Cover Your Mind With
The Leather of
Our daily lives are full of rocks, thorns, and ice. These dangers are automatic negative thoughts about ourselves, others, and our experiences. An alternative way to live is self-compassionately. Self-compassion is caring for yourself the way you truly want to be cared for or treating yourself the way you genuinely want to be treated.
A Riddle for Beginning A New Way to Think About Your Life
Imagine a bird in a bottle, like a wine bottle or an olive oil bottle. Get the bird out of the bottle without hurting the bird or breaking the bottle.
Now try to watch your mind work on this riddle. What does it do?
I’ll guess that instantly your mind begins to fill up with questions like, why would the bird be in the bottle? And how did it get there, anyway? Additionally, potential answers to the riddle probably started to burst through, like cutting a hole in the bottle. Just as quickly, there may have immediately followed reasons why that solution won’t work. Alternatively, maybe your mind began telling stories to explain the mystery, such as you’re Sherlock Holmes and you have a giant magnifying glass aimed at the bird in the bottle. Finally, notice all the emotions you start experiencing, such as confusion, curiosity, exasperation, etc. Please, take a moment and observe all of your brain’s activity sparked by this puzzle.
Try to Notice all the Thoughts and Emotions Right Now
If you don’t know the answer to the riddle, your mind may spend minutes or hours trying to find the solution. Soon, the wonder and fun may start to wear off, and irritation begins to set in. Suppose enough time passes without your mind giving up or solving the mystery. In that case, the minor irritation probably morphs into frustration and, eventually, anger at me for beginning this page with that riddle.
What’s going on in our heads?
Generally, our brains do not tolerate negative thoughts and feelings. Instead, our brains try to distract themselves from conflicting ideas or uncomfortable thoughts and feelings by blaming something else for the problem or shifting our thinking to be somehow more pleasant. For example, your mind may even yell at me for “writing this dumb webpage and riddle.” Our brains usually work hard to avoid the discomfort of triggering thoughts.
Awareness and Information Gives You Power
Please also notice that all of the reactions above represent, in some form, fight, flight, or freeze. If your mind didn’t bring up any of the options mentioned, please look at what it did think. Look closely and be honest with yourself. Did everything your mind think of fit into a fight, flight, or freeze reaction in some way or another? It’s okay. It is normal. Parts of our brain automatically think this way all the time; it’s supposed to.
We Are Not Our Reactions
Finally, please note that I did not include you in the reactions of your mind. I call the reactionary parts of our mind the Reactonsary Mind or the Survival Mind. The Survival Mind interprets everything that happens to us as a benefit, a threat, or neutral to our survival. It reacts instantly to survival benefits by trying to Grab and Hold onto the perceived benefit, and it generates positive feelings in us. The Survival Mind also immediately reacts to threats to our survival with a fight, flight, or freeze action, and it generates negative feelings in us. And neutral situations feel unimportant, or we can not discern the emotions we are experiencing around them.
Ironically, the Survival Mind can’t distinguish between physical and mental situations; it reacts the same to a bear chasing you as it does to your spouse looking angry. Nightmare’s and funny dreams prove this point. They are all in our minds, and we feel emotions, anyway.
Let’s dig into this a bit further.
Let’s dig into this a bit further.
Physical Survival or a Mental and Emotional Sense of Survival
Our homes, offices, and social spaces are relatively safe. As a society, we have worked hard to create a feeling of security. Unfortunately, many of us still feel threatened and occasionally benefited all the time. Our emotions are the give-a-way. They tell us whether we perceive our world or our thoughts as threats or benefits. For example, a coworker’s behavior irritates us; our spouse give us positive feedback, our kids disobey, our boss assigns us to a task that we don’t like, etc. These situations and our corresponding thoughts about them form our mental and emotional survival or, as I call it, our Sense of Survival. Again, we can tell because we feel emotions that reflect how we think a situation benefits or threatens us.
Unfortunately, in our 24/7 work culture with unimaginable workloads and unpredictable schedules, we frequently suffer from burnout and exhaustion. Then some of us go home to seemingly dysfunctional relationships. Work and family stress can be overwhelming. Eventually, under all this effort “to survive,” the strain becomes too great, we collapse from exhaustion, and yet tomorrow, we have to start it all over again. No wonder we don’t feel meaning or satisfaction in our lives.
Wellness Programs Help Us Cope
Many of the companies which employ us have noticed we need support, and individually, you may also have seen it’s hard to function in survival mode all the time. To give people ways to get by, many companies and wellness centers have started offering wellness programs. Consultants and experts developed wellness programs that sometimes help us cope. By providing classes on meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and other tools to decompress, they counter some of the negative dynamics we experience. These coping skills are useful; they deescalate the negative energy and weaken the negative feelings for a brief time. They help us keep going even though we’re “walking wounded.” Thus, the critical question is, do you want something that goes further than coping mechanisms?
Going Beyond Coping Mechanisms
Fortunately, there are additional possibilities to just coping. Self-compassion lies in navigating these mental minefields with the least amount of negative feelings or suffering. The result of navigating a situation with self-compassion is that we feel more joy, peace, and contentment in our lives. In other words, our lives feel meaningful and satisfying.
What if we could learn skills that help us prevent the pressure from building up initially?
Coping mechanisms are excellent skills to know; they are bandaids, though. They soothe and protect the wounds we already have. If you’re thinking, “I want more than just relief,” here is a story to introduce a new way to think.
A Story About Shielding Ourselves From Physical Pain and Mental Suffering
A long time ago, a man decided to hike up to three scenic overlooks. The path to the first overlook was rocky, and his feet were severely cut and bruised. He looked over the valley below, but he had to sit down because his feet hurt. Anxious to keep moving, he quickly left for the second vista.
Unfortunately, spiny weeds and brambles covered the trail to the second overlook. At the top, The man’s feet were so injured and swollen from the rocks, thistle, and burrs that he couldn’t sit still to take in the view. Instead, his body fidgeted, trying to get away from the pain in his feet. Soon though, hoping to distract himself from the pain, he set off for the third vista.
The path to the third overlook was up a steep mountain and covered with snow and ice. At first, the cold felt good, and he had some relief from the pain. However, his feet began to freeze, and the pain increased exponentially. By the top of the third overlook, his feet hurt so much that the man just wanted to be home and nurse his battered feet.
All three views were fantastic, but the pain he felt dominated his mind and quashed any joy from the beauty.
After limping home, he complained to his wife about the ordeal. He said that he would cover all three paths with leather next time and protect his feet the whole way. His wife could see his painful feet and how much discomfort he was enduring, so she did what she could to ease his pain. Then she asked him a question. “Instead of trying to cover the paths with expensive leather, why don’t you buy two thick leather squares and cover only your feet? Then, no matter where you go, your feet are protected.”
Cover Your Mind With the Leather of Self-Compassion
Our daily lives are full of rocks, thorns, and ice. These dangers are automatic negative thoughts about ourselves, others, and our experiences. Our brains mentally criticize ourselves and others with anger, regret, and shame for how they or we behave. Then we increase our suffering by yelling at ourselves or them for not acting the way we wanted. We punish ourselves further with disappointment and anger for feeling and thinking negative thoughts that are “wrong” or “unkind.” And, as if that still isn’t enough torture, we finally criticize ourselves for being so judgemental. Our brains stack negative emotions upon negative feelings. No wonder we feel disappointed, disillusioned, and unworthwhile.
An alternative way to live is self-compassionately. Self-compassion is caring for yourself the way you truly want to be cared for or treating yourself the way you genuinely want to be treated. Self-compassion protects us from the mental rocks, thistle, and ice that in our daily lives looks like anger, shame, regret, frustration, etc., or in other words, the negative feelings we endure. We can learn to navigate our day-to-day lives more comfortably by covering our minds with the “leather” of self-compassion.
For example, the man’s wife did not experience the pain of her husband’s feet personally. She could see his injuries and bruises, and because she loved him, she felt concerned about him. In her wisdom, though, instead of making his pain her personal experience, she cared for his physical pain while soothing herself from her mind’s tendency to personalize his feelings. She did not add to her suffering by owning dynamics beyond her control. You, too, can learn this skill.
When things we don’t like happen, the initial affliction we feel is terrible enough.
We don’t have to increase the torture with further unnecessary suffering.
We don’t have to increase the torture with further unnecessary suffering.
The majority of negative feelings we experience are unnecessary. In other words, they are optional, we don’t have to undergo them, and generally, they do not help us deal with the situation in a positive way. Instead, they increase our suffering because we usually can’t change the situation, no matter how valiantly we try. We then feel worse from trying and failing. Do you want to suffer over something you can’t control? The experience is bad enough already; why make it worse by feeding the negative-energy-monster from our mind’s automatic reactions?
Our autopilot reactions, habits, or normal behaviors are the usual way we live, and they are comfortable, yet they frequently also cause us to suffer unnecessarily. At this point, you may think, “if my automatic reactions cause me unnecessary suffering, isn’t changing my habits also going to cause me suffering?”
It will take some effort to live happier.
Here is where self-compassion makes your life better.
You know that you can control your behavior with effort, even though behavior modification can be challenging for us in ordinary life. What about the ability to transform how you think? To many, this paradigm seems near impossible.
Here is some good news. With practice, you can learn to see situations and thoughts that cause you suffering, and then you can learn how to change your mind’s thought processes about them. With consistency, you can also create new automatic thought patterns, so your automatic reactions make your life easier. You can train your mind to think and react in ways that improve your life automatically.
Yes, it takes some training and practice, which probably isn’t comfortable. This effort entails some purposeful suffering because rarely does something worth having come easy. Another way to look at it is that you can suffer unnecessarily or choose to suffer while creating a better life for yourself. Therefore the critical question is, which kind of suffering do you want to endure?
Self-Compassion is treating yourself the way you genuinely want to be treated
I can train you on how to be Self-Compassionate. You can learn how to treat yourself and love yourself the way you truly want to be treated and loved. I teach individuals and groups how to cover their minds with leather so that no matter where they go in life, they can focus their energy on being the people they genuinely want to be. For you, whether the situation is a relationship, office dynamics, work/life balance, or any other event in life, you can learn how to reframe your life for more satisfaction with self-compassion.
Gaining this skill will require intention, knowledge, and practice.
I will guide you in a gradual, gentle method so that you can accomplish your goals. I invite you to call me or contact me here to learn more. Once you decide you want a more satisfying workplace, relationship, and life, we can begin your training. Call me now to start creating your life your way.
PS: If you want the answer to the riddle, call me at 720-789-4000. I won’t tell you the answer, but I will help you solve the puzzle yourself. Call me.