Hello and welcome to this glorious Friday, June 4, 2021. Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.
Given the insidious grip that it has upon our society and the outpouring of responses to last week’s Weekly Mindfulness Support, I feel that it would be remiss to not further explore another significant source of stress.
Following last week’s essay on stress, I had a surprising number of people share stories with me about how not accepting situations is a significant source of stress in their life. This was (is) certainly true for me. If I look back on my life, however, I find that another pervasive source of stress is the incessant infatuation with what is going to happen next. Worry.
There is nothing inherently wrong with thinking about the future and exploring the potential beneficial and unbeneficial consequences of our actions and the actions of others. In fact, it is quite healthy to do so. We need to make informed decisions about what to do in this moment and contemplate how our choices will in fact influence the next moment. This is the beneficial use of discernment and good judgment. Unfortunately, we often don’t stop there with the thinking.
Not long after we decide on the best course of action, whether it is our own actions or the actions of others, we tend to leave the present moment and attempt to live in that future. Two things typically arise from this tendency: Either we stress, fret, and worry that our grand imagined future won’t happen, or we stress, fret, and worry that the worst possible scenario will happen. Both cases are destructive to our well-being.
It’s likely that most of you have had an ambition to attain something that was important to you. Maybe you desired to get a degree, buy a house, or find that special partner to share your life with. Maybe at some point you were excited about the possibility of getting that dream job.
What sometimes happens before we have even put any energy towards a goal, our mind goes to work. We may to think to ourselves how wonderful our life would be if “this” happens. We imagine and visualize in our mind how happy we would be; that all of our problems would be solved. While this likely distracts us from what we’re actually doing in this present moment, there isn’t too much stress involved at this stage – it’s exciting and pleasing. However, it’s not long before we get consumed with the idea of getting a new job, for instance, that we start to entertain the thought that we can’t be happy without it. We then start to think about all the people who are in our way, the obstacles we must overcome, and the possibility that it may not happen. Maybe it’s our own sense of low self-worth that spoils the imagined opportunity. It’s typically at this point where we start to believe the stressful idea that if we don’t get the job, we’ll never be happy again. All this can happen before we have even filled out the job application. And to think that months may pass before we will know if we get the job.
Imagine if we could just fill out the application, go about our lives, and patiently see what happens.
My experience suggests that the opposite of not wanting something to happen creates even more tension and stress. In this situation, it’s hard to imagine that anything good will result. Here, pretty much all attention is directed towards the negative. Keeping with the job theme, maybe your boss informed you that there are going to be some changes. Maybe she even gave you a clue as to what those changes are. Well, we all love our comfort zones and the boss just crushed it. Even though the changes haven’t taken place, the obsessive and compulsive thinking starts.
Though we have never experienced these new changes, because it threatens what we do know, we begin to stress, fret, and worry about what we think it will be like. Because we have no reference and given the fact most all of us are influenced by a negativity bias, our imagination simply cannot create a story where we live happily ever after. The negativity may be so pervasive that we consider quitting our job. Our world is collapsing around us. All this nonsense can happen within just a few minutes after being notified of job changes.
Without the ability to redirect our thinking, we unfortunately tend to live with this stress for as long as it takes to become comfortable with the changes. And if we can’t accept the new changes, we resent and ruminate on how our boss ruined our life – things should be different – more stress.
If this is your experience, you don’t have to live like this.
A comprehensive Mindfulness practice can help you to learn to accept situations as they arise, be present, patient, and to develop a curiosity for an unknown future. You can learn to develop the ability to choose one thought over another – this, as William James said, “is our greatest weapon against stress.” With practice, you can also develop the capacity to remain calm in difficult situations and respond with care, compassion, and understanding.
Your mind doesn’t always have your best interest in mind. Nevertheless, you can train your mind to be your best friend which will ultimately reduce stress. I’m here to help.
You are Loved by me, Unconditionally!
Contribute to the Turning Leaf Foundation
If you would like to help bring Mindfulness to the less fortunate and to help pay for current services, your generosity is deeply appreciated.