Learning to stay

When our life situations challenge us in ways that are uncomfortable our natural urge is to move towards comfort as quickly as possible. We react negatively to the unpleasant sensations that arise in our bodies as a result of what has entered through our sense doors. By this I mean, what we’ve heard, seen, smelt, tasted, felt or thought. Information that enters these door causes discord and conflict within our internal landscape. This can be a very painful experience and because we don’t like it we fight to return to what we do like and to the comfort of certainty and safety.
On the surface there is nothing wrong with wanting to be comfortable and free of pain. However we all know that discomfort and conflict is part of our lived experience. We can’t avoid it and the more we cling to comfort, safety and certainty the more we’re unhappy when we don’t have it. In other words avoiding the challenges of life is unsustainable. This is not to say that we need to seek discomfort but instead learn to acknowledge it and thus master it rather than the challenging situation master us.
By having an aversion to the discomfort we conversely amplify it. If we can learn to observe it rather than identify with it we begin to build a better relationship with the disquiet of life. Of course this is easier said than done.
One way we can do this is by ‘learning to stay’. This is a very useful tool and is something the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron teaches in ‘Getting unstuck’. Learning to stay literally means waiting. When anguish, stress, illness, anger, fear and all the painful experiences of life appear we can just stay with it and as Pema says, “relax into it and pour some loving kindness into the whole situation”. By this she means kindness to ourselves and the whole human condition.
We spend a great deal of time setting up avoidance strategies. This might mean drinking, taking drugs, watching TV, becoming workaholics etc. The restlessness of loneliness and boredom is a big discomfort in our human experience. To avoid this we may distract ourselves with texting or immersing ourselves in the internet. What ways do you distract yourself from discomfort?
I know I find learning to stay very difficult but the more I practice the easier it gets – for example, I may have a desire to feel good. Therefore, when conflict comes into my life I might have a need to sort it out as quickly as possible. Over the years I’ve learnt to stay a bit longer with whatever the discomfort might be and I’ve found that one of the keys in learning to stay is the understanding that everything changes. When we’re in the grip of difficulties we have the tendency to believe they’re never going to end and nothing is ever going to change. We catastrophise but everything in our lives and in nature is in constant flux.
Staying with it, knowing that everything changes and being kind to ourselves are key to working with discomfort and personal challenge. Learning to stay is something we can apply to all aspects of our life, from the smallest irritation to the greatest trauma, it is a useful tool in the journey through our lives.

Self-doubt – friend or foe?

Have you ever had a great idea only to find that as you try to take it forward you run out of steam or give up?

Chances are you may be in the grip of self-doubt. Often we are so familiar with self-doubt dictating what we do or don’t do that we’re unaware how much it stops us from expressing who we really want to be.

Here’s a couple of examples;

You have an idea that you’d like to write a book, you enjoyed writing at school and although this may have been some time ago you enroll on a creative writing course. On the course you feel really inspired and enjoy exploring different styles and generally getting back into writing as form of creative expression. During that time you’re encouraged to read your work out loud and whilst this brings up a lot of anxiety you receive some good feedback along with some constructive criticism. After the course you have some great ideas but you find yourself doing nothing further. Although you think about your initial idea of writing a book you also have thoughts like, “I’m not that good”, “others are better than me”, “who am I to write a book?” etc. These thoughts now overpower the original thought and they win the day.

Or .. you want to find a new job. You think you’d like to work for yourself and you have a few ideas but you are filled with anxiety every time you think about retraining or the possibility of not having a steady income. The thoughts that arise may include; “it will take too long”,”I will run out of money”, “I may fail” etc. Again, these limiting thoughts win the day.

The examples could go on to include; finding a new relationship, speaking out, moving home, following a passion, changing your mind, making decisions and the list goes on…

Of course, the argument in favor of self-doubt says that if I don’t have doubt I’ll be out of control, I’ll become arrogant or make bad decisions etc. This is where distinguishing the difference between self-doubt and self-regulation is very useful.

Self-regulation is the natural internal process that assesses our capacities, resources, talents and abilities. It is a concrete rational understanding that if, for example, I’m 95 years old, with all the will in the world, I’m unlikely to win a gold medal in gymnastics. However it might help me become a little more active.  Similarly, if I want to become a tree surgeon and I’m currently working in the banking industry self-regulation is going to help me fathom what needs to happen in order to get me to where I’d like to be.

Self-doubt, on the other hand is the internal critic. This critic acts out of fear and simply wants to keep us safe and secure. In listening to this and believing what we hear we keep ourselves stuck and our lives limited to what is familiar and away from uncertainty.

Getting into relationship with the dialogues that go on inside ourselves and embracing those moments of inspiration where we have a desire to move towards an expression of our soul nature can provide us with a map of how our live could be.

Moving beyond self-doubt and critical limitations can open up our lives in ways that, up until now, have only been a distant dream. Suddenly we become the writer we’ve always wanted to be or the tree surgeon or anything that truly makes our hearts sing.

Self-doubt can become a friend that can point us towards our wounds, our fears and what needs to heal. From there we can negotiate our doubts in order to live the lives we really want and align with our true-selves.