Whatever the present moment contains accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it” -Eckhart Tolle
Recently, I found myself in a situation where I was feeling extremely stressed out. I had a ton of projects at work, tons of personal commitments and what seemed like little to no time for my family, friends or myself. I felt like I was standing in front of one of those automatic tennis ball machines with hundreds of balls being hurled at me one after the other and I was trying to catch them all.
My default reaction to situations like these is to resist whatever is causing me distress. It took me a few hours to start to realize how I was feeling both physically and emotionally. Once I did I noticed my shoulder and neck muscles were tight along with my chest. My emotions were all over the place mostly vacillating between fear and resentment then finally exhaustion and powerlessness. All of a sudden, a thought popped into my mind “all you have to do is take a step or two to the right or left and you’ll be out of the line of fire. So that’s what I did. Then took 3 deep breaths and said the prayer I say right before I start to meditate “God, please help me see things differently.”
I meditated for a while listening for a response. What came to mind was an old friend who studied a type of martial arts called Aikido. This form of martial arts is peaceful in nature. The name Aikido is actually three words “Ai” meaning harmony, “Ki” meaning energy and “Do” meaning path or way. In short, the path of harmony or peace. An Aikido master does not resist an opponent, nor do they use linear blocks or punches when being attacked. First of all, that causes themselves pain and second it stops the flow of energy. Instead of trying to stop the assault they redirect the attacker’s energy and move with it using it to their advantage. The movements in Aikido are flowing and circular. There is no struggle, all the effort is coming from the aggressor not the receiver. If you watch a video on YouTube you’ll see what I’m talking about. I am a visual person and this was a perfect analogy to help me visualize how getting pissed off at my current situation and all stressed was not helping me at all.
The reason I usually want to fight against situations or things I find problematic is that is that for many years I equated acceptance with agreeance and/or having to like a situation that I opposed and definitely did not like. Acceptance does not mean agreement. If someone hacks my checking account and steals all my money. I don’t agree with what they did and I definitely don’t like it but I damn well better accept it and address it. Not addressing it means I won’t have money for housing , food or whatever else I may need to survive day to day. That creates a whole new set of problems. One thing builds off of the next. Not dealing with it makes the problem even bigger.
Living in acceptance means living in reality. If I have a problem and I am not being real about what is going on, I have no chance of changing it. Recovery has helped me learn to live in reality. I had to admit to myself that I had a drinking problem before I could ever hope to get sober and start the process of healing. No matter what the situation is I have to get really clear about the problem, before I can find a solution.
You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” –Abraham Maslow
I wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on with me so after my meditation I started to journal. It was evident that underlying my feelings of distress was a ton of anxiety and fear. For a while I wasn’t conscious of the things I was saying to myself which were along the lines of: “I’m never going to be able to do all of this.” “I suck at my job.” “I’m going to screw something up.” “I’m not smart enough to learn all of this stuff so quickly.” “I’m a horrible partner and friend.”
Next, I grabbed some cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT worksheets my therapist gave me and I started to work on them. These worksheets are amazing! They delve deep into the thought process and reveal a lot of helpful information. I remember seeing them years earlier in one of the therapy courses I was taking while earning my degree in psychology. I had long forgotten about them until she provided them to me again. On the worksheet, there are 7 columns as follows:
2. Emotion or Feeling
3. Negative or Automatic Thought
4. Evidence that Supports the Thought
5. Evidence that Doesn’t Support the Thought
6. Positive or New Thought
7. Emotion or Feeling
After doing the exercise using each of the negative things I was saying to myself, I got perspective. There was no evidence supporting any of my negative thoughts. There was actually more evidence to the contrary but fear distorts thinking. After doing the worksheets, I felt some relief. I thanked God for answering my prayer and helping me to see things differently. I honestly believe that no matter what someone’s understanding of God is (Jesus, The Great Spirit, The Universe, Energy, Nature or Whatever) when we ask our Higher Power for help, that Higher Power will always come through. In fact, when you read what is below, I think it will blow your mind to see just how much the Divine equips us with everything we need to find the answers to the questions we have.
Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer” –William S. Burroughs
Our brain is the most complex, amazing, miraculous organ in the body. It processes an unfathomable amount of information at warp speed and holds on to it for us to use later. What helps our brains organize that information is known as the Reticular Activating System or RAS. The RAS is a bundle of nerves in our brainstem that filters out unnecessary information.
Do you ever notice that when you buy a new car all of a sudden you start seeing the car everywhere? Or when you learn a new word you start hearing it all the time? That, is the RAS at work. It will take what you focus on and it will create a filter for it. It then sifts through all the information in your brain and presents only the pieces that are important to you. It does the same thing with our beliefs. It will look for evidence to that support what we believe about ourselves and then it filters our world through that lens.
When I sat down and started working through the CBT worksheets and wrote down hard evidence that countered my negative thinking I changed the things I was saying to myself. Instead of saying “I’m never going to be able to do all this.” I asked, “what would be the best way for me to organize and prioritize my work?” “Who do I know that is really skilled at strategizing in this type of situation?” My RAS went to work to find answers to those questions. Amazing ideas started popping into my head.
Then I thought I’d amp it up and call a friend of mine who is masterful at strategizing, planning and organizing. She started tossing out even more wonderful questions for me to feed my RAS. They were hypothetical but tough situations. We went through scenarios on how I could be creative in solving for those situations. She pointed out things I had already accomplished and encouraged me to build on those. The exercise helped me to think like an Aikido master. I was able to look at the perceived opponent I saw coming toward me and redirect the energy to my advantage. It was very eye opening.
“And God said “Love your enemy.” And I obeyed him and loved myself” -Khalil Gibran
When it comes to acceptance above all else I have had to work diligently on self-acceptance. It has been my experience that acceptance for anything cannot take place until we learn to accept and have compassion for ourselves. Years ago, I made a promise to a little girl. At the time, she was about 5 years old. I promised her that I would always be there to help her fulfill all her hopes and dreams. I broke that promise and as my drinking got worse eventually, I abandoned her all together. Coming to terms with that reality was hard. She’s grown up now and everyday as I get ready for work and look at her in the mirror, I promise her that I will do everything I can to make it up to her. That’s why I journal, go to meetings and try to be of service to other people; both in recovery and outside of recovery. It’s why I don’t hide what’s going on with me. If I’m not o.k., I say “I’m not o.k.” I don’t do things perfectly but life is about progress not perfection. There is no particular end to this beautiful journey I am on. I will for the rest of my life, one day at a time continue to practice things that feed my Soul and help me to grow Spiritually.
Here are some things I think are helpful to practice Accept, Act, Awaken (Take what you like and leave the rest)
1. Accept: Be real and acknowledge what is going on and how you are feeling both emotionally and physically. You don’t have to like or agree with the situation but you do have accept it for what it is. Take a few deep breaths and pray. Then take some time to listen for an answer.
2. Act: Think about ways you solved other problems. Ask yourself solution oriented questions. Chances are if you’re reading this you’re either in recovery from substance abuse or you’re an affected family member or friend. Either of those qualifies you as a Badass Warrior who has accomplished great things already!
3. Awaken: Everything is a learning opportunity. Nothing is wasted in God’s Economy. Write down what you did and what you learned. Trust me, that information will be useful in other situations you find difficult.
Peace and Love,