In the foreword to Steve Flowers’ and Bob Stahl’s book Living with Your Heart Wide Open, psychologist and mindfulness teacher Tara Brach says that “If we cannot embrace our own frightened and vulnerable hearts, we cannot love our world.” I think this sentence pretty much sums up the ongoing struggle most of us have with life.
In a world often devoid of a true sense of community, we grow up searching for how to belong. Social isolation is our greatest fear and many of us grow up with the mantra “There’s something wrong with me” feeding a cycle of unworthiness and shame. How we relate to our “frightened and vulnerable hearts” makes all the difference.
Imagine if you grew up in a world where the expression of your vulnerabilities and fears was met with someone just listening to you non-judgmentally and with a sense of really caring. How would you feel? If I had to guess, I would say safe and secure.
We’ve all heard the adage that “It is what it is,” telling us that whatever is happening is simply the reality of the current experience. But I like to add on another piece saying, “It is what it is, while it is.”
This speaks to a larger reality that whatever is here is also impermanent. Bringing this saying with you throughout the day could have beneficial effects for a range of difficulties from everyday stress to anxiety to depression and even addiction. Here’s how…
This is part of a 3 part series in Mindfulness and Addiction.
In an age where our lives seem to be accelerating, our stress also naturally seems to be increasing. In addition to addictive behaviors potentially having a strong genetic link, it’s no wonder why so many of us are craving avoidance and escape. According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, one in eight Americans suffers with addictive behaviors regarding drugs or alcohol and it costs society approximately 250 billion dollars per year.
When caught up in the cycle of addictive behavior, there is an inability to accept whatever is being felt in the present moment and the mind is constantly wandering onto the next ‘fix.’ In the present moment, distressing thoughts and emotions can feel like unwanted guests that we can’t seem to get away from. In our fight to avoid this distress, we actually amplify stress and uncomfortable emotions such as sadness, frustration, irritation, shame, or guilt. These uncomfortable emotions often kick us into a state of mindlessness or auto-pilot, where we’re unaware of our environment and more susceptible to triggers, cravings, and urges.
Victor Frankl, respected Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, once said:
In my life, as in many peoples’, my in-basket is never empty. A story is created in my mind that there is so much “to do” that “I don’t have time” for the less important tasks. I have clients that I see along with a number of projects that I engage with when I’m not seeing clients. This morning I found that same story about not having time invading my mind, creating tension in my shoulders and making me irritable.
My 2 year old son has an abundance of energy (as many of them do) and wanted to get outside with me for a little bit. In the face of the screaming voices inside my head telling me to “get to work” I decided to take him out. What happened?
What I’m about to say is likely not going to be news for you, but it’s a critical reminder nonetheless. On the whole, we don’t have the cultural or individual maturity to handle the speed of innovation today. Technology is giving us incredible powers to get all kinds of information at our fingertips, but our minds don’t know how to control themselves.
We multitask to get more done at once. One incredibly dangerous way more and more people are doing this is by checking email, text, and chat while they’re driving.
Ghandi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
In a past blog, Ronald Pies, M.D. wrote about an experience which left him fuming when a local pharmacy lost close to 50 years of “priceless” home movies of childhood summers and memories gone by. That same day continental flight 3407 went down and the deaths of 50 passengers that day putting everything in perspective. He said “Having problems means being alive” and even though we may struggle in this life, being alive is something to be grateful for.
Days later I learned that a very good friend’s husband was hit by a bus and left in critical condition only to pass away shortly after. He was a great man with a sweet soul and a gentle nature. He loved his animals, his wife, and kids, and seemed to always have a smile for you when in his presence. When I heard the news, I initially felt resistance to the sadness as I had so much to do that day and didn’t feel like I had time to feel it.