Archive for December, 2014
“How good can you stand it?” is a question my business coach, Dr. Kate Siner, talks about a lot. Her premise is that we tend to easily and frequently focus on what’s negative in our life versus letting in the happy. In a blog post, Kate says we need to, “ increase our tolerance for joy, ease, and inner peace … We are just as inclined to hold ourselves back from good stuff as we are to shy away from the bad. We are naturally inclined to keep things the same. The “same,” in our primal brain, is equated with being safe. Every change introduces a level of risk—even if the change is good.”
Let’s face it; we’re a culture rife with self-judgment and criticism. We’ll even keep toxic people in our lives just so we can commiserate over shared misery. We understand struggle, challenge, and frustration. We’re familiar with what all of those things feel like, so much so, that when things ARE going well and smelling like roses, it can actually make us edgy and uncomfortable as unfamiliar sensations often do. And our frequent response to that? We do something to sabotage the positive so we’re dropped back into the sensations with which we are more familiar. I find the prospect of this disturbing and doubly so as I realize that is exactly the pattern I’ve had in my life for a very long time … but I’m also happy to report, that with some steady practice and conscious awareness, I’m changing that pattern.
Increasing Tolerance for Joy
Life IS good! And I honor that I can now say that and mean it. This doesn’t mean the last year and a half of launching and building my business while learning all sorts of new things hasn’t been challenging and sometimes a downright struggle, but I am recognizing when my habitual pattern of negative thought or self-sabotage is trying to reassert itself. This gives me an opportunity to stop, take a deep breath, and settle into the reality of the moment, which is often quite different from the chaotic maelstrom whirling about in my brain. The fact I have to will myself to stop thinking of the struggle and instead congratulate myself on learning those new things and on the amazing progress I’ve made is OK, because that IS a different and more positive response. This tolerance for joy thing takes a LOT of practice, but it’s a really necessary practice. Just recently, I realized that I am still uncomfortable with being recognized for doing great work when both participants and my colleague congratulated me on one of my day-long workshops. I had to will myself to stay put and hear it and not negate or downplay it. Glowing praise … oh not that! *rolling my eyes and laughing at myself* How good can I stand it, indeed!
One of the many reasons I started my own business was so that I could do what I love—knowing there’d be a learning curve even on that. I had worked unhappily so long in a corporate job, that I was no longer sure of what I’d do if given the choice to do what I love. I’ve spent this last year consciously exploring all the aspects of my business to figure out what I best love to do so that I could continue to build my business around THAT. And things are starting to shift as I integrate more of what I love into my business … it feels great and exciting, and apparently scares me to death. Be happy in my work? What? BUT, unlike in the past, I have NO intention of sabotaging myself and my business just because professional happiness feels foreign.
Even in my personal life, I realize I am quick to downplay the things that make me happy, or to isolate myself rather than risk reaching out. I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my romantic relationship—I’m engaged to the love of my life! And yet, when someone asks about wedding plans, I’m evasive and vague. Now granted, some of that is simply not wanting a whole lot of well-intentioned, yet frighteningly off-the-mark “suggestions”, but I have to admit there’s more to it. Subconsciously, vague evasion must be a better choice than just owning that I’m thrilled to be making official the already existing marriage of our hearts and accepting as truth that I am going to spend the rest of my life with this amazing and loving partner. But instead, I witness myself just waiting for the other shoe to drop because isn’t it, “always one thing or another?” There’s a piece of me looking at this big change and that piece doesn’t feel safe. But I want this big change and I know I deserve the happiness it’ll bring. And because there is so much love given and received—and it’s the safest place I can go—I find myself fiercely protective about us … even from my own self-sabotaging pattern. So, I find myself telling that piece of me, with compassion, to shut up and enjoy the happy. I no longer want the struggle to be my comfort zone.
Practice, Practice, Practice
I am learning to just hold the space when the negative is trying to do its dance. It’s like continuing to meditate when the mind can’t seem to hold still for more than a second. Experienced meditators know that it’s constant practice and it’s never perfect. A novice meditator can easily be thrown by how difficult it can feel at the start, but one simply must keep going. Return to the anchor and start over. Increasing my tolerance for joy is the exact same thing. Every time I think something negative, I must return to my anchor—my need and want for a joyful life—and start over because I find myself unwilling at this point in my life to accept that life is always a struggle and a challenge.
After getting engaged in October, I wrote about wanting authentic joy in my life on a daily basis—and I meant it. But feeling good takes nurturance. Increasing one’s tolerance for joy doesn’t happen overnight, but rather in every single moment dedicated to cultivating joy. It takes time to explore and discover the things, people, and circumstances we need to bring joy into our lives. For me, this entire past year has been learning that self-care is an integral piece of practicing being happy—taking time for a yoga class or a walk in the woods, preparing and feeding us organic whole foods, prioritizing sleep, meditating, or chanting along with Krishna Das in the car. Feeling well cared for seems to be a key to increasing my tolerance for joy. I have to consciously choose to lift my heart up, throw my arms wide open and accept that life is a magical, mystical adventure. It’ll never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also full of happy surprises and rich, satisfying and soul filling experiences.
Do you have a familiar pattern that keeps you from being fully happy? How do you combat negative thoughts and patterns to bring joy more fully into your life?