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Hand in hand, my demon and I walk.

It is wired into us to turn away from the negative. To try to avoid anything painful, uncomfortable or anything we label as “bad.”

But is working to make our lives as pain-free as possible a useful aspiration?

Most of my life, I struggled with anxiety. When I was little, I thought it was how every human felt. When I grew up and it got worse, I just wanted it to go away. Every thought, every feeling associated with it, I just wanted to forget it and never remember it again like a useless memory that slips from the mind unnoticed.

But that never happened. Because trying to forget is basically the very act of remembering.

Then I realized that life was very much like a Chinese finger trap–the more you want to leave something behind, the more stuck you get to it. What you resist persists. What you fight, you strengthen. That kind of thing.

Many people choose not to keep up with current events, because the state of the world we live in can be devastating sometimes. Many choose not to educate themselves about how their food is made or what the plastic bottles they throw in the trash does to the world. Or about what a single offensive word can cause another human being to feel and why. Because why plague our minds with such negative things, right?

I was once in a very low place myself, when I couldn’t handle the tragedies of the world, so I chose to surround myself with positivity. I needed uplifting, because I was trying to crawl out of a hole I had sunk into too deeply. And before I could turn toward the pain of the whole world, I had to gather the courage to slowly turn toward my own.

Only after facing our own tragedy can we turn toward the tragedy of others.

Life is not homogeneous. It is made up of joy and sorrow. Of happiness and pain. Of positive and negative. If we are only seeing one side, our lives are incomplete.

It is so easy to get stuck in pain, which is the very reason we chase happiness. But neither is complete without the other. Wanting to be happy all the time means wanting to live in a lie.

There are so many horrors in this world. Just as many horrors as there are wonders. When someone is hurt, there will be people rushing to their aid. When someone’s rights are threatened, crowds will come together in protest. A tree falls in a storm at one side of the Earth, and a flower grows from the concrete on the other. A lion is shot by hunters, and another is rescued by environmental activists. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “It would be a pity if we were only aware of suffering.”

I think it’s important to add that it’s also a pity to only chase happiness and turn away from pain. Because only by allowing ourselves to live through pain can we experience the other side of the coin–happiness.

When we have an aversion to discomfort, pain, embarrassment, suffering or anything “negative,” a fear lingers in the backdrop of our lives like a constant demon behind our backs we are too scared to turn around and face. And with a demon behind one’s back, who could be carefree, at peace and happy? Read the rest>>

(via Hand in hand, my demon and I walk.)


Nothing Is What We Thought: 3 Tips for Our Issues 

The more I learn about how the human mind works, the more baffled I am that we are never taught anything about it.

Bullying, friendship and relationship drama, low self-worth, anxiety–issues most us face growing up would be much easier to deal with if we learned about the human mind, thus understanding ourselves and others better. A lack of understanding only causes these early life experiences to grow into bigger issues in adulthood.

As an adult, I see how many issues I have. And I also see that they all stem from my early life. Some from my childhood, some from my teenage years and some from young adulthood.

We all go through different experiences, and it is important to learn to process these experiences in a healthy way so that we don’t draw faulty conclusions from them that stick with us for a lifetime. So that if someone says that we are ugly, we will not store that away in our minds as fact. Or when people make us feel uncomfortable, we don’t develop a habit out of shaming ourselves for our feelings.

1. Nothing is what we think

We look at our thoughts as truths. We don’t doubt them, and if anyone else doubts them, we get outraged. We think we remember the past and see the future. Because if it’s in our heads, then it’s bound to be true.

But our memories are only distortions of the past. And we never know what will happen in the future. 

The feelings we are so afraid of–they are not like we think. Fear is not as scary as we think. Pain is not as painful as we imagine. Love cannot be thought. So many things in life can only be experienced, yet we believe that how we picture them is how they really are.

Just because we think something, doesn’t not make it true. An opinion is not a fact. Thoughts don’t come to life. And what we think doesn’t define us at all–what we do does.

2. Feelings are not shameful

It is especially prominent in our society that we are required to hide our feelings, because we are supposed to act in a certain way. How unnatural and harmful.

We see this all the time with social roles like gender roles, but the same kind of thinking manifests in many unnoticed areas in our lives.

Any sort of “negative” feeling is frowned upon. We shouldn’t be sad or anxious, and if we are, we should learn to hide it or pop a pill to just make it stop. It’s unacceptable to feel. Feelings have become a sort of social plague that people cannot face neither in themselves nor in others. It’s absurd, because it is the most natural part of being a person.

We are supposed to shun what makes us human. No wonder we have issues. Read more>>

 (via Nothing Is What We Thought: 3 Tips for Our Issues)


Can We Change Who We Are? Leaving the “Bad” Parts of Us Behind

There is a fine line between wanting to better ourselves and wanting to become different people.

There was a time in my life–probably multiple times, actually–when I wished I could leave a part of myself behind and just become a different person. We all have that part of ourselves we don’t like. When we imagine ourselves without that part, we are near perfect.

For me, it was anxiety. That demon of a feeling made my life very close to unbearable at one point. And I wished more than anything for it to go away. Somewhere under it, I was a different person, I felt it. Without it, I could be myself, I could be free, I could be happy.

I’m sure we all know this feeling. That if “that one thing” would just disappear from our lives, we could be truly ourselves. We could be happy. There are a lot of different types of hardships in this world, and everybody carries around something different like an invisible but very heavy backpack.

It seems obvious that if we could put that backpack down and forget that it ever existed, we could prance forward, carefree. But could we, really? Or is that just what we think would happen?

Who would we be without our pain?

We can only answer this question theoretically, since we will never be able to live a life of only pleasantries. But some suggest that the answer would not be as simple as we imagine it to be.

Haruki Murakami introduces the idea in his novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle that upon losing the pain they so desperately want to get rid of, instead of becoming the joyful person they imagined, a person would become an empty shell, unable to feel anything at all.

Nothing is as black and white as we think it is, that’s for sure. What we think is going to happen turns out to be a completely different thing in the end. We think we are pulling one thread out, but everything ends up unraveling.

How we deal with pain, may that be physical, emotional or in the form of any kind of hardship, is one of the core questions of being a human. Because pain is an inevitable part of life.

That’s why we try to better ourselves. So we can deal with our own, unique pain better, and maybe to lessen the pain of those we love. And that’s a beautiful thing. But where does bettering ourselves end, and wanting to leave an essential part of ourselves behind begin?

There are many things about ourselves we cannot change, no matter how much we try. Just like we cannot change the color of our eyes or our skin, there are certain areas of our brain we cannot change either. We cannot change our past, we cannot control every emotion we feel or the thoughts that enter our mind.

Thinking that we should be in control only makes us feel like failures. We will never be in full control of every aspect of ourselves. We were never supposed to be.

On this side of things, another fine line approaches. And that is between accepting who we are and throwing our hands up in the air, declaring “I can’t change!”. We cannot change a lot of things about ourselves, and we cannot fully control what happens to us either. But we can choose how we react to all those things.

We can see our thoughts as just thoughts. We can see our feelings as just feelings. We can see our pain as an inevitable part of life–of ourselves. And even though we cannot control all of those things, we don’t have to let them control us either. Read more>> 

(via Can We Change Who We Are? Leaving the ‘Bad’ Parts of Us Behind)


Making a Bad Day Less Bad 

The older I become, the more I learn to accept the darker parts of life. When I was younger, I thought the goal was to eliminate everything negative. To get rid of life’s bumps and make everything nice and smooth.

I see a lot of people who struggle with life because of this reason. I’m still one of those people. I always will be, probably.

We want all our days to be good days. That is the standard. We are addicted to joy.

Joy is great, don’t get me wrong. It’s a natural part of life. But so is sorrow. Whatever shape it might take in one’s life. This sorrow is what most of us have such a hard time accepting. We hide it like a secret we should be ashamed of and check if our mask of joy is still on straight.

It’s not acceptable to be anything other than joyful. We cannot accept it in ourselves, so we avoid it in others.

This is a never-ending struggle with our own existence. Because there will be bad days. On the good ones, our guard is down, because “everything is as it should be”. But the bad days we have to resist, we have to fight.

Keeping up this resistance and the carrying that mask of perfection on our faces is incredibly exhausting. And it creates even more sorrow. Because we are sad about our sadness, we are scared of our fear. We multiply our pain.

What happens if we accept that we don’t need to be anything other than we are? That we don’t need to control our feelings all the time? That we can just sit in peace and be unapologetically ourselves?

Feelings are just feelings. Thoughts are just thoughts. They are just there. If we don’t take them so seriously, and we don’t want to control them all the time, we might even be able to smile to them. Because actually, they don’t mean that much.

Feelings and thoughts are much like spoiled children. They often throw a tantrum and demand our attention. You can’t reason with a child. You can’t give in to them and let them control you, because that will just make the child even more spoiled and demanding. My mom always ignored me when I was throwing tantrums. It worked great, let me tell you. If no one’s listening, there’s no use in shouting.

If we don’t take them too seriously, feelings and thoughts can’t control us. Read more>>

 (via Making a Bad Day Less Bad)


Building Confidence with Anxiety, Anger or Sadness

When dealing with ourselves, our thoughts, feelings and emotions, confidence is of vital importance.

Believing in oneself might not immediately come to mind when talking about issues with anxiety, anger or other strong emotions. They are states of mind accompanied by strong feelings, and dealing with them usually requires being able to reach a calm attitude. If we manage to become calm, we are not controlled by our strong emotions anymore. Sounds simple enough.

When someone is angry or anxious, the advice they most often get is “just calm down.” As if calming down was as easy as that. Being able to calm down when in such a chaotic emotional and mental state requires a lot more than simply the will to calm down.

There is always a voice in our head at times like these. A voice that makes us believe that going deeper into the feeling is the right choice–getting more angry, sad or scared. But is it?

Let’s take anxiety for example. When anxiety strikes, the voice in our heads says “You have to be afraid. Something horrible is about to happen. Run.” And the rational part of our brain tries to step in and reassure us that nothing is happening.

“What is that?”
“Everything’s fine.”
“No, it’s not!”
“But it is.”
“No, it’s not. Do you feel that feeling? That’s the obvious sign of something horrible!”
“You’re fine. It’s nothing.”
“But I’m dying!”

It’s kind of how it goes. Anyone who is familiar with anxiety can relate, I think.
We have to get acquainted with this conversation in our head, because it will happen time and time again. This conversation is different for everyone and it evokes different emotions. We all know our own personal weaknesses. The sooner we can recognize it and step into this conversation, the lesser the emotional response will be. And this is where confidence comes in.

We have to learn to be confident in the thoughts we choose to believe. Read the rest>>

(via Building Confidence with Anxiety, Anger or Sadness)


Free of Delusions: Think Less, Be Present More 

The average human think tens of thousands of thoughts a day. That’s a thought every couple of seconds.

I imagine our thoughts like an endless line of faceless men standing next to each other like soldiers. We are the sergeants, walking in front of them. Most of them, we don’t even notice. But it often happens that in front of one, we stop.

We pull it out from the line and look at it closely. What is this? Is it real? Is it dangerous? Whatever it says, we believe it without reservation. 

We can become obsessed with it, and even if the thought has no basis in reality, we believe it. A thought can become our faulty reality.

Why do we do this to ourselves? The question might arise. Thinking makes us feel safe–it makes us feel prepared. We believe our thoughts because we feel like we are one step ahead of life if we do. It’s an illusion of control. UFOs won’t be able to abduct us if we are prepared for their attack.

Considering something as absurd as someone being afraid of aliens can be very useful. Because in our own small ways, we believe in the same kind of absurdities. Seeing that can make it easier for us to let them go.

Of course we can’t shut our minds off. And we don’t have to. It’s very useful if we learn how to use it. But these thoughts that have nothing to do with reality, yet we believe them–we can practice letting them go. Allowing the faceless soldier to fall back in line, we can continue onward.

Because of anxiety, I had (and still have) many of these faceless soldiers that I have an urge to stare at. Thoughts can feel very real, especially when they are accompanied by strong feelings. Feelings and thoughts validate each other, and it doesn’t take long for us to fall into their trap, abandoning reality for them.

Being free of delusions is a practice–most likely a lifelong one. But it’s never too late to start practicing.

What matters is what we do with out attention. Do we give attention to our thoughts? Or do we turn our attention outward, and connect with what is real instead?

That is why in meditation, we focus our attention on our breathing. Our breathing is now, not in the future and not in the past, and it is always there for us, anchoring us to what is real. Read more>>

 (via Free of Delusions: Think Less, Be Present More)


What We Think About Is Not Real: Building a Relationship With Reality

We all live in our own little worlds to some extent. Believing what we choose to believe, doing what we choose to do. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

The twist is that the ones who can make life the most miserable for us is ourselves.

We are afraid of what other people might think of us, because we already think it about ourselves. We are afraid of the future because we think we know what might happen. We hate others because we think we understand it all. We hate ourselves because we think we are not good enough.

These are also thoughts we choose to believe.

We love thinking about what we cannot know, like the future or how horrible we are as people, because it is just more stimulating and interesting to think about the mysterious. But many times, we end up forming our reality based on our thoughts and not facts.

Everyone has thought of themselves as stupid, ugly or simply horrible at some point in their lives. Everyone has also experienced being afraid of something that never ended up happening. These are times when we believe our thoughts unconditionally, even when they have no basis in reality. We are just afraid. And we succumb to it.

It is important to build a relationship with reality. More often than not, it is an unreality that makes us suffer. Read more>>

(via What We Think About Is Not Real: Building a Relationship With Reality)


Thoughts Can’t Kill You 

I have someone in my life who tells me horrible things. They show me unsettling pictures sometimes and pester me with them, they tell me how bad I am and how scared I should be because of the terrible future that’s about to come. And I cannot tell them anything, because they are one of those to whom no matter what you try to say, it makes no difference. It’s like you’re talking to brick wall–no conversation possible.

I’m pretty sure you have the same exact thing in your life. I’m talking about thoughts.

It’s quite interesting, isn’t it, that our own worst companions are usually ourselves. It takes a lifetime to learn how to deal with that voice in our heads. It doesn’t help that thoughts are rarely talked about.

Thoughts scare us like nothing else.

If a negative thought enters our minds, we feel like we are done for. Now that we have thought about it, we can never un-think it, we are slaves to it forever–that’s how we tend to feel. Which is ridiculous, isn’t it? Why do we feel like thoughts have power over reality?

I’ve had conversations with a lot of people whose main issue was that their thoughts bothered them. “I have these horrible thoughts,” they would tell me. “And I fear that they will come true.” I know how that feels, to be terrified of your own thoughts–it’s one of the worst things anyone can experience. It’s what mental illness is. But we all suffer from this to some extent, not just those of us with mental illness.

Things won’t happen just because you think them.

We can easily believe that whatever pops into our heads will become reality. That’s what worry is. Anxiety. Paranoia. Even self-doubt. Same thing, just different levels and morphs of it.

What happens has nothing to do with our thoughts. Even our own actions come from much deeper-seated mechanisms than conscious thought.

We have no control.

We just think we do. We blame ourselves for everything wrong in our lives. We blame ourselves for our feelings, we blame ourselves for our thoughts. Because we think we are in control.

We have no control over most things. And that’s okay. Thoughts come and go. Feelings come and go. Things happen. We are not the ones to blame. Read the rest>>

 (via Thoughts Can’t Kill You)


3 Tips to Master the Art of Relaxation

Relaxation is not as easy as we might think. The intention alone is not enough. We are not as in control of ourselves as we like to think.It gives us comfort to feel like we are in control of ourselves. That we can control our bodies and our minds. That we can always feel the way we want to feel. But that is not the case.

1. We are not in control. There’s no need to strain.

We are living organisms who function on their own. Our heart beats without us ever thinking about it. We breathe without ever having to be afraid we will forget. Nutrients are absorbed, waste is created, our cells regenerate, our nails grow, our bodies get tired when it’s time for us to recharge with sleep. We function without ever having to do a thing.

The brain is the most complex organ of the body, but it’s still an organ. It does its own thing. It makes us feel fear, anger, joy, sadness and all sorts of things. It tries its best to aid us with our understanding of the world.

We easily feel very guilty about what our bodies do, forgetting that we are not in control. Pema Chödrön explains this beautifully in her book When Things Fall Apart.

“My moods are continuously shifting like the weather. I am definitely not in control of what thoughts or emotions are going to arise, nor can I halt their flow. Stillness is followed by movement, movement flows back into stillness. Even the most persistent physical pain, when I pay attention to it, changes like the tides.

I feel gratitude to the Buddha for pointing out that what we struggle against all our lives can be acknowledged as ordinary experience. Life does continually go up and down. People and situations are unpredictable and so is everything else. Everybody knows the pain of getting what we don’t want: saints, sinners, winners, losers. I feel gratitude that someone saw the truth and pointed out that we don’t suffer this kind of pain because of our personal inability to get things right.”

The first step to relaxation is always to accept this fact about ourselves. Imagine the weight lifted off of us when we finally understand it.

2. Let go of your thoughts.

You don’t have to control your thoughts. As we have established in the first point, you can’t do that. So there’s no need to strain yourself and then feel bad you didn’t succeed.But that doesn’t mean we have to let our thoughts control us.

Relaxation is not about controlling our thoughts and feelings, but about not letting our thoughts and feelings control us. They are just thoughts and feelings after all. Thoughts are not reality and feelings will pass. All is well. Read more>>

(via 3 Tips to Master the Art of Relaxation)


How to Master Being Calm When You Have Anxiety

“My biggest dream is to calm down.”

This post I saw on Tumblr is funny, because it seems exaggerated, but it’s actually spot on. It might not be true for all of us, but I think a lot of people can identify with it in some way.

Especially those of us who have anxiety.

I work on myself every day, so I can be as calm and peaceful as I can be. If one has peace, what else do they need, right?

Relaxation is not easy, not even to the average human being. There is always something to be tense about. To be honest, I think my anxiety has helped me a lot to calm down. I’m a walking oxymoron, I know. But the fact is that having an anxious brain has allowed me to understand how anxiety operates. And once you understand how anxiety works, you also see how you can calm down.

Anxiety is like the ghosts in Super Mario–as long as you don’t look at it, it haunts you, but the moment you turn around to face it, it runs away in fear.

So here is what helped me toward the dream of calming down:

1. Accept yourself. Darkness and all.

Anxiety is not something to defeat, it is something to learn to live with. And one can live a full and peaceful life with it. There’s nothing to get rid of or suppress. Only to understand and react to.

One of my favorite people ever, Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, has said,

“Our darkness is contributive in the same way that manure is essential to the rose. We must learn to accept our own darkness if we want to overcome our own neurosis. We cannot change anything unless we accept it. I myself am the enemy who must be loved.”

Whatever your darkness might be, you have one. We all have. Turning away from it, denying its existence is counterproductive. The “if I ignore it, maybe it will go away” attitude doesn’t work. It only makes it stronger, like the ghosts in Super Mario.

So what can we do instead of turning away? What would Carl Jung do? Alan Watts said the following:

“[Jung] was the sort of man who could feel anxious and afraid and guilty without being ashamed of feeling this way. In other words, he understood that an integrated person is not a person who has simply eliminated the sense of guilt or the sense of anxiety from his life–who is fearless and wooden and kind of sage of stone. He is a person who feels all these things, but has no recriminations against himself for feeling them.”

There you go. If Carl Jung said it’s okay, then it’s okay.

2. Be in the now.

In our minds, we tend to be everywhere except for now. If you have an anxious brain, like I do, then you are probably in the future most of the time. In the very near future, to be exact, in the “I’m about to die” kind of future.

The anxious brain is scared to death. And it grabs onto every little sign that can validate its suggestion that its fear will come true. "You feel a tingle in your throat? Yep, that’s it. All’s about to end. I told you.“

But if you take a step back from the future in your head, the death threat becomes a simple tingle in the throat. And that is all it will ever be. As Thich Nhat Hanh said,

“This is it. I have arrived in this moment. And the only moment is now. This is it.”

That next thing you are so afraid of, the thing you are sure is going to happen–it’s not going to happen. It will forever remain in your head. So come back to the present moment instead. It’s nice here.

3. Imagine your anxiety as a person. Read more>>

(via How to Master Being Calm When You Have Anxiety)