Learn To Be With What Is
In this blog, I want to share something with you that I believe can really shift things for you if you put in the work to understand this and then set on the path to start chipping away from your old belief system.
In my 20 years of experience in the field of mental health field, I have discovered (as have so many other experts so nothing new here) that one of the greatest source of suffering is having expectations.
In psychology terms we also call these “unrelenting standards”.
These are arbitrary standards and expectations we put on ourselves and others that are typically impossible to meet though they may seem common sense to us.
For example, it would be common sense for a person who is addicted to drugs to stop using drugs for their own health and wellbeing, yet it is not so simple and easy to do.
It would make common sense that the child should not have a major meltdown because she does not have her favorite shirt available, yet it is impossible to reason with a little one whose mind is set on something they want, they want it now and they want it their way.
How about all the “shoulds” you tell yourself?
“I should be doing this… I should be able to handle that… I should not feel this way… I should have…” And it continues “Because I did not, it means I am a failure… What’s wrong with me… I am not good enough…”
My point here is that much of the guilt and feeling lousy about yourself or being disappointed in others is the result of the expectations you set.
When these expectations do not happen, we create a story about of the situation that typically does not serve ourselves or anyone else.
Buddhism identifies two parts to thinking: 1) Initial thought, and 2) developing thought.
The brain is a thought making machine so it WILL continue to make thoughts! What we do with those thoughts matters more than trying to control them!
Think of the initial thoughts as a newsflash; “x, y & z happened!” or “x, y & z will happen.” That’s it! It just reports what’s happened or what is going to happen. i.e. “My child did not do his homework” or “I have to do the laundry”.
The developing thought that follows the initial thought is like the nauseating report on the “developing story” that happened with all kids of different interpretations and viewpoints.
Let’s say you are at the grocery store and your child has a major meltdown. She is screaming, and crying out of control throwing her body on the floor in a store that is full of busy people who just want to get their shopping done and be out of there.
You get all the looks and frowns from these people which make you sink deeper into shame and embarrassment. As a result, you react to your child in ways which you know are not helpful like yelling at them or threatening; “If you don’t stop right now, you will never come to the store with me again!” OR, you resort to power and control by picking your screaming child up and dragging her out of the store. In both cases everyone loses.
The initial event or thought is “There's a meltdown happening”. What if we could leave it at that? What if we could simply acknowledge that which is without going into the developing news story about it?
It would probably feel much better than continuing to the “breaking news coverage” of the story in which you may see yourself as helpless parent who does not know how to handle your child at a grocery store, or you may see your child as a misbehaving spoiled brat who needs to learn a lesson.
The Buddhist 8 fold path teaches us that “Right thinking reflects the way things are” (The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching p. 59 by Thich That Hanh). It merely observes and notices mindfully what is happening without trying to judge or interpret it.
Now wouldn’t that be wonderful? Just being present to life as it is without it having to mean anything about anything? What if we could “..be in touch with life in the present moment” like Thich Nhat Hanh says, and let go of the unnecessary chatter that is not even true!
I know this is what you want because essentially we all want peace, happiness, love and contentment.
And you get to be careful here as many people at this point do not believe it is possible and we can never create anything that we don’t believe in…
If you are at the step of not believing this is possible, my invitation for you is to work on having faith that it is possible for you to attain more peace of mind and harmony in your family.
You could start by visualizing deeply how this would feel and look like.
If you already do believe this is possible, but you don’t know how to get there then, follow the steps below to start practicing!
Four Practices To Attain Right Thinking
These 4 practices come from ancient Buddhist teachings as described by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching (p. 60).
1) Ask yourself “Are You Sure?”
Thinking and judgement arises from our perception of the situation. The perception of the situation is not necessarily what is real.
For example, the child having the tantrum at the store is not having it to give you hard time and to embarrass you, but most likely because they just needed to release some accumulated stress that was triggered by her not getting what she wanted at the store.
By asking yourself “are you sure?”, opens up windows to new possibilities and interpretations which “dilutes” the emotional intensity of your perception making you feel better and more neutral about it. This in turn allows you to now be calmer and have a more effective response to your child than yelling at them.
2) Ask yourself “What am I doing?”
This is not a question what you “should” be doing or whether you are doing something right or wrong, but literally means what are you doing RIGH NOW?
For example, right now, I am sitting by my fire place, I am typing on the computer, I hear the birds outside, and I am breathing and so on.
This question, grounds you in the present moment. It helps you be mindful and connect with what actually is.
3) Say “Hello!” to your habit energy!
Much of our thought patterns are based on habits. We actually have not evolved very far from the Pavlov’s dogs or Skinner’s pigeons in our thought habits. Unless we become aware of these conditioned patterns, which typically quickly cascade into a heck of a story, we keep creating a life experience where disaster is right around the corner!
“Our way of acting depends on our way of thinking, and our way of thinking depends on our habit energies” (Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching (p. 62)
Just by merely noticing this habit energy, and cheerfully saying hello to it rather than judge it, will release its power on you, and will interrupt being reinforced.
4) Cultivate your “Bodhichitta” - Mind of Love.
Bodhichitta is a mind of unconditional love, compassion and lovingkindness towards all beings in this world. It loves and accepts all that is part of our world without judging because it can connect with the deep mystery of life itself.
Whether you know it or not, you too have a Bodhichitta mind! A capacity for deep understanding of your self and desire to understand others which means you can drop all the expectations and “unrelenting standards right now!’
I hope these 4 simple steps will give you support and guidance on how to start challenging your mind and your perceptions of reality so that you can find peace and happiness exactly where you are!
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With Light & Love,