happen to them. When we see the news of someone famous passing at our age, the first thing we search for in the article is the cause of death. So we can make sure that it can't happen to us. They had a preexisting condition or had substance abuse problems. They ate unhealthy foods, that's why they got sick. It will never happen to us, because we don't do any of the things they did.

We don't want pain in our lives. So we convince ourselves that if we try really hard, we can avoid it. That is anxiety itself. Bad things only happen to people who deserve them, we think. Who "had it coming." This belief blocks compassion and reinforces the unhealthy need to be in control of the uncontrollable.

Eating healthy is a great habit. Taking care of ourselves is wonderful, healthy and important. And, of course, there are a lot of hardships we can avoid if we take care of ourselves. But that's not the same as being in control of everything. That we can avoid every pain. A lot of information is coded into our DNA. No amount of healthy eating will save a person from inherent diabetes. It will help manage the situation, but it will not make it disappear completely.

It's important for our own mental and emotional well-being to accept the following: Bad things happen to people who did absolutely nothing to generate them.

And thus we are back to the drama in our minds. That endless debate in our heads about how we can stay in control. To quote Einstein, "We cannot solve problems with the same mind that created them."

There is a lot of power and intelligence in the words "I don't know." We don't know what's going to happen. We scarcely even know what is happening right now. The strain for control is nothing more than meaningless exertion. Very much like the drama of others we don't participate in. As Haruki Murakami wrote, "Nothing so consumes a person as meaningless exertion."

So what can we do then? We can take a step back from the drama in our minds. We can refuse to participate. To get carried away into meaningless exertion. The opposite of getting too involved with our minds is being present. In our lives, in the moment, in the now. Not analyzing, thinking, trying to control the moment, but simply being here for it. Without strain. Without meaningless exertion.

It's not easy, and it doesn't come naturally. We have to practice, coming back to our lives time and time again. But it's a healthy practice and an incredibly rewarding one. We could all use a little stepping back from all the drama.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

"Don't allow yourself to be carried away anymore. Resist. Each mindful step is a step toward freedom. This kind of freedom is not political freedom. It's freedom from the past, from the future, from our worries and fears." - Thich Nhat Hanh

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