Question to Readers: What Makes You “Duck” Unnecessarily? (Also… A Guest Post Opportunity)

There is a corridor in Amritapuri that can be taken as a shortcut between the auditorium and the north part of the ashram. That slightly sloped corridor has a low ceiling.

A tall person would have to duck their head to get through any of that area, but for many people bending down isn’t necessary. I have tested it out many times and there is no need for me to duck when I walk through the lower part of the walkway… but I do. For me, there is at least an inch of free space over my head, but I’ve noticed that many people duck even if there is more than a foot of space between their head and the ceiling.

Since I’ve become clear that there is no need for me to duck my head, I have tried to walk through the area standing straight. So far I seem incapable of doing that. In the past two weeks, the closest I have come to my goal is to walk through with my hand on the top of my head or to scrunch my neck as much as I can, as if my neck was a spring. I am hoping to be able to walk through the area without any kind of ducking by the time I leave India.

After I observed my own and others behavior, it occurred to me that the situation could be seen as a metaphor. There must be many times in my life, when I have metaphorically ducked. Then it occurred to me that there might be a wide variety of metaphors or stories that could result from this observation. I decided to find out if readers relate to my experience, as well as to offer a potential guest post opportunity.

I believe one of the times I metaphorically duck is when I worry about what other people think about me. What situations in your life cause you to duck unnecessarily? I would love it if you would share your answer to that question in the comments below.

Or … use your creativity to develop a different metaphor. Or … write a short story, poem, fable, parable, or any other modality, on a topic inspired by my post. Perhaps you will even see something to photograph that you think relates.

Consider coming back to this post later to see the ways other readers responded to my question. And if you decide to accept my challenge to write a story, poem, fable, parable, or any other piece, and want it to be considered for a guest post, sent it to me at livinglearningandlettinggo@gmail.com.

Borrowing Worry

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“In essentially all individual moments, we’re safe and physically comfortable. We generally have to borrow worry from the future or the past to maintain unhappiness.”

Fritz Reitz

 

Letting Go of Suffering

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For several years in the mid to late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I wrote articles about my experiences with Amma for “The New Times,” a free newspaper that was, at that time, available in Washington and Oregon. I have started sharing some of those articles on my blog. I am choosing the articles to post based on their topic, therefore they are not being shared chronologically. The article below was published in August of 1995.

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The experience of grief is inherent in living. As we live, events will happen that we don’t want to happen. We will undergo violations, endings, disappointments and betrayals. If we allow ourselves to fully feel the pain that comes with these events, we will most likely learn the important lessons that are there for us to learn and move on. If we suppress the painful feelings and mask them with self pity, guilt, blame, suspicion, sarcasm, indifference, and/or worry, we are likely to move into suffering.

One day last year (1994), during my annual visit with my spiritual teacher, Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), whose ashram is located in Amritapuri, India, I had the opportunity to experience and move through two episodes of emotional pain. That year, I had come to the ashram bringing with me 60 handmade skirts and blouses. This clothing had been made by friends and myself for children living in the orphanage operated by Amma.

One day I told Amma that I was going to deliver the clothes to the orphanage. As you might imagine, I was totally shocked when she responded that since I had not brought 600 sets of clothes, enough for each child at the orphanage to have a set, none of the children could have them!

My mind immediately started operating on three tracks. The first track was filled with rage, fear and self pity. Among the internal messages were:

  • What do you mean I can’t take them? Don’t you know how hard we worked? 
  • You betrayed me! 
  • You made me betray my friends. 
  • You aren’t fair. 
  • You made me waste a whole year. 
  • Now everyone is gong to be mad at me and it’s YOUR fault. 

The second track both recognized the lessons I was receiving and attempted to de-escalate the parts of me that were angry and afraid. Those messages, which came in a clear matter of fact, non-critical tone included:

  • Of course she said that. She does not want to set up competition between the children. That is totally reasonable and consistent with what you know of her. 
  • If a gift is an offering that has no strings attached, then the clothes were not a gift. Look at your level of attachment. 
  • This was supposed to be seva (selfless service). Seva, by definition, means that there should be no expectation of the fruit of one’s actions. Examine the process that is happening. How can you learn to give freely? 
  • The work parties were very valuable for the people who participated. They experienced working in community. They experienced giving. They had fun. You have not hurt anyone. 
  • Your friends will have an opportunity to learn lessons such as those you are now learning. 

The third track in my mind was busy contemplating how to sell the clothes so the proceeds could be donated to the orphanage. In that way some of the intention behind the gift would be met. Within minutes I had formulated a tentative plan.

The second and third tracks obviously were supportive and needed no help from me. The first was a different story. I sat close to Amma and let the fury rage inside of me. I could have said something directly to her but there was no need. Ultimately, I believed her response to be correct. The energy I was now experiencing was primarily old betrayal energy of mine, rooted in my childhood. I first tried to move the energy through by imagining myself yelling at Amma. Then I imagined doing various anger release techniques I would do if I were in a therapy setting. These inner processes moved some of my negative energy, but not enough.

I decided to leave the temple and talk to some friends. I asked them if I could have a few minutes to vent, complain, suffer. They agreed and I allowed all that was inside of me to come pouring out. Afterwards, I discovered that the messages on the first track had lost their power. I returned to the temple to sit near Amma feeling successful and complete with the issue. (Brief episodes of anger and fear occurred occasionally over the next few weeks but I was able to easily release the negative energy.)

On the same day as all of this occurred, I experienced another powerful and important event as I was walking back from a local tea shop with a friend. As we passed one of the swamis (monks), he smiled at me. For no apparent reason my whole being exploded with an unnamed grief. The grief was so deep and so intense I could barely walk. I sat in a private place and let the feelings come. I knew it didn’t matter what the grief was about, I simply needed to feel and release it. After about fifteen minutes I felt done; exhausted yet lighter. (One of the ways to differentiate true grief from suffering is to notice what you feel like after you express the emotion. After expressing deep grief, even though you may be tired, you are also likely to feel relieved, lighter, and cleaned out. After immersing yourself in suffering you will probably feel even worse than you did before!)

I ended that day feeling very grateful. Grateful that I had accessed and let go of such core level grief. Grateful that I had experienced the difference between the pain of grief and the pain of suffering. Grateful that I had done my therapy and had the skills to move through the pain. Grateful that I had moved through so much of the pain in my therapy process that what was left was manageable. Grateful that when I am near Amma, I usually move through pain faster than in normal living. Grateful that the process of living has and will continue to bring up any residual pain so I can release it and thereby live my life more and more in the present moment.

As I said in the beginning, grief is inherent in living. We cannot totally avoid pain but we can learn to stop holding on to it. I hope my stories will be of value to you as a model for dealing with your own grief.

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“The New Times” articles that I’ve already shared:

Support in Times of Trouble

A Multitude of Lessons

Exposing the “Know-It-All”

Many Paths, Same Destination

Putting Pain in Perspective

Letting Go of Worry

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“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”

 Arthur Somers Roche

Think about how much time you have spent worrying during your life. Did all of your worrying help you in any way or in hindsight do you think that time could have been put to better use?

How would you be different if starting today you were able to live in the present instead of immersing yourself in regrets about the past or worrying about the future? What would your life be like if you no longer worried?

Close your eyes a moment and imagine yourself living a life free of worry. Notice how your muscles relax and your breath comes and goes easier. Are you breathing deeper? What other changes do you notice in your body and mind?

Would you like to let go of your tendency to worry? If your answer is “Yes,” considering using one or more of the techniques I list below whenever you find yourself worrying.

IMG_3428Write a list of all of your worries.  “I’m worried that _________.”  Simply fill in the blank, over and over and over again, until you have listed all of the worries that you can think of. Write whatever comes to your mind whether or not it makes any sense. It is fine for you to write the same worry multiple times

IMG_3428Vince Horan, one of my co-therapists, frequently tells clients that “Fear needs information.” Take a good look at your list of worries and pick one. What information do you need to gather in order to relieve that fear? Go get it!

If you are ready to deal with more than one fear, then identify a second, third, fourth, etc. I suspect if you get the information you need, your fear will reduce, and so will your worrying

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Play the “what if” game. For example, if you are afraid that you will lose your job, the “what if” might be “I won’t have enough money.” Next ask yourself “What if you don’t have enough money?” The answer might be “I won’t be able to feed my kids.” Then ask “What if you don’t have money to feed your kids?” The response might be, “I will go to a food bank.” Keep following the thread until you realize you will be able to deal with whatever happens.

IMG_3428FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. Look at your list of worries and identify the ways you have been fooled into thinking you are in danger. Next to the false evidence, write the truth.

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Immerse yourself in the present. You may need to get so focused on the present that you think, “I am moving my spoon towards my bowl of cereal.” “I am picking up a spoonful of cereal.” “I am bringing the spoon towards my mouth.” “I am putting the spoonful of cereal into my mouth.” “I am chewing my cereal.” etc. If you focus on the present this minutely, you will become absorbed in the moment, your mind will quiet and your body will relax.

IMG_3428You can create a variation of Jean Illsley Clarke’s fuss box exercise. Stand in a box or on a pillow, or just draw a circle in the carpet with your finger and stand in the middle of it. Begin to list all of your worries out loud. Don’t stop and think, just let them pour out, even if they don’t make sense. It can be helpful to be dramatic and even to exaggerate them. At some point, you will feel done. If you’ve been dramatic and/or exaggerated, you may even find yourself laughing. When you feel finished, step away from your worry box and identify something you will do to deal with one of the problems you mentioned.

IMG_3428Many years ago, I learned a technique from a therapist named Mary Goulding. She instructed us to push our tongues into our cheeks and then talk nonstop about all of the things we criticize ourselves for. When we talk about our worries that way they, of course, sound really strange. It is another process that often ends up in laughter.

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Create an affirmation and use it as a mantra, such as “I am a competent, capable adult.” The mantra is likely to be something you don’t fully believe but would like to believe.

Say the mantra 1,000 times a day for the next 21 days. Better yet, consider saying it 10,000 to 20,000 times a day!  If you find yourself saying the affirmation and worrying at the same time, speed up the mantra. It doesn’t matter how fast you go.

Imagine the power of filling your mind with a positive belief rather than a fear-based one. If you say enough of them, you may find the affirmation flowing through your mind automatically. You may even wake up and find it streaming through your mind during the night.

IMG_3428Think of all of the challenges that have come into your life unexpectedly. Reflect on how well you dealt with those. We are usually able to deal with whatever unexpected situations occur in our lives. It is worrying about things that haven’t happened, and probably never will happen, that saps our energy and pulls us into depression, anxiety and overwhelm.

IMG_3428Actively choose where you are going to put your attention. Decide if you are going to focus on worrying or focus on something else. If you choose to focus on something else, do it.

IMG_3428Listen to music that you find soothing. As you listen, practice breathing slowly and deeply. Focus on relaxing and letting go of tension.

IMG_3428Distract yourself by doing an activity that you really enjoy. Go for a walk, work in your garden, read a book, immerse yourself in a hobby, spend time with friends, etc

IMG_3428Call a friend and tell them you are worrying. Ask for reassurance or help in problem solving.

IMG_3428Create a 3-second contract, such as those used to break fantasy addictions in some 12-step recovery groups. Your contract might be “I won’t worry for more than 3 seconds.” You won’t break the contract when you find yourself immersed in worrying; you break it if you choose to continue worrying after you have become conscious you are doing it. Sometimes having the contract is enough. If it isn’t, consider creating a consequence you will do each time you break it.

IMG_3428When you are in a worry-free state of mind, write a letter to the part of you that worries. Give him/her reassurance and ideas for moving beyond the worry. Focus on messages that will give hope or help with problem solving. Then put the letter some place where you will be able to find it when you need it. Reading guidance from a stronger part of yourself may be more effective than advice coming from another person.

I’ve shared 15 actions you could take whenever you are worrying; there are certainly more. Add any others that you know, or discover, work for you. I suggest you keep a copy of this list handy so that you can use it whenever you are worrying.

At those times, work your way through the list, in any order you desire, until you find you have shifted out of the fear. The chances are good that you will be feeling better long before you do all of them.

I will end this post with two videos.  You may even want to add them to your list of worry stopping techniques.  They sure help shift my mood!

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What helps YOU stop worrying?