It was about 5 years ago now. I remember it vividly. That day, I crossed something off my bucket list:
I attended a lecture given by Caroline Myss, a woman whose teachings had completely blown the existing boundaries off my worldview & taught me so much.
She said that her 20+ years of experience working with people who needed healing in some way/shape/form had taught her that people don’t want to “get better” for the sake of growth and healing. That’s not the primary motivator. The reality is that people don’t want to be in pain.
Think about it – this is a biggie. Pain points of all kinds in our lives are catalysts for us taking action.
I bring this up because it really applies to the strife that is going on all around us lately.
At the root of anger, you’ll find fear. The source of fear is an aversion to pain. Generally speaking.
Until we understand this equation, true peace will elude us all.
If we understand one another’s pain points & fears, we can work together to build a path that not only avoids those things but also leads us all to our higher selves.
Until then, violence and hate will just incite more violence and hate because we are all desperately trying to protect ourselves from the pain we fear & in that heightened emotional state – no one is going to back down.
So the next time you find yourself at odds with another, perhaps stop to ask yourself, what does this person fear? What pain are they trying desperately to avoid? How can I reassure them that they are safe from that with me so that we can begin to understand one another, even if we don’t agree with one another.
A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend introduced me to a saying I hadn’t heard before:
You can’t read the label from inside the jar.
It’s been in my head ever since. I just keep going back to it in my mind and thinking about how true (and clever!) it is!
This maxim is pointing towards the need for a certain perspective in one’s life; an outside perspective, to be precise.
One reason I think this is such an important saying is because so many of us, myself included, get really down on ourselves about being able to give other people great advice but not being able to navigate one’s own life with the same clarity and wisdom.
Well, sugar plum, you can’t read the label from inside the jar.
When it’s your own life, you’re in the jar. It takes someone on the outside to offer the info from their oh-so-valuable outside perspective.
Clearly, there are very few universal truths so there are exceptions to this “rule”.
One truth that I think I can safely say is universal is that it’s valuable to have the feedback and perspective from trusted, wise people in our lives. They offer us the perspective that we ourselves often cannot.
Think of it this way: If you’re in a corn field (an everyday scenario, I know) trying to navigate your way to the road, think of how helpful it would be to have a friend flying above you in a helicopter with a loud speaker telling you which direction to turn to get to the road in what they perceive as the most efficient route possible.
Would you fault yourself for taking this advice? Would you think that there is something wrong with you or that you’re somehow weak that you can’t have this knowledge on your own when in the middle of a field you’ve never been in before? No, of course not.
The same is true for us in real life.
So, next time you are frustrated that you can’t figure your sh*t out on your own when you feel like you give really great advice to others, don’t beat yourself up.
Remember, you’re human.
Remember, we need one another.
Remember, no matter how self-aware we consider ourselves, there will always be blind spots and new circumstances.
Remember that everyone can benefit from hearing the perspective of a trusted, wise person in their lives. Maybe that’s a friend, family member or a coach/therapist. If you’re looking to add such a person to your life right now or just want a fresh perspective on something that’s going on, I’ve got your back on that.
And finally, remember that life lessons and circumstances and bits of wisdom make their way into sayings, maxims, idioms, proverbs etc because they are so universally true.
So, yet again, you’re not alone. And, much to my comfort, neither am I because I’m right there with ya.
Yep, now everyone knows that I, Ginny Gay, suffer from U.L.M.
My boyfriend also suffers from it – though we’re sure he had it before we met. Whew.
How about you, dear reader? Do you find yourself in the midst of a periodic U.L.M breakout that just happens to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune of times? Chances are, you do; you just may not know it by that name.
U.L.M. stands for Unspecified Low Mood. My boyfriend and I coined this term a while ago to describe a feeling of unknown or unspecified origin that just feels bad, yucky, unpleasant, low or heavy.
For me, the hallmark sign of U.L.M. is that I really can’t pinpoint the exact name of the feeling; it’s not anxiety, it’s not sadness and it’s not irritation. I also can’t pinpoint any reason to feel badly. But, there’s no denying it – and there seems to be no explaining it. It feels different than a bad mood. I don’t feel grumpy, I just feel low.
The good news is that it eventually passes. It may hang around for part of the day, an entire day or in really bad flare ups, several days in one week. The truth that no feeling is final is something I remind myself of as soon as I realize I’m in an episode and it feels really unpleasant.
Let me pause here and acknowledge one coping mechanism that disguises itself as a remedy: Comparison.
Comparison does not do anything to lift the heaviness of a U.L.M. In fact when it comes to pain and suffering, I believe that comparison is often the thief of healing.
Saying that others have it so much worse is certainly a true statement but the problem is that it shames the very real feelings someone is experiencing.
I think perspective is important and I think gratitude is hugely important. Sometimes the best remedy for any type of low mood is to help others who are also struggling in some way. When it crosses over and becomes unhelpful is when one doesn’t permit oneself to just go ahead and feel their feelings. Shaming them away only makes them come back later and with a vengeance.
If you get consumed by comparisons, you may just fail to honor your own feelings because you consider them too minor.
Ok, back to the U.L.M.
Here are 3 reasons why giving this condition a name has proved to be a helpful step to take:
1. If I’m honest, I feel more in control of something if I can identify it with a name.
Be it an illusion or a reality, when it’s a mystery it seems to have the upper hand and it’s as if I’m it’s marionette on a string. When I give it a name, I begin to pull myself out from under it’s overwhelming “control”, I get some perspective and come into a point of choice as to what to do with it.
Here’s what author and psychologist Harriet Lerner said in her fabulous book,The Dance of Fear, and this concept really applies to any emotion.:
“What harms us is not the dreadful way anxiety feels in the body, whether it’s moderate agitation or a full-blown panic attack. We are all capable of managing the most anguishing physical sensations when we know what is happening to us, when we understand that what is happening is frightening but not really dangerous, when we know we won’t die from it, and when we know that eventually, the feelings will subside. But when we develop a fear of fear itself, we’re lost. Certain that we “can’t stand” to feel this way, we try hiding out from fear, running from it full speed, or fighting it off with a big stick. Doing any of these things only makes fear grow bigger and stronger – and makes us feel smaller and weaker.”
2. What is not named, does not seem to be legitimate; it’s not given that very basic acknowledgment that it exists.
Naming something goes a long way to demystifying it. There’s a quote I love that says,
“Most problems precisely defined are already partially solved.”
I’m not sure who said that but props to whoever you are. Preach.
3. Knowing that someone else understands how I’m feeling is really comforting.
It’s easy to pretty quickly get to the place of thinking that one’s suffering is exceptional in some way, but the truth is, suffering is part of the human condition. EVERYONE who is living feels pain, unpleasant emotions and suffers.
In Buddhism, they go so far as to call it “the” pain or “the” suffering because it depersonalizes the experience.
You’re feeling what all humans feel because to be alive is to feel pain and suffer as well as feel joy and flourish. You’re not alone. The entire human race is right there with you. Someone else has felt how you feel before and someone else will feel how you feel some day in the future.
When we sign on to living, there’s no possibility of escaping fear and grief. Now, how’s that for a happy thought? Geez.
Let this be my Public Service Announcement for the dreaded U.L.M.
Though there are undeniably more catastrophic feelings than the U.L.M., I share all of this because I’ve found, these concepts apply to the entire spectrum of unpleasant feelings and emotions.
So, if you find yourself afflicted with a U.L.M, just remember, like any emotion, it’s not permanent. Hang in there. Happier times are guaranteed to come. Probably sooner than you expect.
(so, I guess that means I’ve been nagging at myself? How annoying of me to me)
I wrote that “I am…a big fan of personal growth”.
The nagging thing is the fact that I don’t think I’ve fully explained why I’m such a big personal growth fan. Not explaining why leaves the door open to all kinds of speculation and since it’s so important to me, I want to explain it and shut that door. (My mama didn’t raise me in no barn)
It’s not that I am such a goody two shoes that all I want to do is be the best person I can possibly be, all for the sake of being so darn good. (insert collective vomit) If I was that angelic, how boring would that be? If I was that much of a liar to give that as the reason, then what a waste of time for both of us.
Actually, it’s because I’m a pretty big baby when it comes to feeling bad feelings – especially the emotional kind. I don’t like it, I want it to stop and I want to make it go away as quickly as possible.
The bottom line is that I don’t like to suffer. (novel, I know)
If I had to say why in five words or less, that’s what I’d say: I don’t like to suffer. But since I don’t have to limit myself to five words (one of the fab perks about writing on your own blog), I’ll go into a bit more detail.
It’s really all about metacognition – or, as google defines it: the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.
I have always been fascinated by the “why” of things. I can remember talking with my mom when I was growing up, sometimes for hours on end, about why people do the things they do. We’d speculate, we’d pretend to be psychologists and we’d try to dive into their psyches and figure stuff out. Of course no one knows the mind of another, but it was fun to pretend and analyze.
Then, inevitably, the questioning turned inwards. The psyche I became the most curious about became my own.
It isn’t always pretty when you look inside my noggin. Ok, that’s an understatement. It can get down right nutty up in here. Sometimes scary, sometimes troubling. But, I didn’t continue to look around for the scenic view.
I realized that when I became aware of 1. the things I do and then 2. why I do them, I then have the opportunity to do differently.
You don’t have much of a choice when you’re unaware of things.
Let’s pretend that you are in LOVE with the cute new sweater that you just bought. You’re obsessed with it – so obsessed that you wear it day and night. You think you look great. You also have been feeling awful lately. You really don’t like how you’ve been feeling but if you don’t realize it’s because the new sweater that you LOVE is made of cactus needles, then you will probably continue to not feel good, unable to fix the real problem to which you’re oblivious. If you, instead, realize that the damn sweater you bought is full of needles, then you can simply take it off and then suffer no more.
That’s a crude, but illustrative, example of metacognition in action. Let’s take it out of the faux fashion arena and into the thinking and feeling realm of things.
We are often unconsciously or we are unaware that we are doing or thinking or reacting to things in such a way that causes us to suffer.
There’s a Buddhist parable that is way less crude and way more clear about this point than my cactus sweater parable. It’s all about the second arrow.
“The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied, “It is.” The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.”
So, in life, pain is inevitable. Things out of our control that really suck are going to happen to us. (I’m sure that’s not news to any of you here) The first arrow comes flying out of nowhere. Bam. Ouch. WTF??
The thing is, though, suffering is optional. The second arrow is the one with which we shoot ourselves. The second arrow represents our reaction to the painful event. It’s the manner in which we choose to respond emotionally. We get to choose…IF we’re aware at the time.
If someone treats us in a way that feels disrespectful or when something goes wrong for someone we love or when we have pain in our bodies, that’s the first arrow. If we’re not self-aware at the moment, then our mind goes into a mode of reactivity that doesn’t help to bring us healing. It’s just the way we’re wired. We blame others, we blame ourselves. That’s the second arrow.
By engaging in practices that help develop our metacognition/self-awareness/mindfulness in the moment, we begin to catch ourselves in time to stop the second arrow and choose a more productive option instead.
Bam. Less suffering. (insert a choir of angels singing)
It’s been my experience that being “awake” or call it “self-aware”, or call it “enlightened” – whatever – results in less suffering in my life. And, because I’m awake and aware in the present moment, I can also experience greater heights of any joy and love and contentment and happiness that are there. Now, were talking, right?
If there was a quicker, easier route to less feeling bad and more feeling good, I’d take it. And, trust me – I’ve tried.
The thing is those “short cuts” like numbing, avoiding, ignoring and repressing negative emotions only make these feelings come back stronger and more destructive. It just doesn’t work for more than the short term. In fact, it makes it worse in the long run. WAAAAAAY worse.
When I learned that “emotions aren’t emergencies”, that “no feeling is final” and that I can be with how I feel and not perish (because that’s sometimes what it feels like is going to happen), life started to get better.
The best and most direct way out is through. Sometimes it gets harder before it gets easier but if I lean in, dive right into the things I’m struggling with, that is the surest, most direct and most lasting route out.
So, now when I start to feel badly emotionally, my first reaction (most times), is to stop and think, “what’s happening, what am I feeling, what is wrong and what do I want to do about it?”. Like, let’s get to the point here and not be in pain or suffer any longer than is absolutely necessary.
It’s not that I am totally free of suffering – I’m no buddha. I am, however, gradually getting better at being mindful, responding differently and thereby suffering less.
So, that’s what this is all about.
I will share with you the various practices that I use to become more awake in the moment as well as some of the people, resources, concepts etc that have had the most wonderfully positive impact on my growth as a person in future posts. If you simply can’t wait (read with sarcasm), then head over to myWTFAQ page and check out a few of my favs. If you’re wondering why I’m telling you any of this in the first place, then head on over to my recently rewritten about page.
For now, I just had to get my nagging self to stop and explain myself a bit more here.