“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself… Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.” ― Nelson Mandela
I’ll admit to you that the journey into producing online courses, and the resulting crazy learning curve of internet marketing, has not been easy for me. It’s taken much grit and tenacity, and the risk involved has caused me some anxiety and worry over the past few months. Until this past weekend, I had let the stress build up so much that I hardly remembered my fun-loving and joyful self. (And, yep, the irony of becoming stressed while building a course on stress-relief is not lost on me.)
I managed the stress fairly well through my meditation practice and my morning and evening rituals. However, it was the workshop I took this past weekend that truly disappeared my suffering. If you had met me on Friday evening, you would have seen a woman trying manically to manage a hectic schedule – fretting, worrying and complaining. It’s Monday morning as I write this and I feel like a new person, or at least returned to my original self, no longer masked by stress, fear and worry.
Because the teachings of this weekend were so invaluable for me, I’m inspired to share some of the core “ah-ha” moments with you here. This brief piece just barely scratches the surface of the vast topic, though, so I’ll include a reference list of supplementary materials, too. The concepts I’ll present below are very simple, and you’ve probably heard them before. They are not at all easy in practice, though, so please remember to reach out for help from an accountability buddy or coach when starting to play with them. (As a side note, I’ll be starting a coaching practice this Fall. Stay tuned!)
So, I bet you have some person in your life who has a blessed, abundant life but still runs around like a worry-wort victim, right? You also have inspiring examples of people in the worst situations who maintain grace and love and gratitude despite their circumstances. What’s the difference between the two types of people?
The second type of person – let’s use Nelson Mandela as an example – gets that our stress and suffering levels correspond to our attitudes around our external circumstances, rather than the circumstances themselves. They take responsibility for their peace of mind, knowing that it can never be controlled by other people or external situations.
Stress and suffering come from the stories we create from our circumstances. We dwell on the past with regret and shame. We project into the future with anxiety and worry. We are disconnected from the present moment, which, in reality, most likely holds much to be grateful and joyful about.
When we are triggered by something that brings up fear or disappointment or hurt – even something tiny – our minds make up a “truth” about it. This truth becomes the story we continue to run in our minds of what the world means; after all, we are meaning-making machines.
Your neighbor doesn’t say hello when passing in the hall – you make it mean that she is angry with you.
Your car blows a tire on the freeway – you make it mean that you’re inept at everything.
Your husband groans when looking at that balance of your joint checking account – you make it mean he disapproves you.
It’s critical that we can identify the stories in our minds and then start to unlearn them. We remember that the stories are not the universal truth, that the past is finished and through and we cannot predict the future. When our awareness is no longer blocked by these stories we are more able to experience what truly is in the present moment, and open to gratitude and joy.
In the practice of Buddhism, the word dukkha means suffering (anxiety, stress, frustration). Buddhist teachers say that dukkha happens because there is a gap between the reality what is (everything being impermanent) and the way we humans tend to operate in the world (with clinging and attachment). Dukkha could also be said to happen when we believe our stories as Truth.
I am so clear that when I believe my thoughts and stories, I suffer. When I don’t believe, attach or cling to them, I don’t suffer. I’d like you to try on this concept for yourself. Play with it. Experiment. Discuss. The first step is getting some perspective into your own mind to that you can identify when you are fabricating a story.
Meditation is key. Meditation helps us get enough perspective on ourselves so that we can recognize our stories. It can allows to label our stories as stories, and even recognize them with a sense of humor (“here I go again with that oldie but goodie”). In this way we can recognize the story without buying into it and allowing it to run our lives.
Here are your practices to liberate yourself from stressful thinking when you find yourself stressed or triggered:
Start to identify the story that you’re telling yourself.
Dig deeper into the story.
What is fueling the story?
In what way has this story served you?
Has it protected you from taking responsibility, or being vulnerable?
What would happen if you dropped this story?
What would you need to give up to cut the ties to this story?
What possibilities could be open to you without this story?
This inquiry creates freedom of mind. Suffering is now optional.
I’ll leave you here with one more quote by Nelson Mandela, who, to me, exemplifies the ability for us as humans to find freedom of mind even when the body is imprisoned.
“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
Here are supoprting materials to relieving your life of worry:
Loving What Is by Byron Katie
Joy No Matter What by Carolyn Hobbs
No Time Like The Present by Jack Kornfield
By Elise Fabricant
Elise Fabricant is passionate about helping and healing the body, mind and spirit through yoga and massage. She is also a top teacher on YogaDownload.com.
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