Waiting to Live

It seems as if I have spent my life waiting…

Waiting for those rushes of energy and emotion, of unadulterated experience that the universe always seemed to throw at me with such reckless abandonment; rushes so intense that I can’t think of anything but what is happening and everything else takes a backseat – almost as if I’m suffering from some sort of cosmic bi-polar disorder.

Athletes talk about being in the zone; about how everything else falls away as they slip into that moment where the only thing that matters is what they are doing here and now.  Musicians and artists too speak of this absorption.  I’ve experienced this myself with my writing.  The words just pour out of me as if someone turned on a tap and later, when I look at what I wrote I am in amazement.  I wrote that? Where did that come from?

I’m sure you’ve experienced those moments too…moments when everything seems to happen at once, and yet it is as if everything around you takes on a crystallized clarity as you focus on what needs to be done and thrill to the feel of the adrenaline coursing through your veins, to the power of the emotions and sensations stirred up in your blood. You have a purpose – you have meaning!  This is LIFE that is happening to you and you want to be fully there in every single second.

And then, when the moment is over, everything seems to STOP (or at least appears to stop in comparison to what you’ve just experienced) and you could swear that every movement you make is like trying to walk through molasses; so mundane and dull does it seem next to the heady rush you just experienced and you could cry at your loss, for after having experienced something so intense, how can you ever go back to living normally? How can you possibly work on the laundry after having just seen the view from the mountaintop?

But you do.  You come back to earth (so to speak) with a vengeance.  Indeed, after a while the intensity of the moment becomes nothing more than a vague memory; an anomaly that you remember with a certain nostalgia – until the next time it happens and once more you are thrown into the whirl of intensity that seems to affect every cell in your body.

And then there comes the day when you wake up and realize that it doesn’t have to stop.

No, this does not mean that you get to live in that cosmic high – in a never-ending rush of adrenaline and focused purposefulness (oh wouldn’t the corporate motivators love to get a hold of THAT sort of motivation for their employees!)

No.  What happens is that there comes a day when you realize that those moments of unadulterated experience are not just some random occurrence.  They are a choice.  They are what happens to you when you choose to bring your physical life into alignment with your soul purpose.  Those are your authentic moments – and they can last you for a lifetime.

You can wake up every day laughing in awe at the realization that each and every moment that you are experiencing contains that spark of awe; that crystalline clarity and sense of rightness.  When you realize this you will find yourself approaching each and every moment (even those that should, by all rights, be the most dull and mundane) with a sort of profound amazement at the potential that it contains; at the promise that it holds.

And it is then that the knowing will overwhelm you.

You are no longer waiting to live.

You are living.

Mastering Emotional Mindfulness

Mastering the Emotional Storm Surge:  Five Steps to Emotional Mindfulness

There are moments in everyone’s life when, no matter how mindful you are of your surroundings; no matter how determined you are to be rational; a passionate wave of emotion seems to sweep you away.  Anger; fear; lust bitterness; the emotion itself is not important.  What is disturbing is how it seems, against all reason and against all odds, to take over your entire existence until you live and breathe it; until your very vision is filled with the miasma of its presence; until nothing else in the world exists.

It is usually during this time; the time when reason has abandoned you; when clarity has hidden itself in the closet of your sanity refuses to come out; it is then that there are things that are said and done that you regret for the rest of your life.

Think about it.  How many times have you said or done something in a fit of anger or a jealous rage that you would never have said or done in your right mind?  How many people have you hurt with your words or actions?  How many times have you sat there afterwards, shaking, wondering what on earth had possessed you to say or do something so hurtful?  How many hours have you spent berating yourself for not being able to control yourself and your emotions?  Have you ever wondered if there is a cure for this?  If there is a way to make sure that you can learn to control your emotions and think before you lash out?

Interestingly enough, control isn’t the answer to your problem.  Instead, it is the attempt to control your emotions that leads to these irrational outbreaks.

Does that sound ridiculous?  I mean, come on, we’re taught from the time we’re small children to “control your temper,” to “think before you speak,” to remember that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  By the time we’re teenagers we’ve been told so many times that we’re doing things wrong; saying things wrong that we sit there, stewing in our anger and hatred; pissed at the world and glowering at everyone around us because if we say what’s really on our minds we’ll get in SO much trouble.

By the time we’re adults we’ve got it down pat.  We smile and nod and agree with our boss though we’d really like to be telling them off and assure our spouse that “no dear, everything’s okay” when we’re really annoyed with them for being so inconsiderate and soothe our children with “no baby, mommy doesn’t mind reading another story” when we’re really so tired of Dr. Seuss that if we hear about one more wocket we might snap.

But nothing’s changed.  Not really.

Just because we’ve learned to control our emotions and wear a happy face doesn’t mean that the emotions aren’t there.  And no amount of wishful thinking or repetitions of affirmations will change the fact that just under the surface of our pleasant façade there is a roiling cauldron of repressed emotions that is just waiting for the least provocation to burst through our tentative crust of rationality and spew emotional poison over everyone that happens to be in our path.

Does this mean that we should, as some people and even some therapists suggest, give a voice to our emotions or that we learn to “vent” them through various activities?

Well, as good as venting is (and it’s far better to vent your frustrations on your spouse by heading to the gym and taking it out on a punching bag than by waiting till you snap and hitting the person that you love) that is not the answer either, for you have really done nothing more than momentarily quench the fire that has erupted from beneath the surface.  And as reasonable as ‘giving voice to our emotions’ sounds, telling someone you have a problem with them doesn’t fix the issue either.  In fact, it transfers the blame from yourself – to the other person – because now that they know that you really don’t like certain things they do or say or the way that they act you expect that they will take the hint and change for your benefit. Luckily, there is a solution.

So What Is The Solution? 

Would you believe me if I said mindfulness? And no, we’re not just talking about your everyday mindfulness here (though having a grip on everyday mindfulness can help).

When it comes to dealing with those emotions that overwhelm you; those inexplicable and uncontrollable emotions that rise up out of (seemingly) nowhere and take over your life; the answer is in learning to identify those things that trigger the emotions to begin with, those things that start the chain reaction that leads to your emotional outburst.  This is where the concept of emotional mindfulness comes into play.

You see, it is not enough to simply be mindful of the world around you in order to live authentically.   While being aware of the here and now is important, especially for stilling your mind long enough that you can hear your intuition; for giving you the clarity to be able to recognize the voice of your intuition; it isn’t until you’ve mastered emotional mindfulness and are able to recognize the trigger points of those emotional surges; to recognize them and acknowledge them and to choose not to react to them that you will truly start to see big changes in your life.  Indeed, by following these five steps, you can be well on your way to mastering Emotional Mindfulness.

Five Steps to Mastering Emotional Mindfulness.

Step #1:  Become aware of your surroundings.  Like anything else, Mindfulness is a skill that has to be developed and, just as you have to learn how to walk before you can run, mastering emotional mindfulness requires that you have a grip on everyday mindfulness before you can apply what you have learned to finding the trigger point of those emotional surges that sometimes threaten to take over your world.  In fact, the more aware you are of your surroundings – of what is going on around you – of how your body feels and is reacting to those things that are happening, the easier it will be to identify those trigger points.

Step #2: Keep an Outburst Journal.  Does keeping a record of your outbursts seem macabre?  Believe it or not, keeping an outburst journal can help tremendously when you are trying to discover just what it is that is setting you off.  The first order of business is to keep this journal on you (or within close reach) at all times.  I don’t care how ashamed you are of your outburst.  I don’t care what you said or did, as soon as you’ve calmed down enough to realize what has happened, pull out your journal and start writing.  Record everything.  What was happening just before you lost it; who you were talking to; what you were watching; how your body was feeling; what was being said or done; everything. After a while I guarantee that you will start noticing trends; certain people or situations that invariably serve as catalysts to an emotional surge. Being aware of these will be invaluable as you move on to step #3.

Step #3:  Pinpoint the Origin of the Emotion.  This is a bit step and is probably where you are going to spend the most of your time as you working on mastering Emotional Mindfulness. Once you have identified those things that tend to serve as catalysts for your outbursts and emotional surges, the next step is to shift your mindfulness to the exact moment when the emotion you are experiencing surfaces.  It is necessary that you be able to do this in order to move on to step #4.

Step #4:  Isolation. While pinpointing the origin of the emotion is probably the hardest thing to actually accomplish, it is step this next bit that is going to take the most concentration, for in order to master emotional mindfulness you are going to have to learn to isolate the emotion that you are experiencing in order to keep it from erupting spontaneously. If you will, this step is very much like what happens in your body’s own immune system.

Your immune system consists of white blood cells that are the guardians of your bloodstream.  These white blood cells have one duty and one duty only; to identify any foreign body or threat such as a virus or bacteria; and to eliminate it.  In order to do this they surround the foreign body or cell and, in effect, swallow it whole.  Once they have swallowed this threat, they then proceed to digest it using digestive enzymes, rendering it harmless.  But the point is the threat has to be isolated before it can be rendered harmless.

So too, emotional mindfulness works very much like your white blood cells.  If you can pinpoint the threat (the anger, jealousy, lust, frustration etc.) that you are feeling and isolate it; swallow it whole; you will be able to keep it from poisoning the rest of your mind.  But in order to render it harmless, you are then going to have to immerse yourself completely in the emotion.

Step #5:  Immersion. Just the white blood cells, in order to render the intruding emotion harmless you have to digest it, and in digesting it, it is going to momentarily become a part of you.  This can be one of the most painful moments of Emotional Mindfulness, and is one reason that so few people can actually follow through on the mastery.  They have no problem with the first four steps, but this last one is a step that many people just can’t face.

When a white blood cell swallows a virus or bacteria, there is a moment when the virus or bacteria is a part of the white blood cell, when the white blood cell is experiencing itself AS the virus or bacteria.  This is a necessary part of the immune system and triggers the digestive enzymes that will then digest the threat and turn it into something useful.  This is exactly what emotional mindfulness does when it immerses itself in the isolated emotion.

By experiencing the emotion completely (albeit in isolation from the rest of your mind) emotional mindfulness will, by opening itself up to the rawness of the emotion, make it understood – and render it harmless.  Indeed, by this process you not only remove the threat to your psychological well-being, you also break it down into its most fundamental level, freeing up the energy that was tied up in the destructive emotion so that it can be used for something more constructive.

What This Means for You

Mastering Emotional Mindfulness is not an easy thing to do.  In fact, it is probably one of the hardest tasks that you will ever undertake, so be patient with yourself and remember, Emotional Mindfulness does not mean that you are not going to feel the anger and pain; the fear and jealousy.  If anything, you are going to experience them move intensely than ever before.  The difference is, instead of these emotions taking over your life, you will be harnessing their energy for more constructive pursuits.

Indeed it may take months even years to master Emotional Mindfulness, but once you do the rewards are incredibly rich and you will find yourself living with a continual clarity of perception and peace of mind that you never imagined was possible.

 

 

 

 

The Game of Life

 

My grandfather taught me to play chess when I was a little girl. I couldn’t have been any older than six, for I wasn’t in school yet and we’d play during the day in between his patients (he had a home office medical practice) with a wooden chess set that he kept in a neat wooden box in the bottom drawer of his desk.

I remember being very impressed with the way that the board unfolded on its little hinges and how all the pieces had felt bottoms so that they could move smoothly across the squares without scratching.

I also remember him patiently correcting my moves “no Steph, the knight moves either two squares up and one square sideways, not cat-a-corner, that’s the bishop.”  And he’d laugh over my anger over a piece being “taken,” not because I was mad that he’d won the piece, but because I was upset that he’d taken the piece away from its “family.”

But he was nothing if not a good teacher, and I learned the game well in spite of my grandmother’s concerns that it wasn’t a kids game, and my mother assuring me that I would find it boring and my own trepidations about splitting up the ‘families’ every time we played (though I always found it reassuring when the game was over and all the pieces could be put back in their respective family compartments).

In fact I learned it so well that as I got older I began seeing any sort of complex interaction with another person as a sort of endless series of chess moves in games that were being played simultaneously on a board that looked suspiciously like life.  Sometimes I could get to where I wanted to go simply by moving a pawn one space.  Other times it took multiple “jumps” with my knight in order to save the situation, or occasionally I’d have to come at the situation from a new angle – sort of like a bishop – or plow straight ahead regardless of the consequences like a castle.  And then there were the moments when I could sweep in with a beautiful series of unexpected moves – like a queen – and sweep the board in triumph.

But not only did I make moves designed to help me “win” the situation, it also became apparent that in life, just like in chess, when a person made a certain move; when they did or said a certain thing; there seemed to be only a limited number of ‘moves’ that I could make in response to it; at least if I wanted to “win” the game (or at least score the piece).

In fact, just like there are some professional chess players who memorize all the moves of famous chess matches; I began to see repeating patterns in particular interactions and relationships.

Each time I ‘played’, even though I was playing different game and against a different person, when the other person would make a certain kind of move (the opening move from a particular type of match) – I would react/respond in the same way as I was ‘supposed’ to or at least in the way that I had before.

But there was just one problem – with both of us making the same kinds of moves, the end result was inevitably predictable.  I KNEW how it was going to turn out long before the game was over because logic dictated that these particular moves were the only moves that could be made in response to the other person’s moves.   But uncertain of what else could be done – of how else to react – I would continue to make the moves, even if I knew that it was going to be a disaster.

There was one particular game that I remember well; a game of repeating personal interactions where I thought that I had worked through a particular issues and a similar situation would arise (only with a different person).  The details would be different; the intensity of the situation would change from situation to situation – but the end result of the game was always the same; stalemate, with both sides hurt and blaming the other of being controlled and manipulated because of the way the game had been played.

While this particular game had been repeating throughout my lifetime with different people, for some reason – this one time – everything was intensified tenfold.  This time when everything fell apart at the end – I was devastated.  It hurt worse than anything I could ever remember and as usually, one of the first things I started doing was analyzing my game.

I had played the game exactly the way it was supposed to have been played – the only way it COULD be played.  What had I done to deserve this kind of misunderstanding and pain?   Why did it hurt so bad?  What mistakes had I made to bring that sort of situation on myself?   How could I make sure that it would never happen again?

I struggled with these questions; searching for answers; beating myself up over the missteps and mistakes I’d made, and just when I thought I’d figured it out; just when I thought I had a handle on it – it happened again!  And while this time involved a different person in a different situation – the moves were the same.  I could SEE it even as it was unfolding, and this time I saw the glaring similarities to the first game when I was no more than halfway through.  How on earth had I managed to get into the same situation again?  And wouldn’t you know it, once I’d gotten the board set up and all the pieces laid out – it started all over again!

The third time was the charm however.  After the first moves had been made and I realized that the same damned game was beginning again, it dawned on me that something had to change unless I wanted to voluntarily go through that same hell again.

And that was it you see – when the third time rolled around, it finally dawned on me that it wasn’t the choices I made in response to these individuals’ decisions and reactions that mattered.   It didn’t even matter what pieces I was choosing to play with.  It was the game itself that was to blame.

It was the game; the conditioning of a lifetime  (or even of lifetimes) that said that when you are confronted with THIS situation (or THIS person in a different form) you have to react THIS way; habits of a lifetime that were kicking in; responding to a situation that kept presenting itself to me in different forms.

It was then that I realized that in order to learn this particular lesson I had to make a completely different move, because in a way they had been right – I WAS controlling and manipulating. So had they been – though neither of us had been doing it intentionally mind you, but because that was the way that the game is played.   You can’t play chess (successfully) without knowledge of the moves and an idea of how the other side will probably react if you make them.

Anyway – this new move was a move only I could make – it was a move inside of my own head – a move to not let what the person did affect me. Not to take it personally (even though it sure as hell felt like it).  In short – it was deciding not to react; not to play the game.

And what do you know – once I had decided not to play everything changed.

And maybe that’s how it works in different games; maybe even in different lifetimes (if you believe in such a thing).  There is something that we’ve been too stubborn to learn; something that we respond to the same way over and over again because we’ve been conditioned to believe that that is the only way that the game can be played (that when someone does this we have to do that) and it is something we are destined to repeat until we can simply make a decision not to play the same game again; not to make the same knee-jerk reactions.

Then and only then can we let go of the need to control the board and predict the next move (ours or theirs) and let go of the urge to be offended by some move that we don’t expect and finally get on with the really important stuff, like moving on in our own spiritual development as well as working together to make the world a better place.