Anger Is Not The Monster You Think It Is

Anger has gotten some pretty bad press in the past couple of decades (centuries, maybe?).  I’ve heard things like “my anger doesn’t serve me”, “anger is evil and unnecessary” and “I refuse to get angry”.  From early in our childhoods to well into our adulthood and beyond, the message that often gets repeated is something like: Anger bad.  Happy good.  How unfortunate!

PROTECTOR

Not only does your anger protect you, it also signals that a boundary has been crossed or an injustice has occurred, and it is your body’s innate wisdom alerting you to this fact.  I often reference the fantastic sociologist and scientist, Karla McLaren, who is a pioneer in emotion research and emotion linguistics.  Her book “The Language of Emotions” is a must-read for anyone who struggles with understanding emotions.  In this book, she refers to anger as “The Honorable Sentry” that helps us maintain our boundaries, communicate effectively with others, and restore our dignity. 

THE WRONG ASSOCIATION

For most individuals, anger is associated with violent rage, interpersonal arguments that go south, being mean to others, or hurting someone intentionally. Essentially, it’s learned that anger is something to be ashamed of and repressed. None of these represents what anger wants us to do.  To lash out and hurt another person only leads to internal and external pain, and drives us into potential despair, depression, and physical discomfort.  To repress may even be more dangerous, because it pulls your further away from your authenticity, it creates a deep imbalance both emotionally and physically, and creates more opportunities for pain and boundary violations to occur in your life.  You become more vulnerable if you shun, dismiss, or deny your anger.

HOW TO WORK WITH ANGER

So, what’s the healthy approach to working with your anger instead of betraying and denying it? First it’s important to understand the nuances of anger, the way your body feels when anger arises, and the messages you received about anger.  Anger comes in many forms, and most of us don’t like to admit to anger so we use words like: annoyed, frustrated, pissed off, irritated, irked, upset, etc.  If these feelings come up for you, that is anger doing its job.  It’s telling you: “Something doesn’t feel right.  My boundary feels violated…I don’t like what is happening”.  Excellent, now you know that anger is present. 

PHYSICAL REACTIONS

The second is that anger usually manifests in our bodies in many ways: tightening of the stomach, heat rising from your face, quick breathing, intense focus, and a keen awareness of your surroundings.   When these two feelings and sensations happen you’ll likely experience two things (since we are often taught two black-and-white forms of expression): the desire to attack or the need to suppress and slap a wobbly smile on your face. 

THE RESPONSE

There is ALWAYS more than one way to respond, and it does not have to be those two ways. In fact, it shouldn’t be.  The other option you have is working with your anger, or as Karla McLaren says, “channeling” your anger so that you can right the wrong with honor and reassert your boundaries safely and appropriately. 

Acting assertively is often the best choice, because it respects your rights and the rights of the person who wronged you. You’re not saying “you’re a piece of shit and I hate you” nor are you saying “oh, you’re right, I guess it’s all good”.  What you’re saying with assertiveness is “I respect myself by alerting the other to the transgression, stating that it was unwelcome, and calmly acknowledging their humanity in that all humans make mistakes”.  No one gets hurt, the boundary was re-established, and you get to go on with your day!

CHECKING IN

The next time you experience anger, take a moment to pause and do a little personal inventory.  What happened that caused the anger? How can you effectively respond to it without resorting to lashing out or repressing? Your anger is not evil, bad, or something to fear.  It is your own personal alarm system that wants, more than anything, to keep you safe and protected.

Check out Karla’s website at www.karlamclaren.com or get one of her amazing books to learn more about the wondrous world of emotions!

3 Ways To Manage Anxiety At Night

Hello, loves. It’s that time of year when autumn has returned in all of it's glory, with her crunchy leaves, toasted yellow sunlight, and crispy nip in the air, and I am reminded of the darkness that takes us in before we feel we're ready for it.  The 4pm grey that soon turns to night in the blink of an eye, the strangeness of feeling desperately sleepy at 7pm, and the surreal experience of witnessing a hopeful sun peak through a wall of grey clouds.  This can be very difficult for many people and can bring on a whole host of feelings: anxiety, dread, depression, lethargy, mood disturbances, somatic reactions, and an overall change of pace.  

NIGHT TIME WORRIES

Anxiety at night is a difficult thing to experience.  Before you know it the day is gone, the responsibilities are likely accomplished (or not, if you're like me), everyone is at home with their loved ones winding down, and suddenly you are faced with the enormity of feeling alone with your thoughts, without the coffee breaks, errands, and work meetings to distract you.  The long night ahead feels less than desirable and you find feeble ways to distract yourself without much success.

CREATE A RITUAL

The first thing I would recommend is to create a meaningful ritual for yourself. It doesn't have to be complex, prescriptive, or rigid; It just needs to be meaningful to you.  A ritual can take many forms and one ritual I’ve adopted that I have found particularly useful for starting a wind down is: doing a 10 minute clean up of my surroundings.  This sets a nice tone for the evening and creates space for calming energy to move about.

Next, I usually take a shower or bath to wash off the day and prepare me for a comforting night ahead. Then, I do some pampering like a face mask or lighting incense that evokes a warm and safe atmosphere. For those of you who might be thinking, "I already do that and I STILL have anxiety" bear with me a little longer.   This is not a guide to get rid of anxiety, because who can actually do that? Rather it is about managing it effectively.

WATCH YOUR MIND

Examine the pattern of thoughts showing up in your mind.   Do you find that almost always after sunset you feel a pang of sadness, a pit in your stomach, a flurry of fear, and a sudden, yet persistent focus on how deeply alone you feel?  If you notice this, or a variation of this taking place, become a curious bystander.  Do not engage the beliefs that are showing up, but instead watch them like an interested scientist taking part of a study.  

These thoughts and feelings emerge as the result of us feeding them.  At one point you may have noticed the sun going down, freaked out over the existential crisis you were having, and associated night time with that very feeling.  Prior to this, you may not have even noticed the sun dipping down and went about your night like you owned the damn thing.  What does watching our thought patterns do for us?  It helps us detach in a way that allows us to shift our perspective just enough so that we can gently begin to untangle our sticky icky thoughts. 

"Ummm,  yeah, but how do I just examine my thoughts? They just happen! I don't know how to watch them", you just said to yourself as you read this.  A valid question.  Watching your thoughts takes skill, patience, and gentle persistence.  Essentially, watching thoughts is akin to meditation (that's exactly what you're doing when you meditate).  

To get started with this process, start with 5 minutes a day using apps like headspace or insight timer to guide you into the practice of observing your thinking.  Usually, within about a week or so, you start to dispassionately notice your thoughts and learn to see them as just thoughts.  Things that happen based on links, memories, smells, sights, feels, etc., all taking place at such a rate that Einsteins head would spin. Your thoughts are not facts.  Your feelings do not last forever.  Your thoughts and feelings are the result of stimuli, which you can discard, keep, challenge, or reframe whenever you want. 

FOR EXAMPLE

A sample thought watching experiment might go like this. It’s about 6pm and you notice that the sun’s light is waning. Suddenly your stomach starts to feel a bit fluttery and you’re intently focused on what lies ahead. If you decide to watch this experiment you might say, “There’s that familiar feeling…okay, my thoughts are starting to become panicked and now I feel anxious. I’m noticing that my brain is scanning the room and feeling overwhelmed. I also feel like I want to distract myself from this feeling.”

Then you might ask yourself some reframing questions like, “How true is this thought? Well, not very. How does it feel to believe this thought? Pretty bad. How would it feel to gently move into a meaningful activity? Probably a little bit scary, but good overall. What am I focusing on that’s making me feel bad? My thoughts and zeroing in on the anxious feeling in my stomach. Can I focus on anything else? Yes. I can make dinner, I can read a chapter in a book, etc.” Essentially, you start to get more skilled at talking back to your anxious thoughts in a kind and supportive manner. Eventually, this whole thing becomes a lot easier over time.

NEW FAVORITE TIME OF DAY

Make night time your jam.  This one takes some creative thinking and is totally dependent upon what you like! For me, I purposefully make nighttime a space where cozy things happen.  Other people make nighttime a space where social interactions happen (i.e. family dinners, meetings, outings, etc.), or where sleep/sex happen, where movies happen, books happen, emails happen (though this one doesn't sound all that fun), etc.  Make it your own and make it meaningful! 

I’ve learned (over time) to associate night time with a sense of safety. A few years ago that wouldn’t have been the case. I used to feel a heaviness wash over me at the idea of having to spend the last few hours of the day alone, bored, stuck, etc. Those moments really felt awful and distractions would only work so well. When I became the owner of my night time experience, I noticed a subtle shift take over and I suddenly felt more empowered to do more of what made me feel safe.

A mantra you might find helpful for your night time: “I am safe right now. This will fade away. I am not in danger. I am getting enough air. I am starting to relax. I feel calmer. I am going to be okay.”

Get Off The Thought Train

I often find myself explaining the tenants of mindfulness and how great it is to incorporate it into your life, especially if you struggle with anxiety and depression.  What is it about mindfulness that assists in reducing feelings of anxiety and depression?  I think of mindfulness as an invitation to create space inside of your mind.  When we’re having difficulty with anxiety, it can often feel like our brains are incredibly cramped, filled to the brim with unruly thoughts about what can go wrong and how we must solve these future-oriented problems.

MENTAL SPACE

I know how difficult that mental space can be and how desperate you feel to get out of it.  So what do I mean by creating space inside of your mind?  Imagine your brain as a house.  Inside of that house you’ve got many rooms to explore.  For some reason, you just cannot get out of the kitchen.  Every time you think you’re ready to go to the living room, something pulls you right back into that kitchen and nothing you do seems to free you from that space. 

ATTENTION AND CHOICE

Mindfulness says “Okay, so you’ve got this kitchen.  It’s not going anywhere and we know that for some reason you really seem to want to analyze this space and fret over each item.  You can stop analyzing now.  Allow all of your items and this space to just exist without your interference.  Now, walk out of the kitchen.  You can walk backwards and keep looking at it if you want, but just keep moving.  Okay. You’re out of the kitchen.  Let’s go over to the living room.  I see you’re thinking about the kitchen; gently bring your attention back to this living room.  Great.  Yep, I see you’re wanting to go back and make sure that the stove is off; gently bring your attention back to this living room.  Great.” And so on and so forth.  

CLOUDS IN THE SKY

Another way of looking at mindfulness is using the analogy of clouds.  We’ve all seen them; We all know how they can sometimes look like one thing and become another.  The same is true with our thoughts.  I can have the thought “I need to do laundry” and in about .5 seconds that morphs into “I can’t believe I said that thing today” and in less than 30 seconds I’ve had about 150 different thoughts. 

When we look at clouds, do we have to analyze each and every cloud that we see? No, because that would take up literally all day.  The same principle is true with our thoughts.  We can have them, they can look really scary or really benign, and the problem does not lie in the thought itself, rather it’s in how we approach our thoughts.

STOP OVERANALYZING

Instead of trying to figure out what a thought means, we can simply see it as a byproduct of a stimulus and nothing more.  One way to practice this “watching of thoughts” can be through meditation, which is an intentional practice of watching thoughts without judgment or attachment to them.  It’s like being on a train and watching the scenery unfold outside. Wouldn’t it be exhausting if every time you saw a tree you informed the conductor that you needed to get off and inspect that tree?  It’s just as equally exhausting informing yourself that you need to stop what you’re doing and obsess over a thought or analyze it. 

PRACTICE

App’s like headspace and insight timer (among many other great ones) are fantastic tools to practice the art of watching your thoughts via meditation.  You don’t have to be an expert to meditate and there is no such thing as being a perfect meditator.  I know people who’ve been meditating daily for over 20 years and report on the challenges of detaching from thoughts and just watching them.  It’s easy to get swept up into the current, but the practice is in acknowledging that you got swept up and gently removing yourself from the thought stream. 

One Overlooked Reason You Might Be Depressed

People get depressed for a variety of reasons.  Some say it’s genetic, others behavioral, and some argue it’s related to your thinking style and perception of the world. Another perspective might be because a part of you has a hard time with expressing anger, feeling anger, and has an association with anger that is negative.  The saying, “depression is anger turned inward” offers a clue to this idea.  If you struggle with depression and think “but I don’t have a problem with anger”, that could be because something inside you squashes your anger before it has a chance to bloom.

Suppressing Your Feelings…

The problem that many people with depression have is that they experience anger but have trained themselves to stuff it down, deflect it, or avoid any and all expression of it.  For a lot of individuals, anger is associated with being mean, aggressive, and violent.  However, what people don’t realize is that meanness and aggression are forms of acting out of anger, not from it. 

Anger is a really useful emotion that alerts us to when a boundary has been crossed or when we’ve been attacked in some way.   If we act out of our anger, we end up hurting another person and that goes against the purpose of anger, which is to right a wrong. 

For individuals who stuff their anger away and make rationalizations why they shouldn’t be angry, they unwittingly end up turning that anger back onto themselves and become punished by it. 

Covering Your Feelings With Anxiety

Another thing a person dealing with depression might notice when they initially feel angry is the follow up emotion of anxiety.  This anxiety comes as a response to the anger, usually because in that person’s mind anger is a dangerous emotion.  It may have been that in an earlier part of this person’s life, like childhood, they had to adapt to their environment and stuff their anger away in order to stay safe from a person who was hurting them in some way.  However, as they grew into adulthood, the response of stuffing away their anger stopped serving them so well and turned into depression.

For example, if I learned that expressing my anger lead to eruptions from my caregivers and physical attack, I would quickly adapt and sensor that feeling out of my awareness.   However, once I grew into adulthood and I experienced an injustice or boundary crossing from a colleague, friend, or partner, and didn’t express my anger, I would be complicit in my own abuse

Reclaiming Anger

Learning to appropriately set a boundary with people and express your anger without suppressing or exploding it can offer you a much healthier and helpful way of approaching challenging situations.  The process of re-learning how to contact your anger and channel it appropriately takes patience and consistency.  It’s so important to be kind to yourself while you experience the turbulence that comes with change and rewiring your brain. 

Anger can be used to do so many great things like make positive changes in your environment, maintain relationships, honor our needs, and transform our sense of empowerment.  If we stuff it down, we lose our sense of self and personal rights.  If we explode it, we hurt ourselves and other people in the process.  Channeling it assertively, with respect to our wellbeing and the person we’re angry with, allows for space to open up where it may not have been before.  This space is where change occurs.   

Honoring Your Grief

Grief is an unmistakable feeling.  The pit in your stomach, pressure behind the eyes, and a feeling of dissociation takes hold as you try to comprehend the irretrievable loss of your loved one. Death is a reminder that life is impermanent, that all things must come to an end, and that pain is unavoidable.  However, as is true with many tragedies, the silver lining is that the experience of grief can offer you an opportunity to peer at existence with gratitude, humility, and the chance to reclaim your life.  

In the first few months of grief, you may not feel ready to participate in grief groups, reach out to people, or do anything related to moving on and that’s okay. 

A professor of mine once said, “you are the exclusive rights holder of your grief”, meaning that no one can tell you how to grieve or when to stop. Having this as a mantra can be a helpful reminder that you don’t owe your recovery to anyone but yourself.  I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to grieve, it all just depends on your style and what you need. 

Some individuals who are recovering from an irretrievable loss may need to kick, scream, and contact their anger honestly and without censorship.  Others may need a highly supportive, gentle, and regulated approach to process their grief.  And then of course there’s a mixture of the two and an incredibly diverse range of processes.

Since I cannot tell you how to grieve, all I can do is offer you the support and encouragement to feel whatever is coming up for you.  Regardless of how you’re feeling in this moment, you are deserving of compassion and grace.

Some steps you can take to honor the grief inside of you may include:

Learning to Say No. 

Having clear and firm boundaries is essential.  Healing is much harder to come by when you’re caught up in pleasing others or sidestepping your feelings in favor of maintaining the status quo.  Saying no does not equate to being mean, unforgiving, or selfish; It can actually be the opposite.  When you say no, you’re lovingly committing to your needs, which helps you take better care of yourself and eventually ripples out into your community.  How does saying no during grief help? It conveys the message that your feelings are important and your energy is being reserved for processing your loss. Taking time out for healing is vital.  Saying no to anything that does not serve you, despite if it sounds good (like joining a grief group when you’re not ready), is perfectly acceptable and valid.

Creating Ritual. 

The value of ritual has long been documented as a beneficial and healing act that creates connection with the self and the universe (or spirit, or God, or great beyond; i.e. any “higher energy”).  Rituals, particularly related to grief, can give meaning to our losses, or better yet, a generate a holding space for emotional release and closure.  What rituals for grief come to mind? It’s completely relative to you and what would serve you.  For example, a 20-minute contemplative walk in nature, lighting a candle for a 10-minute reflection, or setting a time-limited space for grief to emerge and flow are all rooted in some type of ritual that encourages intentional connection to your feelings.  A ritual doesn’t have to be spiritual or religious for it to matter; The point is to connect to your grief in a purposeful and mindful way so that it may be honored and released.

Getting Creative/Expressive.

Finding a creative outlet for grief to stream through you is a truly remarkable method of processing your loss in a sensory and emotion-focused kind of way.  Logic has its value, but sometimes it cannot fully comprehend the more complex sort of reactions that live inside of us. Creative writing, journaling, painting, dance/movement, are just a few ways to express what is stirring within.  None of these expressive activities need to be perfect, shown to anyone, or kept even for yourself.  You can destroy inanimate objects, declutter your space, draw on the walls, blast hardcore metal, plant beautiful flowers, or write stories to capture the physical and emotional manifestations of grief.  There is no right or wrong way to get creative and tap into your primal instincts (as long as you’re not hurting yourself or others).

Reaching Out. 

I know I mentioned above that you may not be ready to contact a grief support group or therapist, but down the road you may feel a longing to take this significant step and connect with others.  A simple google search for grief support groups in your area should yield some fairly robust results.  Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from a friend or loved one if you’re feeling scatter brained or too emotionally tapped to begin searching for support in your area.  Some churches, community centers, and mental health agencies offer free grief groups that meet at various times. Take some time to research what’s out there; You don’t have to do this alone.

Immediate Support.

If you are finding that grief is becoming a beast that you cannot manage and catch yourself feeling suicidal, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for immediate support at 1-800-273-8255. Remember that grief, along with every other feeling out there, is transient.  Your emotions are always ebbing and flowing with every moment that passes by. 

Be gentle and kind to yourself and treat your internal experiences with respect.

Embracing Your Dark Side

We cannot have light without the dark, which means that all of us have a dark side. Carl Jung, one of the greatest psychoanalysts of our time, has given us insight into the Shadow calling it, “The place in our psyche where all of our disowned, unwanted, and hated parts of ourselves go into hiding.”

These parts of ourselves, like resentments, envy, anger, judgement, and other forms of perceived “badness”, are often treated with such cruelty by our own selves that we regularly shove them into our shadow until they come screaming back into our lives with a mighty force.  When this happens, the Shadow has overtaken us and we are often left with such guilt for our actions that we resort to self-condemnation and punishment (yet another avenue for the Shadow to rule).

Why does this happen? Why can’t these aspects of ourselves stay in the darkness forever? The funny thing about our light side, the part of us we want the world to see and admire, is that it needs our dark side. 

Without Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter would not have been able to harness his own greatness and transcend the dark arts.  Without Sauron, Frodo would not have had to find his bravery, his strength, and selfless commitment to restoring good in the world.  

We need our dark side, our Shadow, to guide us toward wholeness and integration of our true nature.  We are not one-dimensional beings who are either good or bad, though our ego likes to think so.  Once we move beyond believing that we are impenetrable by our darker impulses, can we learn to see them and understand their origins in our psyche.

If we can get real with ourselves and compassionately admit that we are ruled by both sides of our psyche, not just the good side, we’ll begin to see ourselves as dualistic in nature and in constant flux between the light and dark.  

Anytime your Shadow emerges, ask yourself “What needs to be healed? What must be overcome?”. 

What Exactly Is Self-Compassion?

For those of you who are familiar with Eastern philosophies, self-compassion may seem like a no-brainer.  However, for most of us who live and breathe in the Western world, this concept of self-compassion is only obliquely understood.  Some people detest that word because they believe it means being too forgiving of the self, too lenient, and fear that it will endorse laziness in some way.  I could see how some might assume this. 

The self-compassion craze that is booming in today’s society is often clouded in nice, fluffy, and pretty Instagram posts of quotes (I’m guilty of this) emboldening positive messages of perseverance, resiliency, and doing loads of self-care.  While this side of self-compassion is still important, it can often cloak the real emphasis of the practice in vagueness and pretty pictures. 

Self-Compassion, according to Dr. Kristin Neff, PhD, “means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”  To expand on this, it’s helpful to think about an experience you had when you looked at someone, or an animal, who was suffering and felt a sense of deep caring and a desire to extend kindness toward that person (or animal) and help them through the pain. 

The way we respond to ourselves is equally important.  It’s typical for most of us to approach our mistakes with criticism and judgment.  Any of these sentiments sound familiar? “I should have known better.  I’m such an idiot for saying that.  What a dumb decision to make, I’m so stupid”. My hunch is that most of you reading this engage in this kind of self-dialogue a few times every day, sometimes without even realizing it. 

Our self-criticisms have become so automatic, that often times we are unaware of the running story in our mind telling us how we’re “not good enough” and that "no one is interested in you anyway”. How sad that this automatic narrative gets more airtime than any other self-evaluating thoughts in our minds.

Being self-compassionate does not mean that you never take ownership of your actions or you excuse yourself of accountability. 

The aim of self-compassion is to encourage self-acceptance first and foremost. Can we, without shame, acknowledge and accept that sometimes we have violent thoughts, lie to others, and say things we don’t mean while also accepting that we are kind, loving and have the desire to find happiness? Self-compassion is about responding to all the parts of the self with kindness, and being open to learning from our experiences instead of judging them.

For example, the self-compassionate response to making a mistake with a coworker would be “Wow, this experience is really tough right now.  Mistakes happen, and I’m no different from the rest of the world in this regard.  How can I care for myself and learn from this experience in this moment?” or “This is part of the human experience.  Difficult experiences are normal and part of everyday life.  How can I extend kindness toward myself and honor this difficult moment?”

Another cool thing about self-compassion, is that it’s different from self-esteem.  In western culture, self-esteem is often associated with achieving some sort of success or value determined by our peers.  In early childhood, we are often awarded or congratulated for doing something special or above average.  While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, it can seep into our unconscious as the only way to feel good about ourselves. 

Self-compassion does not ask you to be anything, do anything, or achieve anything.  It asks you to simply be human, deserving of your own love and kindness.  If you’re someone who considers themselves a high achiever, you may struggle with self-esteem if your sense of worth and value is based on what you accomplish.  However, you can be a high achiever AND have self-compassion when things don’t go perfectly.  In fact, I’d say that oddly enough it will lead you to better outcomes in your life, long-term successes (because they’re based more on how you want to show up in the world, rather than how much you achieve), and sustainable self-worth.  

Being kind to yourself does not have to show up as sparkly positivity, sugarcoated niceness, or even overly indulgent forgiveness.  It can be as simple as you wish.  “May I be kind to myself in this moment” or “May I learn to face reality without hiding behind the veil of self-esteem” or “I feel hurt and stuck in how to express it. May I hold space for myself to understand and process what I’m experiencing”.

This week, consider the ways in which you can show up for yourself in moments of pain with honest self-compassion.  

The Thinking Self and The Observing Self

What are these two “Selves” and why are they important? The brain likes to create a lot of stories, generate ideas, thoughts, and fantasies and sometimes when we’re feeling anxious, our brains will capitalize on this and create a shitloadof thoughts about what this all means. 

The typical anxiety brain will look something like “Oh, fuck. My heart just skipped a beat.  This means something is wrong.  I can’t breathe…am I dying? Why is this happening? When will it stop? Is my front door unlocked? I’m probably not getting that promotion” and the list goes on. That’s the thinking self in action.  It’s the part of us that is aware of our thoughts, is constantly analyzing information, and is making meaning out of situations as we go along.

With any of our experiences, whether it’s anxiety or boredom, the thinking self has a hard time detaching from thoughts because it’s designed to analyze and produce content. If I’m really caught up in something, I’m usually thinking about a million things at once and not really considering the present moment. 

The observing self is something quite different.  It’s the part of our mind that is watchingourselves experience something and it’s been with us ever since we were born.  The observing self can’t think or respond, it just notices.  When we’re meditating, we are making contact with this part so that we can dispassionately observe our thoughts.  The point of the observing self is literally to observe, without judgement. 

The thinking self might say “why the hell did you do that?” while the observing self notices the rise of anxiety in your stomach, the desire to condemn yourself, and the response you’re having to the thoughts.

The observing self is the sky and the thinking self are the clouds that make up the sky. 

When we’re thinking, the sky gets filled up with different shapes of clouds with different intensities and textures.  Sometimes the clouds are so intimidating that we get scared and run for cover out of fear of what these clouds mean.  However, the sky is really unconcerned with these clouds because it knows they will come and go. The sky simply notices the clouds forming and parting and silently observes while the clouds change.  

The observing self is a great place to tap into when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed because it offers you a haven where you’re invited to simply notice the thoughts, feelings, and reactions that are forming inside of you. The way to get there is through meditation first.  Once you’ve gotten used to meditation and how to get yourself into a meditative state, it’s a lot easier to access the observing self.

Mindful meditation is never about emptying your mind because that is impossible; Not even the holiest and most Zen meditation masters can accomplish this.  The goal of meditation is to just watch your thoughts, your breathing, your sensations and that’s it.  Like players on a stage, you’re watching the scene unfold without any desire to control or manipulate what you’re seeing.  

Contacting your observing self is a really amazing thing.  You will likely notice some pretty remarkable insights show up as a result of doing this.  Start by paying attention your breath. You’ll notice that your mind will start to wander and each time that happens, I invite you to gently bring your attention back to your breath. This will help to gently bring your observing self to the forefront of your mind and allow to contact it more and more.

Working With Fear and Ways to Stay Grounded

Today I feel fear.  Nothing is happening yet I feel afraid.  This fear comes in many forms: anxiety, dread, nervousness, fugues, dissociation, and physical symptoms.  I’m sure you know it too.  This type of fear wracks us all when it hits yet so many of us bravely put on our faces and continue to move forward despite its gripping sensation around our necks.

When this feeling moves in, like a storm steadily chasing ground, I know there is nothing I can do to ease the blow or make the overwhelm cease.  I, like many of you, experience a sort of rawness that accompanies these freezing storms of emotion and (desperately look to find answers, drowning myself in endless streams of hopeful solutions and experiences shared by others. 

Sometimes fear grips us like a chill in the night and we go looking for warmth to ease our pain.  There are times when the warmth is not there or does not offer the safety we hope it will.  Finding ourselves in the midst of emotional downpour feels nearly impossible, but grounding ourselves in the present moment with a fierce intentionality can be enough to weather the storm.

In Acceptance and Commitment therapy, this is called “Dropping the Anchor”, a term used to aptly describe the benefits of keeping a ship securely tethered to the earth, should a terrible wind possibly push the ship astray.  In human terms, dropping the anchor is no different.  It is what we do when we panic, dissociate from our bodies, or feel we are being pulled by some unnamed fear.

Dropping the anchor does two things:

It puts us back into our bodies and helps us see the world around us.  If you are reading this at home, take a moment to stand up and firmly press your feet into the ground.  Really feel the pressure of your foot meeting the floor and notice how solid it feels.  As you’ve firmly rooted your feet down, imagine actual roots growing out of the bottom of your feet and going deep into the earth’s core where they cannot be moved.

Then, look around the room.  What do you see? What do you hear? Pretend that you are a curious scientist who has never seen the room you are in and is seeing all the objects for the first time.  What might you notice? Do the same for the physical sensations occurring in your body.  Can you steadily observe what your feeling and thinking without getting hooked into the story? When we drop the anchor, an entire world opens up and our feelings/thoughts become something to get curious about. 

The benefits of this exercise not only put you back into the moment, but give you the chance to connect to yourself and your surroundings.  You can do this anywhere (except driving) and it only takes 5 minutes, but you can go longer if you need.  Practicing awareness shouldn’t be used as a method to escape or avoid a feeling, rather it should be used to bringing attention to things as they are without trying to change them.

While you may be thinking “Yeah, but I want the feeling to go away”, you are not alone.  Most of us want the feeling to go away, but how many times have we tried to push it out of awareness only to have it come back tenfold?  This offers a less resistance and more open response to what we’re feeling and thinking and reduces the suffering that comes when we try to push those experiences away.