Years ago, I read The Power of Positive Thinking, by N.V. Peale, and I accept that it totally changed my life. In fact, it’s still on my list of books to read again, and notice what I learn the second time around. Nonetheless, in recent times, I’ve been shying away from positive thinking as portrayed at the moment. I am not relying on affirmations (which I still do), but instead am focusing my attention on leaning in.
Leaning into the present moment – accepting the feelings, emotions and even the thoughts that are running through my head. Not trying to push them away or sugar coat them. Much less, attempting to avoid them or swallow them down. But rather, to acknowledge their existence – and then release them.
I’ve even experimented with writing down everything my monkey mind says – all the catastrophizing and awfulizing it can come up with about the situation. That’s a post for another day!
In many cases, leaning in involves doing shadow work – actually allowing myself to dive deep into the troubling thoughts or feelings that I’ve noticed have been around for years. Because, let’s be honest, at 46 years old – there are many things that I shoved into the back of my emotional closet, thinking “I’ll deal with that later“.
And then I didn’t – and I wonder why they are still hanging around. Any time they have popped up in the past – I’ve pushed them back down again! Not now – I don’t have time for this!
They say – what you resist, persists.
And typically, what is causing me stress is often what I put off to handle another day.
What’s creating the stress?
Stress itself is not bad – there will be moments in work or in our personal lives when things feel like they are moving too fast. You are rushing around the juggling more responsibilities that what you would like to. And this can be good when we are going through a phase where it is helping us to level up and achieve our goals.
When we are living on the edge – pushed to achieve – this can be a huge propeller forward. Even positive situations and changes can produce stress – because it is simply a response to physical or emotional strain. This can happen with one large event or stressor, the same way that it may simply be an accumulation of many small things. In fact, the latter is probably more typical.
But stress is a state of hyper-arousal – of constantly being “on alert“. Like the mother with the toddler – in the same state of alert as military members in combat zones!
This means that our adrenaline is flowing, and we are often in fight, flight or freeze – needing to do something to protect ourselves. Because of the chemical reaction that happens in our body, it impacts our minds as well as our health.
But don’t worry – be happy!
Many people think that mindfulness is the same as meditation. Meditation may be a form of mindfulness – but they are not the same. Mindfulness is simply to become aware of the present moment.
Mindfulness occurs when one is more aware of their physical, mental and emotional condition in their present lives.Choosing a Mindfulness Practice That is Right For You, Dhaval Patel
It does not mean clearing your mind. It is an awareness of your thoughts and your being – not elimination of thoughts. You may choose to focus your mind on a single thing – such as your breath, or even the thoughts that are passing through your mind, or where you are feeling your emotions and naming those emotions.
Mindfulness can be as simple as focusing your attention on your breath – the rise and fall of your chest. The sensation of the air as it enters your nostrils and how it feels as it touches the back of the throat. The way that your sides expand and contract, or your belly inflates and deflates. Any time a thought interrupts the focus – you gently acknowledge it and come back to focusing on your breath. Returning to center and the present moment.
Mindfulness can be “just eating” when you have a meal and “just drinking” when you grab a glass of water. Being present with your hunger, the taste, the sensations & flavours, the aroma of the food. Chewing. Swallowing. Then taking another bite. Noticing when you’ve had enough, rather than continuing to eat because you are preocupied with something else.
Mindfulness can also be noticing the sensations on your scalp, how the air feels as it touches your ear or your cheeks, how your toes feel when touching your sock or shoe or if you have bare feet. How does the chair feel beneath you or simply noticing where you are holding tension in your back.
It is really just about a shift of awareness – into the present moment. Amplifying your field of awareness to include your mental state or mental chatter, your habitual responses or knee-jerk reactions. You then focus your attention into the present, accepting whatever you are feeling and thinking – without judgement. Observe yourself, watch yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, even the sensations. And allow all of that to pass through, without attaching to any of it.
It grows into giving yourself permission to feel care and compassion for yourself, so that you can choose a different response. Create a space for self-assessment, so that you can get control over your thoughts. Notice your stress response – where is it in your body, mind and emotions?
Benefits of Mindful Awareness
When you stop and acknowledge the emotion or the thought – you allow yourself the possibility of choice. Do I want to shove this back down and come back and deal with this later – or do I just want to let it go? Is this something I really want to continue carrying around with me as emotional baggage for the next ten years? And it will probably come back when you least expect it… boomeranging into your life at the worst possible moment.
If only we would use the Konmari method of decluttering in our mind & emotions with a bit more frequency:
Does this bring me joy?
Throw it out.
Admittedly, mindful awareness involves actually connecting with the emotion or thoughts that you keep replaying. But because you are paying attention, you can slow it down, and open up more space in your heart and mind. Turn off the knee-jerk reaction, and open up more breathing room.
How would I like to respond to this thought or emotion?
What do I need to see and acknowledge in order for this to actually be released, rather than put back into storage?
Mindfulness practice allows us to focus – get in the zone more easily. One of the reasons for this is that after practicing mindfulness, you are typically more relaxed. Additionally, because you have already acknowledged all the thoughts passing through your mind – the distractions – there is no reason for your monkey mind to tell you about all its concerns and worries. It already has. It’s been listened to and acknowledged. And now you can get into the flow of where you need to concentrate your attention and energy!
What is really happening in mindfulness is that you are acknowledging I am a human being, not a human doing. So choose to simply be, for a moment – in the present moment. This allows you to create a new relationship to the experience you are having. Don’t make an effort to deal with the thoughts or feelings – simply acknowledge, name it and continue breathing. I am feeling …. (angry, worried, frustrated, disappointed, sad).
Leaning into “negative” thoughts & feelings
For starters, I have learned through coaching that there are no “good” or “bad” feelings. There are emotions and feelings – and I can either use them resourcefully or they can simply be unresourceful. In order words – I can put them to good use. Or not. How do I choose to use that energy in motion – e-motion?
If I have decided that “good” emotions are only happiness, joy and excitement, but “bad” emotions are fear, worry and sadness — I may do my best to avoid the bad ones. Does that make them any less valid? By avoiding them, am I using them resourcefully? Probably not.
Yet, most of us have friends that will tell us
You need to get a hold on your emotions.
Stop wearing your heart on your sleeve.
Big girls don’t cry.
Suck it up and move on.
Don’t be bringing those bad vibes around here.
Basically – your raw emotions make me feel uncomfortable and I would be much more comfortable if you were just happy.
I’ve come to realise that as children we learn how to handle (or not) our emotions. I grew up believing that anger was really bad. There was absolutely no room for getting angry! So, I swallowed it down and never expressed it. In fact, I grew up avoiding any type of conflict and confrontation at all costs. I paid a heavy price for failing to learn how to have difficult conversations at a younger age! (And that’s another post for another day).
Unfortunately, you cannot walk through life ignoring 50% of your feelings and emotions! Avoiding them does not allow us to process them, much less be empowered by learning the deep messages that our emotions have for us.
So, as I’ve done deep coaching work (for myself – not just on others) over the past six years, and especially over the past eighteen months as I gifted myself weekly coaching sessions, accountability partners and being part of a Mastermind group – I’ve also given myself permission to explore all those emotions that I had been avoiding.
I discovered that buried within every fear there was a deep treasure. Something precious that I was protecting! Something that I considered so important that I didn’t want to risk losing it.
I discovered that within all that anger that I had buried lay my personal power. And because I was scared to stand up for myself and accept that I needed boundaries – giving myself permission to say “no” – I was feeling angered and frustrated.
I found within my sadness dreams that had been ignored and self-care that I wasn’t paying attention to. Rejecting my emotions – this is “bad” – was essentially rejecting a part of myself! And I was feeling unloved, because I could not love all of me.
What do you think might be hiding within your so-called negative emotions that you have buried? I know that every time I lean into my emotions, I learn something more about myself and what is truly important to me. I find peace and deeper contentment.
Avoiding False or Toxic Positivity
I love being positive and I live with daily affirmations. But sometimes, my affirmations are along the lines of:
I will rise above negative feelings, choosing to replace negative thoughts with self-love and care. The tools I need to succeed are in my possession.
I don’t do good vibes only, “no drama” or think happy thoughts. Because I realise that sometimes life presents us with obstacles and challenges. These statements are dismissive and shaming, minimizing some real and genuine pain.
Often the solution for the challenge we are facing that lies right smack in the middle of that “bad” emotion that you have been avoiding!
Toxic positivity glosses over the reality, suppressing true feelings. Without acknowledging your true feelings – you disconnect from a part of you. No more authenticity!
Now - I have boundaries. I don't want to be someone's rubbish bin either - don't expect me to be your wet blanket where you can come and cry all your sorrows, without expecting me to challenge some of your perspective and question some of your responses. My empathy used to overload me with the sorrows and problems of others, they would leave feeling better (but none the better actually for it, because they were only offloading and not actually moving forward) - and then tomorrow they would want to offload again. I've learnt lessons now in how to help others move on - better for me - and better for them as well!
Finding Balance and Stillness
By no means am I suggesting you need to stay down in the dumps – but everyone needs to recognise that it’s not all sunshine and dandelion wishes every hour of the day! Acknowledging our fears, our pain and our sadness can give us much greater depth of character and strength. I can open up empathy towards others for us, as we experience what so many others have experienced.
Additionally, we can only release and let go of those things that we are ready to acknowledge. Any emotions or thoughts that we avoid, that we fail to connect with – we continue to carry with us as baggage.
To be dealt with at a later date.
Using mindfulness – we can create calm from calamity. We don’t have to venture into depression in order to feel sadness. We can avoid despair, and yet feel worried or fearful.
For each person, mindfulness will work differently – for some, it is sitting doing knitting or crochet (moving fingers, hands and arms in a rhythmic fashion). For others, it may be walking or doing some type of exercise, that allows them to be present with their environment and their thoughts. And yet, for others, it might be simply sitting and focusing on their breath.
Which mindfulness practice works for you?
If you found this helpful, and want information about my coaching practice – then you can find out more information here: https://bethgray.coach.