The origin of this post was on Instagram, where I had shared some pointers on my stories that talked about lessons I have learned from dealing with my own shadow life. It was triggered by a beautiful conversation between Tim Ferris and therapist Lori Gottlieb, Check out the episode and the podcast in general. It’s full of gems and pearls. A veritable treasure chest of wisdom in each episode. Try out the one with Neil deGrasse Tyson for example.
I had also been considering writing for (and not about) the current the situation. I generally work from, prefer isolation to increase my focus and have everything I need within easy reach. So it hasn’t really affected me that much. India is still developing in its Covid-19 situation and things are not that bad. At least not at the moment.
But I know that for many people, social isolation is difficult. It doesn’t come as second Nature and often leaves them without coping mechanisms. So I wanted to share some strategies and ideas that have helped me deal with life in general. As an artist, who is also a freelancer and as someone who has big dreams, I have been at those places mentally where things look dark, despairing and full of pain and frustration. Be it my relationships or my careers in various disciplines, or my financial situations, anxiety and fear and frustration were a regular guest at my table. And after a while, they never left. So here are some strategies that helped me.
- What’s your story?
We all have these life stories that we tell ourselves and others. We are always the victims, ones who cannot seem to get it right. We tell ourselves things like we cannot change our weight, cannot find love, cannot get good work, and on and on and on. These stories are often rooted in the past and are based on our retelling of them. And as it usually happens, the tale grows in the telling. It grows till it has reached this dark and painful point where we are so deeply tied to it that it is our very identity. And because we think this is who we are, we keep manifesting situations where we experience the same outcomes over and over again.
Our bodies also become addicts to the cocktail of stress hormones that we produce on a regular basis. And so we become addicted to our stories.
But here’s the fact of the matter – we are still in control of our lives, even if we don’t feel we are. All we have to do is change the story. Stop repeating it to ourselves and to others. And then slowly, our present identity begins to soften, allowing us to reshape it for the better. What it takes courage and compassion. It will be scary But your perseverance will be paid many hundreds of times over. One small change now can mean big dreams coming true in the future.
2. Beating ourselves up
Never works. Punishments rarely work on others and it definitely doesn’t motivate the self to change for the better. What does work is compassion, for self and for others. For others because any emotion pointed at the other is ultimately pointed at oneself. More on this in another post. Ramana Maharishi had once been asked “how to deal with others”, to which he replied “there are no others”. That I feel sums it up rather nicely.
Acceptance of the current situation will allow us to take the first step into a desire future that is better than the current situation. Compassion motivates us ro come to acceptance and take responsibility. It might be scary at first because it is easy to blame the world but it is hard to take charge of our lives. But once we do, it is the most exhilarating ride there can be. You own a fancy car, would you rather watch someone else driving it to places they want to go or would you rather take the wheels yourself and experience the pleasure of driving on an open road with the wind in your hair and a song in your heart?
Take back the control and watch miracles happen. Be kind to yourself but deeply aware. If you don’t want to change, that’s fine. But at least now you have decided that consciously. There’s power in that. There’s a difference between put in isolation by force and choosing to go into it to introspect and find meaning to your existence.
3. How often do we actually listen?
In an argument, we are often pretending to hear the person while actually forming our counter argument in our heads. Take time to actively and deeply listen. Hear the person out. An ounce of that will mitigate tonnes of suffering. See what they are asking of you. Really see and hear. Be precise. Ask questions. Then once you kow, try to turn the ego down a few notches and see if you really have to sacrifice all that much to give them what they say they need. Very often you will find that they just wanted to be heard. And if they feel that they are truly heard by you, they will themselves dissipate the anger and pain and try to come to terms with the situation. Also, we often find that when the ego has been taken out of the equation, what needs to be done is not that much in terms of effort or cost. Oftentimes we are obstinate because we simply want to be the one in the right. Well, sometimes you can be right and you can still be miserable. And sometimes you can accept that the other person is wrong and still go with it and find happiness there. Life is funny like that. That’s what makes it interesting.
4. Accepting Feelings
There are no right or wrong feelings When a feeling comes, there is no reward in findingn a logical reason for it. Because often that reason will be wrong or just the tip of the iceberg. What is useful is to accept the feeling. Allow it to surface in us and in those around us. Telling a person or ourselves “you shouldn’t feel this way” doesn’t help at all because it is like the weather. You can tell the clouds and rain to go away all you like and you’ll still get wet if you step outside without an umbrella. Instead, create some distance to observe the feeling. Watch it rain and thunder through a window. Watch how beautiful “bad weather” can be. Feelings are weather on the inside. They come and they go. Just like our thoughts. And you can observe both without getting involved. All feelings are valid because they simply exist. Us calling them invalid will not make an iota of difference. But accepting them will reduce our suffering.
5. Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional
It is easy to equate pain with suffering. Today I sliced open a part of my left thumb whike cleaning a knife early in the morning. The whole day was ahead of me. I was about to cut fruit for breakfast. Then there was lunch to be made. Clothes I had soaked last night that needed to be washed. Guitar to be practised, dishes to be cleaned.
If I had begun cursing myself and focusing on how everything was going to become a mass of pain and blood, I would have stepped into suffering. Right then and there, I would have been reharsing how bad my day was going to be and as these things go, my day would reflect my strongest thoughts powered by strong emotions.
But I have been there before and it is no fun. So I stopped what I was doing. Accepted that these things happen in the kitchen. At the same time, as I sucked at the wound, I directed my attention to the spot and felt the various sensations vividly. I affirmed that my body was already working on healing the wound. And all I had to do was co-operate. So i continued with my day, but without the use of my left thumb. Mostly. It bled a little when I was washing vegetables for lunch because the fresh scab got wet accidentally and dissolved. But then I did the same process and it stopped bleeding almost immediately. I did everything that I was to do and even enjoyed the process. I like challenges to my dexterity because I am naturally very dexterous.
The point that I am trying to illustrate here is that you can always shift your perspective. And choose the one that accomodates the current situation in a positive framework.
Social isolation can feel bad. But a staycation where you get work in your payjamas, cuddle wit your pet, save commute time and bake cookies, sounds like a life you could get used to. And the friends and loved ones can always chime in the video chat.
In life, pain is our greatest teacher. Someone once said “the wound is where the light enters”. These disasters, whether global or personal, always crack open the shell we have created around us. This shell is what truly isolates us from the energy of being. From the flow of the universe. And this is where the anxiety and panic comes from. Because we are cutoff from our source of true power, we feel powerless. Pain forces us to emerge from that she’ll and bathe in the true light of peace and joy. Thus spiritual awakening often comes at the tail of greate suffering. The world suffers and then it changes. A pattern that can be seen over and over again. So be present with pain but you don’t necessarily have to suffer. Thank the pain because it is teaching you something. The emotional pain of a wrong job, relationship, life situation, makes you find the right one. Or you can choose to keep a stiff upper lip, drown yoir sorrows in substances like sugar, alcohol and nicotine and feel more miserable at the end of the night than how you felt when you had walked into the bar/party/den.
We are all bestowed with the power tk change our lives as we deem fit. We can chose great happiness, or deep sadness. And either is okay, really, as long as we choose it ourselves, knowingly and with full consciousness.