October 10 is World Mental Health Day. This day was created to draw attention to the importance of Mental Health, and to help understand it a little better. So I’m going to share a very personal story here to demonstrate the importance of understanding not only Mental Health, but also the importance of understanding life.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself emotionally triggered by an event that took place. But initially, all I understood about what was happening was the emotion that I was experiencing; which made absolutely no sense at all. I couldn’t figure it out, and all I was doing was experiencing this emotional reaction to something that I couldn’t connect a reason to.
Well, eventually I enlisted a trusted ear that immediately reminded me that I was being triggered by an old reaction that was left over from something that happened twenty years ago. I couldn’t believe it. I’d worked on myself for literally years. HOW could this old thing come up out of nowhere like it happened just the other day when I was sure that I’d settled it long ago?
This is the important part. Life is NOT linear; life is cyclical. Life only appears linear to us because of how we measure time. But that’s not how life actually flows. It is cyclical, like so many other things in our perception; a day cycle, seasonal cycles, lunar cycles, etc. The same things that “got us” once upon a time can and likely WILL come up again and again during our lifetimes. But with each reoccurrence comes the opportunity to take a step back from ourselves and go “Oh yeah, there this is again” and respond more effectively and appropriately.
So if you’ve ever experienced something coming back up in your life time and again, even though you may have worked on it, do NOT beat yourself up thinking that you didn’t do a good enough job or that you didn’t “do the right thing” about whatever your situation is. This is how life happens. With each (re)occurrence comes another opportunity to put a little distance between you and the situation so that you can see for yourself that the situation isn’t you at all.
Life is a journey composed of many steps on our personal path that takes us down a winding road of constant evolution. And each day, we are provided with a myriad of opportunities that can allow us to transform into our next best selves. One moment we are presented with an opportunity to react differently when yet another someone in our life rubs us the wrong way; on another day we may find ourselves wanting to walk away from a particular circumstance but are not sure if we can. Eventually, we may find ourselves stuck in a rut that we can never seem to get out of. We may even make the same choices over and over again because we don’t know how to choose otherwise. Rather than moving us forward, our personal paths may take us in a seemingly never-ending circle where our actions and choices lead us nowhere but to where we’ve already been. It is during these moments that awareness can be the first step to change.
Awareness is when we are able to realize what we are doing. We observe ourselves, noticing our reactions, actions, and choices as if we were a detached viewer. Awareness is the first step to change because we can’t make a change unless we are aware that one needs to be made in the first place. We can then begin understanding why we are doing what we are doing. Afterward, it becomes difficult not to change because we are no longer asleep to the truth behind our behaviors. We also begin to realize that, just as much as we are the root source behind the causes for our behaviors, we are also the originator for any changes that we want to happen.
There is a freedom that comes with awareness. Rather than thinking that we are stuck in a repetitive cycle where there is no escape, we begin to see that we very much play a hand in creating our lives. Whether we are aware of them or not, our behaviors and choices are always ours to make. Our past and our present no longer have to dictate our future when we choose to be aware. We are then free to move beyond our old limits, make new choices, and take new actions. With awareness, our paths can’t help but wind us forward in our lives while paving the way for new experiences and new ways of being. It is through awareness that we can continue to consciously evolve.
“Study author Kristen Syme, a recent WSU Ph.D. graduate, compares treating anxiety, depression or PTSD with antidepressants to medicating someone for a broken bone without setting the bone itself. She believes that these problems “look more like sociocultural phenomena, so the solution is not necessarily fixing a dysfunction in the person’s brain but fixing dysfunctions in the social world.”
Edit to add: It’s essential to get proper treatment and medical advice, and not leave mental suffering untreated.
Often, when we’re unhappy, we fall into the habit of thinking that, if only one or two particular things in our life would change, everything would be fine. We might focus on the fact that we need a new car, or a raise, or a change in our living situation. We dwell on this one thing and strategize, or complain, or daydream about what it would be like to have it. Meanwhile, underneath the surface, the real reason for our unhappiness sits unrecognized and unaddressed. And yet, if we are able to locate and explore the underlying cause of our discontent, all the surface concerns have a way of working themselves out in the light of our realization.
Maybe we really do just need a new car, and maybe moving to another city would improve our life situation. However, it can only help to take some time to explore what’s going on at a deeper level. Sometimes, when we take a moment and stop focusing on external concerns, we get to the heart of the matter. We might realize that all our lives we’ve been dissatisfied, grasping at one thing after another, only to be dissatisfied about something else once we get what we want. Or perhaps we’ll notice a pattern of running away from a place, or a relationship, when things get too hard. We might then wonder why this keeps happening, and how we might work through the difficulty rather than just escaping it. The point is, slowing down and turning our attention within can save us a lot of energy in the long run, because it is very often the case that there is no external change that will make us happy.
Once you’ve taken the time to inquire within, you can begin to make changes that address the deeper issue. This can be hard at first, especially if you’ve grown used to grasping for outside sources in order to quell your discontent, but in the end, you will be solving the problem at a deeper level, and it will be much less likely to recur.
It’s good to take a few minutes each day to unwind, but I include Sunday evenings to my daily unwind time.
Every culture uses something that pleases the senses to help in their prayer or meditation practices. Incense or some kind of fragrance is helpful, because it alone can set the tone of a room. And smells are one of the things that we remember and associate experiences with often. Lamps or candles are often used too; I prefer oil lamps because the flame is steadier than the flicker of a candle; inviting the witness to slow way down and come home for a little while.
Early on, I developed a way to learn by just observing. What to do, what not to do.. Observing is a way that I try to use to see things around me. Something that I learned about a long time ago has been coming up a lot for me lately; in all areas of life. It’s a statement that goes “People don’t see the world as it is, they see the world as they are”.
I see this showing up all over the place. Mostly between people. One of my favorite exercises to help slow down involves going into the woods and noticing how different all the trees are. And realising that we don’t judge the trees for being tall or short, straight or crooked, thick or thin. We just accept the trees for what they are and move on. We don’t get hung up on the fact that one tree might not have gotten enough sunlight and therefore grew a certain way, we just accept the tree for what it is and we move on.
I think that this is a practice that is desperately needed now with how we’re seeing each other. Chances are, we don’t know someone’s story and how they’re managing their life as a result of their story. All we see is how they’re managing their life.
I think we need to see people more like trees, and less like how we think they ought to be.
A human being is part of the whole, called by us “universe”; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is kind of a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task MUST be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
Not one of us sees life as it is, the world as it is. We all see life as WE are. We look at others through our own likes and dislikes, desires and interests. It is this separatist outlook that fragments life for us – man against woman, community against community, country against country. Yet, the mystics of all religions assure us on the strength of their own experience, if only we throw away this fragmenting instrument of observation, we shall see all life as an indivisible whole.
I found this documentary inspiring and personally validating. This was my own childhood, described to the letter.
Twenty percent of the population has been identified as Highly Sensitive. And both men and women EQUALLY make up that 20 percent population. Some of most creative people in the world are also in the Highly Sensitive category.
How relevant this is today, and also very consistent with the type of work that I do with people.
So glad to see this coming into more mainstream focus and awareness.
A practice that can be done at year’s end to help usher in the new and escort out the old is to take some time and write (hand write) down some things that you want to release and then burning the paper in a fire.
It can be as simple as a single word, or as complex as you need it to be. But spend time on it; at least a couple of hours. You can do this over several days, but don’t rush or skimp on your writing time.
Then on New Year’s Eve, you can light a fire. It can be a small fire bowl, a fire-pit, or your fireplace. Safely light a fire and sit with the fire for a few minutes’ time. Don’t rush this. Close your eyes and sit with your fire and what you want to release for a few minutes. See what you want release, see how much you want to move on from it. Then see the smoke rise in your mind as you release what you need to.
When you’re then ready, safely drop your paper(s) into your fire. See the paper burn up, and the smoke rise, releasing you. Anything that’s held you back, it’s time to let it go. .Allow yourself to experience whatever you will about this as your paper burns away; anger, fear, anxiousness, sadness, loss, gratitude. Let it all out like the rising smoke from the burnt paper.
Close with an affirmation. Close your eyes again and say goodbye to the past once and for all, and to whatever has been holding you back. See yourself in your new life without what you released. Feel the relief, like a weight finally off your shoulders. Take a deep breath and let the exhale extend, like the last bit of release.
It can be helpful to write out your new intentions, something on paper as a reminder to create your new life. Re-visit in three months to check your progress. And finally, re-visit next year to see how you’ve done.
Let’s all make 2021 our best and most free year yet.