The world is full of suffering which can feel overwhelming. Worry and stress can zap our energy, challenging us to have the courage to be fully present in the world.
How can we transform our emotions, choose our responses wisely and stay present?
Gelong Thubten, author of A Monk’s Guide to Happiness says we experience stress when we:
• Don’t get what we want.
• Get what we don’t want.
• Protect what we have.
• Lose what we love.
Sound familiar? How many of those examples can you name from today?!
The phrases above are examples of grasping which matters because our minds shrink when under stress. Stress squashes our natural kindness and desire for connectivity. Emotions do have to go somewhere; they are like electricity. Luckily emotions convert to energy and to practice feeling our feels, makes us more human and humane.
There many capacities we can build and simple strategies to try:
1. Find beauty and awe.
Get out into nature to realize that life wants life. It takes you out of yourself. You can sit in your insignificance and realize it’s not all about you. Lightness and gratitude are in sight when we stop the profound disconnect felt from our living world.
Where is the place you go to experience beauty, awe, mystery, and magic? How could you get more of it and what’s stopping you?!
2. Seek a vista or view.
Walk, climb or bike to a mountain summit, even a local knoll or viewpoint. Watch the sunrise or sunset over an expansive landscape. Soak up the view and overwhelm your brain with beauty. Our body responds when we experience being a part of something bigger than yourself. Want to learn more? Read about attention restoration theory (ART) which explains how time in nature can replenish us— supporting executive function and self-regulation.
3. Stoke the fire.
ART is also alive when we take time for fireside conversation and connection. Have you spent time staring into a fire? Think about the feeling you experience surrounded by darkness. Darkness in this sense can help turn down the volume on distractions, worries and even gently nudge people to speak openly and share or think more clearly. Authors Harper, Rose and Segal of Nature-Based Therapy: A practitioner’s guide to working outdoors with children, youth, and families say “…your ability to think lucidly and share without pretense is heightened.”
4. Start a gratitude journal
Gratitude is a social emotion. It points to what’s already there. Gratitude also solidifies our relationship with living mystery and enhances our resilience (the ability to bounce back). Grab a journal and jot down three things before bed (when the mind is most suggestive) and see if it helps you build your capacity to face hard info. Express gratitude for things big and small—the moon, stars, friendship, safety or time to enjoy a cup of good coffee.
5. Embrace Vajra pride
In the Buddhist tradition, pride is equal to poison. Pride’s friends are desire, jealousy, anger and ignorance. The problem with ordinary pride is it focuses on self-importance. You might fixate on proving your status and value. This leaves zero room for humour and lightness!
Instead, try Vajra pride:
• Based on trust in one’s inherent worth and value
• Takes courage!
• “Primordial self-esteem”
Stop constantly trying to prove yourself. From here you can relax. Then, watch how easily you can stand tall with basic confidence, find clarity and find yourself grounded in fearlessness.
6. Fearless ancestors
On my son’s birthday I read an excerpt of my grandfather’s life story. It gives great perspective on whose shoulders he stands on! Think of the people in your life who kept going, were tenacious, steadfast and patient. Recall a mentor, teacher or coach. What do you remember about their stories? How was it to be around them? What were their traits and capacities? Their lives may offer you as a lesson to persevere. You may uncover excellent examples of how to stay on the path and to keep going forward.
Which ideas have your attention? Pace yourself, this is not a checklist. Don’t hesitate to contemplate these strategies before diving in!