I want to make a disclaimer at the beginning of this post that I am not in any way stating that someone in an abusive relationship, extreme difficult circumstance, or who has serious mental health needs to accept these situations and continue allowing these situations to occur. It is important to seek help when necessary and sometimes really digging down deep into these difficult circumstances will help us realize changes that need to be made.
It’s pretty crazy the lengths humans will go to sidestep discomfort inside of ourselves, isn’t it? From avoiding a conversation with a loved one, to living in denial about our true feelings about something, we constantly avoid, overlook, or try to micromanage other areas of our life to help compensate for the lack of control we feel about this difficult situation or emotion in our lives.
The problem with this approach is that we ultimately can’t control everything around us. When we respond to a disruption in our lives or emotional well-being by resisting it, we are in essence trying to control it or change it instead of accepting it. We are trying to change what is. Doing so removes us from the reality we are in and since our lives are always unfolding in the “now”, it creates painful cognitive dissonance and added feelings of frustration. What I’m getting at is that the very moment we don’t accept something that already is, we begin mentally living in a state other than reality. This can cause feelings of helplessness, denial, control, anger, prolonged grief, anxiety, and depression – to name a few.
There is ample research that indicates that people who deal with emotions healthily, who “let things go” and move on, so to speak, rather than bottling their emotions, live happier, longer, healthier lives! Perhaps the reasons I stated above have something to do with that.
Life is unpredictable, for better or worse. Each circumstance that passes through us is like a balloon, impermanent and floating along at the whims of the wind and circumstances surrounding it. Sometimes these balloons may look appealing – they are an escape from the true reality of whatever we are dealing with. We can choose to identify with this balloon and its accompanying emotions as it floats by, at which point we sign over the control of our own experience and are at the mercy of where this circumstance or emotion goes. This is draining and exhausting. It also puts us in a position where we are no longer in control and although it was an impermanent event, it has now become part of our current story for much longer than it ever needed to be.
The other option is that we can choose to root ourselves in the rich soil of reality and the present moment, and let the balloons float through us and past us. We can be aware of the difficult circumstances we are in, and aware of the emotion balloons that may be passing by us, but we can view them for exactly what they are: impermanent. We are no longer identifying with them and grabbing on for the wild ride. Occasionally a balloon may blow around us and in our face, obstructing our vision for a bit, but they will float past eventually.
This isn’t easy. We hold on to our experiences and emotions for dear life. Sometimes our difficult emotions and circumstances have shaped who we are and the thought of letting go of them makes us feel like we are releasing a piece of our identity with them. We are afraid of who we are without them. Other times the thought of facing these circumstances may make us shrink out of fear of pain, or you may feel too far down your path to change now.
In Buddhism there is a concept taught by Buddha called the Second Arrow. The idea is that if someone strikes you with an arrow, it’s very painful. That arrow represents pain from circumstances in life. This pain is unavoidable and part of the experience of being alive. However, humans do a curious thing. Rather than pull the first arrow out, painful as that would be, we often will drive a second arrow behind that first arrow and force more pain onto ourselves. The second arrow represents our own shame, anger, re-living experiences, and beating ourselves up over something we did. This is pain that is both unnecessary, and usually even more painful than the first arrow to come our way.
What in your life are you wasting precious energy and time resisting, or driving a second arrow into yourself? What balloons have you identified with and given your control over to, which no longer serve you anymore? It might be painful, just like pulling that first arrow out, and we need to acknowledge what has happened to us, or what we have done to ourselves. But we also need to be willing to dig in and really look at the situation or emotion, see it for what it is, and then move forward from it. In doing so, we plant our feet in the soil of reality and allow ourselves to experience life more freely and be at peace with ourselves.