(Practice during the holidays, REV IT UP DURING A PANDEMIC, carry on year-round!)
Could it be true that NOTHING IS INHERENTLY STRESSFUL? Whoa, what?
The thing is, if something MUST be stressful, then stress is the only thing possible once you’re in that something. If the holidays are stressful, then, stress. If work this time of year is stressful, then, stress.
If, however, that same something is not inherently stressful, then … what else is possible?
It’s been almost 15 years since I encountered that idea through Byron Katie. This writing is not about Katie or her inquiry process, but hey, I love to give credit where credit is due. Um, and I used to be ridiculously quick to declare stress, overwhelm, exhaustion, and ultimately how very depressing it all was. I’m still stunned that I live with so much ease, that I have for more than a decade. It’s kind of amazing that I’ve made a motto of There’s no problem.
Here’s what I did: I launched an experiment to test the idea that nothing is inherently stressful.
I wasn’t convinced of this no-inherent-stress thing. I’m still not. (The experiment is ongoing.) My visual imagination can conjure up scenarios that would seem to me inherently stressful (how about a war zone, or my kid in ICU?).
But it takes much less for most people to agree to obvious, automatic, absolutely warranted stress: moving, for starters, or divorcing. Or getting together with family of origin (or your partner’s!) over the holidays. I’ve stopped considering such things stressful. In fact, declaring stress seems to me a deplorable waste of my life force, which I’d rather use to be present to any situation I find myself in and get myself through it with as much grace (clarity, humor, kindness) as possible.
So I invite you to your own experiment. And (at the distinct risk of repeating myself), if you’re going to bother experimenting at all, make it a grand experiment!
Here are some things you might try in order to play with the possibility that nothing must be categorically stressful. Really (really) try them on. Keep coming back to them. Keep practicing. Leave no scenario or individual out of the reckoning. When you think, No really, this, STRESSFUL, ask yourself, What if nothing-inherently-stressful could work here too? It’s a great way to open to new lenses to look through.
There’s nothing to lose and plenty to gain. If the experiment makes a fool of you, you’ll be a more open-minded, more present, less stressed-out fool. Not half-bad, right?
Start with this basic premise:
So with a basic acceptance that life does what it does and people do what they do (oh, and you’ll have to keep coming around to accept that again and again, now and now and now), and that you’re in charge of you—not of other human beings and all of life--then you can get present to any situation (whatever its comfort level) and go about the business of creating the greatest possible ease in the context of reality.
From there, go into and/or be in any tricky situation with a mindset of not-inherently-stressful. Remind yourself:
Go in expecting to keep bumping up against your old beliefs of STRESS!—as they’re likely to kick in as quickly as you feel discomfort. This will serve you much better than imagining that an open mind going in will translate to freedom from old stories. Oh, no no no. So if you don’t need it to mean that, now you get to simply keep your eyes open and show up for what’s actually happening. (That’s a whole chapter in my book, Scooch! You’re already doing much better in the ease department if you’re willing to show up for what’s actually happening, not what you wanted to have happen or thought should happen.)
Stay in witness mode while you’re in the potentially (not inherently) stressful situation. I love to remind people to reach for the compassionate, dispassionate witness once you’re consciously witnessing. That is, witness with compassionate eyes that will look upon the scene (and you in it) with loving kindness; witness with dispassionate eyes that can hold a neutral gaze no matter what’s going on, that won’t get sucked into any story. The compassionate, dispassionate witness does not judge!
And know that the witness is a part of you, sitting right next to the scared kid, the teen who wants them all to fuck off, the escape artist who’s eyeing the emptying wine bottle. It’s fine: witness all of it, judge none of it (which means, drop out of judgments as you notice them, and get okay with their lingering presence if they won’t just march on command).
Let me point you to a couple of free resources. In November, I sent out recipes for going through the holidays with ease, and there are some great strategies there. (Use the headings to read what’s relevant to you. They’re all given near the top as well as throughout the text.) I’ve also created a 3-page pdf that lays out a clear formula with clear examples for staying firm (boundaried!) in difficult conversations. (It’s great to use with manipulative people or convincers.)
I’ve also got an audio program with written and audio supports that’s chock-full of super-helpful, clear, applicable mindsets, tools, tactics, with stories and examples. I taped it this December with so-called holiday stress in mind, and I’ve gotten fantastic (and sweetly grateful) feedback from takers. Check out the (Before they drive you crazy) Take the Wheel Program, which puts you in charge of your well-being in any situation, no matter how others are behaving ($55). (This means you can’t be a victim of what they do or don’t do, or of any circumstances, or of some concept of inherent stress!) This program, by the way, will help you apply the concepts in this writing and take them further.
Finally, to work in an ongoing way with this simple idea of nothing-inherently-stressful, you can learn to witness and monitor your feeling states and thoughts and use the information they give to point yourself consciously to self-care in the moment. You’ll also get swifter at course-correcting from upsetting thoughts to ones that feel more peaceful and empowering, and from your own powerless reactions that you disapprove of to quick shifts back on-track. Monitoring your feeling states as you go, you’ll also catch thoughts more quickly and stay out of what creates spiraling momentum you can’t get out of! All of this is laid out in my $33 Expansion program, along with lots on resistance and making your way with the greatest ease along a path of least resistance, one available step at a time.
For the record, these offerings are part of a current intention to offer affordable programs full of hefty, deep, nuanced content (sprinkled with humor and, um, occasional profanity) for those looking for solid, low-cost support that doesn’t require a one-on-one coaching process. You can listen to them at home, in spurts, in your right timing. (I always welcome interactions with real people—I'm happy to get your questions by email. The expansion program includes a custom-made audio for you, which I create and send along once you send me the optional homework.) I’m excited about this new programming, and the feedback that keeps coming in tells me it’s on-point. I invite you to these great offerings to support you now (in the stress season) and anytime.
Love and blessings, Jaya
Scroll down to #6 if sleep is your greatest challenge.
1. Your little life still matters. In the midst of all this big political stuff, and in the face of evidence that certain peoples are suffering or will suffer more because of the current powers that be, still, believe that your little life still matters. Of course you don't want to go all insular right now. But some people stop tending their lives altogether at times like this! Others get sloppy in the tending, let go of countless kind details, forget to infuse their home and work space and inner world with love—and that omission won't support the good that can be directed outward. Hey, there were bad things happening before, and you were still willing to polish your boots. Until you die, whatever ebbs and flows around you, tend your beautiful life.
2. Speaking of death, use the current state of affairs as the current support to face and get okay with your own mortality. The Buddhists (this just made me laugh as it reminded me of how Trump says "the gays") (the Buddhists love me)—they suggest that we keep our death in view every day. This does a number of things, like keep us real about impermanence, our own included, and promote presence: I'm still alive today, so how can I love (or at least tune in to) every minute of it?
When people express their greatest fears about the current regime, it's clear that these get pretty extreme: they go all the way to total annihilation of the human race and perhaps the earth. So (I know this is radical) what if you got okay with life on earth as impermanent—the human experiment and the earth experiment as time-limited from the start? Let's say somebody's going to be here when that grand ending occurs. What if it's you? What if you were willing to be in those numbers? What if death is so okay in the grand scheme of things that even the deaths of hordes of people at once can ultimately be okay in the eternal scheme of things?
I hope you're not reading in anything I'm not saying. I'm not justifying genocide here. I'm not proposing you shouldn't care about the Earth or life on this planet. My intention is to help you let go of having to ward off death either for yourself or, ultimately, the whole human race or the planet, so you can get on with the business of living. In fact, you can live boldly and beautifully, truly voting for what you want with all that you think and speak and choose and do. If horrible things aren't what you vote for, then don't think and talk about them, picture them, rehearse them, discuss them, carry them around in your twisted gut or raw chest, and fall asleep envisioning them! Let go of what you can't control, get okay with your death (yeah, why not, every day) and go about the business of living an inspired life.
3. Please, don't use a president you disapprove of (or fear) as an excuse to revert back to old habits that you know are self-destructive, or go back to the ex you know isn't the right match, or hang out with friends who bring you down, or make any number of wacky, self-sabotaging choices as if personal insanity were a reasonable response to the unreasonable (and perhaps insane) in politics. No no no no no. At the risk of repeating myself, keep living like it matters (and sure, dance like no one's watching, while you're at it). Are you having one more glass of wine than usual? Try one less, and maybe one more bubble bath.
4. Use this time to keep learning more deeply and consistently that you can (and are better off when you do) focus on where you actually have agency. Take responsibility for your life, your state, what you cultivate internally that you then put out to others, and what you do for the greater good in smaller or larger arenas, from your household to the world. I know I sometimes harp on Byron Katie's three kinds of business (quit yawning) and I did include a whole chapter about them in my book (chapter 7, Getting Out of Overwhelm, still in the free download of part one, which I'm so happy people have been taking me up on)—but that's because it's seriously liberating (no, seriously, LIBERATING) to get very clear about where you do and don't have agency and to put your energies where you do and only where you do.
Aaaaaaaaall your efforts aimed at what you can't control (including worrying, agonizing, talking about how we're all screwed, etc) can only exhaust and overwhelm you, and will not likely lead you to right action or a good life. They won't set you up to offer your best support to those in need, either. There's a reason the famous Serenity Prayer is all about locating what you have the power to change and letting go of what you do not.
5. Use this political climate to keep learning more deeply and consistently that you get to control your own focus and your own state. A president you don't like doesn't have the power to keep you from joy, clarity, kindness, alignment, or anything else—unless you turn that power over to him (I use the gender-specific him here for obvious current reasons). If you consume a steady diet of bad news; if you join in or eavesdrop upon spoken or written conversations centered around fear and focused on what we're against; if you fail to draw internal mental boundaries that can keep out what isn't here when it's not here—then you yourself (not the current politicians in charge) are responsible for your misery and eventual ineffectiveness in supporting, promoting, creating the climate you want.
6. Use this time to keep learning more deeply and consistently that you get to control your own sleep. There's no use lying awake nights because you don't like what's going on. It's so much kinder to get rest. Again, don't give a political regime you disapprove of the power to keep you from your well-being.
Here's a link to audio and written sleep resources I've put together for anyone troubled by sleeplessness for any reason.
Love & blessings, Jaya
I so often say these words to clients: Bring it to now.
There are so many brilliant ways to apply this phrase to step into greater ease, to drop torments, to teach yourself your life is manageable—in short, to set yourself free. Some examples follow, but I invite you to come up with your own, and lots of them. Apply this to anything!
How do I deal with the overwhelm of this huge, horrible challenging project (assignment, creation) I'm up against?
By dealing with the part of it that's before you right now. Don't deal with the whole thing from start to finish. Don't deal with tomorrow's part or next month's part or the part you have no idea about five steps down the line. DON'T EVEN CONSIDER THE OUTCOME. Deal with the one doable part before you here and now.
Sometimes, it's time to look at the whole, get the overview, map it all out on a timeline, define and delegate the parts, and so on. In that case, the one task of the moment is taking that bird's-eye view. Then and only then do you need to get out the whole kit and caboodle and spread it out for your perusal. But notice how often you do this out of turn, checking again to rev up the angst and to make gloomy-doomy predictions for a bad end you don't want! Bring it to now: do what's really up for you to do right now, and bring your best presence and greatest sense of ease to that endeavor.
What do I need to work out about my past?
Nothing—unless something from your past shows up right now. Then meet it head-on. Meet the pain, meet your thoughts that intensify the pain, ferret out anything you've decided about life, yourself, or other people because of that story you lived. (“Mind the Pain Body, Tend the Mind” is the substantial and super-practical third chapter of my book Scooch! that treats this topic.) I've come to phrase this, The undoing happens in the moment. That moment is now. All you need to process your pain well and untangle the stories it's tied to; all you need to live your life well (and joyfully!); all you need to get your needs met—it's all right here, right now.
How do I stop dreading the future?
Bring it to now. Is there something you don't like right now? Be with that. Be with it well. Be with it kindly, and don't tell yourself any lies. That's enough. When you're energized and excited about your life and all that's possible, all you'd like to create and connect to next—that's a fine now moment to take a little trip into the future, and then come on back to consider how to point yourself that way right now.
I'm so ashamed about … I'm so thrown off by …
When some small embarrassment or warped, oversized shame-thing grabs you (we've all got one, we've all had one activated in the not-so-distant past, maybe earlier today), come back to now. What are you in charge of now? What can you control (that's truly in your realm of control) right now? Can you forgive yourself more deeply right now? Can you soothe yourself like a kind, loving parent practicing unconditional love right now? Can you get out of someone else's head and what they saw and what they thought and what they think of you right now?
Bring it to now, and see how much kindness you can step into in this moment. Quit dragging yourself back to some shameful, painful, confused moment that does not (it absolutely does not) define who you are. I love how Byron Katie says that she loves being slapped, because it's over. The slap happens once and fades quickly, but we replay it again and again mentally, reliving the shame and all that a slap in that moment from that person before those witnesses means to us. She points out that the person who slapped us once turns out being much kinder to us than we are to ourselves, because we slap ourselves a hundred times over. Come back to now and what's actually happening now. Come back to the kindness of the moment.
How do I keep all the turmoil in the world or political process from getting the best of me?
Bring it to now. It's fine and good to have times you witness what's happening in the world, but never forget that the news isn't giving you a balanced view of things, and don't keep hanging out in the dismal spot it last took you to. Remember that the media displays the most provocative and sensational of what's happening out there, always slanted a certain way in the presentation. When you're not consciously seeking to be informed as best you can, get present.
Life is also a sink full of dishes, a walk with the dog, a moment to listen to your kid tell you something you wouldn't even care about for a moment if it weren't this particular human being doing the telling. Life is a good cup of coffee, a dance down the hallway, a moment of hard laughter over the purely absurd. Get present to the mundane beauty and magic that's right here, right now, and truly validate and value it: this is your personal life, the specific one you were given to tend, yours to mind in the moment with as much love and presence as you've got, even as the storms happening out there rage and simmer on.
Here's a bedtime trick for bringing it to now (and waking up in a good, clear space, and living a more powerful life):
Get out of tomorrow. If you must review what needs to be addressed tomorrow, do it before you even enter your bedroom, never mind climb into bed. Get out of today, but do that after you've spent a bit of time going over triumphs and completions large and small. Notice with appreciation all you did that was good, or brilliant, or even good enough. Take a moment to feel and really take in what you moved through and brought to the next step or even to a close. (Do you, like most people, deprive yourself of acknowledging and celebrating what you've accomplished?) You might also notice all the kindness that came your way. Byron Katie taught me to notice all that supports me. Start counting the supports that came to you today, and it may be hard to stop. Did clean water really just come out of a faucet because you turned a knob with minimum effort?
Once you've been with the day in that way, let it go. Come back to now. Find how the mattress supports you, how the pillow allows you to let go, how the blankets envelop you not just in warmth, but a sense of safety and well-being. Find how the darkness holds you. Imagine you're lying in the arms of love. Let go of every muscle you don't need (all of them) for holding it together right now and let yourself be held. Let go of thoughts, even if they won't let go of you, by not following them sequentially. Get off every thought train you catch yourself in. Come to love the unfinished thought! Use the breath to support you. Drop your awareness into your belly (not once, but again, again, again, now, now, and now) and watch the belly go up and down with the breath. Find what's soothing and kind and life-giving in your breath. There's nothing like connecting to the breath to help you connect to here and now.
love & blessings, Jaya