It is always so nice to have this time with you. Whether you are sitting at your computer, on your couch or squatting on the potty, I am always honored to have a moment in your life. This time together gives us a chance to feel empowered, laugh and quiet the self-talk that can be disruptive and non-productive. Additionally, these moments help us to identify the lessons and blessings we encounter daily.
As a relationship coach, one of the main topics most often discussed with clients is stress reduction. As you know, relationships can be stressful, even the relationship with yourself. Quite honestly, the relationship with self is the most stressful relationship we will have. Of course, my relationship with my scale isn’t too pleasant.
As we are all quite aware, stress is a problem in our daily lives. Our bodies were not designed to be subjected to constant stress. Persistent stress takes a toll on us physically, emotionally, and mentally. When we are stressed or afraid, our body produces hormones that activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is an odd name to me. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates our heart rate, breathing and other bodily systems that trigger the fight, flight or freeze response. This means that sexual urges and digestion are put on hold. For example, if you see a bear (not me, the ones you see catching salmon with their teeth), your brain receives the “oh crap” signal and starts to orchestrate a response, which is to either attack (not smart), run, or not move. Once the threat has been passed, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, which slows the heart rate and breathing while turning on digestion and sexual functioning.
So imagine what is happening in your daily life when you are constantly stressed. Your heart is working overtime; your digestion gets messed up, and your sexual desires grind to a halt. Worse yet, when we are stressed, the executive functioning area of the brain (behind the forehead) gets bypassed. This means we are in reaction mode and not the preferred responding mode, which allows us to think before we act. As you can imagine, if a bear was chasing you the reacting mode could save your life. Now, if I was chasing you, hopefully you’d stop for the bear hug, which is a responding mode. But I digress.
Why is all of this important in relationships? When we are under constant stress, we are not always thinking; we are reacting. We have little control and little awareness of our current situation because our brains are trying to survive our fears. Think about that for a moment. How can you process happenings in your relationships if you are just reacting? You can’t. This means that you have put your relationship on autopilot, which is prone to crashing. Just ask Tesla. In other words, all of your relationships suffer because you are stressed.
Let’s compound the problem just a bit. The history of humanity shows us that we have always been and will always be in a hurry. As we sprint through life being busy doers, we ignore our needs, and the people and events going on around us. It also leads us to disregard the learnings that present themselves as we actively move through life. This lack of awareness creates a stagnation and a separateness. By disconnecting ourselves from the present moment, we disengage from our journey to learn, share and grow.
So here we are in life, busily trying to get through our day under constant stress. Is this the life you imagined you would live? We have become connected to information and technology, but disconnected from the needs that really matter-community, health, spirituality, and pleasure.
Now, we also know that we need to find ways to reduce our stress and reconnect with our needs. Mindfulness practices, meditation, physical activity, reading, laughing and playing are great ways to reduce stress and improve our level of awareness. For simplicity, I will refer to these practices as Awareness Practices because that is the ultimate goal-gaining self-awareness. By the way, you may think that alcohol and nicotine can help with stress reduction, but they really are not helpful. They can cause more problems than they seem to solve.
I can hear many of you saying to yourself, “Duh, I already know these Awareness Practices.” Great! So why aren’t you engaging in them? Based on client feedback and my own experience, they don’t work. More accurately, they don’t work fast enough. Our own expectations are sabotaging our health. In my book, A GREAT LOVE: The Lessons in Life, Light and Love, I state that “Mastery is arduous since instantaneous fulfillment of personal desires is central to one’s current way of being. Accept that mastery will not be immediate. Don’t worry if you aren’t perfect at this since perfection will never truly be achieved. The journey to self-awareness is an ongoing pursuit no matter how old, how wise, or how patient you are.”
Unfortunately, our selfishness, vanity and impatience have overtaken our capacity to understand and recognize ourselves and those around us. Once we are aware of our actions and way of being, only then can we begin to grow to realize why we are here and what we are here to learn. Awareness is the first key.
Though awareness does take practice to perfect, mastery is not required before learning. You can start with some very basic actions:
- Stay focused on the now. For the past cannot be rebuilt and the future is only created from the now.
- Observe your actions; know your feelings and be mindful of your thoughts.
- Look at the world around you, and gaze into the eyes of other beings.
- Feel the dance of all your interactions and let it move you.
Awareness is not about control. It is about understanding your role in the world around you. To be aware of yourself and others only gives strength to the possibility of the future you wish to create. To mindfully take a step in any direction creates a future that was not a possibility before.
One last interesting lesson about awareness is important to note and it will inform us for later articles. As you explore and practice awareness, you will come to realize that most decisions you have made about yourself—the good, the bad, and the ugly—were made when you were a child. What is amazing about this is the fact that a four- or five-year- old child, using a primitive understanding of language and social interactions, was trying to decipher complex verbal and non-verbal communication and then molded those misunderstood interpretations into establishing his or her identity. So basically who you think you are has been shaped by the profound interpretations of a booger-eating, glue- sniffing, and bed-wetting five-year-old child.
My friend, you are not a five-year-old kid anymore. You are an adult who can make conscious decisions about who you are. You just needed to become aware of the cage you placed around you. Please don’t forget that a loving Bear Hug is always waiting for you; it can conquer the cage too.