(An excerpt from our upcoming book)
“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else’s life.” --Steve Jobs
As we walk through the shadows and struggles of our lives we can too often feel haunted or forever enraged by things that have passed. How is it that someone else can utter a single sentence to us or even a single word that then occupies our minds for the rest of the day? Or our entire lives?
Throughout this book you may be amazed to discover how much damage stress wreaks in our lives and a very large percentage of stress and anger we feel is often these burdens, guilt and grudges we still hold.
As a personal example I was recently working at a place, renting a room for my practice, and at the end of the massage the older couple was excitedly telling me how much they liked the massage. We were in the hallway but keeping our voices down.
A practitioner, without a client, came bursting out of his room and said, “Hey you guys are too loud! Go over there!”
I simply said, “Of course, our apologies,” and then turned to the clients and said, “No worries we were watching our volume levels.”
I saw them off and a bit later I saw the guy talking with another therapist that was actually in session at the time, the one he was “defending.”
I did my best to ignore his anger and spoke to her directly and said, “Hey, I’m sorry if my clients talking disturbed your clients at all.”
She looked at me blankly and said, “Oh I didn’t hear anything?”
I wanted to then stare at the other guy and say a few choice words but left instead. It became clear that he had overreacted and potentially made the entire space feel unsafe to clients of mine when I was the new practice trying to get off the ground. Man was I pissed.
It took everything I had to force the incident behind me and greet him the next day as if nothing had happened. He had no idea how pissed I was and we were able to remain professionally respectful, instead of me letting that incident create an awkward working environment that would then define an everlasting negative work environment that would have made us both miserable to show up for work.
There are definitely times where things need to be reported and made right, but too often in life we can become the ones to repeat the words an enemy said long ago. Or simply take on the negative colors we once raged against in others.
And thus, I love this story (with a few twists of my own)…
Two monks were peacefully walking down a very long dirt path to their temple. The sun was shining brightly, and the birds were singing as they engaged in enlightened discussion.
Soon, they came upon a river which they were able to cross nimbly.
But just before they continued on along their path an overly beautiful, scantily clad woman came bouncing along and said, “Excuse me guys, could you please carry me across the river? I’m afraid it will sweep me away.”
The first monk turns away from the woman and says, “We are sorry mam, but we have devoted our lives to be devoid of the flesh and against having possessions, and thus we can-not carry you.”
The second monk sighed and said, “I will carry you.” He picked her up, did his best not to look, and then set her down on the other side of the river at which point she thanked him and then happily bounced away.
The two monks continued walking but where there was enlightened conversation, there was now only strained silence.
This continued for miles and miles until finally the first monk burst out and angrily said, “How dare you carry that woman?! That was against everything we believe in!”
The second monk shrugged and said, “I only carried her across the river, while you have carried her for miles.”
I truly love that story as it shows that we can become the torch wielder of thoughts and alliances that we do not support. It hints at how much easier our lives could get if we devoted time and energy to healing our burdens, negative thoughts and beliefs we hold on to… until we are then able to let them go.
“A bad word worshiped will echo a hundred miles.” – Chinese Proverb
Yet I also feel there’s hidden wisdom in that story. I feel it’s impossible for something to strike a nerve with us if we weren’t already saying the same things to ourselves. We can get so upset with what others say and do, but the honest question we have to ask, as we endlessly repeat their harmful words, is whether or not we’ve become more of an enemy to ourselves than they.
Letting things go is not easy, especially of our disapproval of ourselves. Just like how stress is not the result of a situation but is too often the causation, our disapproval of something of ourselves that we find lacking is ironically equally likely to make it more so. Holding onto things makes their healing and improvement simply impossible.
Saying something is unacceptable closes a steel door to it’s improvement. Instead, why not just say, “X needs some work and it will improve?” Could it be that our disgust in ourselves and others may be the main force in the way to improving them?
The only way to lose weight is to first learn to be at peace with the weight we’re at and say, “it’s okay that I weigh more than I wish. It’s okay that I can’t fit into my clothes like I used to, because I’m working to lower my stress levels while increasing my motion.”
The only way we can save our relationship is to first learn to find a reasonable level of resolve with wherever it is at and say, “it’s okay that this is where we’re at. It’s okay that we don’t seem to be as in love as we used to. It’s okay that we don’t have sex as much as we used to. It’s okay that we each seem distant from each other. It’s okay that it seems like we’ve been falling apart. Because we are both now learning of deeper reasons why that came about and from a place of peace, have a real chance of healing it.”
The only way to study better is to first learn to be at peace with our current level of focus, memory and speed of study and say, “it’s okay that my rate of study is not as fast as I feel it should be because I’m learning the deeper causes to slow study speeds, willingness and crippled memory retention. I love to learn and know that once I can remove the pain of study out of the way that I will get better, my grades will come up and I will become more effective in every area of my life that I choose to study in.”
I’ve known many academics who felt their current speed of study or research was unacceptable and continued to struggle and struggle. But once they were able to come to terms with their current levels of ability, in addition to other wellness insights and actions as we will go through later, their speed and quality of their works began to greatly improve.
I know how hard it can be to forgive ourselves. But as you get through this book, you’ll discover that everything is not your fault and that you can, in fact, responsibly place blame on stress itself. Being able to place blame in this way is not just amble finger pointing to avoid deeper truths. It’s accepting deeper truths that an invisible force has been messing up all of our plans, at least until now.
Holding onto negativity also applies when we’ve spent a lot of time down a particular path, researching a particular rabbit hole where we assume that repetition of data is evidence or supporting a particular group or political party. The more time, energy and sacrifice we put into any one thing the harder it will become to view it from an unbiased frame of mind. The more we begin to assume it’s pragmatic and in mortal rightness despite mounting evidence that would say otherwise. We turn off sources of information that disagrees with the knowledge we’ve already built up. There is nothing particularly wrong with any one path or political party until we no longer care about its evils or harmful effects to others. Justifying it as a lesser of two evils with no interest to hold it in check or seek to improve its harmful actions is usually the time when our outrage against ‘others actions’ become more and more done by our side.
Holding onto negativity or fixed points of view is a chain that bogs us down. Not accepting ourselves is a chain. Holding onto pain or things from our past is a chain. I say it’s time we stopped letting those chains hold us back from progress that could help make this world more just, prosperous, transparent, efficient and well.