I was involved in an online conversation recently where I could see that people involved in the discussion were becoming polarized (not hard to do these day when the world seems more divided than ever). I went to bed after stating some truths for me that I knew in my heart would likely aggravate the situation and cause further defensiveness and protecting of one’s point of view.
As I lay there, I realized “that was actually not necessary”. Although I felt strongly, what did it really matter when the walls are already up and the more you take your corner of the ring, the harder the other side fights.
Have you noticed that? That growth and progress only comes through acceptance and understanding, and never through arguing louder?
This is the difference between intelligence (knowing all the facts and figures, competition) and wisdom (empathy, cooperation and knowing when to keep quiet).
So this is what I am experimenting with these days… and also explains why I haven’t been in your inbox for my weekly dose of what’s real in healing!
What is actually necessary?
It is this: Pain does seem inevitable in this life, and this year has carried a lot of it for a lot of people AND how we approach pain, ours or anothers, determines our level of suffering.
I am talking about our natural, innate fight-flight-freeze (FFF) response, the stress response, our need to react, resist or escape pain.
You know, that reaction that kept our ancestors alive so we could be here? That impulse to get the hell out of the way of oncoming traffic, or to go fight the bullies who insulted your child, or to react in a conversation that is going downhill fast? Yes, that.
It’s also the culprit that keeps us scared even in the face of no apparent threat.
I would say this is one of the biggest gifts that deep breathing and mindfulness gives us: the ability to determine that we are, in fact, safe from danger in this moment, AND the danger signal is coming from inside of us.
Guess what? The FFF armour doesn’t know the difference. He will go to bat for you at the sniff of danger… a long to-do list, a perceived criticism, an argumentative teenager, a look of disapproval. FFF says “I’m ready! Let’s go! Let’s get ’em” and shoots a cascade of stress hormones into your blood, engages all your muscles, shortens your breath, narrows your vision and fills your mind with racing thoughts of danger (or more like.. “He should, I should have, I’m going to, wait til I, I’m a failure, I’ll never get it all done, life sucks, I’m going to be fired, people are…, the world is…) and so on.
Yes, that’s your dear old FFF doing it’s job. It’s very effective in the face of danger. Otherwise, it’s not.
In fact, it makes things worse.
Overthinking ruins your day and your health, stress wreaks havoc on all your systems and increases pain, anxiety and leads to fatigue and depression. How could it not? It is such hard work for our nervous system when there is little time in between to rest.
Wait, don’t be scared… all this can be reversed. When we realize how unnecessary it is. If it was necessary you would have already acted. FFF doesn’t wait for you.
Let me give you a simple tool to start. I have found that the unnecessary responses tend to fall into 3 categories:
2. Extra muscle tension
3. Activities that we think we “should” do that we in fact don’t have to and perhaps don’t even want to.
Late for work? Swearing at other drivers (unnecessary), extra layer of tension in shoulders (unnecessary): Breathe, relax shoulders and stay in your own lane.
Worried about an interview, or something in the future? Comparing yourself to others (unnecessary), worried about the outcome (useless right now) shortness of breath (FFF heads up!), tense body: Breathe deeply, relax your jaw, neck and forehead, notice your thoughts and say “thank you, that’s not necessary”.
Too much to do? Thinking “I have too much to do” (unnecessary) unless it causes you to cut some things out. “I’m too busy” (ditto, just do it, don’t, or delegate), shortness of breath, muscle tension (layers of unnecessary), complaining (unnecessary), blaming (in this moment, useless).
FFF can cause us to get activated to do something or just aggravates the situation causing thoughts of the future. All you can ever do is what you are doing, right now, in this moment, one breath one moment at a time.
Using the phrase “Is this necessary” will help to free you up to see that you do, indeed, have a choice. Sometimes we have to put inner boundaries around our small inner self that tends to collapse head-first into the FFF reaction by complaining, comparing, competing, shouting, procrastinating, people-pleasing or trying to be perfect.
“That’s not necessary”: thoughts, body, activity: can free you up to let go of what is not needed, unnecessary baggage, and get down to what is truly real, truly important, and truly you.
And this might mean speaking up clearly, directly and honestly, in the face of adversity.
Let’s get simple. When it comes down to it, in this moment there is not a lot that is really truly necessary other than breathing, moving, speaking (a lot of which is not necessary), eating, sleeping.
Do NOT let your small self use this tool as another reason to beat yourself up. For example “that chocolate cake, that nap, that holiday isn’t necessary”. NO… this is only for use during stressful times to knock out the stress in order to free up beautiful, restful, healing times for all those necessary treats, relaxation and fun.
Life itself, in this moment, isn’t as complicated as the mind makes it out to be. It’s up to you to sort out the wheat from the chaff and free up precious energy and love to devote to this moment.
In any given moment, you have the ability to let go of what is not necessary. This will leave you with… this moment.
Guess what? That is actually all that exists. Now.
Start to let go of what is not necessary for you to carry. Pick and choose carefully. Put the suitcase down of rumination, obligation, “shoulding” on yourself and let’s leave behind the suffering of resistance to this moment and be here for what is. Your choice.
And as such, I will only fill up your inbox with what I feel is truly necessary.
Oh, and that conversation I was in the middle of? I got up and deleted my comments and in the morning found the “other side” had softened considerably. There is a middle way.
Look after yourselves well, your time and energy are important.