Layer upon layer of complexity- that’s what our troubles often are. And then we like to break them into pieces to simplify and make them clear, but that’s mainly because we don’t yet know how to “have” complexity without getting overwhelmed.
Ok, bear with me a moment, maybe it makes more sense to you when you’ve read the whole thing? See if you can stick with me 😊
You’re right, of course breaking it down to pieces and picking out what to focus on, what not to get so bothered by, letting the thoughts be thoughts, or making a list to prioritise and so on, helps some of the time. Otherwise we wouldn’t do those things. People come up with those strategies by themselves, through experience, because they do work. Some of the time.
My point is that this is ONE of many possible ways of approaching something troublesome, and that this approach, like any other, has its limits: it works sometimes (maybe most of the time for some people) and then there’s the times when it doesn’t work (for some people hardly ever).
Those might be the times where the troubles seem to tower up around or in us, and the inner pressure builds up and thoughts race or the pain gets unbearable, however much we try to talk ourselves through it. And mostly when the complexity of the problem is too intricate for the “mind” to be able to make that kind of “sense” of it, or when the array of different elements are too many and too contradictory to be broken down and seen as that simple. That’s when we need a different approach.
One different approach to a life issue is to take in the complexity of it, and to pause for a moment and sense for “the whole of all of that”, while looking for what gives a breath, a sense of more space, a sense of fresh air. And then, with openness and intentional interest and curiosity; simply letting that “just be” for a few moments. Not as in “not being bothered”, but rather the opposite: letting it be while I’m staying right there with it. Even relating to “it”. It’s sometimes easier to do together with someone.
So, what is that thing that would give that breath, space, fresh air, kind of feeling? We don’t really know that in advance. It could be a gesture that conveys it all, an image of how we feel “about” it, a sentence or a word that comes from “all of that”, a metaphor that describes a little more accurately “the feel of it”… Some examples:
“It’s like a concentrated spot of pure pain that won’t move”
“It is a crack in the floor, like a pandora’s box that will pour everything out if it opens”
“It feels like a pit in my stomach, hard and knot-like”
“It’s like I’m being pulled under, and trying to stand on the tiniest little stone on the bottom of the river, while life passes me by”
“There seems to be two parts there; there’s me, feeling small, and someone that is angry that I won’t just pull myself together, and I’m scared”
“It’s like ‘bleurgh!’, sort of…” – showing with hands and body movement – a gesture of something like “up and out”.
Now, you might wonder how it can possibly help to say such vague or seemingly illogical things about something that might be about choosing a job, losing a loved one, trying to make a relationship work, having low self-esteem, having exam anxiety, etc.?
Why should that make a difference, doesn’t it seem beside the point?
Well, the reason it helps (if done with attentiveness and awareness, and the knowing that this is a thing) is that that is how it “feels” in the body, or in “me”. Therefore, when I (you/they) get to say and feel that, and really have that taken seriously as a thing, as real to me, something actually shifts inside. If it doesn’t, we most likely haven’t found the right thing, yet. The thing that “all that” feels to be the right “description” of “it”. Yes, the mind won’t know, but the thing, the place, the “all that”, does.
The “shift” might seem a bit vague at first, and maybe we don’t quite know how to register it, because it’s not something most of us learn to do. It might be a little bit like that colour of the wall of that house that you passed every day on your way to work, but never really noticed. Or like all of a sudden becoming aware that the birds are singing, because you’ve got a little more time this morning: were they even there before? With some noticing, it might get clearer that it is actually there. And then, when you notice, why not take a few moments to be in awe and take that in? Really get a proper feel of it inside.
But how can feeling a temporary, immediate sense of fresh air, relief, breath etc. make a difference?
Well, why be “mindful” as in meditation and awareness of surroundings and what’s there, etc.? Because being reminded of the good things in life, that life happens around and in us, and becoming aware of the details of what’s actually there gives more ground to stand on (and that kind of reminding has many sources).
And how and why can that happen from this kind of attending to what seems so negative inside of me?
Because that place that gets expressed somehow is the very “place” that I was stuck, and when I get to say it, I realise that “oh, if that’s how it feels right there, then no wonder it’s so hard!”. It gives a meaningful there and then kind of “aha!”, and then, somehow I “have” the problem differently. And when I “have it” differently, a different perspective seems to become available, whatever that perspective might turn out to be, and the thoughts that I might’ve thought I “should have” thought before, might come naturally to me, without force.
I’m for things being easy. At least rather than forced…