The Feel Good Manifesto - Part 3
Updated: Apr 18
Previously published: Part 1. DIGGING OUT OF AN EMOTIONAL HOLE
“ No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
I’m a serious fan of Albert Einstein’s. He’s also known for saying, "The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe."
If we see the universe as hostile, we have to spend a lot of energy and resources fending off (real or imagined) malicious forces in the world, building weapons and walls, then maintaining the fortress. If we see the universe as friendly, we can invest that energy and those resources into productive and gratifying pursuits like education, community gathering places, the arts, travel, fitness, fun. It’s a choice.
Even if we grew up with the worldview that everyone’s out to get us, we can choose again. We can act as if everyone is doing the best they can under the circumstances. Sure, there’s some malicious intent in the world. We could keep our guard up and stay hyper vigilant, at the cost of taxing our bodies and contracting our worlds. But it feels infinitely better to live with an expansive, open heart than a restricted, closed one.
Brené Brown tells a revealing story about the roommate from hell she was assigned to at a conference once. She later ranted to her therapist about the roommate’s unforgiveable offenses. After listening patiently, her therapist asked her, “Do you think it’s possible that your roommate was doing the best she could that weekend?” Brené was like, “Hell, no! Did you not hear what I just said?”
A storyteller, author and researcher on human emotions at the University of Houston, Brené started exploring this question: “Do you believe people are doing the best they can?” She concluded that those who said no (always a swift and deadly variation on “Hell, no!”) were typically critical and perfectionistic, and also judged themselves harshly.
Her husband’s response was her favorite. After a thoughtful pause, he replied, “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”
Giving others the benefit of the doubt demonstrates generosity of spirit and open heartedness. There aren’t two parallel universes, one with things as they are and the other with things as they “should” be. We can’t even agree on what “should “ be. While we can shape our futures to some extent, all we have in this moment is “what is.” Acceptance of “what is” feels good. Resistance to "what is" feels bad.
POLLYANNA WAS RIGHT
You may be familiar with the classical children’s story, Pollyanna, from the early 1900’s. Pollyanna’s widowed missionary father helped prepare her for adversity later in her life (she was orphaned at age 11) by creating the “glad game.” The goal was to find the good in challenging situations, to be unconditionally optimistic, to lean into life with a positive bias, to find something to be glad about.
Today I cringe when I hear someone deride someone else (sometimes me) saying, “Don’t be such a Pollyanna.” The name is now shorthand for “an excessively or persistently optimistic person.” But the glad game was invented to cope with real life difficulties and sorrows, by shifting into optimism and a solution oriented mindset.
Optimism is a valuable, learnable life skill that can nourish hope and open the way to a positive, better feeling outcome. And, if it’s true that we tend to move toward what we expect and what we focus on, positive expectation (i.e. optimism) may help pave the way to reaching our heart’s desires.
As Pollyanna said herself, "When you're hunting for the glad things, you sort of forget the other kind." Hope and appreciation feel better than despair and cynicism. Pollyanna may make a comeback as the perfect ‘poster child’ in the era of positive psychology.
The research is clear on the benefits of counting your blessings. Journaling about what’s working in our lives helps us feel more positive emotions, relish positive experiences, improve our health, sleep better, reduce stress, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Writing thank you notes of appreciation to others has similar effects. Thanks is not just for Thanksgiving.
A SET POINT FOR HAPPINESS
We humans appear to have a set point or a baseline level of happiness. On a scale of 1-9, the average American weighs in at 6.5. Although setbacks will drop that rating and good fortune will raise it, these appear to be temporary deviations from one’s baseline. People who had become paraplegics rebounded to 6.0 within one year. Lottery winners rated their happiness at 6.8 a year later.
Imagine a scale of feelings ranging from fear, grief, depression, despair, and powerlessness at the bottom to joy, appreciation, empowerment, freedom, and love at the top. We can’t typically jump from despair to joy in a heartbeat, because those states are so far apart. But we can move up the scale in baby steps, armed with the intention to feel good no matter what, and the power to make better feeling choices.
Each step up the scale offers a bit of relief from suffering, a greater sense of ease, and access to inspired action. Like changing the frequency we’re tuned to on our radios, we can change the feelings frequency we tune in to. Momentum can work for us as we choose better feeling thoughts or against us as we wallow in negativity.
(See Abraham-Hicks.com for more on the Emotional Guidance Scale.)
BE THE LIGHT
There are times when we might, consciously or not, hold ourselves in a negative headspace. For example, we may believe we need to suffer along with our loved ones to show that we care and empathize with their troubles. But you can’t light a candle with a burned out candle … or hold the light for anyone else either. We have little to give another when we’re disconnected from our higher self, our inner being, our source.
The heart pumps blood to itself first, then to the rest of the body. In an inflight emergency, we’re instructed to put on our own oxygen mask, and then help others. And, if I may pile on one more metaphor, you can’t draw water from an empty well. Self-care is our first obligation if we are to effectively serve others.
Leading group mediations, I sometimes ask participants to close their eyes and think of something or someone that opens their hearts: a loved one’s face, a pet, a favorite place, a memory, a situation they’re grateful for, something they’re looking forward to…whatever. Then I challenge them to simply keep their hearts open for five minutes, continuously coming back to the original inspiring thought or image if they begin to lose the glow. The results of this exercise are palpable.
Re-visiting peak experiences in our lives and diving deep into appreciation of others can transport us, opening the door to states of peace, well-being, and open-heartedness. These states of mind help us align with who we really are, and serve as anchors to steady us in times of turmoil. Consider collecting a few of your own inspiring mental images and passion projects to call forth an open-heart experience on demand.
We can even pre-pave upcoming segments of our day with positivity by choosing to intentionally, proactively bring an open heart into the next activity or encounter. This sets the tone and empowers us, leaving us less vulnerable to absorbing (or being hooked by) the energy and behaviors of others.
A regular meditation practice can help train us to open our hearts and minds more or less on command. It’s sitting in stillness with who you really are, your larger, wiser self, your inner being, collective consciousness, spirit, source, God. Practicing meditation during the smooth times builds a powerful skill for riding out the rough times.
I know there is big time resistance to sitting in meditation. I resisted myself for years. I was a gal with a to-do list. Sitting still for any length of time felt like a waste. Like many, I thought I was supposed to stop my thoughts, which of course is like stopping the waves in the ocean. Thinking is what minds do.
Cheri Huber, one of my early Zen meditation teachers, says, “Let your mind do whatever it does. It is easier to just accept that minds do what they do than to spend your energy searching for the deactivation switch.”
She goes on to say, “See if you can turn your attention away from the mind and to the body. Feel your body breathing, expanding and contracting. You are not trying to change anything or get anywhere. Let everything be exactly the way it is, letting the breath be as relaxed and open as it possibly can be.”
The fastest, easiest way to get into the present moment is to bring attention to the body. The body is always right here right now. Let go of the rest.
INSTRUCTIONS: 1. Sit 2. Focus on your breath. 3. Pay attention to what comes up.
“There is nothing [in the instructions] about watching ourselves to make sure we do not do anything wrong. Nothing about monitoring our posture so we can critique our efforts. Nothing about judging ourselves as inadequate if our attention wanders.
The voices will start in. But remember: beating yourself up is not to be confused with spiritual practice. Just notice what the voices say. You can even take notes … Eventually you will have heard it all. As you observe that self-hating process [or any less-than-loving narrative] it becomes less believable.
In any moment, we can go home to the breath. It does not matter where we just were, it does not matter how bad it was. We just drop all that and come back to the breath--and we are home free.”
When elephants walk in procession in India, their trainers sometimes give them bamboo sticks to carry in their trunks. This gives them a little something to occupy their minds and bodies so they are less inclined to restlessly swing their trunks, pick up objects, or mess with each other.
In meditation, focusing on your breath (or the humming of the refrigerator, a candle flame, an imaginary wave lapping the shoreline with each breath, counting, repeating a mantra, etc.) can work similarly to help us settle, ground ourselves, and focus.
Some Proven Benefits of Meditation
Experiential knowing of our larger self, who we are beneath our conditioning, beyond the ego, beyond the physical realm. An opportunity to hear the ‘still small voice within.’
Perspective shifting. Cultivates the observer self, allows a shift into broader perspective and expanded awareness from which to choose thoughts, feelings, behaviors.
Sitting with/making peace with so-called negative emotions. With mindful awareness of our fears and old habits of thought, we no longer have to push them away or be overcome by them. We’re more open, more aware, more connected to what’s happening right now.
Grounding/centering practice. An opportunity to gather up energy we might otherwise spend on non-productive thoughts about past and future, and bring attention to the moment.
Setting the tone. Shifts gears (or takes us out of gear to neutral), a cleansing process.
Enhancing self-regulation (of our thoughts & feelings). Trains us in focusing and concentrating.
Cultivating self-soothing skills and peace of mind.
Breath awareness. Observing life force moving through us.
Letting go/detachment practice.
Opening the heart to more love & compassion, starting with ourselves as we become patient with (and forgiving of) the chatter from ‘monkey mind.’
Connecting with something greater. Listening to God (whereas prayer might be thought of as talking to God.)
Balancing yang with yin. Receptive, passive, open. Permission to be a human ‘being’ instead of a human ‘doing.’
Opportunity for planting seeds, affirmations, visions for the future. With the judging, analytical mind out of gear, resistance is released & we open to possibility.
Visualization as a tool (and precursor) for transformation.
Alpha and theta brain waves accessed (relaxation and creativity).
Right brain accessed (feelings, connection with others, creativity).
The amygdala (brain’s alarm center) shrinks over time with meditation, and becomes less reactive to false alarms.
As we practice meditation, the gaps between our thoughts grow longer, until we can begin to control our thoughts instead of our thoughts controlling us.
In someone else’s life, it can be obvious to us that suffering is being manufactured unnecessarily. Wanting things to be different, believing things should be different, and taking it all so seriously is a process of suffering that goes on within us, usually unnoticed. In that process we are pulled away from the present moment where there is nothing wrong. We cross over into suffering when we get caught up in the content of the situation.
Suffering begins when we leave this moment and allow our minds to project out into the past or the future. How do we end suffering? By accepting everything, exactly as it is. Everything is exactly as it is.
“The truth is everything will be ok as soon as you’re ok with everything.” –Michael Singer
"If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present" –Lao Tzu
“Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.” –Unknown
“May the outward and inward man be at one.” –Socrates
“It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.” –e.e. cummings
“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde
We can learn a lot about ourselves by going within and “sitting” with our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and also by practicing being true to ourselves out in the world. We can conserve a lot of energy by staying attuned to our inner guidance and operating from that grounded, centered core of our being, our authentic self. As a bonus, when we are brave enough to show the world our real self, we tend to attract the kinds of people who really ‘get’ us.
In my early 30’s, a bumper sticker changed my life. It said, “Speak your truth even if your voice shakes.” I thought to myself, “Yah, I’m gonna try that!” And at first my voice did shake. But speaking up for truth, justice, my rights and my values felt empowering. I learned to express myself assertively and set healthy boundaries.
Assertive language is respectfully speaking your truth, saying how you feel and asking for what you want. It’s the middle way between aggressive and passive communications.
Ten years after graduating from college, I went back to school for a Master’s degree. I was struggling with my grades, my marriage was failing, and I sought counseling at the student health center. My therapist wisely suggest I journal in between our weekly sessions. My journal became my new best friend and guide to my authentic self.
A journal practice can help us:
Slow down & focus our thoughts
Explore & express our thoughts & feelings in a safe, non-judgmental place
Identify the unfolding & causality of an event to help in problem-solving
Get closure on unfinished business
Summarize & “package” experiences for storage
Release a traumatic experience from repeated mental rehearsal
Heal emotionally from a traumatic event through catharsis
Live a more conscious, examined life
Recognize the thread of continuity & purpose in our lives
Dump negativity (fear, anger, resentment, self-pity, etc.) & move past it
Learn from our mistakes
Develop & maintain healthy relationships with ourselves
Heal relationships with others
Chronicle our growth & our unique path to authenticity
Develop our problem-solving and processing skills
Bring unconscious material to the surface for healing & integration
Track cycles, patterns & trends in our lives
Cement our memories for improved access and retrieval over time
Articulate our thoughts and feelings to others
Clear our minds and become more available to others and to the moment
Some journaling techniques to consider from Journal to the Self by Kathleen Adams, M.A.
Stream of Consciousness: Freestyle writing. Trust that it doesn’t matter where you begin. Areas of your life nudge to the foreground as they need attention.
Springboards: Topic sentence (or question or quote) to help focus your writing.
Character sketch: “The people we draw into our lives are our mirrors. Everyone with whom we have relationship is our teacher.” Write about people who are an active force in your life or about yourself from someone else’s viewpoint.
Clustering: Write a key word or phrase in the center of a page. It could be a dream symbol or a current issue in your life. Then free associate outward to other words or phrases. Certain charged items might become springboards for further writing.
Captured Moments: Write about a frozen moment in time. Best accessed by the sensory and feeling self, more a snapshot of the scene than an analysis.
Dialogue: With people (living or dead), the physical body, feelings, resistances, material objects, events and circumstances, your work, subpersonalities, dream symbols, your inner guide, etc.
Lists of 100: Thoroughly explore a topic by writing an exhaustive list. 100 Things I’m Good At, or 100 Things I Can Do To Market My Business, or 100 Fears I Have Right Now. Lists may then be sorted by themes, often revealing issues under the surface.
Steppingstones: Identify points of significant movement along the road of your life. Select events that seem relevant to how you are living your life today. Start with “I was born.” Alternately you can break out body, mind, heart & spirit paths separately.
Time Capsule: Sum up accomplishments, completed goals, successes for the past year. Or review the Best / Worst events.
Topics du Jour: Number 1-31 down a page and create 31 topics to cycle through monthly. For example, on the 5th of every month you write about your creative life. On the 12th you take stock of your relationship with your significant other.
Unsent Letters: Helps with catharsis, completion and clarity on the relationship and/or situation. Clears emotional channels so that productive communication can take place.
Perspectives: Write from the perspective of your “future self,” giving your unconscious mind a vehicle for revealing its expectations. Other perspectives might include roads not taken (how things might be if…) or someone else’s point of view.
OUT OF YOUR MIND, INTO YOUR BODY
We can sometimes act our way into a new way of thinking more easily than we can think our way into a new way of acting. Simply slowing and deepening our breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system, soothing and relaxing us. It stimulates the vagus nerve, the largest nerve in the human body, which acts to:
lower anxiety, blood pressure and inflammation
improve digestion, quality of sleep, mood and concentration
Another way to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is to visualize ourselves in a beautiful, peaceful place that we love. Adding sounds, smells and physical sensations to the picture (or movie) enhances its effectiveness.
Gently touching your lips can also activate the PSNS, as can singing, humming, or chanting, massage, meditation, social connection, laughter, yoga, and other forms of exercise.
Moving our bodies helps get us out of our heads. If your body is tired, work your brain. If your brain is tired, work your body. Dancing like nobody’s watching and other spontaneous, uninhibited physical play can fast track us to joy.
Honoring the needs and limitations of our bodies is, of course, critical to our well-being. Letting ourselves get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (H.A.L.T.) are considered red flags for possible relapse in the world of addiction recovery. With enough adversity and self-neglect, we can all turn into 2-year olds, losing our capacity to make good choices and access our best selves.
“If you can laugh at yourself, you’ll always have something to laugh about.”
Inject humor and play into your life to keep the responsibilities of “adulting” in perspective and balance life’s stresses.
If you tend to judge and criticize yourself, practice giving your innocent inner child the unconditional love he/she deserves. Monitor your self-talk, asking, “Does this thought serve me? Would I say that to my 5 year old self?” Consider writing a love letter to your inner child. You are good enough!
“What is my purpose in life?” I asked the void.
“What if I told you that you fulfilled it when you took an extra hour to talk to that kid about his life?” said the voice. “Or when you paid for that young couple in the restaurant? Or when you saved that dog in traffic? Or when you tied your father’s shoes for him?
“Your problem is that you equate your purpose with goal-based achievement. The Universe isn’t interested in your achievements … just your heart. When you choose to act out of kindness, compassion, and love, you are already aligned with your true purpose. No need to look any further.” - Unknown
This little story helped free me from the hamster wheel of achieving and acquiring and opened my eyes to the many small ways to spread love and light.
“The best way to find yourself is in the service of others.” –Mahatma Gandhi
“Only a life lived in service to others is worth living.” -Albert Einstien
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” -Mother Teresa
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.“
RIDE THE WAVES
A meditation teacher was complaining to a friend over coffee about some petty annoyances in his life. She listened patiently as he ticked off his list of grievances. Then she responded, “All of those concerns sound like things that you’re perfectly capable of handling.” He agreed. After a moment’s pause, she added, “Did you think that one day all the problems would go away?”
That was a wake-up moment for him. He did believe, on an unconscious, unexamined level, that things "should be" smooth and easy. Our everyday challenges and issues are a normal part of life. “Happily ever after” is a fairy tale. Control is an illusion. So roll with the punches and embrace life on life’s terms, the whole catastrophe. Attitude is everything.
“Take your expectations and throw them into the ocean.” -Leo Babauta
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Previously published: Part 1. DIGGING OUT OF AN EMOTIONAL HOLE