I’m taking one of my walks again. It’s one of those times where I’d really like to run but I don’t think it would do me any good today. I put out a tremendous amount of energy through a bunch of work and I finally came up to the point where I realized I’d be much better off just going to Dunkin’ Donuts with my daughter. But I will not avoid the walk.
As I walk around the cemetery (that’s where I usually take my walks), I’m listening to Jordan Peterson, a professor and philosopher who is going over purpose and meaning in life and why it’s so important. One of the main points he makes is that it really doesn’t matter how strongly we believe in something, nobody cares about that. The actions that we take because of our beliefs are what matter.
When I got done listening, what I ultimately took from his narrative was simply this: what we are called to do, what would make us happy, what we believe requires us to take action. However, many times we don’t pursue these things because we want to avoid pain. Peterson pointed out that there are a lot of different kinds of pain in the world, some that’s just and some that’s unjust. But basically suffering is required, pain is required, sacrifice is necessary, to find meaningful purpose in our lives.
So the real question is this: why do we avoid suffering so strongly? Or, even better: does the avoidance of suffering make us more or less miserable?
Think about it for a second. Think about the things that we do that we would tell a friend not to. If we wanted to be a marathon runner, but we keep bringing foods into our life that makes us more sedentary. If we really want to go and get a masters degree, but instead we busy ourselves with friends who have nothing to do with our goals. If we know there are difficult conversations that we need to have in order to better ourselves and our situation with family, friends, or loved ones, but instead we find ways to numb the pain and anxiety with alcohol, tobacco, venting on others and blaming them, making it their fault. All of this to avoid mental and emotional pain that inherently comes along with striving, stretching, or reaching for something grander than what we have right now. .
And are we really avoiding that pain? The depths to which we hurt ourselves when the arrows landing on our chest come from our own hand are much worse than any other. What I mean by that is when we work against ourselves we line up an army of everything around us to thwart ourselves. We stack the deck against ourselves that we are too busy, don’t have enough money, it isn’t the ‘right time’…whatever, to actually go after something we truly want. We do all of this simply to avoid the potential pain of failing to meet our goals–of not succeeding. And this avoidance?…
Causes us pain.
During one of my workshops this spring we discussed which you would prefer: physical or emotional pain. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed that they would prefer physical pain. Why? Simply because we know what to do with physical pain, there’s no uncertainty. If there is a physical problem, we see a doctor, perhaps get a prescription for it or some other treatment. People recognize that there is something you can do about it. But when it comes to matters of the heart: losing connection with others, severe disappointment or depression after a loss of someone or something that was really important to us, or, worst of all, shame…there is no prescription. No manual. Only the one that we create for ourselves on how to deal with these difficulties.
We literally line ourselves up in an adversarial relationship to these emotions because they cause us pain and discomfort. What is the pain and suffering and why do we need it? When we really take the time to observe we can see that everything in nature is in pain. This is neither good or bad, it is all just part of the process of growth. However, we perceive it negatively. The way we feel and label our pain is what makes it an adversary. Yet, it can really be our salvation if we choose it.
Here are some suggestions on how to take a different perspective on fear, anxiety, shame, or any painful emotion that we may be experiencing. These tips can help you find the usefulness, and purpose within any emotion:
Acknowledge the emotion: when we take the time to recognize the emotion we are feeling we allow it to flow through us more quickly. Emotions generally last 90 seconds in our body. However, when we try to suppress, repress, or just plain ignore them, we block the flow of energy (because that is all emotions are–energy in motion), causing them to linger much longer within us.
Reflect on why that emotion is coming up for you: take a moment to ask yourself why the emotion is coming up. Are you going after something that is challenging for you? Or, are you self-sabotaging to avoid going after something you truly want (remember the marathon example above?). Many times we find out that emotions come up for us when we go against the purpose in our lives, our values, or something that is really important to us. Do you feel shame or embarrassment when you try something new in an area you already know that you’re good at, but don’t quite hit the mark? Or do these emotions come up more often when you strive for something that ‘everyone’ says you can’t or shouldn’t do, but that you feel drawn to pursue and yet miss achieving on your first (or fifth) try? Most of the time, emotions ‘feel’ big when we are more concerned with the judgment of others than when we are seeking our own satisfaction.
Take actions that are in your own best interest: this doesn’t mean you should be headless of others feelings or needs. But, you do need to understand that if you aren’t pursuing those things that are meaningful to you, that give you purpose or satisfaction in life, then you are not as able to show up as your best self for others. When you focus on pursuing your purpose, even if you miss the mark, you are putting your energy and attention on something that lifts you up and gives your life meaning. This inspires you, gives you energy and positive emotions, and helps you show up as your best self for yourself and for everyone around you.
So, the next time we find ourselves feeling shame, embarrassment, or anxiety, we should stop and consider what these emotions are telling us. Are we avoiding something that is important to us out of fear of failure or the judgment of others, or a belief that we shouldn’t want that goal for ourselves? If the answer is yes, then we, each of us, is worth the effort it takes to consider what it is that we truly want, and to put all of our energy (emotional and physical) into pursuing it, giving us the meaning we are called to discover for ourselves in our lives.
If you would like to learn tools and skills to help you identify and pursue those things that would bring more meaning into your life, reduce your emotional isolation, lessen your avoidance of shame, fear, and anxiety, to reach your goals, break old habits, or create new ones, I can help. We can meet virtually or in person at my office in Waterbury, Vermont. Just click the button or the link below for a free consultation and let’s talk.
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