What do you do when you feel stuck in the mud? When you're depressed, anxious, feeling low about yourself, or the myriad of other not so-good feelings that you don't want to feel.
Most people try to get themselves out of that state by fighting against it, distracting themselves, or pretending the feeling is not there. Do you do any of these?
What do you do if you still can't get out of the funk? What if no matter how hard you try, you're still in that place you don't want to be? You've read the self help books, and you've tried the positive thinking thing, but here you are, again.
I've found myself, there, in the depths of that depressing swamp more times than I can remember. Sometimes it hasn't even been a place I go to, occasionally, it's been an all of the time thing that lasted for years. Day in and day out drudgery. Sure, there were some rays of sunshine in between there, during those times, but there's been days; weeks; months; or years when the feeling kind of just hangs around. When any rays of sunshine were filtered through the sunken skeleton trees and muddy mist of that low place.
There aren't many words that can really do justice to how low a person can truly feel. So, I'll just say that I'm talking about all of it. The full gambit of crappy feelings that can occur from simply being a human being and dealing with the world, as it is.
While you may feel like there is no escape, and I have too, there is a different kind of way to "deal" with these feelings, and it doesn't have anything to do with escaping from them or pushing them away with some kind of technique. The way I'm talking about is going through them; not around them.
If you've read the book by Thich Nhat Hanh titled, "No Mud, No Lotus," then you may have an idea of what I'm talking about. Honestly, I sometimes get it, and I sometimes don't. But really, if I'm honest with myself, the times I don't get it are when I am still resisting and fighting against a feeling that I perceive should not be there, or that I don't want to be there.
It's exactly this pushing away and this struggle against what we believe should not be that causes us more suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about using mindfulness to embrace our suffering, and he suggests to use it as a catalyst for transformation.
Here is a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, "No Mud, No Lotus."
"The function of mindfulness is, first, to recognize the suffering and then to take care of the suffering. The work of mindfulness is first to recognize the suffering and second to embrace it. A mother taking care of a crying baby naturally will take the child into her arms without suppressing, judging it, or ignoring the crying. Mindfulness is like that mother, recognizing and embracing suffering without judgement.
So the practice is not to fight or suppress the feeling, but rather to cradle it with a lot of tenderness. When a mother embraces her child, that energy of tenderness begins to penetrate into the body of the child. Even if the mother doesn't understand at first why the child is suffering and she needs some time to find out what the difficulty is, just her act of taking the child into her arms with tenderness can already bring relief. If we can recognize and cradle the suffering while we breathe mindfully, there is relief already."
Acceptance and Open Arms
I don't want to call it a law, because that sounds so firm and sure. I think I'll call it a natural reaction instead.
If you've taken high school physics or have studied some physics later on in life, you've probably come across Isaac Newton's Third Law Of Motion.
The law states, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
This is something similar to what I'm about to talk about here. But for these purposes, let's say that for as much as you fight a feeling or occurence, it will grow stronger by an equal amount. Or, at minimum, it won't go anywhere. It's akin to screaming at a child who is in pain and telling them to shut up. How's that going to help them? Sure, the kid may be quiet out of fear, but the pain isn't going to be screamed away. It will just dig in deeper and manifest itself in different ways or stay right where it is.
It's only when you stop resisting and fighting what you're feeling that any kind of real change can potentially occur. The hardest part with this, I've found, is that a lot of the time, I try to accept the "negative feeling" because I just want it to go away. I mean, I'm specifically saying something to myself like, "Ok, I accept that I feel this way." Then I wait; hoping for it to slowly fade away.
If it doesn't, I will sometimes reason that this doesn't work. But it is really me that is not doing the work.
When I'm doing this, am I really accepting the feeling; the pain?
I'd say in this case, probably not. I mean, if I'm "accepting" something but I want it to go away really, I'm pretty sure that's not really accepting it. Nope, when I'm doing that, I'm playing a mental game of sorts, really. I'm just trying to fool the feeling into going away because I momentarily "accept" it. Unfortunately the brain is much too clever for this, and your brain knows you, personally, too well to be fooled by a sleight of hand. Plus, your feelings aren't looking to be ignored and shoved away. They are like that child that is crying out to be heard. They just want you to be there for them. They need your presence.
When you're hurting or feeling any other kind of negative feeling, what you really need to do is be there for yourself.
I know, I know…. This is where it gets hard. In order to accept a feeling, you have to REALLY accept it. That means you drop down into it and let it be. You stop fighting it.
You know that inner voice, the one that says something like, "I wish this would just go away," or "I'm so tired of feeling this way." Do you know the one I'm talking about? The words may be different, but it's the one that is sick and tired of feeling the feeling you're wanting to be gone. You don't fight that either. You work to accept that you have that feeling inside of you in the first place also.
I didn't know this before, and I'm working on understanding this more every day, but something definitely happens when we stop the struggle. It can change your relationship with the feeling you've been desperately not wanting to experience. It softens something inside of us, and instead of telling your feelings to shut up and go away, you begin to open your arms up and accept them. It's almost like you are telling yourself, "I'm here for you now. I'm sorry you've been going through this. I hear you. You are not alone." This can slowly begin to change the way you look at your pain and discomfort, and it can transform it at the same time.
It's Similar To Letting Go
Acceptance is similar to letting go, in a way. When you accept your feelings or an event that happened in your life (but honestly it's usually about the way the event made you feel), something changes. You stop resisting. At some point, that lack of resistance and struggle will change the way you feel about that feeling. A sense of peace may even come as you realize there is nothing to be afraid of. It's just a feeling. In fact, there is usually a lot of hidden beauty, knowledge, and inspiration that can come from that particular dark feeling you've been afraid to feel and acknowledge.
It's waiting to teach you something. It can literally be your teacher. But only if you slow down and let it. No resistance. No thinking about how you felt before this feeling came on.
Think about this. If you've tried to "get rid of" this feeling and have had no success, why keep doing the same things?
The reason it is still there is most likely because it hasn't been heard yet, really. When it is heard, either the feeling will change or your relationship with the feeling will change.
By staying attached to only the good feelings and constantly craving "that time" when you felt better or were a better person, you are pushing away the one thing that can actually cause real change to happen. Those uncomfortable and "negative" feelings can become excellent teachers if you allow them.
You don't have to wait for the "good times" and categorize everything else as the "bad times," or the "not so good times." Everything can become a part of your learning and life experience when you let go of your resistance to it.
Meditation and Mindfulness Can Help You Listen Better
I can hear the question, as I'm writing these words, "So, how do I be there for myself? How exactly do I do these things you are talking about?" I will be 100% honest here and let you know that I struggle with this part too. This is where the words stop, the searching ceases, and you have to sit with yourself in silence and be present with whatever is. The process will probably not be as dramatic or explosive as you might expect it to be, but that's the way it usually is with everything.
Life is a slow dance that happens as a series of smaller steps that all add up. One day you look back, and you find yourself somewhere new; somewhere different.
In short, the answer to those questions above is to meditate and practice mindfulness in your daily life. It's very likely that both you and I need to be more present in every moment of our life.
Meditating is not about silencing your thoughts or becoming blank like a white piece of paper; it's about sitting with yourself and taking notice of everything that is happening inside and, sometimes, outside of yourself. The best way to begin is to sit and simply pay attention to your breathing. You don't even need to change the way you breathe; it's well enough to sit and pay close attention to it as it is.
While you're mediating, you will notice that your thoughts continue to ramble on. This is perfectly normal, and, again, meditation has nothing to do with silencing them. It has everything to do with not engaging with them and getting lost in them. You simply let them continue to ramble on and let them come and go.
It's very similar with your feelings. You don't need to try to force them away or ignore them while meditating. You simply let them be and allow them to come and go, as well. If a feeling or a thought is what is present in the moment while you are meditating, you can watch it, without judgment, and let it do whatever it does. You don't need to try to have any goal during your meditation; in fact, most of the time it's best not to. You just sit and be with what is; watching it all without judging it as this or that.
I found this video, below, and think that it describes meditation for beginners in a very clear and understandable way.
You Are Not Alone
Us humans are all conditioned to move away or push away anything that is uncomfortable or that might cause pain. This is something that is built into our genetics and is part of our survival mechanism. The thing is, it doesn't work the same way inside of us. We think it does, because of our conditioning, but this is exactly why we all continue to suffer more than we really need to. Your feelings or thoughts are nothing to be afraid of if you slow down and allow them to be. You don't need to fight or struggle with them.
Suffering happens. it's a part of this world. You will not always feel happy, and things will not always work out the way you expected. You will feel saddness, and you will experience pain. We all will.
But if you slow down and let them be your teacher, you may find that they have something valuable to teach you.
I'm here with you. Even though I'm writing these words right now, I struggle with this, myself. I hope my struggle will help to shed some light onto your path. When I meditate more often and practice mindfulness (awareness and presence) in my daily life, things just seem to run more smoothly. It doesn't make everything perfect, suddenly, but I absolutely do find that my relationship with what I perceive as pain, depression, or anxiety changes. I see them from a different perspective, and I feel less threatened by them. I also notice that happiness shows up a lot more readily without me having to "try" to get there.
This has made me realize, more and more, that my feelings are like weather patterns that come and go. My role as a human being is to observe them, let them come and go, and experience life as it is.
There are no experts in this that can do the work for you. You, yourself, have to learn to love you for everything you are and are not. If you are feeling some of those negative, low-down feelings, try something different. Accept that they are there, and don't try to change them or push them away. Let them be. See what happens for yourself. Give it time.
Who knows; you might discover that the way out of your depression, anxiety, or gloomy feelings was always to take the path that goes right through them, too.
I wish you the best. 🙂