Is there a way of meeting the difficulties in our lives that would limit the amount of stress they cause us? Is it possible to field the inevitable challenges of life without the added suffering of rumination, reactivity and anxiety?
As well as all the good stuff, life is full of challenges. Each day most of us struggle to some extent with any number of difficulties, from dealing with partners, commuting, children and work, to dealing with our own difficult feelings, thoughts and physicality. Many of the challenges we face are inevitable parts of life that no one gets to avoid.
In the last article The Trouble with Reacting, I talked about how we set ourselves up for extra problems, on top of the inevitable ones, through our automatic reactions. But what would a more helpful alternative to this be?
A Considered Response
What would it look like if we learned to respond in a considered way rather than with knee-jerk reactions? If the science of cause and effect is correct, then it follows that we can control the outcome of a situation by what we put into it. Therefore, a considered response to a situation will often lead to a very different outcome than an automatic reaction would. A better one.
So, if all this is logical, why do we not do it? Why do we continue to react? Well, we do it because we are trained to do it, our neurons are literally arranged to fire in that way. The only way to get around it is to un-train, and that is what mindfulness is all about. An essential part of the mindfulness courses I run in London is retraining our minds to firstly notice these reactions. We do not need to stamp them out we just notice them and then a natural process of letting go of them begins. Once we clearly see the damage, we start to modify our reactions.
Acceptance not resignation
What starts to develop is an acceptance of how things are. It is raining, I did forget my umbrella, I am going to get soaked. So, I feel the cool rain on my face, the droplets moving down my body, rather than furiously gesticulating at an invisible, skyward figure for doing this just to annoy ME. I might feel some cold and discomfort but I do not feel the greater pain of aggression towards passers-by, God or my very self. I might even find some humour in the sorry situation.
Acceptance is NOT passivity or resignation. Psychological research has shown that people who are more accepting are actually more likely to act in a way that is beneficial to themselves and others. We are not accepting everything without question, only the way things are right now. We do this because it is a fact that things are how they are right now. Our acceptance might actually lead us to the most appropriate way of dealing with the situation.
Stopping the War
Even if we do continue the fight, the rain will not stop with the force of our will, it will continue until the causes and conditions that brought it about change. We are banging our heads against the brick wall and it’s going to be our heads that give way first.
So, we accept how things are in the moment and stop the war against life because it is really an un-winnable war against our selves. Paradoxically, we find that this acceptance is the first step towards real change.
We let go of the futile struggle, call an inner truce and start to re-build.
Christopher Gaia is a mindfulness teacher, teaching courses in Chelsea, London. He has a 5 year MSc. Training in Teaching Mindfulness Based Courses from the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice, Bangor University. He has over 20 years of experience of mindfulness practice and has completed post graduate research into mindfulness and self-compassion. He is also a registered Osteopath, working in Chelsea and Balham.