At any point in time, we are either embracing the present moment or escaping from reality. To go further in the thought process, there are two things we are running away from: emotions or thoughts. Either our mind and body is in balance or our flight or fight response comes into play. Living in the present does not only refer to sitting cross-legged on the top of a mountain and taking deep breaths. It could of course mean meditation, but it is in general the focus of your attention on the matter at heart. It could mean spending quality time with loved ones or getting into deep focus in your work. So why do we run away from emotions or thoughts? Because it is painful, either on a mental or emotional level. Also, we are humans, just blame our ancestors (easiest way out, I found)
Running away from: Emotions
Feelings are so powerful that we will do anything to get away from them. In our ingenious ways, we have developed mechanisms to help ourselves from feeling, anything. Most often than not, we compensate by turning to alcohol, drugs, work and in turn getting addicted. A lifetime of avoiding emotions fuels a growing dependency on a repetitive set of harmful behaviours. Anything that allows us to feel less and make time pass, anything else than sitting with a feeling. Also, a cause of burn out, diving deep into work just not to deal with emotions which makes us uneasy, makes us fidget. Yes, emotions are hard. The refusal to face negative emotions head on is a real issue in today’s world. You might say, how about positive emotions? We do not run away from happiness and joy, right? We are scared of the fear of being happy because we know it will not stick. So instead, we forego the happiness and rather dwell on our current state of nothingness so that we do not have to face the aftermath of happiness.
What to do: Being aware of our emotions is a powerful step in the right direction. By recognising what triggers our dependency can help us face it, deal with it and talk about it. It is also extremely helpful to enrich our vocabulary with regards to emotions and become emotionally intelligent. I would recommend Daniel Goleman’s masterpiece on Emotional Intelligence.
Running away from: Thoughts
As an overthinker, I would give anything to get a break from my own thoughts. Then I discovered writing could be an antidote. While waiting to clear my mind of all thoughts and attain nirvana (joke, of course), I will write, just for the sake of writing.
Research estimates that the mind churns between 60,000–80,000 thoughts a day. A penny for your thought? The danger is when we consciously numb our brain from thinking and sadly, with the binge-watching TV culture, it has become easier to blank out. While it is recommended to rest our minds and recover our mental space, some of us are just living on autopilot. To create higher level thoughts and obtain enhanced skills, such as critical thinking, distillation of fake news and assessing our own irrational behaviours, it requires practice of the mind. When we avoid thinking about an important decision or avoid thinking in general, we revert to mind numbing activities such as social media scrolling. Too much thinking is obviously not great but so is underthinking. Cruising through life and attending our usual routines, escaping from that extra effort of thinking a bit harder, a bit deeper is too much to bear. We would rather desensitize ourselves and not ask questions.
Asking questions and critically assess ourselves and our decisions have become key life skills, in the new world. We are surrounded by a level of uncertainty that only a higher level of thinking can alleviate. Whether it is to reinvent ourselves in the evolving AI rich world or just to find a deeper meaning to our own lives.
What to do: Practice constructive thinking. Read extensively about the same subject and learn to hold different views on the same topic. Write a journal and read it back, this is the best way to become aware of your own thought process and attempt a course correction if needed. The extra bit of thought could be the catalyst that is missing in your own life….or it could also ignite the world.