In modern life, worry is common. It has a place but can easily become overbearing. How can we disrupt imbalance when it appears? The key is in an expanded definition of breath.
There once was a person who had it all. Things just went their way, always. They had riches, royalty, romance, recognition, respect, recipes… the whole 9 yards. And because of all that they reaped the rewards. They could access gratitude, generosity, patience, and contentment.
This story is false. First of all, there are two sides to every life story. There is suffering and reward in every story. Understand the goal. It’s not to be content all the time. It’s to have healthy movement between tension and release, between pressure and rest. It’s to learn to emphasize the good, but to understand light comes with darkness. This is a type of inner breathing. More on this below.
Secondly, in the story above there is the false conclusion that certain mental states are only accessible under the right circumstances. It’s too common that we make a contract with ourselves: “after I get something, THEN I’ll be content, resilient, or generous.” Or the medical example: “if these next rounds of results are reassuring THEN I’ll stop worrying.” Don’t believe these false contracts. They aren’t true. We have access to healthy inner states despite outer circumstances.
My message today:
DONT WAIT! Don’t wait let circumstances dictate access to calm. Practice it. If you practice worry, it‘ll be your familiar place. And the same goes for calm.
Coaches will tell you that your game time performance depends on your practice habits. Practice freeing your emotional life from outer circumstances. Practice it every day:
As a habit every morning, scan yourself for tension. Study it. What is it’s source? Imagine winning the lottery or meeting with that loved one or having an ideal test result, or whatever it is that would relieve any tension you carry. Then connect to the feeling that would be found with the relief — and go into them. Elaborate them for a few minutes.
Why are those feelings seemingly locked behind certain circumstances? Practice them. Unlock them. Why not? Disrupt the false premise that they are only for certain people or certain occasions.
In fact, some postulate the relationship between outer circumstances and inner states works in the reverse. What if practicing/allowing feelings of calm allowed favorable results to flow into your outer life? Pause on that for a second. Can inner states have an effect on outer circumstances? This doesn’t seem like much of a leap of faith. In any case, shaking up the relationship between circumstance and one’s inner state is a revolution for a person’s life.
This is especially helpful for the worrier who is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even reassuring circumstances are usually negated by this mind frame. That won’t work. We need to stop the lie that we are lost without worry. This is a stuckness; it’s one side of the spectrum. It’s like to much inbreath. Our inner life needs to access breathing out, all the time in balance.
Don’t worry, no one’s asking you to abandon worry altogether. It’s not possible. It’s just to practice shifting inner states, to practice existing in a wider spectrum.
Letting go of bad habits
The need to release is behind a lot of bad habits, I’d suggest. Doesn’t this need lurk behind harmful substances, overeating, etc? Aren’t we just looking to escape from a too-narrow spectrum of emotion? Aren’t we just trying to find relief? “Everyone needs a vice, right, doc?” This doesn’t get us there because we are still dependent on outer circumstances. This relief is not deep or lasting, and we all know it. These outer habits come with a cost, both to our health and otherwise. Something different happens when we learn an inner skill. A side benefit of self-reliance and skill building is the greater possibility of freedom from bad habits which we find we don’t “need” anymore. Having options is good!
The exercise above is free and only requires your effort and minimal time. Take a few breaths and practice calm. Make it a habit.
Beyond our own needs
This discussion would be incomplete without making mention of an important aspect of contentment: We aren’t meant to find it alone!
Inner exercising is good, but it’s only the first step. The next level relates to our community. Do we belong to one? If not what do we do to connect to one? If we are in one do we include others? Belonging is crucial to contentment. And one question for the modern age is what can we do to foster communities? How do we redefine community in the technologic age?
And Further yet?
Beyond belonging is purpose. Having our own needs met by more access to calm and community is important. But meeting our own needs does not lead to our ultimate satisfaction. Receiving is the first part of the equation. The full experience, as in taking a full breath, is then to give. Being in service is the next level. It carries us beyond our needs.
Breathing inside: healthy movement between tension and release; worry and calm. Remembering: “this too shall pass” — both the highs and the lows. Breathing inwardly is also about always having one finger on the pulse of the middle. A dose of equanimity will always help. And finding support in community.
Breathing outside: receiving (tending to one’s own needs, acquiring) and giving (tending to the needs of others).
Here’s to your full, deep, and healthy breathing!
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