Life can be heavy. It’s busy. It’s complicated. It’s emotional. It’s uncertain. It’s anxiety-provoking and stressful. It’s very common to look forward to a time when things aren’t this way anymore. When that happens, we think, we can feel light. We can be free. We can be happy. But more often than not, that time never comes. One stressor is replaced with the next and the next and the next. Imagine what it would be like to no longer wait for that day to come when you can finally feel light, free and happy. As outlandish or even impossible as it may seem, you really can experience lighthearted wellbeing right now without waiting for something to change before feeling that way. These three tips can help.
The Problem and the Solution are the “Now”
Living fully in each moment as it is–mindfulness–is fairly easy when things are going well (but still we often catch ourselves lost in thought even in pleasant moments, which robs us of full joy). When things are going well, we typically want to pay attention to what’s happening within and around us. It’s easy to tune in with our senses and be present.
However, life is full of all sorts of moments, not all of them pleasant. Those difficult moments are the ones that make us feel heavy and trapped. Stress and anxiety invade our thoughts and emotions, and they affect our actions. They’re in control. Why would we want to be fully present for that? No, it would be much better to wait for that stressful situation to pass, and then we can be mindful–wouldn’t it? Then we’d feel light and free–wouldn’t we?
Actually, not so much. While it seems counterintuitive at best and just plain stupid and impossible at worst, the truth is that the freedom and lightheartedness need to happen first, before the stress, anxiety, or any other challenge are gone. Then, we have the distance and peace necessary to live well in the face of challenges. That is true freedom. It’s not the absence of heaviness that makes us light. It’s our inner lightness that makes our world less heavy.
This concept is very similar to motivation. Motivation is often misunderstood. It seems like we must feel motivated before we tackle something that looms before us. However, it’s when we take action and begin to do what’s necessary that motivation happens.
Here are three tools to help you feel light and free first, while you’re facing challenges right now.
1. Slip Off Your Hook
In Buddhism, the concept of being stuck to our problems, being hooked by them, is called shenpa. In acceptance and commitment therapy, it’s called being fused to your problem. I use both terms and also say that it’s living in your mind rather than in your moment–in your thoughts and feelings about something rather than in that something itself. Whatever the term, the concept is the same. When we’re hooked or fused or stuck ruminating in our minds, we’re not free.
To become unhooked:
- Catch yourself stuck to your problem or stressor.
- Don’t be mean to yourself for it. Just notice and name this very human tendency.
- Remind yourself, “I’m having a thought,” or “Oops! I’m stuck on my hook again.”
- Be curious and ask yourself what else is happening right now that you could pay attention to instead.
- Identify one small action you can take to move just a big farther away from your hook.
- Repeat. Defusion (unhooking) is a continual process that takes patience and practice.
2. Express Gratitude
Gratitude is an important component of wellbeing. It replaces heaviness with lightheartedness. It isn’t superficial or pretending that things are perfect. Gratitude is a simple choice to notice and appreciate what is good about yourself, your life, and the world around you. When you turn grumbles into gratitude, you still experience problems, but those problems no longer dominate your experience.
Consider setting an alarm to sound periodically (once a day or once an hour, perhaps). When it chimes, pause and be present. Identify one thing that you appreciate about your moment, and focus on it while you take a few slow, deep breaths to nourish your whole being.
It is difficult to play when we’re stressed and busy. Often, we feel depleted at the end of the day and only have energy to flop onto the couch and stare at the television, watching characters live a scripted life. This keeps us feeling heavy because we’re not taking charge of our own life.
Cultivating a sense of playfulness can counter the heavy, burdened, tethered feeling of stress and anxiety. It can help you live your life actively rather than passively, which fosters joy.
Play doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It doesn’t require fancy equipment. It simply involves identifying what activities help you reset and even find a sense of flow (that state where you are completely focused on what you are doing and all other concerns drop away for the moment).
What is one small thing you can do today that results in a simple smile? Do more of that every day even when you’re stressed and anxious (especially when you’re stressed and anxious). It is how to become light and free.
I’ve got lots of different tools to help you be light and free. We all learn and grow differently, so I offer books, workbooks and journals.
Kids deserve to be light and free, too. The skills will help them for life! Learn about my course for kids on the homeschool/online school platform Lernsys.