This is happening the way things seem to for me. Rather than something coming to me or happening because I have a clear plan, I show up and dink around, and something, the thing, presents itself. It’s mysterious and magic and sometimes incredibly frustrating, but it’s happened often enough that I trust the process.
This time, I knew I’d be starting a new Saturday series, since Self-Compassion Saturday was done. Sparked by a conversation at Laurie Wagner‘s kitchen table, I thought I should do something about all of the resources I’ve used over the past two years to rehab my life. I have a half-hearted collection of links on the blog, but I’ve never really taken the time to share with you why or how those things were useful to me, at least not in any structured, direct way.
So I knew that was the thing, even brainstormed a list of everything I would include — people, places, ecourses, retreats and workshops, podcasts, blogs, films, practices and books — and how I would structure the posts, but I did it thinking I’d take a little break before I actually started.
I should know better by now. The Universe has its own schedule for these things. I got an email from Sandra Pawula, author of the blog Always Well Within, “simple wisdom for a happy life.” She wondered if I’d want to interview her for my blog. Sandra and I have a lot of interests in common. As one of her readers, what keeps happening is I’ll be thinking about something, contemplating it, trying to figure it out, and then she’ll write about it, saying what I hadn’t quite worked out yet, helping me to understand. I knew it was the Universe nudging me, “why not start now, with this?”
Sandra Pawula is a writer, mindfulness advocate, and champion of living with ease. She writes about finding greater happiness and freedom on her blog Always Well Within. Her signature e-course Living with Ease: 21 Days to Less Stress begins again on January 6th and you can register now.
The questions I asked Sandra are relatable to her e-course, but also some personal questions I have right now, things I would ask any long term practitioner if I had the opportunity. I am so grateful for her answers.
Why cultivate or seek ease? What value does it bring? Shouldn’t we be spending our effort, energy and time serving others, making the world a better place, easing suffering?
The idea of seeking ease can sound self-indulgent, can’t it? But, ease is not just a luxury. Stress is associated with so many serious conditions like heart disease, immune dysfunction, anxiety, and depression that we can’t afford to dismiss our need for ease.
Ease is also an essential component of goodness, one of the qualities that truly helps others and can actually change the world. When you feel at ease, you’re more likely to be kind, loving, forgiving, and spacious. You’re more likely to be present, attentive, and sincerely listen to others.
Sadly, there’s also a tremendous amount of mental suffering in the West, which expresses itself in countless forms from addiction to anorexia to cutting to a deeply rooted feeling of not being enough or having enough. This mental suffering must be seen and addressed if we wish to have the strength, focus, and power to create a more peaceful, sane, and just world.
It’s so worthwhile to serve others and contribute to making the world a better place in any ways we can. But, if we do so in an ego-based, neurotic way, we’re more likely to cause harm and hurt others in the process. And, we may burn out, cutting our service short.
“Ease” and “serve” are not mutually exclusive. Ideally, the two would come together. If you look at some of the greatest spiritual leaders of recent times like the Dalai Lama or Gandhi, you’ll see they embody ease. Ease is the natural consequence of a loving and wise mind. If we can bring ease into our service, the effects will be far more potent.
I think it’s also accurate to see working with your own mind as a form of service. When you decrease the harm you bring to others and increase the goodness you share by transforming your negative mind states, you’ve offered a tremendous service to the world. Your positive attitude and actions will inspire others and may even have an amazing ripple effect.
What do you see as the biggest challenges to ease?
Our own mind. Although some of our stress triggers are external, the way we respond to them still depends upon our own mind. As Marcus Aurelius said,
If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
And, we’ve become adept at generating stress internally by dwelling in the past, which cannot be changed, or anticipating the future, which cannot be known. This stirs up worry, anxiety, anger, frustration, and all forms of afflictive emotions, which detract from feeling at ease.
Many suffer unnecessarily because they don’t know that they actually have the capacity to change their own thoughts, emotions, and perceptions for the better. Instead, they are ruled by automatic patterns and feel like a victim of circumstances, relationships, and their own chaotic mind. If they could learn to tame their minds, how different their lives would be.
At the same time, we need to understand that stress is a biochemical affair and some people are genetically predisposed to a stronger stress response or a weaker relaxation response. There are other factors that can adversely impact our stress response as well, for example: some immune-related diseases, a lack of early nurturing, trauma, and the number of stressors that occur during any given period of one’s life.
Whatever blocks us from ease – big or small – doesn’t have to permanently stop us from finding more peace and serenity. Most people see significant improvement through the use of simple stress reduction practices.
We are both Highly Sensitive People — what are some strategies for comforting, soothing the overwhelm that can come from being out in the world with an open heart?
I feel the right perspective changes everything. We must accept that suffering exists and not turn away from it, or the truth will someday knock us out flat. But, we can feel encouraged knowing it’s possible to bring an end to suffering. Every time we replace a negative thought, word, or action with a positive one, we’re demonstrating that suffering can be overcome.
If we dwell on despair or hopelessness, naturally we’ll feel overwhelmed. But, if we remember that each person, no matter how confused or negative they may seem to be at present, has the potential for goodness, we’ll tap into possibility and the energy of compassion.
On a practical level, I need to take regular measures to replenish myself like plenty of quiet, time in nature, meditation, naps, and inspirational reading. When I feel overwhelmed, it’s a sign I need to pause and take time for myself.
At the same time, I don’t intentionally avoid feeling the pain of this world. When it rises, I let it rise and break open my heart a bit more, knowing that most suffering is unnecessary. It’s actually manmade and therefore can be changed. This recognition fuels my resolve to work with my own mind and to be of help to others.
I also know whatever painful emotion arises will dissolve on its own if I don’t feed it with more thoughts and emotions. So I don’t have to be afraid of any emotion.
I recently had an epiphany that anxiety is fundamentally a crisis of confidence — in our basic worth and wholeness, in our innate wisdom and sanity, in our belief that we’ll be able to handle what comes, in our faith that our experience is workable. What tips do you have for dealing with anxiety?
Your insights resonate strongly for me, Jill. Our essence is fundamentally good, loving, and worthy but it’s obscured by all our thoughts and emotions. If we can fully believe in our basic sanity and goodness instead of becoming embroiled in thoughts and emotions, so many problems like anxiety will begin to dissolve.
However, it’s not necessarily easy to deal with anxiety once it’s become a long-held pattern. My approach is to see anxiety as just another construction of my mind, which can be gradually deconstructed through mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques and other forms of relaxation.
When anxiety makes an appearance, we can tell ourselves it seems “real,” but it’s not actually solid or true, and be very compassionate towards ourselves. If we keep siding with what’s true without rejecting the anxiety, we’ll slowly break apart the tendency to be anxious.
I’m far less anxious than I used to be because I know the anxiety is not true. But, I also know that it’s my bottom-line response. I’m able to accept that rather than be distressed by it. That helps to deflate the power of anxiety as well.
If people have serious anxiety issues, they may need counseling or the help of drugs to calm their system. It’s difficult to work with the mind when it’s so stirred up. These resources can help us get our mind to a more manageable place so we can start on practices like meditation, loving kindness, or stress reduction.
What would you like people to know about your upcoming Living with Ease course? What can they expect?
In my course, Living with Ease: 21 Days to Less Stress, you’ll have a chance to identify your personal stress triggers, learn a new mindfulness-based stress reduction technique each week, use reflection exercises to explore unhelpful beliefs, and acquire a menu of simple supportive practices to help you lock in a more relaxed way of being.
Mindfulness is a powerful catalyst for rewiring the brain, and that’s exactly what we need to change our stress response. It’s been shown to strengthen the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, in short our executive and cognitive functions, which improves our capacity to rewire old habits and build resilience to adversity.
Mindfulness offers a simple, inexpensive, and scientifically proven way to beat stress.
I recommend Sandra’s blog as a Life Rehab Resource, for its constant reminders to be gentle with ourselves, and as mentioned above, her signature e-course Living with Ease: 21 Days to Less Stress begins again on January 6th and you can register now. Other ways to connect with Sandra are to follow her on Facebook or on Twitter.