2020 has been a year of enormous change.
We’ve lived through almost an entire year of upheaval with varying degrees of success in our coping methods. But this year has also been an extreme example of life-shattering imposed change.
Within this larger shift, we also experience smaller alterations and modifications in our lives. Using these less fear-inducing changes as a training ground, we can grow our resilience and coping skills to prepare us to handle big changes.
By all accounts, 2021 is likely to require us to continue adapting to new ways of thinking, acting, and being.
If we have the mindset that change is problematic and should not happen then we’ll experience greater discomfort and suffering. The Buddha called this the second arrow. The first arrow is the incident that created the pain, e.g. touching a hot pot without a glove and getting burned. The second arrow is the mental anguish or irritation we feel towards ourselves for making the mistake.
The only way to successfully work with and truly grasp life’s impermanent nature is to remain present, and to learn to move with its fluctuating rhythm.
Reflect on the following insights to help grow your resilience and flexibility.
Make mental and journal notes of your coping methods for the challenges you’ve overcome. Honor your struggle and celebrate your successes in skillfully coping and adapting. Know that you have come out stronger for having undergone those changes.
May you meet change with calm acceptance and courage.
In our hyper-competitive, greed-driven world, it is easy to lose focus of our humanity. We fail to recognize that our lives are enmeshed with the lives of people both in our immediate vicinity and with those around the world, and that so often it is the effort of these people who contribute to the ease and comfort in our lives.
It is easy to lose track of the value of human connection because so much praise and attention is directed towards those who are aggressive and who win at all cost.
Counterintuitively though, real success comes from being cooperative, respectful, and tactful in our interactions and relationships, and in being civil to the strangers in our world. The combination of these and other similar qualities like consideration and discretion are called common decency, or graciousness.
We call its opposite - disgraceful behavior - when a person behaves in a selfish, uncaring manner by not honoring a commitment, taking advantage of others, shaming others, or being cruel.
To reconnect and repair relationships with those from whom we feel alienated and disconnected, we have to make the effort to consciously and deliberately recall and reawaken common courtesy or decency in our interactions and engagements.
Here are some suggestions:
Being Tactful – Speaking directly and honestly is important. However, we have to temper what and when we speak by checking if it is necessary, truthful, and helpful, and if it can be said kindly. Tact is being sensitive when communicating about difficult issues, and often it can manifest as not expressing our thoughts or feelings at all. For example avoid mentioning an invitation in front of others who may not have been invited to an event, or don’t brag and boast about your achievements, and don’t mock others for their mistakes.
Being Courteous – it is normal and healthy to have emotional, ideological, and political differences which make for an invigorating, diverse society. It is equally important to be mindful when expressing a difference of opinion that we do not attack the person (ad hominem attack). Knowing your motivation for speaking will help you become clear on whether you are simply wishing to express an opposing viewpoint, or if you are trying to crush or shame the other person into submission. At the end of the interaction both parties should leave with their dignity and humanity intact even if the parties still cleave to their opinions.
When we feel wronged or that our rights have been infringed upon it is especially important in such fraught situations to be on the alert to not lose our temper or be rude and accusatory. If it is a situation where someone rudely cuts in front of us we can quietly let such a breach simply slide. We don’t have to always argue to prove we are right even when logic is on our side.
Being Calm and Aware – Become aware of and actively train yourself to notice the situations that trigger frustration, jealousy, greed, and apathy in you. Also identify the people who know how to work you up. In such tinder-box situations your habit of screaming and shouting or acting greedily etc. can arise with lightning speed, and your goal of being kind and considerate in your interactions will quickly evaporate. So empower yourself in advance by thinking of strategies or skills you can employ to distract and deflect yourself. Take a walk, look at the sky, remind yourself to be quiet and listen for example.
Being the Bigger Person – A sure fire way of maintaining your focus on being tactful and respectful in your dealings with others is to get into the habit of treating everyone – from a waiter, mailman, janitor to an executive - by acknowledging their human dignity and treating them with courtesy. The advantages are that you will earn their respect, and your own mind will remain more even-keeled and calmer.
If you do lose your temper or are rude, then apologize or express regret for your unskillful behavior as soon as possible. It shows them you are willing to be vulnerable and human with them and it helps them feel better.
Ultimately the best strategy is to remember that everyone wants to be treated in the same way you would like to be treated. If your motivation is to ensure meaningful and heartfelt conversations and relationships with the people in your life then the skillful strategies listed above will help you achieve that goal.
May your life and those you interact with be filled grace and consideration.
Conflict is rising throughout the world.
Our beliefs about people with whom we disagree cause us to easily distrust and dismiss them. In the heat of passion, these beliefs can appear completely rational, solid, and unchanging.
We may overlook the fact that as little children, we didn’t see others as different from ourselves; we didn’t see us and them. And even as adults, in spite of our ideological leanings, most of us will wince when we see a fellow being in pain. This instinctive response points to our shared humanity and deep-rooted connection.
We are changeable beings.
The current state of world affairs demands that we now reconnect to our fundamental human nature of being open, and having a balanced mind in our relationships with each other.
The benefits of being equanimous are: you will be happier and more peaceful; your relationships will be more harmonious; you will be healthier and more resilient in stressful situations.
When each person lives from this empowered peaceful part of his or herself, we will live in a world with greater goodwill in our relationships.
The following contemplation is especially effective in uncovering unconscious belief patterns that influence our interactions.
This meditation clarifies the circumstantial and constantly changing nature of our relationships, showing the fluid transition of friends to enemies, strangers to friends, and enemies to friends. Most importantly, it reminds us that our emotions influence our perspective, and that it is only in our minds that they are permanently friend, stranger, or enemy, for e.g. your enemy is someone else's best friend, your friend is a stranger to someone else and so on.
We are multifaceted and fluid beings who can respond to changing circumstances. The story of Christian Piccolino who transformed from a Neo Nazi to befriending Blacks exemplifies this kind of radical change. His story gives us hope for a healthier happier world.
As we come out of the election campaign and enter the holiday season, when you are next interacting with any of these people, keep in mind the takeaways from your reflection.
May our balanced thinking honor the dignity of each being and connect us to our own humanity.
In a pandemic ravaged, rapidly changing world where propaganda is proliferating, and traditionally reliable information is being doubted, it feels increasingly difficult to make well-informed satisfying decisions.
The enormity of decisions these days have life and death consequences and life-altering possibilities: should we send our children back to brick and mortar classrooms, go to polling stations, withdraw our children from international studies, volunteer, relocate to another state for our children’s athletic careers, or accept early retirement that has come way too early?
When our emotions are highly charged our ability to make clear decisions are impaired. Emotions derail our thinking process, and make us unhappy with ourselves and the choices we make.
Some people make decisions based on always going for the best option (Maximizers), whereas other people (Satisficers) are content with meeting their minimum criteria. Which are you? Are you a Maximizer constantly exploring and revisiting options, and comparing your own and others’ choices? Or are you a Satisficer happy with decisions taken and rarely look back?
The following suggestions on mindfully making decisions may relieve anxiety, and lead you to greater satisfaction with those choices:
The present moment is filled with all we need to know. From it, we gain information and a complete picture of our situation. It is important to remember that no situation, person, or thing is inherently bad or good or exactly the way we perceive them to be; everything has complex contributing factors feeding into it. So ultimately everything is nuanced. When our decisions are motivated by fear, anger, desire, or attachment, our perspective narrows down, we exaggerate and place qualities onto the situation or person, and we lose sight of the bigger picture. This is an exhausting and demoralizing way to make choices. To avoid this, remain grounded in the present, gain wider perspective, and examine past experiences to learn from them.
If you are overwhelmed by making weighty decisions, practice making small or non-consequential decisions first. Instead of always having a sandwich for lunch, choose a salad. Notice your mental and emotional reactions; is there regret or pleasure? Ask yourself what the cons were with regard to your choice. Chances are there won’t be any. Apply this strategy to any situation requiring a choice.
Know what matters most to you. Being clear about your values will ensure that you make decisions in alignment with them. Stress-based decisions can focus heavily on future rewards (like a big salary) and overlook long term priorities (like spending time with family). If you are unclear about your values, take some time now to jot them down, and begin living from them. You will be happier in the long run with decisions made this way.
The ability to make a wise decision is greatly enhanced when we are well rested. Research shows we process and absorb information during sleep. So don’t overlook this necessary step when a big decision is due. Take time to also walk, exercise, dance, and meditate. Create space around yourself physically and mentally, as this makes it easier to process information and decide on options.
Emotions distort our ability to see clearly. The best decision making process is to rely on your thinking. Make lists of pros and cons of each option available to you. Consider different outcomes and scenarios based on the decision. Then reflect on what you know and whether your decision makes sense with that knowledge.
Ultimately in the decision making process, the final decision is our own. Trusting our ability to make the right choices, feeling confident about yourself, and reassuring yourself of your coping ability and resilience are qualities you will need to recollect now. After reflecting on and evaluating the decision you have to make, trust your instinct. Remind yourself the only thing within your control are the choices you make.
May your choices lead you to happiness and peace.
The BBC ran an article, The Batman Effect about stars who overcome anxiety and fear before big performances by creating a separate entity or alter ego that embodies assertiveness and confidence.
According to the article, new research supports this idea as a beneficial strategy for allowing us to access the empowered parts of ourselves when we are facing difficult or stressful situations.
A related idea in mindfulness practice is the concept of creating distance between ourselves and fraught situations, so that we are able to think dispassionately. This mindfulness gap separates us from anxiety, fear, anger, and unhelpful feelings that impact our ability to think clearly, act wisely, and behave compassionately towards ourselves and others in the heat of the moment.
The added benefits of distance and objective observation are that we are able to process solutions, devise plans of action, clarify goals, and connect with our coping skills. And most importantly this gap prevents us from reacting.
Normally when life gives us what we don’t want, or doesn’t give us what we do want, we tend to lash out angrily, complain, blame, insult, or become sullen and depressed.
Instead of tightly identifying with ourselves by thinking, “I feel…” or “I think…” this psychological gap allows us to adopt another perspective. We are then better able to manage our feelings, and focus on what’s doable and achievable, and not let our feelings derail us.
By creating distance between ourselves and the current upheaval, we subvert reacting by actively taking control of how we feel, think about, and deal with the issue. We choose the mind state that will be most beneficial for everyone involved.
This shift in perspective is hugely empowering.
In addition to helping us skillfully negotiate challenging encounters, we also gain the opportunity to practice self-compassion (another key component of mindfulness practice). In that mindful space, we can speak to ourselves with the same kindness and encouragement we would use when speaking to a best friend. So the next time, you need to be patient, generous, determined, and focused, speak to yourself using, “You can do this”, “You are capable” instead of “I can do it”
To connect with your more empowered self:
Separating from unhelpful feelings and situations will give you the sense of being in control of yourself and the outcomes you desire.
May you connect to your deeper, empowered self.
Our ability to be flexible, curious, and open in a world that is rapidly changing is probably the most empowering thing we can do for ourselves right now.
All of us have experienced the anxiety, pain, and wretchedly impotent feeling of being stuck in a rigid mindset and churning emotions with no way of extricating ourselves.
Inflexibility manifests in all aspects of our being:
Flexibility is the ability to recognize and regulate one’s emotions and thoughts (and body) in different environments. Essentially this means being adaptable and knowing the best way to manage different aspects of our being in different settings.
We don’t live in cocoons, so being aware of how we portray ourselves to others in body, mind, and emotions is vital to our overall success. A strong predictor of a sense of well-being and mental health is knowing how and when to adapt our thoughts, feelings, and behavior to changing conditions.
We begin by priming the mind for this change. Being convinced of the value in being flexible will help you commit and persevere; this in itself will begin to decrease anxiety and depression. Prepare the mind by increasing awareness of your thoughts and emotions.
Mindfulness for Growing Flexibility
A powerful way to increase awareness of our inner and outer worlds is with mindfulness practices.
They grow our presence to notice what’s happening. We train ourselves to be accepting as situations unfold and to avoid reacting. For example we notice when we are becoming judgmental of ourselves and others, and rather than reactively suppressing the judgmental thoughts and emotions, we observe ourselves and the environment. If the situation is very anxiety provoking, then we can shift our awareness away from the thoughts and emotions and to our breathing. These practices can easily fit into our daily routines and can be done on the spot.
Clarifying the concept of acceptance: when we become aware of uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and emotions, we welcome them and do not ignore them. We explore them with interest, so we can better understand them. Acceptance is not judging our feelings, thoughts, and emotions as pleasant or horrible.
To live with greater ease, we develop a strong awareness of life’s constant change. Knowing that things are impermanent creates space for us to open up to difficult feelings and situations because we know they won’t last forever. This understanding also helps us see that we don’t always have to act for things to change.
The more we practice awareness, acceptance, and allowing, the more flexible our mind and body become. The more fluid and relaxed our mind and body are, the more pleasant our personal, work, and social life.
Test your overall suppleness:
Growing your Pliancy. Try out these suggestions:
Choose the techniques that work best for you, or research other ways to empower yourself by increasing psychological flexibility.
May your newfound mind-body pliancy bring you peace.
When I was teaching argumentative essay writing, my regular refrain to students was for them to ask themselves “Why do I believe what I believe?” Embedded in this one question are other relevant ones: “What caused me to believe this?” and “When did I begin to feel this way?”
These are important questions for us to reflect on routinely, but now they are especially imperative. Our world is changing – the environment and planet are under threat, the human race is facing a tenacious viral pandemic, and the inequitable, disenfranchising socio-economic-political status quo is no longer being tolerated.
Given the multifaceted challenges facing all beings on this planet, how we can evolve and adapt to a rapidly changing world?
Research shows that the human brain loves learning and is always ready for change; this is called brain plasticity. Being curious about and growing familiar with the attitudes, expectations, and ideas we have of ourselves and the world around us is the best preparation for change, increased resilience, and improved coping skills.
What are beliefs?
Beliefs are thoughts, attitudes, or opinions that we hold to be true. According to Suze Casey (developer of Belief Re-Patterning) beliefs are thoughts coupled with emotions that are habitually repeated and begin to feel like reality. These definitions show how problematic unquestioned beliefs or opinions can be. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living."
So in the quest to examine our lives, we question our beliefs to:
Our beliefs affects us emotionally, mentally, and physically. When we are in a funk and depressed, what we believe about ourselves and the world makes us sad and hopeless. When we are angry, every situation and person becomes aggravating and infuriating. When we are worried and anxious, everything becomes stressful and scary.
To improve our relationship with ourselves and others, and to live happier, fulfilled lives, we can ask ourselves
For us to create a future we envision for ourselves and other beings, we need to acknowledge that such self-exploration can be uncomfortable, but is absolutely necessary for discovering inner obstacles to our life goals.
At the same time, being kind and gentle with yourself is equally important. Remind yourself that this is an exploration and all revelations are learning and growth opportunities.
May your journey to greater self-knowledge be fulfilling and illuminating.
At the start of the shelter-in-place, the thought of enforced time at home may have made us feel like we would have all the time in the world.
But have you noticed how quickly the days and weeks are flying by?
Whether time is zooming by or dragging for you, according to the Stoic philosophers, it will be in our best interest to use this precious resource wisely.
Time cannot be regained or renewed, so we should be frugal with it.
This BBC Health article addresses how our perception of time is related to our creation of memories. If we aren’t experiencing memorable occasions like currently during lock-down with limited opportunity for them, then our sense of time is affected and consequently days and weeks tend to meld into each other.
Life is fleeting. At this time, when so many lives are being lost every single day, we can honor the time we have by truly making the most of every moment.
We experience fear when there’s a perceived threat which we have no control over. Our reaction is to diminish the threat or try to control it. But sometimes we overcompensate like using too much bleach on our hands to fight off the virus, and ending up at the doctor’s office with irritated skin, nasal passages, and eyes.
The complete disruption of our lives, the unpredictability of each day, and the constantly evolving discoveries about this virus are awakening fear and panic in and exacerbating anxiety for many people.
As you go through this difficult time ask yourself, “are my emotions and thinking serving me well?”
Becoming aware of our fear is an important first step. By acknowledging that we are afraid, we are then empowered to begin skillfully dealing with it. Below are some of the things we do have control over:
May you, your family, friends, and neighbors be free from fear and remain safe.
We are living through an unprecedented time upheaval and disruption to our routines and lives.
This can be stressful because so much is uncertain. Because we don’t have much control over how the situation is unfolding, this uncertainty can awaken fear. We begin to panic and worry for our own and our loved ones' safety, and about the future.
As we witness every day the worldwide intense suffering and pain wrought by this virus, it is imperative that we keep panic at bay and manage our fear and stress by falling back on our common humanity.
To better cope with the new demands being placed on us, we have to adjust how we think about this constantly evolving situation and all we are being asked to do and endure in the next few months. Being able to mentally reframe our situation in a healthy way will ensure our own and others’ well-being.
Here are some heartfelt gentle reminders:
And most importantly remember to practice compassion and kindness for yourself and others.
May you and all those around you remain healthy, rested and well.