We all have things that trouble us—situations or circumstances that are undesired and cause us distress in the form of anger or frustration, fear or anxiety, sadness or depression, guilt or inadequacy. Some of these situations are temporary, but others are long-term or even permanent and may rob us of our vitality and well-being. Here are some examples:
It’s impossible to go through life unscathed. We all face such challenges that threaten our happiness and well-being, often daily. So what are we to do? How do we handle our challenges so that they don’t prevent us from being happy and living our full potential?
I want to give you a process for dealing with any challenges that you may be currently facing. The process is a way of calming yourself so you can feel greater peace and respond more effectively, no matter what is happening
This process begins by separating “out there” from “in here.” There is always an object and subject. By object, or “out there,” I mean the circumstance or condition to which you’re reacting. By subject, or “in here,” I mean your inner feelings and perceptions about this circumstance or condition. Both exist. They co-exist. You don’t have one without the other.
For example, “out there” are the facts about your job (or lack thereof)—what you do, who you work with, the physical conditions of your work environment, your boss and co-workers, the pay you bring home, and so on. The “in here” is your subjective experience of all of this, mostly your perceptions and feelings about your job. Although these co-exist, you have to be clear that these are two separate dimensions of reality in order to learn to deal with whatever is troubling you.
For one thing, you are not a victim of “out there,” although it can certainly feel like you are. But the truth is that “out there” does not create “in here.” You make choices. Perhaps you don’t know that you’re making choices but you are. You are deciding what all of the facts of your job mean—your boss, pay, co-workers, and so on. In fact, two people may work under similar circumstances and come away with quite different subjective experiences. Your job doesn’t create your inner experience. You do. Recognizing that you play a part in deciding “in here” is an important aspect of dealing with what’s troubling you.
Here is another critical piece of dealing with whatever is troubling you. I’m not going to tell you to change your perceptions or feelings. That is so often tough to do. What I want to ask you to do is to sit with whatever is troubling you. What does this mean? Stop complaining about it. And stop running from it or avoiding it through various distractions—a constant barrage of media and noise, engaging in various addictive behaviors, or staying constantly busy doing so you don’t have to feel.
Choose, instead, to be with the troubling circumstance. Find a time and place you can be alone for some twenty minutes or so. Sit in a comfortable position and allow your body to relax. Now focus on your breathing. Just watch the inhalations and exhalations. One way to do this is counting. One, two, three, four… during the inhalation and one, two, three, four, five… during the exhalation. No need to alter your breathing. Just observe it. Do this for some three to five minutes. As you become aware of your mind wandering, gently bring it back to your breathing. (I know that this is difficult, initially, and takes some practice. You don’t have to do it perfectly.)
After a few minutes of focusing on your breathing, turn your attention to the troubling situation or circumstance (“out there”). Just be with it. Notice what is going on inside your body as you are with the situation. Begin by noticing any sensations of a physical nature, whether associated with the situation or not. For example, you might notice the feel of your body in the chair, your feet on the floor, the air on your skin. Notice other sensations in your feet or legs, anything in your trunk, shoulders, arms and hands, neck, face and head. This can include anything that draws your attention such as itches, or inner aches or pains, anything of a purely physical nature.
Next move your attention to your feelings. Just allow yourself to notice any feelings associated with your troubling situation—anxiety, frustration, inadequacy, hatred, despair. You don’t have to do anything with the feelings. It isn’t necessary to alter them in any way. Just be with them. Observe and allow them. Again, this is initially hard to do. Part of the problem is that you’ve been running from these feelings, finding various ways of distracting yourself from facing and feeling them. So if they are so intense that you have to break away, allow yourself to do that. You can come back later, at another time. But, if able to tolerate them, just go on allowing and noticing them.
Next move your attention to your thoughts about this troubling situation. Once again, the goal is not to challenge or change your thoughts, simply to notice. Allow whatever thoughts arise to have their voice: I hate my job… I’m miserable every day… No one appreciates my work… My boss is an jerk who asks more and more not caring that I have a life outside the office… I’m stuck here… There’s nothing else I can do… I have to put up with this… And so on. You’re not directing your thoughts. You’re simply noticing them as they arise and recede.
After fifteen or twenty minutes, or whenever you’re ready, you can stop the process. Do so by turning your attention, again, to your breathing. Take a few minutes to notice the rhythm of your inhalations and exhalations. And then bring your awareness back into the room. Sit quietly for a moment and then get on with your business.
I want to be clear that you have to do this process more than once. The more troubling the situation the more you’ll have to do it. In fact, it may take several times before you begin to notice the benefits, especially if you’ve never done anything like this before. It will take time simply to become comfortable with the process, giving yourself permission to sit with your problem without trying to solve it, only noticing the physical sensations, then feelings, then associated thoughts.
But as you stay with it, instead of running or distracting yourself from “out there,” the negative, grungy emotions will begin to dissipate. You may still have them but they won’t be so strong, so overpowering. In their place will be a greater sense of calm and peace. You may also notice that your perceptions begin to shift. They, too, will lose some of their power or you may even begin to see your work or boss in a different way.
This process is so different from what we’re used to, especially those of us from the western hemisphere who have been taught to take action, to do something about a problem. And the truth is you may need to do something following this process, perhaps a talk with the boss, perhaps a resolve to handle some things differently, perhaps dusting off your resume. Only you will know what’s right.
But going through the process will allow you to take more effective action. You will find that the situation is less emotionally troubling. You’ll find that instead of being reactive, you can more effectively choose your response.
The same goes for any troubling situation. Some you have control over—a conflict with a loved one or undesirable living situation. Some you may not—an illness or loss of someone or something dear. Either way, if you face what troubles you rather than ignoring or distracting yourself, you will begin to change “in here” and, thereby, empower yourself to either make peace or take more effective action with “out there.” Either way, you (and others around you) win because you have stepped up to a troubling situation with greater consciousness and courage.
Sign up to receive Dr. Roger Allen's newsletter, and receive a free copy of his eBook, Master Your Self-Defeating Emotions!