Have you noticed that lately it seems like everyone is searching for a way to fight stress, beat anxiety, and just be happier? Or maybe it’s just that Big Brother Facebook knows where my own interests lie… Either way, I happen to think that terms like “fighting stress” and “beating anxiety” are oxymorons. Fighting and beating actually provoke stress and anxiety. Hardly a great strategy to reduce them in my opinion.
It seems to be human nature to constantly seek or await a better existence. There’s a separateness many cultures seem to carry with them, and a longing to get back to it. Many religions have their version of a Garden of Eden or release from suffering into perfect bliss that was taken from us.
It seems to me like the natural longing that humans have to find happiness and peace comes from a distant memory. Some vague notion of a time when true peace existed. And I believe we each experienced it in our lifetime, and it’s that peace we are trying to grasp and get back to. Simply, the time of early childhood.
As a baby, as a toddler, there was no past to regret. There was no future to worry about. All there was was the present moment. Sometimes you were hungry and cried. Sometimes you hurt and were fussy. Sometimes you were content and lived in that. There was no concept of ego yet, no story you could fall into and get stuck. Pure presence gave life to the joy and bliss you so long to get back to.
The ironic thing is, you probably believe it’s a very hard task to achieve the happiness and peace you crave. You buy courses, take medications, go on expensive vacations, surround yourself with outside things and people in attempt to achieve it. But what if you were born with it? What if it’s your natural state? Before other people’s stories and wishes fell on you, before any trauma, before you were taught the world is an unsafe place, and knew how to worry, there was peace.
Stop judging your feelings
If a baby is hungry, it cries to get its need met, its need for food. Does the baby think, Damn it, I’m hungry again! What’s wrong with me? My mother’s going to think I’m such a pig, ugh! I’m a terrible baby, maybe I shouldn’t cry this time. She might give me up if I keep on like this, but I’m so hungry, I have to do something! Of course not! A baby cries, gets fed, and is on to the next thing. It’s only later when you pick up this inner dialogue about your feelings. They come from other people, family, friends, strangers. It’s no one’s fault, it just happens. When you start to have this dialogue and negative feelings about your feelings, that’s when you can kiss inner peace goodbye.
If you think the hungry baby dialogue sounds ridiculous, does this sound familiar? That meal was good! I think I’m still hungry, I want more but I know I shouldn’t. I need to lose some weight because if I look great for my reunion everyone will like me a lot better. And I don’t want to look like a glutton taking seconds at this dinner party, I can restrain myself. If I’m hungry later I will have something at home.
Meanwhile, you’re so focused on this inner dialogue that you can’t be present and relaxed. You do this all the time, more than you probably realize. What if you wake up feeling off, and just blah? Especially in today’s world where you are surrounded with messages to just think positive thoughts, you can feel like a failure if you aren’t happy one day.
Once you get into judgement and frustration and battle over what you are feeling, it’s like catching hold of that wave of emotion and trapping it. Like dragging that rain cloud around with you all the time instead of letting it dissipate on its own.
Closely related to this inner dialogue you learned to have over uncomfortable feelings like sadness or hunger, is becoming too attached to your story. What I mean by your story is all the things that happened in your past, all the things you believe will happen or worry about happening in the future, and what you tell yourself about that past and future.
Don’t get me wrong, I love story. Your story can be very powerful in getting you where you want to go, but many of you are telling your story in ways that do not empower you, but keep you stuck and feeling helpless. And that definitely won’t let you access your natural peace and contentment.
There are two ways you can make sure your story doesn’t hold you back from what you want in life. One is to re-story, or see your same story from a different perspective. The other way is to learn to become less attached to your story. I think both are important to truly experience that childlike state of peace.
To re-story is to first figure out what your current story is. What do you tell yourself about your life? What do you tell yourself about unfortunate things that happened to you? How do you explain your current circumstances to yourself? What do you tell yourself about where you are going? This takes some getting honest with yourself, which always takes courage. Once you know your current story, ask yourself if the current version is truly helping you get where you want to go in life.
If you realize your current story is not uplifting you, time to get creative about finding a new perspective. This is a lot of what I do in dynamic eating psychology. I help people re-story what isn’t working for them by bringing in a new perspective. Many people find a positive spirituality can help them shift perspective. But it doesn’t have to be spiritual. What are the lessons and tools you’ve learned from your past story that can directly help you get where you want to go?
The other part of accessing peace in the moment is to become less attached to your story, whatever it is. Again, if we take the example of babies, they don’t have attachment to story because they don’t have one yet! All they have is the self that is in the now.
Once you have a story, it can seem like your only identity. What you did in the past, and where you are going in the future makes up all of who you think you are. But that can’t be the whole truth, because at one time you were a perfectly peaceful little being without a story.
Having a belief in something bigger than yourself can be useful to help you realize you are not just your story. But it isn’t necessary. There’s a fascinating evidence-based approach in psychology called the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model. I will do a post all about this at some point, but for now let me say that it upholds that just like a family, we all have several “parts” of ourselves that show up and act on our behalf in any given moment. Yet underneath all these “parts” there consistently exists a “core self” that isn’t caught up in all the internal family drama, but is able to separate from the others to create a balance of all the parts.
It’s this “core self” that can separate from our story, in order to truly have peace and joy in the moment.
So before this post becomes too long, I will sum it up by saying that true peace and happiness really does lie within us. We think it’s so hard to find because we are searching where it isn’t. We are searching outside us. Time to go within and:
1). Stop judging your feelings and simply feel them until they pass
2). Re-story your life so that you are empowered instead of stuck
3). Learn to detach, even just a little bit, from your story by finding your “core self”
Please share your comments below, I always love hearing from you!