Suffering may be universal, but the way you suffer can be very personal to the way you think. If you knew there was a different way to think about your life that would result in less suffering, would you try it? Suffering tells a primary lie, that you are alone and that what you are experiencing is endless. In fact, suffering connects you to every other person on this planet and as a universal law, everything is always changing, even you! So why is your brain trained to think in ways that separate you from others and even from yourself? The answer is simple, fear and survival. While our survival instincts are just that, primal and instinctual, so is our yearning for connection, love, and belonging. Let us peer over the wall to the other side of suffering to discover how choosing your mindset can liberate you to experience more joy and agency as you grow.
Let us start at the beginning, where your thinking mind is rooted. One of the first harsh lessons we learn as children is to fear being excluded, teased, and targeted by the crowd. We are fundamentally social / tribal creatures taught that to be “inside” the tribal enclosure is safe and being “outside” or exiled is death. So naturally, our brains are wired to keep us safely inside the herd by quickly learning how to adopt the social customs and expectations of our “tribe of origin”.
Your tribe of origin can be your family, church, school, and culture. The expectations within each tribe can be very different, but amazingly we are hardwired to pick up nuances within our tribe’s social culture starting at a very young age and perceive these as truth. This is where we adopt our first perspectives, opinions, judgements, and rules of exclusion. We learn how to judge, evaluate, and discern who is inside and who is outside our tribe. This is fundamentally a fear-based mindset, one that I believe we are evolving beyond as a species. Evolving beyond our tribal fragmentation may be fundamental to our survival as a species in the challenging years ahead. Before we can leave it behind though, we need to truly understand it, and the role it plays in our daily lives.
How much of your daily life do you spend focused on the present moment? According to a 2010 Harvard study by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, if you are like most people, you spend 47 percent of your waking hours focused on something other than the present moment. When we become distracted from the present moment, our mind goes into “default risk assessment mode” or as the Buddhists call it, Monkey Mind.
“…we do not have to get rid of the monkey-mind. Ignoring this thought-factory never works, and suppressing it is impossible. But we can befriend it. How do we do this? By hanging around. We’re not aggressive. We do not try to conquer or control our new friend, but if we want to get to know its qualities, we have to stay present for the encounter.“Mingyur Rinpoche
We know now that the multi-tasking bravado of our modern technological age is a myth and hinderance to our ability to be present. Trying to focus on more than one task at once to get more done, actually leads to a decrease in productivity and an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. Most often, in the flurry of multi-tasking, you might find yourself wandering into the past trying to figure out what you did wrong, or into the future to make plans for survival. This is again, a part of your primal inheritance, but it doesn’t lead to happiness, connection, or wellbeing and it is not a beneficial mindset for future growth.
Let us return to the subject of tribal inclusion. The challenge facing anyone who wants to practice the magical art of changing their mind is this, you have to be willing to risk tribal exile to even begin. You have to be willing to adopt a new perspective that says, “all of the rules of inclusion and exclusion I learned were simply made up by my tribe(s) of origin. These rules are no more real nor true than any other tribes’ rules, and they don’t necessarily keep me safe.” Then the work of discernment can begin. You can courageously award yourself the ability to choose what guidelines of belonging to keep, discard, and create. If we wish to not only survive, but actually thrive in our modern global culture, we have to be willing to evolve the way we think about belonging.
In our current culture, the mortal danger we fear is much more inside of us than outside of us. We absorb the tribal laws we have been taught and create a harsh inner landscape of self-policing to keep us safely within the lines. This mental trap is at the root of so much invisible suffering. Studies show that when we are self-critical and internally abusive we experience activation of the Fight or Flight mechanism, complete with the release of adrenaline and cortisol, as if we were being attacked by an outside force. On the flip side, when we practice self-compassion we release oxytocin, the same hormone we release when bonding with our children, making compassion, nurturance, and love possible. The brain doesn’t differentiate between interactions you have with others and encounters you have with yourself.
While there may be many factors we can’t control about the world around us, it is clear there are ways of internally altering the way you frame your experience from the inside. Self-compassion is a form of radical self-inclusion, being willing to stay present with whatever is with you in this very moment. Looping back to the Harvard study on presence, this is shown to be a strong component of happiness. Instead of spending so much mental bandwidth policing ourselves, assessing risk, and trying to fit in, we would be better served focusing on the present moment and self-affirming belonging. So what does it mean to belong to yourself?
“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.“Brené Brown from Braving the Wilderness
In changing your mindset towards true belonging, all aspects of yourself can have a seat at the table. No one inside of you, no present moment experience you are having, and no emotional response is exiled from your inner tribe.
It takes courage to acknowledge your personal suffering, and the instinctual root causes that keep you from feeling safe and connected in the present moment. With awareness, understanding, and a few practical mindset tips you can create new ways to experience the challenges life brings. Here are simple steps you can take and repeat until they become the new natural way that your brain is trained to behave:
Step 1 ~ Notice what is with you in the present moment
Try this: Drop down into your present moment. Use all your physical senses to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste what you are experiencing. Find appreciation for what is with you and as much as possible seeing it as a gift. Take a moment to feel into your emotions as well, how are you feeling in your heart right now?
Step 2 ~ Name it and make it ok
Try this: “Right now I am feeling________________, and that is ok.” Neutral and compassionate acceptance of everything you are experiencing allows you to connect with the challenging aspects of life as well as the appreciate the beautiful moments of ease, health, joy, and well-being.
Step 3 ~ Open up and reach out, rather than closing down and isolating
Try this: “Right now I am having a very human experience”. Remind yourself that there are many people in this very moment all over the world having the same experience, you are not alone! This is especially helpful when you are having a challenging time, one in which you would habitually feel isolated and trapped. It is also helpful to share moments of joy and happiness freely without worrying that you will make others feel jealous or that you will invite challenges by celebrating the good.
Step 4 ~ Understand the healing being offered and accept change
Try this: “Why am I having this experience? What in my past is being triggered? Was I unsafe then? Am I safe now? Can I accept what happened in the past and move forward?” When you feel a BIG emotional response to challenging situation it is often coming at you with the force of a freight train because it is not just that moment, but every past moment of similar challenge or trauma that your mind is linking to this moment. We could see our situation as overwhelming and hopeless, OR we could choose to see this as a unique opportunity for healing.
Step 5 ~ Love yourself for all that you are
Try this: “I appreciate all that I have been, all I am, and all I am becoming”. Offer yourself understanding, love, and acceptance for everything you have experienced in your life and are experiencing currently. Know that you will continue to have challenging moments in the future, but you will also have amazing moments of joy and celebration. The power you have is to change your mindset so that you can truly experience the big and small victories and make them your base-line experiences. Living with this mindset gives you more reserves to be generous and loving when times are tough.
Step 6 ~ Allow yourself to be seen
Try this: Find creative ways to show yourself to others as you are. Expressing yourself truthfully in the present moment can be encouraging for others, giving them permission to be safe inside themselves too. If you feel appreciation, frustration, or fear simply acknowledge it. Try to avoid judging, evaluating, creating stories, or blaming. Make the experience yours and welcome all of yourself to the party. This is how we help ourselves over the wall from fear to love.
Your mindset is a choice, one that may take courage, time, and practice to change. The benefits of adopting perspectives that make your internal world a friendlier place extend to not only how your life feels, but how your body functions. These are just the first few steps into a new land, and the magical art of changing your mind is your ticket. Once you have mastered the ability to train your brain to feel safe in the present moment, you can begin to shift your mindset from exclusion and fear, to inclusion and love. If you start with yourself, it will become natural to do this with others. Once we have the mental and emotional skills to belong first to ourselves, we can create a global tribe where everyone has a seat at the table.
To learn more about healing the mind and connecting to your heart feel free to check out our offerings at Full Awakening.