It’s a sunny day as I write, the sky a seamless swath of pale blue. The warmth of the sun’s rays kiss the floorboards and my feet.
Man, it feels good.
But only yesterday, rain pummeled down from a sky reminiscent of horror flicks. Driving through the puddled streets was an exercise in caution.
And yet, both today and yesterday, I have the power to choose my reaction to the weather.
Sounds easy enough; but what happens when the changed environment isn’t as benign as the weather?
What happens when a life change involves something someone said or did?
The Sky Isn’t Mad at You
We all know that a blue or cloudy sky isn’t about us. Mother Nature will continue to do her thing. Whether it’s a stunning 75 degrees or a chilly 45, we know the weather isn’t personal.
And yet, we tend to personalize our emotions and take them as static.
Unhappiness manifests when we take a negative emotion and either deny its existence or take it personally.
Life happens through us; we don’t own the experience. We are no less ephemeral than Nature itself. In her groundbreaking book, Just a Thought, Dr. Amy Johnson shares the subtle yet profound cognitive error plaguing most of us:
“Ever since you’ve been old enough to think about yourself and your thinking. Ever since you’ve been old enough to cling to and personalize your moving, changing experience, it’s looked as if what you experience is you. It’s looked like your psychological experience means something stable about who-you-are at your essence….It is not, and it does not.”
Our emotions feel personal. But they aren’t. As the Taoist philosopher, Wei Wu Wei said:
“Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 percent of everything you think, and everything you do, is for yourself — and there isn’t one.”
What Brains Do
Our brains are wired to protect us. They are constantly chattering to us, offering us zillions of ways to look out for our safety. Our cerebrums are hardwired for our survival. So it’s no wonder that our brains:
- create narratives
- find patterns
But here’s the great news:
We have the power to choose awareness at any moment. We can choose to acknowledge our miraculous brains without heeding its every suggestion (or what it often feels like, command).
When we feel anxious or depressed, our brains kick into overdrive, offering anything and everything to keep us “safe”.
For example, let’s say you are anxious about an important test coming up. Your mind might chatter on in the following manner:
“If you don’t study more, you will FAIL! You remember, you failed that test in 7th grade because you didn’t study enough. You aren’t as smart as other people, so you need to work twice as hard. What is wrong with you, thinking you can relax now when the test is tomorrow?! You should be ashamed of yourself. If you fail this test, you will be such a disappointment to your parents and friends. Is that what you want??”
Notice the word “should” and the brain’s razor-sharp ability to compare a past failure to the present situation — even labeling the failed test as a failure in itself instead of reframing it as a learning experience. Notice the brain’s derogatory language, questioning the person’s ability to make sound decisions, serving up potential embarrassment and shame on a guilty platter.
The brain’s chatter feels so personal. It can feel downright painful.
But when we remember that it’s not personal, that mental gymnastics is just what brains do, we can take a deep breath and observe.
We can lean into the discomfort we experience and know that, just like the clouds that cover the sun, the sensations of dread and angst WILL pass.
Fear only festers when we deny its existence.
When we acknowledge, with self-compassion, as the objective observer that we are experiencing negative emotions, they can more easily pass through us.
We experience emotions; we aren’t the emotions.
Soothing Our Brains
My son called me the other day from college, very stressed. I shared a 10-minute Calm meditation with him via text. Ten minutes. He called me the next day to say it “really helped.”
Meditation allows us the space to observe rather than react.
Meditation is an act of self-compassion. It is an unspoken invitation to the Universe and our soul to connect.
Often, our brains’ (initial) response to meditation is protest. The monkey mind tends to throw in all kinds of machinations. I liken the mind to an overtired toddler, fighting her afternoon nap:
“This is stupid! You have so much to do and all you’re doing is focusing on your breathing — what the hell point is that? Did you turn the oven off? You never returned that important phone call. You are so irresponsible. Do you even know what you are going to wear to that party tomorrow??”
And on and on it will go…and just like the overtired toddler, if you observe long enough, the chattering, overly vocal brain will eventually quiet and realize the Silent Observer (YOU) are in charge.
Meditation reminds us that whatever we are feeling or experiencing is temporary.
Meditation strengthens our spiritual muscle to better handle life’s ever-changing journey.
May the following meditation bring you peace and comfort:
The Daily Calm 10 Minute Meditation