(Stillness in the Storm Editor) Is it possible to resist reality? Can we really properly navigate life, for fulfillment, joy, and happiness, if we reject aspects of it? The following article discusses why accepting reality, especially things your body tells you, helps you live a better life.
Psychologically, the mind is designed to absorb, organize, make sense of, and interpret all experiences. The body provides a host of sensations that inform us as to our current state, the presence of dangers outside of us, and the overall value we place on all of it.
When a person tries to avoid their own body’s sensations, this leads to mental disturbances.
Schizophrenia is a condition marked by the inability to properly understand aspects of your reality, and specifically, bodily sensations that are not embraced feel like external attacks. For example, if you were raised by religious fundamentalists that refused to accept sexual sensations as anything other than sinful, you could interpret your sexual desires as coming from outside of you, from some “succubus” or evil spirit.
In less extreme examples, resistance to reality—the inability to accept things as they are—creates unfaced fears. These unfaced fears are interpreted by our animalistic brain, the mid and hindbrain, as threats that need to be avoided.
What this means is that anything you refuse to accept you are telling your fear centers to stay on high alert for. And, that you aren’t capable of dealing with them. It’s an inherently disempowering, victimhood provoking way of acting in the world. It leads to a host of psychological disturbances that make us feel unhappy, bored, and generally fearful in life.
Now you might be thinking: “That’s not me!” I accept everything.
But do you really? How do you deal with things you don’t value in your life, whether they’re people, places, things, or ideas?
For most of us, we can accept that, at the very least, something is out there we don’t like, but we’ll deal with if we have to. Yet, the conceptual container in which this identified thing rests might be one of resistance.
For example, you can tolerate the sight of a bum on the side of the road, the messiness of your co-worker’s desk, the stench of your trash can, but we’re likely resistant to the sensations our body feels when in the presence thereof. If so, this means, part of us is withdrawing, part of us is fearful of that thing; and therefore, it makes us anxious, uncomfortable, and fearful.
Neurologically, the brain only has two ways of seeing things, either with love or fear. This is, of course, an oversimplification, but the description holds true when we consider that love is a force of openness whereas fear is a force of rejection. You might learn to tolerate something, but that tolerance isn’t love. You’re not completely and fully open and accepting of it.
Can we really love things we don’t value?
This is an interesting question. Surely we can recognize that we don’t value losing our job. But should the mere idea of it be something we resist, thereby causing us anxiety and discomfort?
I would argue, based on various modes of research in attempting to understand the science behind various spiritual practices that assert suffering can be transcended through love, it is possible to love something we don’t value.
You may not value breaking a bone. I sure don’t. But the idea of breaking a bone I do love. Why? Because it helps me have a healthier respect for my own body. It gives me the power to be more careful. And, more simply, rejecting it doesn’t do anything but cause me anxiety. Again, from the brain’s perspective, there are only two choices.
In this sense, as was stated, the choice to employ resistance always comes with a heavy price of making the world appear darker. The choice to use love doesn’t mean we want that thing to happen, it means we accept the truth of it fully, without any resistance. And in this way, this rewires the brain for joy and happiness, it rewires our brain for bravery and empowerment.
The following anecdote perfectly describes this power of using love as a technique of facing the things we don’t value.
Again, it doesn’t mean we want these things to happen. It means we’re willing to accept them free of resistance, which naturally improves our mood and makes it easier to love life in general.
Who doesn’t want that?
While snorkeling in the ocean, I had the opportunity to remember an invaluable lesson regarding willingness — to take what is offered in the moment. Willingness is an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) principle that, when applied correctly, can help us live more meaningfully, despite unpleasant external and internal events.
My snorkeling story illustrates how easily we forget that we should not try to fight the unfightable. We can learn to accept what is offered to us in the here and now, so we can focus on whom and what matters most in our lives.
While swimming towards the area of a lagoon that had a reef by the open sea, my sister and I found some fish to look at but not as many as we had seen previously in other areas. Nevertheless, I became enthralled with watching them and let the ocean flow take me wherever it went. After a few minutes of enjoying and watching the fish, I decided to lift my head to see where I was. I discovered the sea current had taken me out of the lagoon and I was now in the open ocean — fortunately, not too far from the lagoon.
The second I realized I was not in the lagoon, my protector (my mind) quickly alerted me, “Oh no! This is dangerous. I’ve got to get back in.” I proceeded to swim back towards the lagoon. After what it seemed like a long time, though it probably had been just one minute, I realized that I was not making any headway. It may have been because I’m not the best swimmer. But I remembered, “I cannot get tired,” so I floated and rested.
When I began to swim again, I spotted my sister about 30 feet away and yelled, “I can’t get back in!”
She calmly responded, “You can do it.”
I yelled back, “I’m trying to, but the current is too strong!”
I then tried to do backstrokes and went the wrong way.
She swam a little closer and reminded me to stay present and to slow down. There was no rush.
I frustratingly answered, “I know. I’m trying!”
I became totally entangled with my thoughts, feelings, sensations, and especially with the urge to swim fast and get out of the current taking me away from the lagoon. My advisor inside my head was saying so to keep me safe. I got caught up with the content of the thoughts: “I am out of the lagoon. I passed the safety ropes. I’m in danger. There is no lifeguard. No one had noticed me drifting away. What would’ve happened if my sister had not seen me? The fish were nice, but not worth drowning for. This is too hard.” My protector was at work.
There was no storm. The current was strong but not so powerful to make it impossible to get back in if I stayed calm. For a few seconds I felt that icky feeling in my stomach indicating my body was in a fight-or-flight response.
The minute I got caught up with the meaning of the thoughts, that was the very moment I began to fight. I was not willing to be outside of the lagoon, though it was no deeper than the farther areas inside the lagoon. When I recognized the unhelpful thoughts, I was able to connect and embrace actuality — being outside of the lagoon.
No matter what I did in a frantic mode, my reality could not change right then. When I embraced it, and allowed my thoughts, feelings, sensations, bodily sensations, and urges to be there, I was able to think more clearly instead of panicking and trying to get rid of them.
To be clear, “accepting your thoughts and feelings now” does not mean staying stuck where you are with a victim stance or white-knuckling the situation. Learning to become disentangled from your thoughts and accepting what is given will enable you to have an open mind to adjust accordingly.
When I was desperately trying to remove myself from the situation, I didn’t get anywhere. Once I let go of the fight with my internal events (i.e., thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges), I was able to let them be so they could run their course naturally.
Music is a powerful tool for healing. A team of scientists discovered that certain types of music improve your mood by harmonizing the right and left hemispheres of the brain. In today’s high-stress world, you need safe and effective music to feel relaxed, joyful, and upbeat. Give yourself the calm relaxation you deserve. Listen to music proven to reduce stress and anxiety by 65%.
Act while focusing on the process.
Instead of reacting frantically and just having the end goal in mind — getting back inside of the lagoon to feel safe, my focus became one slow breaststroke (my own version of a breaststroke) at a time. In your case, when anxiety and other unpleasant external or internal events occur, you can learn to be willing to take what is being offered in that instant and let emotions and sensations run their course. The effort and time you spend fighting them can be channeled towards cultivating and acting on your values and living a richer and more meaningful life.
What will you be willing to do today or this week that has been difficult in the past? Will you be willing to accept what is offered in the moment of a difficult situation? Will you be willing to let go of the fight with the unfightable? It’s never too late to learn to embrace those internal events so you can move in the direction that you want.
Stillness in the Storm Editor: Why did we post this?
Psychology is the study of the nature of mind. Philosophy is the use of that mind in life. Both are critically important to gain an understanding of as they are aspects of the self. All you do and experience will pass through these gateways of being. The preceding information provides an overview of this self-knowledge, offering points to consider that people often don’t take the time to contemplate. With the choice to gain self-awareness, one can begin to see how their being works. With the wisdom of self-awareness, one has the tools to master their being and life in general, bringing order to chaos through navigating the challenges with the capacity for right action.
Not sure how to make sense of this? Want to learn how to discern like a pro? Read this essential guide to discernment, analysis of claims, and understanding the truth in a world of deception: 4 Key Steps of Discernment – Advanced Truth-Seeking Tools.
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