If you’ve ever had vision problems- near or far- you’ve likely experienced the temporary frustration or confusion when your glasses aren’t accessible and everything is blurry.
You may even get stressed about things not being ‘as they should be’.
Stress occurs when there is a big gap between the way you want things to be, and the way they are.
And the stronger our revulsion to how things are now, rather than the ideal, the more “stressed” we feel.
Maybe you’ve had an experience at work when a timeline for a project has gone awry and you couldn’t meet a deadline. You body experiences it as racing heart, shortness of breath, an avocado pit in your stomach- and you feel agitated or frustrated.
You likely turn that feeling into an intense emotion, such as anger, and your thoughts turn to blame, “who’s fault was this?” or even shame, “I’ll been seen as incompetent.”
You might work your way through those emotions and thoughts in a few minutes (given the neurologic processing and the resulting raw emotion only lasts a minute or so), but more likely you hang onto it- there’s some justifiable anger that you don’t want to turn loose just yet.
Like you ‘deserve’ to be angry after what happened.
And when you finally let go of those emotions and thoughts, you experience a different kind of stress just after you realize that your perception of how life ‘should be’ is really just an illusion. That kind of stress results in disappointment, resentment, or betrayal. You feel let down by how unfair it all is.
And here’s the reality.
Your stress and anxiety about life will diminish when you give up the belief that life should be different than it is.
Or different than it has been, if your stress is about something that created trauma or emotional pain in the past. Most of us deal with our current stressors as if they were just ‘repeats’ of all the bad things that happened to us in the past.
That’s not saying you shouldn’t work hard, create opportunity, and do your best, or hope the same for others.
It’s just that every moment is perfect in itself. Every experience is teaching you something about life and yourself. Every instant is unfolding as it should be.
You may be familiar with mindfulness, largely known as a Buddhist teaching. These days, mindfulness is generally accepted as a practical way to be present with your life ‘as is’.
Mindfulness is an intimacy with what is happening now, not what ‘should be’.
Being present with ‘what is’ allows you to become comfortable with paradox, and the inherent levels of conflict that exist in everyday life. To allow those moments when you can’t see clearly.
Then you can learn to embrace the whole of life- the beauty and outrageousness of every moment, to develop an ease or acceptance of what’s in front of your blurry eyes.
Jack Kornfield, one of the key teachers to have brought mindfulness to the West, writes about reducing your anxiety in life by letting go of rigid and idealistic ways of being, so you can discover flexibility and joy in your life. He notes that a “mature spirituality is not based on seeking perfection, or achieving some imaginary sense of purity. It is based on the capacity to let go and to love, to open the heart to all that is.”
Reducing the stress in your life is as simple as learning to love what is on the planet, rather than seeking to perfect the world.
If you’re looking for a way to integrate a practice of mindfulness into your life, try this short practice called RAIN. Like the rain that falls equally on all things, deserving or not, RAIN stands for Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, and Non-identification.
Pause and acknowledge the reality of your experience, here and now. Recognition allows you to step out of denial. Understanding, love and intelligence happen when you question, wonder, listen and look without getting stuck in fear or denial. Similar to the non-violent communication technique of observing without judging, recognition moves you from delusion and ignorance toward freedom.
Relax and open to the facts before you. With recognition, you probably felt a subtle resistance to the here and now, wishing it wasn’t so. Acceptance doesn’t mean you can’t work to improve things, but right now, this is what you’ve got. A Zen saying goes “If you understand, things are just as they are. And if you don’t understand, things are still just as they are.” Acceptance is not passive but instead courageous. To transform, you must acknowledge reality. Or as Carl Jung once wrote, “Perhaps I myself am the enemy who must be loved.” With acceptance, you will surprisingly discover what else can emerge and watch the stress and anxiety disappear.
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls this “seeing deeply”. After you’ve accepted the whole truth about your situation, you can investigate your experience more fully. Do this by turning to your body, feelings, mind and the patterns of your experience. Where are the difficulties held in your body (heart, stomach, shoulders), and how do you experience them (throbbing, tightness)? What feelings do you associate with your body sensations (sadness, loss, fear)? Next, what thoughts or images emerge from these sensations, or what stories, judgments and beliefs do you hold onto? And lastly, how do you respond to these sensations, feelings and emotions? Do you cling, or let it go? Does it produce suffering or happiness? The source of your stress and panic usually lies right here, in your relationship to the story you create.
In separating yourself from your story, you can see how identification creates dependence, anxiety and inauthenticity. Is your story who you really are? You can begin to unravel your relationship to the situation, rest in the awareness, and release the difficulty. An awareness of your experiences, and how you relate to them will allow you to face your demons, and free yourself from them.
In being more aware of your experiences, you become the witness- the one who watches, rather than reacts. You become like the rain, allowing all things equally.
Accept ‘what is’ in your life, rather than resisting, and allow the stress to just melt away.
If you are hoping to learn how to reduce the stress and anxiety in your life, click here to download the Free Report Calm Your Body & Mind, Reduce Your Stress: 10 Easy Ways to Counteract Life’s Rollercoaster, and you’ll get some great mindfulness training and free articles every month to reduce your stress and anxiety. Please forward to a friend if you liked this post!
Holly Woods, Ph.D. uses Integral Coaching, Somatic Experiencing and mindfulness techniques to help adults who are weighed down by stress or trauma, and who want to be free of the overwhelm so they can find a life full of joy and purpose.