Wide Awake in Our Crisis

Wide Awake in Our Crisis

On Tuesday I decided to try something new.  I started a question and answer thread on my Facebook page called Tuesday Q & A (yes, I worked hard on that title).  The first day was successful in that I had three questions.  Two of the three questions were very general and for some reason, they have really stuck with me.  The questions were, “Where can I get more information on midlife crises?” and “How about tips on dealing with stress?”

I’m fairly certain I didn’t answer the exact questions the people had in mind.  I gave what I thought were good answers, but more than likely the people asking the questions had more specific answers in mind that I was unable to discern from the text.  However, part of the answers I gave made me think about crises in general, midlife, stress-related, or otherwise.

In one of my answers, I recommended the movie by M. Night Shyamalan called “Wide Awake”.  It’s a story about a boy who is thrown into an identity crisis when his grandfather dies.  The boy goes on a search for answers to big questions about life, death, and why.  I realize that may not seem like an identity crisis, but at its deepest level it’s asking the question, “Who really really really am I?”

When we’re suffering, it doesn’t matter what type of crisis we’re suffering.  Crises come in all forms:  Midlife crisis, a job loss, a death, a divorce, a financial crisis, an age crisis like growing older.  A Buddhist friend of mine says suffering is suffering is suffering.  I totally agree.  If you’re the one having a crisis, to you your crisis always seems worse than the suffering anyone else is going through.  There is one thing that is the same for all of us in a crisis, though.  We want answers on how to end the crisis, and preferably we’d like that answer to work fast.

Here’s the truth.  The majority of the time, there are no fast fixes to the crisis you’re in.  Almost all life-changing situations take time to unfold.  You will probably have to wait in your crisis for a while.  I’m sorry.

However, here are a few things that will help you navigate through your crisis a bit more easily.

Spend your time thinking about how to move out of your crisis.  Instead of thinking about how bad you feel, think about what you really really really want and how to get it.  When we feel bad, we want to think and talk about how miserable we feel.  A little bit of that is a pressure relief and is good.  A lot of that tends to make us feel worse.  We start stacking negative emotions on top of negative emotions and soon the original crisis is little compared to the giant crisis of how bad we feel.  Instead, think about how you got into the crisis and how you can move out in a positive way.  Choose to learn from your crisis.

Find an engrossing activity or hobby.  Whether it be swimming laps, playing ball, or doing crossword puzzles, it doesn’t matter.  What is important is that you give your conscious mind a positive distraction from all the negative thinking.  Your activity should require concentration.  The goal here is to free up your brain’s processing power.  If you’re focused on a puzzle, shooting hoops, painting the bedroom, or playing Sudoku, you’re only using a little bit of your conscious brain power.  That opens up all kinds of available processing that your brain can turn towards the subconscious mind.  The subconscious mind is where the real work on improving your life is done.  Here is a warning, though.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT bury yourself in TV or movies.  Once again, a little bit of TV or a movie is good, but a lot takes your processing power up with useless babble.  Then there is no processing power left to work on your life’s goals.

Meditate.  Yep, you’ve now heard it again.  I’m well aware that every self-help person out there says to meditate.  They recommend it because it works.  Here’s why.  You’ve heard the saying, “Silence is Golden”.  Meditation is a form of silence in your mind.  Earlier, I suggested finding an engrossing activity.  That activity is a form of meditation.  Now take it a step further with a dedicated meditation period each day.  Twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, set a timer for three minutes and just focus on your breath during that time.  Notice what your breath  feels like as you inhale and exhale.  When you notice your mind growing bored and starting to think about something else, just gently refocus on your breathing.  The next week, increase your timer to four minutes.  A week later, change it to five.  The goal is to build up to twelve minutes a day, twice a day, which is where studies have shown we get maximum benefit from meditation.

Yes, I know it’s boring.  Sometimes I get bored meditating too.  However, it teaches you to be aware of your mind and its wanderings.  That lesson translates to your daily life.  It’s in your daily life that you live and where your crisis started.  If you want to live your life’s dreams, you have to know who you are, and awareness is the greatest teacher there is.  Meditation also teaches you to discipline your mind and be patient with yourself.  That’s important for the next suggestion.

Be patient.  This usually is the hardest suggestion to implement.  When we feel bad, we want the bad feelings to hurry up and leave.  However, it probably took a long time for your crisis to be created, and it’ll probably take a while for your crisis to end.  That’s why patience is a virtue.  Likely, your life will not feel good or may feel like it’s not going your way for a while.  In fact, it is going your way; you just can’t see it yet.  I like to say, “God draws straight with crooked lines, in all directions all the time.”  For you, this saying means that you will come out of this crisis a better and happier person, providing that you use this time to get to know you.

Your crisis is an identity crisis.  You used to live one way, but because of changes in life, you are now forced to find a new way to live.  That’s an identity crisis.  You have to learn who you really really really are in this new situation.  Having gone through fourteen months of depression, a midlife crisis, a bankruptcy, a divorce, and then two years of wandering around my empty house wondering what I’m going to do for the the next phase of my life, I understand crisis.  However, I wouldn’t give up all that pain for anything.  Through it I learned who I really really really am and what I really really really want to do.  You will learn that too, if you choose to stay wide awake during your crisis.  This crisis is your chance to rewrite your life so that you can live your dreams.  It probably doesn’t feel like it now, but you have a wonderful opportunity here.  Take this crisis and make it the best thing that’s ever happened to you.

May Joy, Peace, and Contentment fill your life today.




Snow Falls On A Leaf Like Emotions Fall Upon Your Heart

Snow Falls On a Leaf, Snow Falls Off a Leaf

In Zen Buddhism, there is a beautiful saying:  “Snow falls onto the bamboo leaf.  Snow falls off of the bamboo leaf.”  Imagine the image of this saying in your mind.  It’s snowing.  Through no effort of its own, the snow lands on a leaf.  It accumulates.  Soon there is enough snow on the leaf that the leaf itself is covered; except for the edges, none of the leaf is showing.  The snow continues to fall in layers upon the snow already covering the leaf.  Then, usually very quickly and again with no effort of its own, the weight of the snow bends the leaf too far, and the snow falls off the leaf.

Here’s how this analogy relates to you.  You are the leaf; the snow is your emotions.  Through no effort of your own, your emotions fall upon you.  Positive or negative emotions, it makes no difference.  The emotions fall onto you, and you feel their weight.  It is a pressure that feels as though it presses upon you to act.  Frequently though, if you act now, you will be acting the way your emotions are dictating.  And usually, your feelings don’t care if you’re living your dreams or not.  Your feelings only care that you survive physically or psychologically against some threat they think they sense.  Thus, what happens if you just let the snow fall off?

What happens if you just let the snow fall off?

When the snow falls off, we tend to see that as positive.  And once we pass that judgment, we start the same cycle of acting out on how we feel, except that now we feel lighter, or flush, or happy.  Again, if we act the way those feelings are pressuring us to act, are we furthering our goals and dreams?

Here is an example of positive emotions influencing a dream in a negative way.   A friend of mine had a goal to lose some weight.  She found that her efforts paid off when she managed to still lose a pound even during the holiday season.  As a reward to herself, she decided to buy herself a new expensive pair of jeans.  It’s important to note that she is also very attracted to shiny things.  While shopping, she found a pair of expensive jeans that had a lot of shiny rhinestones on them.  The jeans did not fit her very well, but they did have shiny things on the pockets.  She told me she so excited about the rhinestones that she decided to buy the jeans.  However, she and I have worked on her learning to allow her emotions to wash over her without acting on them.   So she also decided to just feel the emotions over losing weight and finding shiny things for a few minutes.  Soon she realized that the excitement she felt over the rhinestones was influencing her attraction to the jeans that didn’t fit her very well.  If her goal was to buy a pair of jeans that flattered her figure, she had to see beyond the shiny things she felt excitement about.

Emotions are a survival mechanism that we are born with.  We have to feel them.  However, we don’t have give in to them.  We can just feel them, or we can burn them off in a healthy way.  When you feel a lot of pressure from an emotion, and you desperately want to act on that emotion, try instead to let the snow fall off naturally from its own weight.  Go for a walk, do your favorite hobby, go to the gym, do yoga, or meditate.  Try not to act on the emotion.  Soon, the feelings of pressure will subside.  Then, with a clear mind, you can decide the best action you should take for your life and dreams.  It probably won’t be the action your emotions were pressuring you to take.

Snow falls onto a bamboo leaf.  Snow falls off of a bamboo leaf.  It’s all effortless on the part of the snow and the leaf.  Emotions fall upon your heart.  Emotions fall off of your heart.  It’s all effortless on the part of your emotions.  If you just allow the emotions to be, without trying to control them, soon they will pass and you will be free to live your dreams.  No matter how you feel.  When you accept this fact, you will begin to live in Joy, Peace, and Contentment.