Rebuilding a life after addiction isn’t easy. Addressing the physical and psychological issues that caused your substance abuse in the first place is an around-the-clock battle in many cases. Combined with the pressure of providing for your needs and those of your family, it can feel like too much to bear. To minimize stress and frustration that could threaten your sobriety, you must be patient, both with the process and with yourself.
One day at a time
Whether you are in a 12-step program or another type of recovery process, the “one day at a time” adage is true for everyone. Getting your life back on track takes time. Focus only on handling the matters of the day to avoid overwhelming yourself. Some days it will be all you can do to stay sober, but doing so will give you a win even if you do nothing else. Other days you may have the constitution to tackle additional matters or self or everyday life. Either way, all consideration of the future should be in relation to what you can do here and now to make it positive.
Finding employment helps those in recovery maintain a purpose for continuing that journey and builds a positive routine. It’s important to be patient, network continuously and utilize all resources that are available to you. Leverage people within your recovery network to help you find your next opportunity. Be sure to express your gratitude to those who offer assistance, even if the opportunity doesn’t work out.
Changes with dual purpose
Part of the recovery process includes making changes to yourself and your routine to help avoid relapse. While it is incredibly important, those changes don’t have to be simply for the sake of changing. Instead, focus the changes on other goals to help you get double the benefits. If you’d like to gain weight or slim down while toning up, focus your fitness routine on weightlifting. If you are environmentally minded, your healthy and nutritious diet might mean avoiding GMO products. Whatever your passions or personal beliefs, actively incorporate those into your decisions.
If you are changing your appearance by getting a new haircut or clothing, opt for a style that will help you look the part as you search for your next job opportunity. If you plan to move so you can avoid relapse, consider a supportive area that puts you closer to family, work, a gym or even somewhere you find relaxing.
Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Taking each day one at a time means tackling each challenge. Focus on finding employment and making changes that matter. With determination, purpose and motivation to change, it won’t be long until the successes out number the setbacks.
Last night I went to the Trident Philosophy Group where the topic of discussion was about “What is Love?” We had a great discussion and I had forgotten what it was like to be around people who have the capacity to talk about things that might be deep or challenging.
Most of the groups I was going to were all about how to limit our discussion or force people to conform to various rules of HOW to speak so as to not upset people. They were so co-dependent that they made intelligent and deeper relating impossible.
I understand that for beginners or people who have not developed much self-discipline that being in ‘safe’ groups is important, but I see these groups as more ‘enabling’ them to stay fearful of themselves and their own reactions to people. I suppose this is why I appreciate ‘spiritual’ groups where they teach people how to develop self-disciplines like mindfulness or meditation so that they can then better relate to themselves and others.
I wonder how many people are aware that life can be experienced as Perfect, Heavenly or Nirvana right NOW. It does not seem to be that a lot of people are aware that they can have a perfect life, live in a perfect world and have all the peace, happiness, joy and love that they want, and they can have that right NOW, this very moment, IF they are open to it.
I interact with so many people who seem to have forgotten this or who maybe never knew this. They look out at the world and see it as all fucked up; filled with evil and darkness…they seem to dwell on the idea that we are doomed.
Mind you that not everyone is that dark, depressed and depressing, but that most people seem to have that sickness to some degree or another, not being aware that this darkness is entirely optional, subjective and voluntary.
Sometimes people acknowledge that they have a choice, but then they go back to choosing the darkness. I see this as only a habit, a very bad or unhealthy habit. As a person who sees myself as one with all these people I do for them as I would want them do for me, which is to help me overcome this unhealthy habit. I do this by reminding people they have a choice.
It is surprising how many people do not want to be reminded they have a choice, as if they WANT to miserable.
I knew a woman who took this attitude to its logical conclusion last year; she died at 50 years of age. She was so miserable in her life that she admitted she wanted to die. So when she was diagnosed with cancer she said she was glad. She had no interest in waking up and realizing that her misery was a choice. I suppose, given the culture she came from, that her fear of guilt was what kept her so afraid to even look at what she was doing that was causing her so much misery.
And I suppose that is why so many people HATE feedback on their choices that are making them so miserable.
Personally, I LOVE feedback on whatever I am doing that might be causing me misery. I often do get feedback from people on the things I am doing that THEY don’t like. These people tend to be the miserable people and they imagine I want to be around them, so they ‘give me advice’ on how to be around people like them so that I, TOO, can enable them to stay in their misery. I say ‘too’ here because most of their friends don’t really care about them, they just want to enable them to stay in their misery, just as they are. Misery loves company, they say.
And to be honest, these miserable people are not that miserable around most people, just people who are honest with them. Most people are not honest so that is not a really big problem.
Yet, these people look out on the world and see it as ugly, sick, evil, bad or fucked up, and that is the quality of their life experience whenever they happen to look around themselves.
I do care about these people but I don’t want to enable them to stay stuck in their hell and I want to be around people who don’t want to stay in their hell.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…and so it ugliness. We CAN change how we see things and thus change how we experience what life is offering. It is an option TO THOSE WHO ARE OPEN TO IT.
I guess I have come to accept that not only will I never be appreciated in life, but that I will probably never be TOLERATED by anyone. This is sad to me but understandable.
The book I am writing, Mindful Listening, is designed to address this challenge that people have with other people, particularly people like me who speak our minds and who find judgment as a positive thing in life.
It is somewhat painful to write this, a pain that I not only accept but appreciate. I feel the pain because I care about people. Yet, I don’t feel trapped in this pain; I recognize I always have a choice.
I am feeling loneliness and loneliness is something I have written about before as being a CHOICE. I have pointed out that it is silly to feel lonely given that there are 7+ billion people on the planet. The only reason a person is feeling lonely is because they do not have the courage to reach out and connect with people.
Yet, at this time, I feel that I have TRIED to reach out and connect with people, and at every turn I have been rejected and shunned by those people.
Behind my loneliness is my feeling the pain of people’s fear they have of themselves and their reactions what I stimulate in them. I want to feel this loneliness, this pain, for it connects me to people and helps to motivate me to find a way to help people.
I rarely dream of interacting with people any more. If I do I imagine I am pissing off people (POP) as a talk radio DJ once described it. To me, POP is about upsetting people, upsetting their slumber, waking them up. I imagine that someday I will go back to public speaking where I intentionally say things that will upset someone, if not everyone, and then point out that only those who are asleep can be upset, and that my book, Mindful Listening, shows people how to develop the ‘ears to hear’ and that will enable them to ‘overcome the world’ as Jesus talked about.
One challenge with this ‘dream’ is that in practice when I do such things there is a lot of animosity directed at me and I still have a habit of reacting to that animosity with tension or resistance, which creates a lot of discomfort for me. One benefit of the practice is that I get to work on my skills of loving myself IN SPITE of the animosity directed toward me. Sometimes I feel intimidated by the challenge and other times I feel inspired by the benefit. When I remember to practice loving myself then I choose the inspiration over the intimidation.
Of course, I just did this as I was writing this.
Practice is repetition and building a habit. I get lots of practice living with the person I am living with. She most often does not like me, or at least right now does not like me much, so she is constantly judging and rejecting me. So I get lots of practice being at peace with judgment and rejection and embracing the habits of Emotional Self Care or loving myself.
I am so grateful to the universe that I was privileged enough to be able to wake up and recognize the value of things like Emotional Self Care and the value of loving myself. I can see how others might not see or understand the value of such things, particularly as they seek out emotional care from others. For them, relationships are all about finding others who will stroke their egos and comfort them both physically and emotionally.
Yet, they cannot see nor will they even look at the inherent fear they feel at the thought that those people can and probably will reject them or leave them at some point in their life. Although this may not be relevant to them in the immediate situation they still subconsciously think about it and carry with them the fear of this scenario.
Most people live in denial of this but it can be exposed if one talks to them about it and their reaction is often powerful and very negative. Words are such a powerful tool for exposing people inherent dishonesty, particularly their dishonesty with themselves.
Since I am often one who sees these incongruities in a person’s life, and one who sometimes points them out, people find that being around me is intolerable. Sometimes I don’t even have to say anything for a person to recognize that I have realized their incongruities, which makes them uncomfortable with me.
After a while of being around this discomfort and associating that we me people no longer want to even tolerate my presence. I wish I could find people who are like me, for I would love to be around someone who would care enough to point out my incongruities, the incongruities that are inherently causing me internal discomfort.
Why does rejection hurt so much? Why do people reject one another?
Yesterday I had someone I wanted to stay connected with unfriend me on Facebook and it was painful. Intellectually I recognize that this person did this to protect himself; he was afraid of how he might react to what I might say to him. He is or was a Muslim and had told me that his father was an abusive man, particularly to women and he did not want to be like his father. From what I have seen of this guy he has been taught to be very afraid of HIMSELF and his own reactions to what life offers.
Simply put, he is hurting.
If I get sunburn I avoid the sun. I am not really rejecting the sun (some could call me a sun worshipper); I am just avoiding the sun for a while until I can handle it better.
I recognize that guy is avoiding me for now because he cannot handle me and what I might offer to him. He has low self esteem and just being around me shows him just how little he understands himself and how he has been conditioned to harm himself.
This does not take away from the fact that I hurt.
In my stupidity I blame this guy for my hurting thinking that “he caused my hurt.” That is stupid. He really did nothing more than disconnect from me in Facebook. It was my reaction to that that causes me to hurt. In my heart I am glad that he did what he had to do to take care of himself.
Years ago I would have done the same thing for I, too, did not know how to love myself any better than to disconnect from others. In those days I was so ‘disconnected’ that my only dream was to avoid humanity at all cost, hopefully to live in the mountains in a small cabin far away from any others.
Eventually I realized that what I was running from was myself, not others. Once I had learned how to love myself, to take care of myself and to stop my emotional (and physical) self abusive behavior, I no longer felt any need to get away from others. In fact, I really enjoy other people, the more diverse the better.
People are so conditioned to abuse themselves emotionally with fear, guilt, shame, doubt and pessimism all of which can be stimulated by words naturally will run from any situation that might stimulate that abuse.
Having compassion for them is the first step in healing ourselves so that we can help the others heal themselves. So when I am rejected don’t just remember that, I practice FEELING that compassion throughout my body, in every cell of my being. This is a meditation that ‘heals’ the pain.
This meditation is what I just did to heal the pain I HAD from this friend’s rejection of me. As I did this compassion meditation I could feel my body relax around the thought of the guy. I could feel my appreciation for MYSELF and how I developed my ability to take care of myself.
Many times in my life someone has said something to me that upset me to the core of my being. Sometimes I was so upset that I put out of my mind what the person said, but the effect of what they said stayed with me…I was devastated.
Originally at the time I could not see ‘The Gift’ in this experience but later as I watched how this experience manifested in my world I could see that in reality it was a gift, probably one of the greatest gifts that person could have given me, for they were inviting me to wake up to what I was thinking and doing that was creating such devastation in my world. They were inviting me to choose to love myself and overcome my habit of not loved myself.
This is NOT something that is easy to see, particularly if one is still in the devastation or the reverberations of that devastation. When in the drama of the devastation I would usually rationalize within myself, and sometimes with others, that I was in the ‘right’ and that the person who upset me was wrong. The normal progression of this thinking was for me to see them as someone to avoid for they were not considerate of my feelings or emotions. Never would I look at the fact that I was the one who was not being considerate of my feelings or emotions, I would just automatically assume the other person was responsible and I would go into some form of “righteous indignation” that everybody around me would support. Naturally I would want to ‘punish’ them in some way and often that meant I would avoid them at the least.
This is a very hard thing to overcome, for our entire society or social support structures encourage us to continue in our unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving. If everyone thinks this way then can it be wrong?
It took a tremendous amount of focus and discipline for me to see that it really was me that was the uncaring one here; I was the one who was not caring about my feelings and emotions.
A major transition happened for me in my world when I began to see that when people upset me with their words that this was a gift and I started appreciating it as a gift. The very act of appreciation was healing my emotional wound or re-training myself to react in a way that was healthy for me.
Today, I cannot remember all the people who have given me this wonderful gift so I cannot share with them now just how valuable I feel that gift was to me. This thought saddens me but I accept it as part of the process.
Now, often, I see myself as the bearer of “The Gift” to people and most of the time the person who is receiving that gift does not have the presence of mind to be aware that it is a gift. It has been a discipline for me to be the bearer of the gift and to recognize that most people will not have that presence of mind to appreciate the gift, at least in the present moment and maybe never be able to think of me and be grateful for what I have given them.
The ability to see the ‘big picture’ here is important for our own peace of mind. It takes work to have the ability to see that in the long run most people who are gifted with an awaking experience like this will not be able to see the benefit of it when it is happening but that in the long run they will be better off because of it.
Of course, not all upsetting people is gifting them in a way that will sooner or later benefit them. The best way to do this is when you can point out to them how it was their reactions that caused them harm and not what you said to them. Still, most people will not get this, particularly in the present moment, but later that ‘seed’ of an idea can manifest into some self-knowledge or realization that will grow into a changed behavior that will benefit them in the long run.
When I think of this gifting I often think of Jesus and how he was gifting the people of his time. Obviously most of them did not get that they were getting a gift; they just saw Jesus as some jerk that was pushing their buttons and someone to get rid of. Hopefully, with all that animosity directed back at Jesus he was able to take care of himself recognize that in the long run he was serving those others and humanity in general.
I also think of Gandhi and Martin Luther King as they upset a lot of people in their time and most of those people could not see the Gift that they were receiving.
I recognize that it takes a particularly caring individual to make it a habit to gift people in the way that Jesus, Gandhi and MLK did, but we all can and do at times gift one other with our honesty, and honesty that can wake them up to a better life experience. The important thing to remember is that we are gifting them and that in the long run they will be better off if they are even a little bit open to it.
Being terrorized is a choice, a choice that in today’s world we all have everyday.
Personally I enjoy the drama of terrorism. I see and hear what other people see and hear but I CHOOSE to react to it differently; I choose to react to it in a way that works for me, that is positive and healthy and that fulfills my life.
I make these choices because I realize that I would prefer to experience positive and healthy emotions over negative and unhealthy emotions. I realize that no matter what life offers I am still going to be here until I am not, so why not enjoy it? I realize I do not want to give my power away to the terrorist, my power to experience appreciation, enjoy and love.
I don’t understand why people want to empower the terrorist. I suspect that they don’t but that they react to the terrorist’s act with terror because they don’t realize they have a choice, they don’t realize that by reacting with terror they are doing EXACTLY what the terrorist want.
I can see that there are elements of our society that WANT us to be terrorized by the acts of terrorist so they encourage our being terrorized. I can see that the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about would want us to fear terrorism so that we will be willing to pay more taxes to support large military expenditures.
I can see how religious institutions would want us to be afraid for that tends to motivate people to go to church to find solace for the pain of our fears. That is there business model.
Terrorism works for these aspects of our society; basically terrorism is good for their business.
It appears that those in society who are least awake and aware of this, the right AND left wing conservatives, are the ones who are most willing to be terrorized and thus support terrorism and the businesses or organizations that profit from it.
I see and hear news stories about terrorism just like everyone else. I suspect that I do not fixate on those stories as much as those who live in lots of fear. I find those stories interesting but not threatening. Maybe this is because I don’t value this carcass as much as other people value the carcass they are experiencing life through. I do value the experience of life that comes through this carcass, but if I value that experience then why would I want to fill that life experience with things like fear or other forms of negativity?
Long ago before I woke up and realized these things, I was in a habit of reacting to life in a very negative way, with such negativity that I really did not want to continue living if that is all that life was about. I realized at some point that this reaction to life with negativity was a product of caring TOO MUCH about life including myself. When I got so depressed that I finally just gave up and stop caring, fully stopped caring, I realized that the QUALITY of life dramatically improved. Much later I realized that I could care for a while until it hurt too much and then stop caring for a while and rest in that place of detachment until I was ready to go back to enjoying the caring again.
I suppose that this transformation came after I realized that nothing that happens here on Earth is going to matter in the long run, that sooner or later all life on this tiny speck of dust in the universe that we call Earth will disappear with no trace that it ever existed. I realized just how meaningless life was in the long run. But I also realized that in the short run I WANTED to enjoy the experience of life and that in order to enjoy that experience I had to CHOOSE joy as a reaction to what life was offering.
One of my favorite quotes from the Buddha is, “There is no path to happiness; happiness is the path.”
It all comes down to practicing the emotions that I want to fill my life with.
People who are being terrorized by the terrorists are practicing the emotion of terror, and that is what they are filling their life experience with.
That is very sad for me.
I realize that the reason I no longer make that kind of choice is that some place along the way someone probably said to me that I have a choice on how I react to what life is offering. And they probably did not just say that to me but they demonstrated that they did not choose to fill their life with negative emotions. I suspect that for some reason I was able to hear and see them and the message they were sharing. I don’t know why I was open to hearing and seeing them, maybe because I was so desperate at the time. Maybe I was open to them because I was in crisis and open to ANY solution to that crisis. I wonder if it was not just crisis that opened me up but that I had a belief or attitude that if I just knew of WHAT to do to change my world, and I worked toward doing that WHAT, then sooner or later I could change my world. I realize that my conviction of the fact that I could change myself if I worked at it came because I HAD changed myself in the past.
In high school I was a card carrying coward, pretty much afraid of my own shadow. It was through my military experience and Ranger School that I started to gain confidence in myself and my ability to handle what life was offering. It was the training, the practice of thinking and doing things differently that helped me change who I was. Maybe it was this experience or memory that gave me the conviction that I could again change myself and my habitual reactions to what life was offering.
So when someone told me that it came time to change my emotional reactions to what life offered, I was open to that message. I COULD fill my life with positive emotions IF I was just disciplined and practiced reacting to what life offered with positive emotions.
Of course it was not easy in the beginning but I persisted until now my habit is one of moving back to appreciation, joy and love no matter what life offers.
Which is why terrorists have no power over me, they cannot create terror within me nor even fear of what they might do in the future. Yes, they can and might kill me, but I was going to die sooner or later anyway so why worry about it. What I don’t want is to fill my life with worry about death or dying or even injury. I just don’t want to fill my life with worry.
I want to fill my life with beauty, appreciation, joy, love and gratitude, not terror.
I often go to T-Group, a weekly sensitivity or authentic relating practice group. The idea behind T-Group is to talk about your feelings and in so doing you become aware of your deeper desires or motivation behind our actions, then share that with others in the group. With awareness of our inner experience we gain mastery over ourselves and thus enable us to grow in our ability to appreciate, enjoy and love what life is offering.
As children we gain self-mastery when we learn how to detect our bowels or bladder tension, which indicates we need to relieve ourselves. Then we develop an additional self-mastery when we learn how to relieve ourselves by either releasing the muscle that is holding back our bladder’s contents or activating the muscles of peristalsis. This ‘potty training’ greatly enhances the overall quality of our life experience.
As infants we need our parents or caregivers to feed us, change our diapers and soothe us when we are stressed. But as we mature we develop lots of awarenesses and skills beyond potty training, such as walking, riding a bike, thinking disciplines and the like that all increase the overall quality of our life. The more self-mastery skills we obtain the richer our life experience becomes. Those who fail to develop these awarenesses and skills have a diminished quality of a life experience.
T-Group in particular and many other types of authentic relating exercises are there to help us practice and grow in our ability to care for ourselves and be honest with both ourselves and others. As we sit in group the intention is to feel what we are feeling and share that with one another. If we are feeling anxious or depressed then we share that with the group.
Our body can release various chemicals, hormones or neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin that counteract the stress in our body and have an anti-anxiety effect or are ‘soothing’ effect. Science has shown that these chemicals contribute to “pro-social behaviors” and healthy emotional responses such as “relaxation, trust and psychological stability.” (Oxytocin: the neuropeptide of love reveals some of its secrets. Neumann ID, Cell Metabolism, 2007, volume 5, issue 4, pages 231-233 (DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2007.03.008).) These chemicals can be released by touch, affection and cuddling or they can be released naturally in the body via positive emotions.
When we are feeling stress, anxiety or depression we have the opportunity to go deeper into the desires or wants that are creating these feelings. As we keep exploring our feelings we will discover that beyond the anxiety or depression is the deepest feeling and/or desire to be independent, happy and healthy.
If we are constantly asking others to help us manage our emotions or feelings then we fail to develop our own self-mastery skills.
The first step in this process of authentic relating is to fully FEEL what you are feeling without needing to act on those feelings. If we use T-Group and other social opportunities to become aware of our feelings this will give us an opportunity to develop skills of self-mastery by practicing positive emotions, thus we create a greater sense of self-confidence and an opportunity to develop love-based relationship. If we fail to develop these awarenesses and skills then our relationships will be fear-based, fearful that we will lose our source of chemicals that soothe us, a chemical addiction. This chronic fear or anxiety has been shown to be very unhealthy in the long run and greatly reduces the quality of a person’s life experience.
As infants and children we need others to sooth us when we are stressed. Parents touch and cuddle us, which releases these chemicals allowing our bodies to relax and create a sense inner peace. As we mature some people learn how to ‘self-sooth’ by practicing positive emotions and thus no longer NEED others to help them sooth themselves when life produces stress. Others never learn this self-soothing behavior and thus are dependent on others for affection to produce these necessary chemicals in our system to help us deal with stress. This dependency on others leads these latter people to seek out relationships that end up being very co-dependent, unhealthy and in the long run destructive to the well being of the co-dependent person or people.
T-Group is about first gaining the awareness of our feelings and second about practicing self care by developing the ability to address them ourselves so as not NEED others to address them for us.
In one of my recent T-Groups the other 4 members of the group immediately cuddled together on the bed while I sat opposite of them alone. There was not much talking about feelings in that group, they were mostly just cuddling. At the time, I felt ok with them cuddling but later I felt something was ‘wrong’ with it.
When I looked further into what I was feeling I found I felt a sense of ‘distaste’ about their cuddling. I had to ask myself, “What is behind that distaste?” What is ‘wrong’ with people enjoying the affections of other people? And why was I not interested in joining them, even when I was invited to do so?
The other four group members immediately went to cuddling together on the bed; they addressed their neediness the way that had since infants by seeking out touch, affection and cuddling without first looking at their feelings or motivations. I realized I felt disappointment because those cuddling seemed to be seeking to avoid talking about their feelings behind their desire to snuggle or cuddle. The cuddling seemed to be distracting people from their deeper feelings that was motivating them to cuddle.
This neediness is the crux of the challenge here.
I can see that sometimes giving someone a hug or other form of physical contact can help calm them down so that they can look deeper into what they are feeling. Yet, when people rely on the affections and physical contact with others to soothe them when they are troubled then this tactic of affection or snuggling becomes co-dependent and unhealthy. In so doing we are denying the very purpose of T-Group and other authentic relating exercises.
If when we are feeling anxious or depressed and the discomfort of this motivates us to seek out affectionate or cuddling then we are not going into the deeper feelings and desires and thus not learning how to be independent; we are only enhancing our co-dependency tendencies. We fail to develop the awarenesses and skills necessary for love-based relationships.
When T-Group or other social functions leads immediately to affection or cuddling it is actually hurting those involved, not helping them. It is ENABLING co-dependency. Often those who are most addicted to co-dependency passionately reject to this assessment, just as most drug addicts tend to reject any idea of addiction. Change is frightening so keeping the status quo is much more acceptable.
This is not to say that an honest and healthy person would never enjoy or even seek out affection with others. Life is a balance of independency, interdependency and co-dependency. It is very difficult to be fully independent of others. Historically some monks or yogis, living in solitude or isolation, work on their skills of self-mastery. These future Buddhas and Christs were working on developing a level of self-mastery that most people have no desire to develop. But some level of self mastery does greatly enhance the quality of the life experience.
T-Group is an opportunity to start working in that direction.
Do we want to turn T-Group or other social opportunities into enabling sessions for our co-dependency or do we want to continue to use the opportunities to create the skills for love-based relationships?
The choice is ours; the power to choose comes with practice. We can practice emotional self care via practicing positive emotions or we can continue our dependency on others to soothe us.
A newborn child does not have a choice as to whether or not they will move their bowels or relieve their bladder; they just soil themselves whenever the urge comes to them. But by the time they are two years old they have been ‘potty’ trained; they have been taught to become aware of the status of their bowels and bladder and how to go to the bathroom and relieve themselves.
This awareness training is called mindfulness, in this case mindfulness of the bowels and bladder. In so doing they have gained some mastery over the human instrument through which they will experience life and that mastery will enhance the quality of their life experience.
As we go through life we gain mastery over many aspects of our body/mind instrument. We first learn to crawl then walk then talk then ride a bike and so on. Each new mastery or skill enhances the quality of our life experience by empowering us to get what we want from life.
Not all people learn the same basic skills in life. Most people are potty trained and learn to walk and talk. Some are taught mental disciplines that enable them to concentrate their mind on a task until it is accomplished. Others who have not been taught that discipline are easily distracted and never seem to accomplish much of anything in their lives.
It is a very rare person who is taught Emotional Self Care; how to practice emotions that are healthy for us and give us a sense of contentment, peace, joy, beauty, empowerment and love in life. Emotional Self Care, like any discipline or habit, takes practice or an effort to develop.
If we are honest with ourselves we will acknowledge that what we want is a life filled with positive experiences like beauty, happiness, joy, love, peace, freedom and the like. Yet, because of circumstances, we develop habits that produce negative experiences like ugliness, misery, sadness, fear, anger, anxiety, bondage, guilt and the like. This is not necessarily our fault, for much of society wants us to develop these unhealthy habits. Others can then use these unhealthy habits to gain power over us. [I will talk more about this elsewhere.]
There is an old saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and I say that so is ugliness, good and evil, heaven and hell. Being ‘in the eye of the beholder’ means that beauty is not something that is intrinsic to an object but is subjective to the individual. Two people may see the same object but one will see it as beautiful and have a beautiful experience while the other will see it as ugly and have an ugly experience. If we were honest with ourselves we would acknowledge that we want the beautiful experiences. Therefore, why not develop a habit of finding the beauty in whatever experience we are having? Of course, this makes sense but how do we do that?
Since beauty and ugliness are NOT inherent in anything, they are entirely subjective, our choices to see and experience something as either beautiful or ugly are conditioned responses and being conditioned responses means that we can RE-condition ourselves to have different reactions to the same stimuli. In other words, we can find a way to look at anything and experience it as beautiful or to find joy or peace or whatever experience we want.
Emotional Self Care is about practicing this IN SPITE OF OUR CONDITIONING.
As I sit and write this I am outside a café with cars driving by and people walking around. The cars and people could be a distraction to my effort to write and I could find that annoying, which is to say I could see them as ‘ugly’ in a sense. Or, I could see them as the elements of life that I am working at describing here and appreciate them for how they have added to my life experience; thus giving me an experience of ‘beauty’.
Consciousness or being awake is recognizing that I ALWAYS have that opportunity to choose the quality of my life experience.
I am not saying this is easy, it is not, at first, but with practice it does become a lot easier, just like riding a bike.
As with being potty trained, it first takes awareness of what I am experiencing. Am I starting to feel irritated by the cars driving by or the people walking by and distracting me? Are my unconscious habits creating tension in my body that would lead me to perceive my experience as negative? Maybe I am slouched in my chair as I write and that slouching creates tension in my back which radiates out to the rest of my body, thus causing me to feel uptight and negative.
My meditations in the morning often consist of first just sitting and feeling what is, letting go of all desires and allowing what is to just be. Then I go deeper and recognize that there is eventually a desire to get up from sitting and do something, go on with the rest of my daily life. In that recognition I also recognize that I want to fill my life with positive experiences including this moment. So, as part of my meditation I start by practicing appreciation of this moment or I practice feeling grateful for the fact that I am alive and all that I have to be grateful for. Appreciation and gratitude FEEL GOOD in my body so I then focus on how good that feels. I have found that in so doing my body relaxes, any tension or dis-ease melts away and the quality of my life experience dramatically improves.
The other day I had a guy get very angry at me. I had not seen him for a couple of months and the first thing he did after acknowledging me was to get riled up with some ideas that he had about me and my ‘agenda’ that he apparently disapproved of. He was right in my face and acting very aggressive. For my part, I remained calm and non reactive, saying nothing and just listening to him as he vented his pain or frustration. He seemed to want to engage me in some sort of ‘battle’, probably most likely a verbal contest of some sort that would justify in his mind ejecting me from the meeting we were about to have. So when he asked for a response I said that I was staying in the moment and I encouraged him to express himself fully. Inwardly I was appreciating that opportunity to practice positive emotions IN SPITE of my conditioned habit of reacting in a defensive manner to this type of confrontation. I could feel the power of the appreciation as it relaxed my body (not completely but considerably) which allowed me to stay present with him looking him in the eye and fully listening to him. Being relatively relaxed my mind did not need to come up with arguments to defend myself or my position or ‘agenda’ as this guy imagined I had.
I was able to do this because I had practiced relaxing using positive perspectives and emotions.
Unfortunately for this guy he was not able to finish venting as others came and he seemed to feel self conscious about his behavior. Nor were we able to resolve his imagined ideas as to my ‘agenda’ in the meeting.
What for me was important was that first I had taken care of myself emotionally and did not personally feel hurt by his aggression or words. I did feel hurt FOR HIM, my compassion motivated me to want to reach out to him to offer him an opportunity to fully vent and to help him clear up any inaccurate assumptions he had about me that might be causing his discomfort. I was not dead to him emotionally nor did I harm myself with my emotional reaction to his hurt.
Even now as I think of that situation I keep reminding myself to practice positive emotions as I think of him and that situation. In the past it has been very easy for me to mull over the situation and to feel undignified or insulted by the situation, thus motivating me to feel some sort of negative emotion as I think about it. In the past I would have thought he was disrespecting me and I too would have been angry. Now, I recognize the most important person who must respect me is ME, and that if I react to something like this with anger or some other negative emotion then I am NOT feeling and showing respect for myself.
Emotional Self Care is a process, not a particular practice. It starts with being aware of my conditioning and how I might be emotionally reacting in THIS moment to whatever life is offering. It takes discipline to focus one’s attention on the Present Moment, the Here and Now. Life, or society conditions us to always be thinking about the past or the future, to concern ourselves with the there and then. Yet life is always experienced in the here and now. When we are thinking about the there and then we are basically only experiencing our thoughts, not what the rest of our body is experiencing.
A second and very important step in this process of Emotional Self Care is to be honest with ourselves. This includes accepting the fact that our emotional states or experiences are entirely a product of our reactions to the thoughts we have about what life is offering. Words cannot hurt us, it is our reactions to words (or the thoughts they produce in us) that can cause us harm. Yet, part of this truth is to accept that we HAVE BEEN trained or conditioned to be reactive to words or various stimuli in society. Emotional Self Care is the process of re-training us to react to those words or stimuli in a way that works for us.
This means we have to own our feelings and not blame others for how their words or behaviors “make us feel”. Everywhere we go we are taught or encouraged to think that others or situations “make us feel” this or that, and if we can only change who we are around or our situation then we can feel the way we want to feel. This belief enables others to maintain control of us and keeps us trapped in cycles of emotional abuse where we have fear or get angry, upset, offended or some other painful emotional reaction and then we blame others or our situation for that pain. Thus we are saying to ourselves that others or the situation have the power to end our emotional pain. This dishonestly traps us in the painful feeling. Owning our feelings starts the process of accepting the fact that we CAN do something about our painful emotional states.
In my experience, pain is more intensely experienced in a tense body. Because of this, for thousands of years people have been taught to take deep, whole breaths when we feel tension arising in our body from our emotional reactions. By consciously taking deep, whole breaths we soften some of our attention (at tension) on the activity in our brains and expand our awareness into our bodies. This softening of attention helps us relax thus lessening our negative experience.
And, finally, practicing positive emotions IN SPITE OF OUR HABITUAL REACTIONS continues this process of relaxing at the level of our mind or nerves. Again, for thousands of years people have been encouraged to ‘love one another’ or even to ‘love your enemies’ or ‘don’t worry, be happy’ or to practice gratitude for what life is offering. All of these are encouragements to practice positive emotions. The more we practice positive emotions the more relaxed we will be and better able to flow with what life offers.
In the example I used above where the guy was expressing considerable anger at me, I used appreciation and gratitude to relax myself. I was appreciative of the fact that he had found the courage to express himself about the obviously painful feelings he was having. And I was grateful for the opportunity to practice Emotional Self Care in a situation where I habitually would not be doing so.
I can always find some reason or justification for some positive emotion. Of course, it is not easy in the beginning for we usually are so attentive to situation that we are not being attentive to how we are reacting emotionally to that situation. In primitive times or cultures being attentive to the situation was demanded, for if we were not then we might be physically attacked and possibly killed. I still encourage people to be mindful of the situation just in case it could become dangerous, but most of the time our being relaxed and calm alleviates the situation to some degree.
They say that a dog can detect if you are afraid of them, and if so they will more likely attack you. In my experience, that is true of people and all animals too. If we are reacting to them with fear or any form of tension then those people or animals are more likely to attack us. On the other hand, if we are reacting to them with compassion and caring for THEM then they will more likely relax their tension and aggression, thus alleviating the tension of the situation.
Also, if we are practicing Emotional Self Care we are modeling a healthy behavior for others who can and do recognize the healthy practice and that inspires them to want to develop the same healthy habits. This creates cycles of moving toward more peaceful, joyous, healthy interactions in society.
Other Softening Emotions
Of course, in the moment of being challenged emotionally we may not remember to breathe deeply or to be in the present moment or to practice positive emotions. When we become aware of our reactions that may have caused us discomfort or pain we first want to forgive ourselves. I like to laugh at myself and my silly reactions. This attitude and behavior releases the tension in my body allowing me to relax and feeling good again.
Sadness is often considered a negative or painful emotion, one that we don’t want to experience. In my experience, we can only feel sad because we care. Caring is an aspect of love, a very positive emotions and feeling. Thus, the feeling or emotion behind sadness really is love, and if we can be aware of that deeper feeling of caring and love then sadness can be a very powerful motivator to helping others with our compassion. It also feels really good.
I define compassion as a willingness to suffer with other. I get that definition from the etymological root of the word compassion; com is Latin for ‘with’ and passion is Latin meaning ‘to suffer’. Any suffering becomes a motivator to working to alleviate that suffering, assuming we can envision how to do that.
I am motivated out of compassion for others who are suffering from emotional pain to write this topic. I WANT TO hurt with them. I want to care for others because I am aware that caring is an aspect of love and love is what I want to fill my life with. And since I have found a way to alleviate most emotional pain, I want to share how I do that with others.
This is a rich process and it fills my life with a wealth that is unsurpassable by any other means that I am aware of.
Practicing all this is the most challenging part of the process. I often go to be around people or situations where I can practice Emotional Self Care. Often the most challenging people or situations are the most rewarding. Of course, if I am not up to the challenge then those people or situations can do damage to my confidence in my ability to deal with situations. Therefore, I encourage people to start out with less challenging people or situations.
I started by going to listen to lectures or talks by people of various perspectives, perspectives that were not similar to my own. At first I would only listen to the words and watch my habitual reactions to them, which often means I was resisting the ideas they were offering, and this habitual resistance, being negative, was painful or uncomfortable.
The practice got a lot more challenging when I started to openly question or challenge the words or ideas I was hearing. But still I practiced listening and questioning with compassion, often taking into consideration the ability of others to hear or deal with the questions or challenge.
When you put something out, like asking questions or confronting or challenging someone else’s perspective, you are asking for feedback that often comes in the form of criticism, judgment and possibly rejection. Naturally rejection hurts as it is cutting off a part of us, ourselves being the whole of humanity or life. But the reality is that rejection is a natural part of life and we sooner or later learn to accept that there will always be those who feel a need to reject and cut others off from them. If we care about ourselves we will come to peace with this process.
We are all responsible for taking care of ourselves. No matter how much another may love and care for us, if we do not take care of ourselves then we will not feel or be cared for and harm is inevitable. Life offers us many challenges and if we do not make a habit of caring for ourselves emotionally then we will eventually get ‘down’ as we drain our energy with our negative or painful reactions to what life is offering. It makes sense to practice Emotional Self Care.
Again, I want to acknowledge that there will be those who rebel against the idea of emotional self care. Some will do so because they see how powerful it could be for anyone who practices it and if it is empowering for the individual then it is disempowering to those who want to control or manipulate others. Since taking responsibility for your behavior and changing your habits takes effort, the lazy person will resist and will continue to abuse themselves and blame others for the consequences of that abuse. The only intelligent thing a conscious person can do is to practice loving them and by feeling compassion for them.
The freedom, peace, joy and love that come from Emotional Self Care can transform the quality of our lives, our relationships and our society. The more we practice Emotional Self Care the more we are modeling it for others thus encouraging a society that is open, honest and caring about one another.