What if pain and suffering arises from resisting pain and suffering? If saying an internal “no” to what is actually happening, causes more pain than the happenings themselves? What if the greatest cause of distress is the illusion that we can control our life circumstances in such a way that would relieve us of pain – that we can fix things outside of us to be happy?
Do you believe that there is a flow to life that we just have to allow to pass through us?
I certainly didn’t.
Up until about two years ago, I believed that we all architect our opportunities and happiness through planning and diligence. I believed that it felt best to be liked by everyone. I believed that tragedies were bad luck and difficulty was to be avoided at all costs.
Then I read a book with a title I would have never picked up if it hadn’t been given to me: Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer.
It opened me up in a powerful way. No unicorns and butterflies, this book presents a matter-of-fact option for happiness and freedom. We each have a choice: engage in the process of surrender to the flow or stay in chronic suffering punctuated by acute experiences of victimization and trauma.
Singer’s second work is aptly called The Surrender Experiment, in which he chronicles the incredible well-spring of mind-expanding experiences that surfaced when he decided to let go. When he decided to just show up to life every day and to stop trying to make it happen the way he thought he wanted it to.
“Challenging situations create the force needed to bring about change. The problem is that we generally use all the stirred-up energy intended to bring about change, to resist change. I was learning to sit quietly in the midst of the howling winds and wait to see what constructive action was being asked of me.”
As a hot-headed Irish-Italian, these words taught me what will be at the core of my personal work for the years to come – watch, observe, and wait for the peak emotion to pass before acting. For many of my patients, this means taking a look at distress, hopelessness, upset, and allowing the feelings to be so the wave of emotions can crest and fall. It means getting acquainted with neutral mind – that non-participatory bystander without preferences.
In this model, one chooses to get out of their own way by allowing the constant chatter of the mind to atrophy – by ignoring that annoying voice that is constantly second-guessing, criticizing, panicking, plotting.
You are not those thoughts. You are the one witnessing those thoughts. All you are here to do is remain open to what is put in your path and in your hands. To accept the flow. To appreciate the unexpected growth that manifests out of adversity.
In moments of tension, discomfort, or even agony, this is what you do:
- Notice and acknowledge your discomfort.
- Relax and release it no matter how urgent it feels to act. Let the energy pass through you before you attempt to fix anything.
- Imagine sitting back up on a high seat, in the back of your head watching your thoughts, emotions, and behavior with a detached compassion.
- Then ground yourself. Connect to the present moment – feel the earth under your feet, smell the air, imagine roots growing into the earth from your spine.
When we sit in stillness and watch, we can learn and we can see just what is in store for us. Sometimes challenges are exactly what the doctor ordered. Sometimes even tragedy is part of our path. Other times, amazing things turn out to be colossal burdens.
This parable says it all – when bad is good and good is bad and it all adds up to a ride we are simply in the passenger seat for.
The New Normal
Psychiatry makes no room for this growth. For transformation. For spiritual ascension.
In fact, Psychiatry pathologizes states of mindfulness, as dissociative, and is quick to label many who would otherwise be regarded as having awakenings, as psychotic. Recent literature even speaks to the difficulty a psychiatrist might have in distinguishing spirituality from psychosis:
Many aspects of spiritual experience are similar in form and content to symptoms of psychosis. Both spiritually advanced people and patients suffering from psychopathology experience alterations in their sense of ‘self.’ Psychotic experiences originate from derangement of the personality, whereas spiritual experiences involve systematic thinning out of the selfish ego, allowing individual consciousness to merge into universal consciousness. Documented instances and case studies suggest possible confusion between the spiritually advanced and schizophrenia patients. Clinical practice contains no clear guidelines on how to distinguish them.
In the world of Psychiatry, distress is a sign of sickness to be eliminated by consciousness-suppressing drugs. It is not a gateway to change. It is not an invitation to look at what might be misaligned or out of balance.
Make The Choice
I would argue that in today’s cultural climate, you’re either part of the problem or you’re working on the solution. The problem I am referring to is the spiritual death of our nation, the psychically bereft state that is cultivated by unbridled capitalism, by profit-driven enterprise that puts money before souls.
We are driven by fear to engage a model that makes us sick and then offers us chemical cures that beget more chemical cures. We are told not to trust our instincts, not to consult our heritage for models of wellness, never to honor the inner wisdom of our bodily organism over the seemingly exacting mechanism of modern science.
If we insist on a ripple-free pond as our lifescape, we will turn to psychotropics, alcohol, cocaine, junk food, and other traps that seem to offer a pain-free option for navigating the overwhelm of life. The trade off is that our still pond will grow over with weeds that will strangle the ecosystem.
I never expect my patients to diminish the stress in their life. I do, however, expect them to work to shift their perspectives on it – to see and accept their reality so that it can change organically when they stop fighting with it. To let go, continuously, of attachment to outcome. To work daily on getting their egos out of the way of their spirits.
Start With 3 Minutes
I ask them to start with 3 minutes. Everyone has 3 minutes. I particularly love these kriyas aptly named, Three Minute Start, but it can be as simple as daily alternate nostril breathing or even just counting breaths to force consciousness out of the arena of mental chatter and into the free space of peace.
Give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose and infinite expansion to gain.