Our ego relies on mooring in the constructs it has created to deal with the fact that very little is within our control – which often means we diminish uncomfortable reminders of mortality.
When we are confronted with the stark nature of impermanence, we feel unsettled.
Ego wants everything we love (or at least everything we’re accustomed to) to last forever.
Ego wants to feel substantial and solid, with no surprises.
But this is in contrast with nature and existence itself, which is a constant cycle of change, degeneration, death, and renewal.
This is so hard to stomach and surrender to… but releasing our resistance and accepting the inescapable (change, aging, illness, and death) allow us to become active participants in our fleeting, precious lives.
When an uncomfortable emotion such as anger, jealousy, or fear arises, there are a few steps we can take to manage it mindfully.
First, we simply acknowledge that the feeling is (temporarily) there. “Ah ha, I’ve been triggered. My heart is pounding; my cheeks are hot – this feels like jealousy.”
Then, we accept the emotion. We’re not judging ourselves for feeling that way or labeling the emotion as “bad,” or trying to dismiss, deny, or wallow in it – we allow it to be without our resistance. “I can sit with this for a moment; it won’t kill me and it won’t last forever.”
Finally, we soothe and release the emotion. “This person triggered my old fears of being betrayed and abandoned. But there really is no threat here, it’s just in my head. I’m going to keep breathing deeply – my heart is already settling and I’m starting to feel calmer.”
It takes practice for all of our lives to just let it be; the acceptance of discomfort is the key to our freedom.
There is a space between myself and my thoughts, and in that place, I observe with curiosity.
I’m aware of the patterns and loops; the fixations and stories. Rather than automatically believe them, what I’m striving to do is pause, notice the mental habit, and remind myself that a thought isn’t a fact or an accurate representation of reality.
It’s not helpful for me to believe a mental construct, often created by my ego to serve its needs.
And when comparative criticism starts to creep in, I interrupt the process and ask myself if I’d want someone thinking that way about my daughter. Taking that approach further, I remind myself that everyone has a child inside, and I think about that child’s fears, needs, and feelings.
This practice of pausing, observing, and replacing judgment with empathy helps to open my heart.
The First Noble Truth in Buddhism is dukkha which means “difficult to face.”
This refers not only to the suffering that is an inevitable part of life, but also to our uncomfortable emotions and troubling thoughts.
Too often we take detours – we avoid, deny, numb, repress, or lash out rather than live in the experiences and feel the feelings that cause us fear and pain.
If we summon the courage that is inside all of us, we can remain open and curious about what our emotions and mental loops are trying to tell us, and we can face life itself in all its unpredictability and impermanence.
My best friend surprised me with this Green Man ornament shortly before his death. For over 15 years it has watched over my family and our home, serving as a constant reminder of loyalty and love.
It’s also a symbol of the seasonality of life, the ebb and flow that is all around us and within us.
Spring can be seen in nature as a time of resurrection and renewal, but we don’t have to wait for the flowers to bloom to cultivate transformation in our own lives.
What do you want to let go of?
What do you want to rejuvenate?
Where do you want to make a fresh start?
Give your inner garden the attention and energy it deserves – with patience and loving care, you will flourish.
Practicing gratitude is a powerful way to live mindfully, paying attention to and giving thanks for the good things in our lives. Gratitude can provide a shift in perspective and help us find purpose and hope.
It’s important to understand that gratitude cannot exist until we validate and process our uncomfortable emotions.
When we’re experiencing frustration, grief, or uncertainty, common responses are sentiments like “Who am I to complain when there are people who have it so much worse than me?” (this is comparative suffering, a system of ranking pain that only makes us feel worse) or “It’s selfish to feel like this when I have so much to be thankful for.”
Dismissing emotions is a form of gaslighting, and it compounds the pain. Accepting what we’re feeling without trying to deny, numb, or run from it will allow us to move through the emotion and get to a place of clarity where we see that we can feel something difficult AND we can feel thankful.
We are strong enough to straddle this paradox.
Our brains create emotions as immediate reactions to environmental stimuli.
Emotions are based on sensory input and memories, and only last 90 seconds – anything longer than that is not the emotion anymore but the story we are making up about it; dwelling in our feeling about the trigger, like when we stew in self-righteous anger.
Emotions are neither positive nor negative, and we can’t control how our brains produce these reactions – but we can control how we respond to them.
We can get curious, label the emotion, notice how it feels in our body, and choose what to do next.
This prevents us from getting hijacked and falling into habitual patterns, and gives us the agency to make productive choices that create new neural pathways in the brain.
When we pause, we harness our power.
The past cannot be restored.
But we can repair, adapt, redeem.
We can hold both grief and gratitude in our heart – the grief for what is no more will deepen the gratitude for what is now.
Loss and suffering birth a perspective of awareness and understanding that all things are temporary; change is inevitable.
This is the very nature of all life and it beckons us to awaken in presence; to connect in kindness with the world, ourselves, and each other.
We can use this wisdom to share our light, offering empathy and hope.
We are storytellers.
Our brains parse impressions, form opinions, fill in the gaps with presumptions, and create products sold to us as data without ever proving them as facts.
There is an insatiable energy behind this storymaking – a driving need for certainty, justification, and self-preservation.
Stories hold sway, and the judgments we create based on our stories determine whether we condemn or forgive; fear or love.
Stories can hold us hostage or set us free; they can split or suture.
What would happen if we changed the narrative of the stories to which we cling?
What are your values?
Authenticity, empathy, honesty?
Cooperation, respect, teamwork?
Identifying our core values can help us create a standard for how we move through the world with our intentions, words, and behaviors. It can help us identify what makes us feel connected or what makes us feel “off.” Living in alignment with our core values empowers us to act from the heart of integrity and also to work with humility when we stumble and have to pick ourselves up, learn, and try again. And again.
When we are courageous with our vulnerability, forgiving with our fallibility, patient with our progress, and compassionate with ourselves and others, we embody values that connect us all.
What’s the real story when we feel jealousy flare? Could it be the fear that we are inadequate in comparison?
What’s driving our insecurity? Could it be shame, that insidious lie that we are unworthy of belonging and love?
What’s beneath our impatient temper? Could it be our forceful resistance when people or situations don’t ascribe to the way we think they should be?
Is our anxiety really just the fear that we have no control, and our terror of the unknown?
Our emotions are clues; signposts that guide us to go beyond the surface and deeper into the terrain of our inner worlds. When we follow this map, we discover in our minds the gnarled twists of old programming that we can acknowledge without believing and rewrite in new ways to empower us to pause, reflect, and respond judiciously rather than react instinctively when we’re hooked by old patterns.
If we can hold our anger, our sorrow, and our fear with the energy of mindfulness, we will be able to recognize the roots of our suffering.Thich Nhat Hanh
This was my view on a recent walk. I was touched by both the beauty of this moment and also by the fact that there was serenity without stillness. I reflected that there is always motion, and change – even the slightest movement is proof of this constant energy.
The world is never still; our minds are never still. It’s a common misconception that meditation should produce a blank slate in our heads; this unrealistic expectation will only lead to disappointment.
Like the water, thoughts will always ripple within us – but we can choose to observe the ebb and flow of these mental waves without being dragged down in their undertow.
Perfect stillness; the perfect mind – they don’t exist. We can cultivate peace and well-being right where we are, just as we are.