We live in a culture that, for all its great achievements and technological sophistication, is almost entirely emotionally stunted.
We’re simply not taught how to deal with the various emotional pains and disharmonies that inevitably arise in the course of our lives.
Is it any wonder that so many people turn to what I call the weapons of mass distraction? The weapons of mass distraction are the things we use to numb ourselves out and distract ourselves from what we’re feeling. They include alcohol, drugs, television, internet, gadgets, excessive empty socializing, mindless chatter and gossiping.
There are probably others, but those tend to be the main culprits.
It’s not necessarily that any of these things are inherently bad in themselves, but when we’re using them to paper over the cracks rather than confronting the underlying problem, we risk becoming a society of mindless, emotionally deadened zombies. That’s a harsh indictment, I know, but it’s nevertheless true.
Our emotional and psychological stuff—our anxieties, neuroses, fears, attachments and aversions—rise to the surface in order to be dealt with and healed, not to be drowned out and suppressed by mindless aversion. We’re getting to a point individually and collectively where we can no longer ignore or deny this stuff.
We have to confront it. Accept it. Heal it. And let it go.
So the question is how?
The first step is to just acknowledge that these fears and self-sabotaging beliefs are arising.
We hold them in our awareness—awareness really is half the battle, because until we’re aware and make this stuff conscious, we unconsciously live it out, accepting these toxic fears and beliefs as being real. We then commit to working with it rather than distracting ourselves from it.
The process of dealing with it is surprisingly simple—although that doesn’t necessarily means it’s easy or comfortable.
With the emotional stuff, we simply sit with it.
Practising the art of mindfulness, we observe the emotion, allowing ourselves to fully feel it, without getting carried away by the mental stories that might be linked to it—“He shouldn’t have spoken to me like that.” We need to accept it and bring our full attention to it.
I’ve found it helps to treat the emotion like you would treat a crying baby. It’s distressed, upset, so we bring our nurturing attention to it. Eventually we find that by bringing acceptance and loving attention to emotional pain, it will begin to dissolve and transmute. It might take a long time or it might only take a couple of minutes.
With the mental stuff—the negative thoughts and beliefs, which is basically any thought or belief that causes suffering—we need to take them and question them.
Perhaps the number one error people make in life is to mistake their thoughts for reality. I recommend checking out the work of Byron Katie—a four step process for questioning our thoughts. You’ll find everything you need on her website or her book Loving What Is. It’s an excellent and very simple way of stripping away negative thoughts and beliefs.
It’s important to own our thoughts and emotions and to stop projecting them onto the world. We tend to assume that it’s a person/situation/condition that’s making us feel bad, but it’s really not. It’s our thoughts about it that are causing us to feel bad. That’s a fact.
The world is the way it is. We don’t have much power to change it. But, as real and solid as they might seem, our thoughts and emotions are as transient as clouds—and they can absolutely be changed. Heck, they’re changing all the time as it is!
I’ve learned that during those times when all the bad stuff comes spilling to the surface—fears, inadequacies and doubts—the very worst thing I can do is to resist it, judge it or think it shouldn’t be happening. Unpleasant though it is, it’s important to let go of resistance, to let it be as it is and accept the shadows. Then I can examine those shadows and when I see that they aren’t real, the light of my awareness eventually dispels them, or at the very least makes them seem far less threatening and binding.
A while back I saw a quote that stuck with me and which I find quite relevant for these times—“Say yes to the mess!”
It’s not until we acknowledge the mess that we can begin to clean it up. As it happens, life presents us with a great many messes, one after other, giving us plenty of opportunity to practise and refine the skill of mess management!
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Assistant Ed: Tawny Sanabria/Ed: Bryonie Wise