Move Toward Your Pain
As we continue in Jay Dixit’s article on Living in the Moment, we hit on a step that, for most of us, can be the most challenging — dealing with pain in our lives. It is natural for us, as humans, to do whatever is necessary to avoid pain and disappointment; but life happens, and the best we can do when faced with unfortunate circumstances is to find the best and most productive way to deal with it.
If something is bothering you, move toward it rather than away from it (acceptance).
We all have pain in our lives, whether it’s the ex we still long for, the jackhammer snarling across the street, or the sudden wave of anxiety when we get up to give a speech. If we let them, such irritants can distract us from the enjoyment of life. Paradoxically, the obvious response—focusing on the problem in order to combat and overcome it—often makes it worse, argues Stephen Hayes, a psychologist at the University of Nevada.
The mind’s natural tendency when faced with pain
is to attempt to avoid it—
. . . by trying to resist unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and sensations. When we lose a love, for instance, we fight our feelings of heartbreak. As we get older, we work feverishly to recapture our youth. When we’re sitting in the dentist’s chair waiting for a painful root canal, we wish we were anywhere but there. But in many cases, negative feelings and situations can’t be avoided—and resisting them only magnifies the pain.
The problem is we have not just primary emotions but also secondary ones—emotions about other emotions. We get stressed out and then think, “I wish I weren’t so stressed out.” The primary emotion is stress over your workload. The secondary emotion is feeling, “I hate being stressed.”
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The solution is acceptance—letting the emotion be there.
That is, being open to the way things are in each moment without trying to manipulate or change the experience—without judging it, clinging to it, or pushing it away. The present moment can only be as it is. Trying to change it only frustrates and exhausts you. Acceptance relieves you of this needless extra suffering.
Suppose you’ve just broken up with your girlfriend or boyfriend; you’re heartbroken, overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and longing. You could try to fight these feelings, essentially saying, “I hate feeling this way; I need to make this feeling go away.” But by focusing on the pain—being sad about being sad—you only prolong the sadness. You do yourself a favor by accepting your feelings, saying instead, “I’ve just had a breakup. Feelings of loss are normal and natural. It’s OK for me to feel this way.”
Acceptance of an unpleasant state doesn’t mean you don’t have goals for the future. It just means you accept that certain things are beyond your control. The sadness, stress, pain, or anger is there whether you like it or not. Better to embrace the feeling as it is.
Nor does acceptance mean you have to like what’s happening.
“Acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation,” writes [Jon] Kabat-Zinn
“Acceptance doesn’t tell you what to do. What happens next, what you choose to do; that has to come out of your understanding of this moment.”
If you feel anxiety, for instance, you can accept the feeling, label it as anxiety—then direct your attention to something else instead. You watch your thoughts, perceptions, and emotions flit through your mind without getting involved. Thoughts are just thoughts. You don’t have to believe them and you don’t have to do what they say.
In my next post in this series, we’ll conclude with the sixth and final step in learning to live in the moment.
CLICK HERE for part 7 – “Know That You Don’t Know” and conclusion
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