Life can be messy. It’s rarely a neat and tidy package. At some point, we all must deal with loss, heartache, fear, uncertainty and various existential crises.
The problem isn’t necessarily the stress itself, which is an inevitable part of life.
The real problem is that most people don’t know how to deal with that stress.
It’s not something we’re taught, and it really should be.
So, on top of the stress we face in daily life, we have the added problem of not knowing how to resolve it. As a result, many people end up struggling with mental illness, anxiety, depression, and addiction.
The question is, what do we do? How are we supposed to cope when we are faced with not only problems and challenges on an outer level (and there’s never any shortage of those — whether they relate to money, relationships, jobs, etc), but also our own inner stuff (the assorted fears, resentments, grievances and anxieties that cause us so much emotional suffering)?
Weapons of Mass Distraction
We live in a culture that, for all its incredible technological sophistication, is almost entirely emotionally retarded.
We’re simply not taught how to deal with emotional wounds and psychological suffering.
It’s for this reason that most people, instead of facing these demons, turn to what I call the weapons of mass distraction.
The weapons of mass distraction are the things we use to distract ourselves from our own pain.
We drink — a lot.
We take drugs.
We spend hours trying to zone out watching television, or browsing Youtube, or trying chasing after as many ‘likes’ as we can get on social media.
Maybe we constantly have to be around other people because the moment we’re alone we are forced to confront the unease lurking within.
Perhaps we become compulsive shoppers, spending more money than we have. Or we may spend hours watching porn or getting so lost in video games we forget we have a real life in the 3D world.
We may find ways to channel our pain by turning it on others. We might gossip, bitch and complain about other people, or start fights with strangers on internet comment pages.
Basically, we’ll do whatever we can to distract ourselves from what we’re really feeling. We want to numb the pain, and we’ll take any distraction we can get.
If things get bad enough we might go the doctor and get medication to help drown out what we’re feeling. But even then, we rarely want to face our pain head-on. We’ll do whatever we can to try to skirt around it rather than confront and resolve it. And so we continue to bury our heads in the sand.
The problem is, this kind of aversion technique almost never works. In fact, it simply adds to our problems and makes things a hundred times worse.
A Warrior’s Courage
If we really want to change our life, we need the courage of a warrior. We have no option but to face all of our anxieties, neuroses, fears, attachments and aversions. That’s the only way they can be dealt with and healed. Simply trying to drown them out with mindless aversion is a futile and ultimately harmful way of misdirecting our energy.
It takes courage to not only admit we’re in a mess — but to actually say yes to that mess!
The moment we acknowledge it and, without judgement, accept what’s there, is the moment we begin to heal it.
Emotional pain stress can’t be ignored, because it tends to snowball, and before we know it we end up dealing with all kinds of dysfunctional behaviours and addictions on top of the original problem.
The question is — how do we deal with it?
The Process of Emotional Healing
The way to heal emotional pain is to do the very last thing the mind wants us to do, and that is to bring our full attention it.
Whatever it is we’re feeling, whether it’s heartache, loss, or anxiety, we have to hold that in our awareness.
Awareness really is half the battle. Until we’re fully aware of what it is we’re feeling, it’s going to have power over us.
The process of emotional healing is surprisingly simple — although that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy or comfortable.
All we have to do is take some time alone to sit down and bring our full attention to what we’re feeling.
The experience may not be at all comfortable or pleasant, but the simple act of bringing our attention to it immediately starts to transmute and dissolve it. The tension and constriction soon begins to loosen and we start to feel freer and more at ease.
Continuously bring your attention to this emotion. Feel where it is in your body and notice what the sensations are like. Try to avoid getting carried away by mental stories as to why you think you’re feeling it (“he shouldn’t have spoken to me like that” or “I should have done that better”).
Just accept the sensation. Bring your full attention to it.
Treat the emotion as you’d treat a crying baby — it’s distressed, upset, so bring your nurturing attention to it.
Eventually, you’ll find that by bringing acceptance and loving attention to emotional pain, it gradually begins to dissolve.
This is an ancient Taoist technique and it works every time. The light of our focused awareness melts away emotional blocks much like the sun melts ice.
This may take a couple of minutes, or it may need sustained attention before you notice a difference, but I guarantee you will.
Question Your Thoughts
Virtually all our stress comes from the thoughts we think.
To question one’s own thinking might at first sound a little strange. After all, why would I think something that isn’t true?
We operate on the assumption that our thoughts are an accurate reflection of reality, but very often our thoughts are entirely based on ignorance.
At any given time we can only ever see a very small part of the overall picture.
Therefore, to have a questioning attitude toward the content of the mind is actually the sign of an intelligent, mature and discriminating person.
Most people think of life and emotion as a stimulus and response equation — i.e., something happens and it makes us feel a certain way. Therefore, if someone behaves in a way we don’t like, we assume that this person has made us feel bad.
But there’s another factor involved — that of thought and interpretation.
It’s actually our thoughts about a given experience that causes us to feel a certain way. Something happens and we choose to perceive it a certain way in accordance with our views and likes and dislikes, and the result is a certain emotional response.
Very often to change the way we feel about something, we need to simply change the way we’re thinking about it.
The world is what it is. It does what it does. We can’t really change it, at least not that much.
Thoughts, however, are as transient as clouds. They can be changed, and often more easily than you might think.
If a thought is working for you (which is to say it isn’t causing suffering), then there’s little need to change it. By all means, keep it. If, however, you are terrorised by your own thinking, then it’s time to identify those problematic thoughts and seriously reevaluate them.
I learned a wonderful technique for dismantling negative thoughts and beliefs from Byron Katie. Her book ‘Loving What Is’ is an essential read. You can also find details of her work on her website, called appropriately enough thework.com.
Katie uses a set of four questions for dealing with any self-limiting thought:
1. Is it true?
2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do I react when I believe this thought?
4. Who would I be without that thought?
I will be writing about this process in greater detail when I explore the process of dismantling negative thoughts and beliefs.
When in the midst of stressful situations and emotional pain, I’ve learned that the worst thing we can do is to resist it, judge it, or think that something shouldn’t be happening and that we shouldn’t be feeling a certain way.
This resistance adds another layer of tension and only exacerbates our suffering.
Try instead to say ‘yes’ to whatever is happening. Let it be as it is — because, like it or not, it already is.
By accepting our shadows, and then closely examining them, we come to realise that they aren’t truly real. That, in time, gradually dissolves them. Resisting them, ignoring them, trying to bury them beneath a sea of distraction is not a legitimate way of healing them and only perpetuates the problem.
Emotional healing is a head-on process and one that requires courage and self-awareness.
There’s no running away from our shit. We need to face it and use the appropriate tools and means for processing and overcoming it.
It’s more than worth the effort, however, because the result is what we’re all seeking in life, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not — and that is freedom.