This is the second of a series of three articles to help you relate to moments of depressing thoughts that suggest you may be somehow ‘broken’: weak, wrong, not enough, etc. (Part 1 is here, part 3 is here).
Is it possible to find your way back to work flow from the spiral of unkind ‘messages’ and bodily dread?
In the first article (‘Love before learning’) I spoke about the bigger picture reasons why many sensitive people have a habit of worrying about themselves and about the paradox that begins a different experience.
Here, writing just days after Nelson Mandela died, I explore what it takes to be able to come home to yourself in ANY circumstances.
Mandela’s and others’ lives proved that humans come with the inner capacity to experience oppressive thoughts and not get intimidated or imprisoned by them.
What makes it possible to remain untrapped?
Learning to return to peace
Some years ago, early in my work facilitating better human experience, I had a client in her seventies looking for inner peace.
She wanted to experience life without constant inner aggravation and she knew she no longer had the time to get to it ‘later’.
But it was difficult because her thoughts were giving her hell about not being able to be at peace: a catch 22 situation.
In her life, the woman experienced really intense situations and very harsh self-judgements. She had tried and ‘disproved’ many ways to reduce inner distress. Her story opened my eyes to the power of the pause.
Firstly, with me exploring what was happening for her with her, she was able to pause the harsh inner monologue long enough to be able to feel her longing for peace. She found it a relief to experience the sadness underneath her raging thoughts and tears gave her a much needed release of tension.
Secondly though, she went on to really work the thought-questioning process by B. Katie. When we met again, she was radiant: she’d found a way to come home when she wanted.
Now, I believe in personalised solutions as different ways work for different folk. But the universal principle I see behind my client’s breakthrough is that the re-usable pathway from trouble to inner peace is about pausing immediate conclusions and inquiring into reality a bit more deeply.
Why pausing is your best ally
I’d sum it up with an alternative to an existing proverb: no pause, no gain. Here’s what I and others have discovered about it.
When you experience a threat to social survival, your system protects you the same way it protects you from physical danger. It activates your fast, automatic self-preservation mechanisms of fighting, fleeing, folding or freezing. Survival comes before thriving.
This happens whether a threat is real or not as overprotection is better than extinction.
If you ever spoke words you later regretted, you‘ve experienced the system at work.
Why pausing to enquire is such a vital key to harmony is that you can’t choose not to experience the overreacting survival mechanism or when it kicks in yet you can’t thrive with it as your sole guide either.
Survival mode is about moving away or against something you think unsafe. Thriving is about moving towards: choosing + creating what helps.
What’s driving you crazy?
Take some gentle, compassionate breaths here. You’re not going crazy when you are 😉 but you can drive yourself crazy if you judge your self-protective response as wrong or if you take what you think at those times as the way of it.
My client got all tangled up because she got into a loop of reacting to the survival part of her experience and then reacting to the ‘danger’ in her reactions. She was in trouble until she discovered the possibility of pausing to change gears onwards from the survival mode.
“Reality is much kinder than the stories we tell ourselves about it”, says Byron Katie who inspired my client.
And, you won’t get to experience that kinder side of things without creating a pause to expand perspective beyond the survival angle.
How to drive yourself sane again
The mechanism of the pause is so vital for sanity that I’ll write about it again. But I won’t leave you without some pointers right away.
You can’t overestimate the power of pausing but don’t underestimate the power of survival mode either. Scary thoughts can be very convincing, esp. those suggesting it’s not safe to pause.
1. Ask yourself to take an extra short, timed pause rather than not at all.
However tough things appear, you won’t make them worse by a few minutes time out.
I’ll close my eyes and breathe into my tense feelings and frustrated needs for 3 timed minutes before I do anything else.
2. If you find you’re struggling to pause, find support. Lean into whoever you’ve got in your life who can hold a little bit of space for you as you enquire into your assumptions, feelings and longings.
They don’t have to be perfect, just willing to be with you as you talk, journal or… take a nap.
A dear friend offered to watch over me recently so I could lie down and take a break from churned up thinking for a few minutes. I couldn’t relax from tension on my own but with her there I did and had a useful new insight too.
3. Learn about your survival mode warnings.
It’s hardest when you’re in it and don’t know.
If you do know, you notice tension in your body and it’s easier to be gentle and to pause.
4. Timing is crucial, in the ‘one stitch in time saves nine’ kind of way.
The sooner you pause, the less call for the survival mode and the shorter the pausing needs to be.
OK. Let’s pause this pause exploration here. 🙂
How can you remember to use this ally in need?