Open up. Not in the "spill your secrets to strangers" kind of way. Open up to the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts that you experience under your skin. The things that push you around and steer you off course sometimes.
Naturally we try to stay away from things we don't like. Being chased by a sabre toothed tiger? Run away. Dislike spicy hot food? Don't eat it. Simple. But this formula hits a snag when the thing we don't like is internal. Anxiety. Sadness. Uncomfortable feelings and sensations that we would rather not experience. The catch is, these emotions are hard-wired into us (scientists agree that there are around 9 basic human emotions that we are born with).
It doesn't stop us from trying to get rid of them and control them. But they keep coming back like a John Farnham tour. Sometimes our control behaviours are fairly mundane and don't cost us (such as taking one flight of stairs to avoid the anxiety of being in a lift) but there are occasions when they really get in the way of a purposeful, rewarding life (such as using alcohol to avoid loneliness).
So what can you do when your control agenda gets in the way of life?
Resist the urge to struggle with your uncomfortable feeling and instead make space for it. Put it in the passenger seat of your 'life car' so you can drive (instead of the other way around).
Next time you are faced (or consumed) with an emotion that you would normally do whatever it takes to get rid of, try the 3 N's. Notice, Name and Neutralise.
Notice the arrival of the feeling (your mindfulness skills come in handy once again!). Observe where you feel the sensation the most strongly in your body. Is it in your chest? Your stomach?
Name the emotion. "here is the feeling of anxiety".
Neutralise the emotion. Draw a line around it with your mind. Describe it like you are a curious scientist noticing this emotion for the first time - what colour would it be? Is it hot or cold? Is it rough or smooth? Breath into the space around the emotion.
As you do this, remind yourself that you are human and as a human you feel things. It is totally normal and part of being alive.
Try it out for yourself. As long as it is for a purpose, to free up your arms and legs to move you towards an action that matters to you.
A few years ago I traveled to Nepal and found myself standing on the edge of a cliff, way up on top of a mountain looking out at the Himalayas in the distance. I was about to get strapped in to a harness on a tandem Para-glider, with a very excitable guide. He announced to me with a wild glint in his eyes, "Hello, my name is Tec, and today we FLY!!!".
Needless to say my anxiety rocketed up from my stomach into my ears! It was just me, the guide and open the edge of the mountain. I could have let my anxiety control the moment, it would have been easy to step away and get back into the shuttle bus for the drive back down the mountain. Game, set, match - anxiety wins.
But instead I notice and named the feeling, breathed around it and strapped in for the ride. I was embracing my values of being adventurous, personal growth and excitement.
It was an amazing experience and here I am, still living to tell the tale. The view was incredible and along the way I was serenaded with the song "I Love You Baby" by Frank Valli. A little weird and delicate, but balanced by the death spiral decent that left my stomach in my mouth.
Keep it simple and remember this phrase when faced with an uncomfortable feeling: "observe it, breath into and around it, and make room for it".
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