When posting on social media, I like to try and provide a little insight into some of the approaches that we use in our sessions and courses here, but also to try and guide our community to other quality resources that they might also find useful on their own. Today’s gem comes from Jack Kornfield, a clinical psychologist who also spent some of his early life in dedicated Buddhist practice and was one of the early fathers of what we now call mindfulness. I’m a fan.
"Oh, fear, here you are again. I know you. How interesting that you've come."
In his blog this week he talks about awareness of our feelings, and then naming and accepting feelings, like fear that are so frequent in our life. No one’s life is free from challenge, we all have moments of fear, pain, and self-doubt – no matter what some might show on their social media profiles. Being aware, accepting and being self-compassionate about our experience of these feelings can help avoid being blindsided by them when they (inevitably) rise up. Hopefully we can also remain aware that we have ‘met’ them and survived them before, and so can survive them again. It can take away their sting.
Jack talks about fear in particular, but this can and does apply to other feelings and experiences too – including stress, low mood, motivation, self-criticism and pain (just to name a few). But whilst this all sounds simple, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Listening to the scary stories we tell ourselves is, well…scary. Acceptance and defusing from being ‘hooked’ by difficult and painful thoughts, feelings and emotions is a challenge. And whilst we can become more aware, and more practiced, it takes ongoing effort and commitment. The good news is we get better at accepting that challenge.
Just this week I suddenly became aware of feeling quite overwhelmed at work. My workload was piling up, my ‘to do’ list was getting longer, and I realised I was telling myself a story about ‘I can’t get all this done’. Taking a moment to really explore what I was experiencing I was able to eventually say to myself something like
“oh ok, here’s ‘stress’ coming in” and
“there’s my hypercritical mind chattering away again, he’s always trying to tell me that I’m useless”
Identifying and naming things works as a form of cognitive defusion (to de-fuse or unhook from difficult and painful thoughts and feelings) and can provide significant relief all on its own. From there we might also want to bring in one or more of our many other tools – like self-hypnosis, mindfulness, problem solving therapy etc. to bring about further internal or external changes that might help us.
It's important though that we don’t berate ourselves when naming our feelings, and equally, the goal is usually not to resist or control those feelings. I see frequently hashtags on a lot of self-help and fitness saying things like ‘#control-your-emotions’ ‘#think-positively’ and we are not doing that. In my view this shows a poor understanding of how we actually work, and I think can fall quickly into the realm of toxic positivity that I am generally against.
It’s perhaps an important distinction that we might choose to challenge our thoughts sometimes (this is often what the ‘cognitive’ in cognitive behavioural therapies’ is about). So we might examine faulty and rigid ways of thinking, the assumptions we make, and the filters we put on the world, but we’re not trying to control what we’re feeling, and we’re not burying those emotions. I would say this is still true, even, where we might choose to undertake a course of relaxation training to lower our levels of stress and arousal – in essence here we’re recalibrating our baseline and responses, not saying to ourselves that it’s incorrect to feel. Neither is this just passively resigning ourselves to the hand in life we are given. We can instead choose to feel, with openness and non-judgement, yet also choose the course of action that best leads us towards the direction we want to go.
Like Susan Jeffers said in the title of her classic self-help book we can feel the fear, and still do ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ needs to be) anyway.
Anyhow, check out Jack’s blog article, its excellent: https://jackkornfield.com/making-friends-with-fear/...