Unfastened and Limitless

There is nothing quite like the feeling of freedom; free to act and do and dream. With each present moment you create your own reality, yet we rarely are present to all that could be possible if we just listened with awareness instead of grasping and pushing away discomfort. We fret and worry about things that happened in the past, and we scramble to try and control (with feelings of angst and concern) about things that have not happened yet. Being present means feeling free from the binds and shackles of the past and future.

 

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We are constantly becoming and we are forever creating who we are by the nature of how present we are in the here-and-now. If we can rehearse again and again what it feels like to not escape into thoughts of the past and future, we become comfortable with being uncomfortable and are able to harness the power of the present moment. Being able to tolerate any challenging emotions allows us to stay present instead of rushing to fix things that are out of our control. We will always have the impetus to seek safety from harm, such is our human condition. It is normal to want to be free from pain, yet the lengths we go to to eradicate said discomfort is what leads to impaired functioning. After all, comfort is fleeting, and acknowledging the impermanence of all emotions even when they are pleasurable is what it means to be present.

 

The process of improving upon the self involves the perspective that you have all you need in the present moment. Draw your attention to welcoming ambiguity while at the same time taping into a state of empowerment by being present to the ever evolving and unfixed nature of your existence. Don’t be distracted by the feeling of being in flux. Don’t be afraid of the limitless possibilities that exist.

 

When we practice non-reactivity and non-attachment, such as Buddhism teaches, we see that the mind’s real nature is like the entirety of the sky and that our ideas and feelings are similar to clouds that hide the full view. Never loose sight of the sky by feeling constricted by the clouds. The sky is ever-present and the clouds are just momentary. Release the clouds of emotion and thought by focusing on the open expansion of the mind.

 

Meditation is the the practice that allows us to focus on the sky even when clouds are in the way. Instead of focusing on the drama that surrounds most experiences, try to relate to the myriad of possibilities that exist in any given oment. Welcome all thoughts and feelings by not rejecting any of the discomfort but embrace the limitless possibilities that the sky holds for you.

When we are present, when we attempt to operate from a place of awareness, when we focus on having an in-the-moment experience, and when we learn how to focus on the here and now, we train our brains to learn how to detach from narratives that keep us in a reactionary state. It is important to note that the habit of being reactionary is a process that can be undone by deconstructing narratives that make you the central character.

 

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When you react from a place of jealousy, anger and resentment you perpetuate a narrative that is all about you. This personalization is a result of being disconnected from the present moment. Instead, each time we pause and focus on the present we allow for less ego driven narratives and find ourselves with expansive moments of proactive choices. Responding in a non-reactionary way leads to feelings of freedom that are not otherwise present when we are beholden to narratives about our personal expectations.

 

Changing the course of an ego driven narrative is essentially what the practice of mindfulness is. When we interrupt a reaction of taking things personal, we become much more effective in being able to train our brain to approach challenging emotions with more resilience. As opposed to just distracting ourselves or suppressing sensations, which leads to more destructive behaviors. You cannot rid yourself of certain thoughts and emotions, but you can train your brain to loosen the grip on those emotions and place your focus on a more advantageous idea.

 

Try interrupting old reactionary patterns by focusing less on the narrative and more on the impermanence of sensations. Practice identifying when self-serving narratives are becoming your first response. As much as you can, look for ways to turn your attention towards the immediacies of present sensations and rehearse what it feels like to be free of narratives that hold us hostage.

 

 

 

The ambiguity of being human is a fundamental factor of existence. How we approach the ambiguity of life determines the decisions we will make. In my previous post I spoke about how attachment to wanting things to be a certain way is the root of all suffering. When things do not feel good, we have the urge to ‘grasp’ for or ‘push away’ from said feeling. This practice of ‘controlling’ is the urge to find safety and cling to it at all costs.

 

We are constantly seeking control and the reason for this is that ambiguity is uncomfortable. On the flip side, when things feel good, a moment of excitement or contentment is realized and we tend to grasp for ways to keep it going. Pema Chödrön states that when we seek for the wishing away of pain and the pushing away of discomfort “we turn to anything to relieve the discomfort-food, alcohol, sex, shopping, being critical or unkind.”

 

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A more advantageous choice, when dealing with difficult emotions, involves paying full attention to the place of discomfort. In doing so, we use our breath and channel it towards where the pain resides. Rather than avoiding the hurt, you become present to it while at the same time releasing the painful narrative by focusing breathing into that pain. Avoidance of the pain will not solution anything. To open yourself up to healing, you have to open yourself up to all the thoughts and feelings that make you human. Opening up to the uncomfortable sensation is proactive and allows your body and mind to work together to provide healing.

 

Whether you are feeling a physical or emotional hurt, the process is the same. All difficult emotions and sensations can be met by opening up yourself to the experience instead of reinforcing the narrative of how and why it occurred. The outcome of this breathing-into-discomfort technique is quite remarkable. When we place our full awareness on the thing that ails us, the hurt becomes about the sensation instead of the history of how it got there.

 

The pain we suffer is completely theoretical. The way we relate to the pain equals how much the pain has power over us. The manner in which we view the discomfort, dictates how long it will fester. The more we create concepts and stories around our pain, the more we loose sight of our ability to soothe our discomfort through our breath. I often tell my clients when learning mindfulness breathing that the breath should feel like a massage from the inside out, releasing tension and allowing a process for your mind to stop spinning it’s wheels of hurt and to focus on one of the most healing agents we immediately have at our disposal… our breath.

Buddhism teaches that the concept of suffering relates to fixed ideas about how things ‘should’ be. It is normal to expect life to be a certain way. As humans we take comfort in safe and predictable outcomes, yet the world and all its chaos is never predictable and rarely provides expected returns. Expecting life to be a certain way leads to painful reactions of loneliness and anger, not to mention all the other feels. Needless to say, it is hard to stop expecting and it is even harder to start learning how to allow.

 

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Having a fixed identity without the presence of fluidity or an ongoing sense of discovery, provides us with a false sense of ourselves. This false sense of security is perpetuated again and again by insisting to see life through a series of expectations. The reasons we seek certain relationships and scenarios are because those experiences support our ‘expected self.’ Operating from a place of our ‘expected self’ causes more pain and necessary heartache. When we let go of expectations of who we think we are and who other people should be, we start to view those around us as non-enemies; important learning tools that teach us existential lessons about who who we really are.

 

Many people seek a connection with deity or a spiritual path because they feel the need to be protected from the unpredictability of life. Yet, seeking a higher power or higher forms of consciousness requires an understanding that the unpredictability of life is what allows us to truly see an empowered and authentic being at the center of our core. The only way to strip away expectations is to trust the unfixed nature of our existence. Pema Chödrön likens this aspect of the spiritual path to taking off “the armor” of our identity and letting the ego and all our attachments melt away.

 

When we enact a pause moment or window of reflection throughout our day with non-judgmental and non-critical lenses, we are able to see how profound and unfixed the world really is. And at the same time, we begin to operate with more awareness of how the unpredictability of life allows us to be in a constant state of evolving and appreciating. The more aware and present we are, the more we are able to enact change. The more we are able to let things go and release ruminating thoughts of worry, we be come more creative and resourceful. Awareness is the lens by which we start to see that all uncertainty is to be embraced, not pushed away. And this ability to tolerate the impermanence of life is the key to being non-reactive and resilient through all moments and encounters.

 

 

Mindfulness can have an active and powerful role for investing in all aspects of your health. It is an opportunity to strengthen and heal yourself from within. It is important to remember when performing a mindfulness exercise to not force relaxation. Simply let go of the tendency to want things to be different and allow things to be exactly ‘as is.’

 

Mindfulness can be done anywhere and at any time. Its simplistic approach to being aware is done by just paying attention to thoughts, feelings and emotions without judgement or criticism. You can enact a formal practice of mindfulness by sitting with your eyes closed and having a solid 10 minutes or more of training your mind to continue to pay attention to your breath while turning your attention away from any sensations or ideas that arise. For others, a mindfulness practice can be a more casual experience by remembering throughout the day to not react to emotions, but instead pause before jumping to a response.

 

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Regardless of how you choose to practice mindfulness, the benefits are endless. All you need to remember is that all thoughts and emotions, feelings and ideas should not be pushed away or told to leave. We have the ability to tolerate all challenging emotions, even if in the moment they feel intolerable. The way we handle difficult feelings with a mindfulness perspective is to tell all of our sensations to have a seat, to be present and then gently turn your attention away from them and towards the focus of your breath. Without being mindful, we get in the habit of telling our difficult thoughts and feelings “you can’t sit with us.” The move Mean Girls coined this phrase for a generation of teenagers who felt the need to be included through the use of exclusion. It is human nature to push things away. It is almost a natural response to tell something that we don’t like or that we don’t understand to leave.

 

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When we tell our emotions and ideas that they can’t sit with us because they are challenging, we end up developing an unhealthy relationship to our thoughts and feelings in which we focus on exclusion and develop a system wherein we become reactionary and aggressive with ourselves. In mindfulness we invite all emotions to have a seat, without judgement or criticism. This is what is called “the art of allowing.” To allow is to not grasp and to not control. To allow means we accept what is and we in turn have more time and energy to focus on the things that are in our immediate control.

 

There’s an app for connecting kids during lunchtime for the purpose of inclusion. This resource allows children to have someone to sit with and in turn feel less alone and more connected to their peers. “Sit With Us” allows the more shy and sometimes rejected child, who usually has a hard time finding someone to sit with in the lunchroom, to have a place to be welcomed. The app is a readily available resource that facilitates the joining of children that seek an experience of being included.

 

This “Sit With Us” invitation is a cornerstone concept of mindfulness that provides us with a framework to observe and allow the challenging mental and emotional chaos that inevitably exists in all of our heads. The more we tell a thought it can’t sit with us or that it needs to be cleared away before we can be “OK,” we ultimately lead our feelings into more chaotic direction. Don’t engage with the things that you do not want further engagement with. If we accept that all emotions are part of the human experience, we fight less with ourselves, we become more resilient and we discover a deepening of our character.

 

All challenging ideas and emotions can have a seat at the table by a simple invitation of non-judgment that is then followed up with the act of turning your attention towards those things that promote wellness and trains our brains to entertain thoughts and feelings that feel good. This “Sit With Us” focus sets the stage for more compassion with ourselves and those around us.

Not feeling capable or courageous enough to hold space for the emotions of another is because we lack understanding for what they are experiencing and the same goes for when we are unable to be present with our own ideas and sensations. In direct measure, when we meet ourselves with curiosity and acceptance, our ability to allow and contain others is enhanced. Proportionately, opening our hearts to ourselves correlates to how well we are able to open our own hearts to the experiences of those around us.

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This “we are all one” perspective provides us an initial step into cultivating ways to meet challenging moments with more resilience. Enacting empathy, using gentleness, and practicing compassion is how we become more present and more aware. Being aware provides us with a template for seeing the world with more balance. As we practice being present we view the world with less reactionary impulses and acceptance.

 

The process by which we are able to encounter the world with more resiliency is to cultivate a present mind. When we are in a state of awareness we:

  • listen with more depth
  • see life with less reactivity
  • we view our existence with more spaciousness
  • see symptoms with clarity and patience
  • enact character deepening behaviors
  • stabilize our attention on things that are under our control

 

Finding moments throughout the day to use a focus of awareness is similar to what it feels like when you pause and reflect on the moment to moment details without a need to respond to them. Most of the time we forget how to sit and observe without needing to fill our time with more stimulus. Contemplative practices infuse our senses with a clearer perspective of what is happening around us.

 

Make an effort to establish a habit that slows down the process of life, such as driving without music on, taking extra time to notice tastes and smells of the food you ingest. Make it a priority each day to pause before reaching for your phone or for the remote. And try to really listen with acuteness when a friend or an acquaintance speaks. All of these things is a way to cultivate more mindfulness. The more you practice it the easier it gets. It is an overwhelmingly beneficial practice that infuses life with alertness and more enjoyment for everyday tasks. And more than anything it allows us to turn our attention away from the things we can’t control to shifting our awareness to the priorities that require our full attention.

The many compartments we continuously seek to balance in life are not always balanceable.

 

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Balancing lifes many compartments is a constant struggle, it takes patience and it takes resilience and sometimes it is simply impossible. Everyone becomes challenged with the quandary of balancing various components of life in one way or another.

 

The word “balance” implies the physical containment of various objects that were previously in motion and are properly placed in relation to each other. If we stick with that physical analogy, much like a pile of boxes that are on top of one another that appear stabilized, our mental/emotional/spiritual balance takes much exertion. Not only does balance take time and effort, but it also takes an awareness of the reality of the objects you are trying to coordinate.

 

When we tell ourselves that we can balance every detail of our life, we are lying. The truth is, some compartments can’t be contained easily. Some shifts in schedule, relationships and emotions can’t be balanced. It is important to realize that life doesn’t need to be organized in a way that looks finished. The process of balancing all that sits before us is in essence “enough.” Being present to what exists is sometimes the only way to really find balance.

 

As we acknowledge that most of life is about tolerating the unbalance, we learn to let go of an expectation that doesn’t serve us. Be aware of what components in your life need balancing and then upon taking stock of those items, let yourself be the balance you are seeking.

 

 

 

I often ask my clients the question: “whose job is it to validate you?” Without fail, the answer I always receive is “me.” And it is resoundingly true, it is no one else’s job to validate you but you. Only I can validate who I am, where I’m going and where I’m at.

 

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We often judge ourselves based on the social norms we see around us. We compensate for our weakness by seeking to emulate desirable traits we see around us. Seeking validation is normal, it’s part of being human, however; sometimes we place too much value on the validation of others. By seeking validation we do ourselves more damage than good because we deny ourselves the process of starting from a place of authenticity. Instead, when we desire the validation of others we open ourselves to judgement and criticism that is not valid and that does not promote a healthy sense of self, nor a healthy sense of who others really are.

 

When we see ourselves as worthy, we can then see the worthy parts of others. When we choose to judge ourselves and speak critically of ourselves, we fall into a pattern of being critical of others. The relationship with have with ourselves parallels the types of relationships we are capable of having with others. We create connection with others based on the type of connection we have with ourselves.

 

The world is made up of a series of choices, all of which can be assessed by various levels of introspection. The way we look at ourselves and the way we are critical with ourselves or not, determines the outcome of these unending series of decisions. We show up for ourselves in varying ways, and when we show up for ourselves with the purpose of being “normal” and/or acceptable in the eyes of others, we do ourselves a disservice. When we operate from a place of authenticity, we see the fullness of the human experience and develop a deeper capacity to be intimately connected with those around us.

A very simple concept that most people have heard before is this, “you are not your emotions.” It’s a basic tenet of emotional regulation; you are not your sadness you are simply experiencing your sadness, you are not your anxiety you are only witnessing the anxiety occur. We are observers not victims to our thoughts and feelings.

 

Experience is impermanent, thoughts come and go and they are impermanent. Look at all the sadness and the bliss and the boredom and the frustration. It eventually will all go away. The nature of experience is that all feelings show up and then they eventually fade away. Whatever comes into your life you have already allowed otherwise it wouldn’t be there.

 

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The ability to take note of the distance that exists between you and your emotions is the key to experiencing a peaceful of mind. If we make it a priority to pay attention to our relationship with our thoughts and feelings we can begin to rehearse on a daily basis how to pause in challenging moments. When we highlight for ourselves that we are not all of the emotions happening to us, that we do not embody and represent depression and anger, we can then begin to distance ourselves from uncomfortable moments that might otherwise consume us.

 

Jeff Foster uses a metaphor to explain how to conceptualize our relationship with our thoughts. He invites everyone to picture themselves as the ocean with depth and layers, saying that our consciousness is like the ocean and our thoughts, sensations and emotions are the waves of the ocean. Even the most intense human feelings: anger, frustrations and confusions can be tolerated. These waves of emotions can appear in the ocean that you are and not define you. The waves are not against you, they are not your enemy, they are not imperfections but they are movements of yourself, they belong in you. So, if who you are is consciousness then thoughts and feelings are also movements of consciousness.

 

The ocean accepts all of its waves. The fact that a certain wave is present is proof that you can already contain it and tolerate it. Try to view sensations as waves constantly coming and going, disappearing and appearing all on their own. Notice thoughts appearing, memories, wants, pictures, sensation in this moment and stop to take a look at the distance that exists in the ocean that we are.