On Breakthroughs

So often I am seeking some sort of breakthrough.

It’s like I want to believe that if I do the work eventually I will wake up a different person with absolutely no problems. Or at least much fewer problems. Or maybe different, easier problems.

I want to be able to look at yesterday, last week, last month, last year, and say “aha, that is the moment everything changed.”

I realized something this morning though.

Breakthroughs are relative.

When I first read 10% Happier by Dan Harris, I imagined that if I started meditating I would suddenly become this zen calm person. I didn’t think it would happen on day 1. I don’t even think I expected it to happen with in the year. But it was an expectation.

Well since I read that book, I have started and stopped meditating many times.

I’m proud to say that I’ve meditated every day for a month as of today.

And today I had a breakthrough.

I didn’t suddenly understand everything.

I haven’t forgiven everyone (myself included) or accepted everything (myself included).

But for the first time in a week I was able to keep my mind calm for more than one breath cycle.

And that is a huge breakthrough.

Because I could have quit.

Every day for the past week when I sat down and tried to breathe and my mind kept racing.

I could have quit.

But I didn’t.

I chose to sit down every day.

And today I finally found some peace.

And that is a breakthrough in and of itself.

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What’s in Our Control?

A few weeks ago I drew a big circle in my work notebook and titled the page “Scope of My Control.”

I put

  • my actions
  • my decisions
  • my behavior

in it and

  • The weather
  • Others’ thoughts
  • Others’ feelings
  • others’ behaviors
  • others’ decisions
  • others’ actions
  • my thoughts
  • my feelings

outside.

Today, I added “the outcome” to the outside too.

A few hours later, when meeting with my new manager, I happened to open to that page. He started reading it upside down and it started an interesting discussion.

He disagreed with what was out of my control. He thought my thoughts and feelings are under my control. So we talked.

We discussed.

I don’t think either one of our minds changed.

And it was wonderful.

His point was that people shouldn’t feel hurt when they know the other person’s intentions are not to hurt them. My point was that people can’t help what they feel, what they can help is how they respond to that feeling. People can decide to act in a way that assumes the other person intended to hurt them. They can also decide to act in a way that questions their feeling. They can wonder, “why would this person intend to hurt me?” or “why would a kind person say something hurtful to me?”

I think more controversial is that I believe my thoughts are out of my control.

And as I write it again, here on this blog, I believe it even more. Our brain is on all the time. It’s constantly thinking and reacting to things. Many of my thoughts are my brain finding a pattern and thinking that something similar must be happening. I truly don’t think I can control this process. But again, I can choose how I act in response to my thoughts. I choose whether or not I believe those thoughts. Whether or not those thoughts should pertain to a decision I’m trying to make.

For me, the key to disconnecting my thoughts and feelings from my actions, decisions, and behaviors has been self-awareness.

I have spent the last year (at least) learning what my stories are, my common stories, the one my brain always tries to explain things through. I’ve told you guys some of these stories here on this blog.

Being aware of them allows me to question them. Allows me to take control of the things I can take control of, instead of following them blindly and wondering why I feel totally powerless to relive the same story over and over again.

Know what you can’t and can control. Figure out what works for you. Follow your beliefs to find the stories you tell yourself. Learn yourself. Develop this awareness. And as always, see what happens.

Fleeting Happiness

For the second time in ten days, I felt immense joy and strength and peace today.

This is not to say that for the other 8 days I felt like crap. Some of them I did. Some of them I felt just dandy. But I’m talking immense joy and strength and peace here.

You want to know the second thing I thought, right after I thought “I feel so immensely OK right now.”?

The next thing I thought was, “Oh shit! What if this feeling goes away?!”

And here lies the problem.

This fear that these feelings will go away are just as harmful as the fear that the bad feelings are here to stay.

Something I think I’ve written about before, but maybe I’ve just thought it in my head, is summed up beautifully in the following quote:

“Feelings abate on their own given enough warm attention.” – Boundaries by Anne Katherine.

Feelings are fleeting. They are not permanent states of being. That’s one of the reasons aiming for happiness is so profoundly misguided. There is no permanent happiness. There is also no permanent sadness. (I’d like to take this moment to throw a disclaimer in here that I do not equate sadness or even “permanent sadness” with depression. Depression is a mental illness and is much more than just a feeling.).

Just like bad feelings will eventually dissipate, as long as you don’t compound them by trying to ignore them, so will good feelings.

I think the greatest lesson people can learn is to embrace this ever-changing nature.

Feel sad when you are mad. Feel it fully. Feel it powerfully.

Feel happy when you are happy, embrace it, suck happiness dry, enjoy every. last. drop.

I realize this is easier said than done. I realize I say this after years of therapy, and 9 months of especially good therapy. But think about it.

Next time you’re sad, give it a shot. Breathe into the sadness. Let yourself cry, out loud, in an ugly way. Next time you’re happy, enjoy it, breathe it in, smile wide, face it head on.