Is it just the Full Moon of late, or am I becoming more dissatisfied with the general gist of life?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to a be a pessimist, but lately, I sense a feeling of chasing after something that will keep me full of satisfaction for longer than when an experience ends. Does this resonate?
I feel boxed in by a society that sells us the message that life should be joyful and fun, peaceful and full of contentment, all the while encouraging me to be more and have more! This pitch of life being a ‘happily ever after’ is wearing me down.
The myth that Happiness is the natural state of a ‘normal’ person is strongly disputed by statistics that show a grim image of 1 in 5 Australians aged 16-65 will experience a mental illness in any given year. A definite sign that we aren’t all living on a continual joy cloud of love, peace and harmony. Adding to this, is our saturation in curated lifestyles and experiences through all types of media, whether it is advertising or our friends showing luxury getaways on Instagram. Many of us walk around believing that everyone else is on the happy train except us, leading to even more unhappiness in the comparison of it all.
Why is it that society struggles to accept and allow negative thoughts? It’s like if we veer off the track to happily ever after, we land in the pile of faulty and defected! No wonder we beat up on ourselves when painful thoughts and feelings come our way, which they will inevitably do.
When we look at the evolution of humans, we realise that naturally the mind tends to, well, have a mind of it’s own. This mind of ours has the ability to shape our world, and to manifest our hearts content. It makes plans, invents amazing things and visualises new futures and terrain. We have discovered how to control our outer world, but what about the inner world? The world of thoughts, feelings, sensations and memories. These, not so easy to control.
How then, do we deal with these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings? Should we do more yoga? Sit for longer in mediation? Eat less sugar? Will this assist the thoughts to go away. No! That’s the thing, we need to find a technique to actually defuse the experience of the thoughts in our mind, that are merging the way we feel about life. This is were ACT comes in, short for Acceptance & Commitment Therapy
We know by now that we all have ‘control strategies’ for the external world, ensuring that we don’t run into people, places or events that may bring negative thoughts or beliefs about ourself, to the surface. A popular one I hear regularly being a yoga teacher is the old ‘I’m not flexible enough to do yoga’. Now there are a million things we can say to this inflexible person, to attempt to convince them that yoga is not primarily about the flexibility of your body, but if we pause for a moment, we will probably find that behind this ‘excuse’, is someone who feels uncomfortable in their body, and to prevent bringing up any further discomfort, they would rather not participate in something that will ask them to deal with these thoughts and feelings they have about themselves. So we can say this is an external ‘control strategy’. The inflexible yogi knows there will be some awkwardness as they get into a new experience, and to avoid the awkwardness, the control strategy is to not go along to the class in the first place.
This probably isn’t new to anyone. Avoiding events because of how we might feel about ourselves, afraid of rejection so we never reach out, eating to feel better only to then beat up on ourselves over it. The inability to control our thoughts means that we put more effort into external control methods, without realising there is a way to defuse the thoughts and feelings that aren’t always positive.
This defusion technique is one of the main principles of ACT. The defusion lessens the negative impact our thoughts and feelings might have over our behaviour. It involves distancing (inner witness) so that we can see thoughts and feelings for what they are: streams of words and passing sensations, rather than what theses thoughts say they are: facts or dangers. As we learn to resolve unpleasant thoughts, they lose their ability to disturb, worry, stress or depress us.
Something that this technique has really assisted me in, is the reminder that the stories in my mind, are not the absolute truth. This may sound obvious, but remember this the next time you blame someone for something, or presume someone is looking at you in a funny way! The stories in our mind are not factual, yet we tend to act out as though they are.
This is where you get to try on ACT for yourself. This may sound simple, but remember, we have to wake up to the fact that we are having a thought, we are not the thought we are having. So the next time you have a thought that is worrying or stressful like: “My partner doesn’t appreciate/love me” the first thing to do is notice your having this thought. Otherwise the thought will fuse itself with your feelings and begin to spill over into your real life. When you have this thought “My partner doesn’t appreciate me” your going to place I AM HAVING THE THOUGHT THAT my partner doesn’t love me. This will allow you to step back from the thought, as though your watching it pass by, rather than believing it to be the absolute truth. You could go a step further and say I’M NOTICING I’M HAVING THE THOUGHT THAT my partner doesn’t appreciate me.
When we do this, we defuse our thoughts and realise that thoughts may or may not be true; thoughts may or may not be important; thoughts are not orders, we don’t have to obey them. As you try this exercise out, remember that defusion is not about getting rid of a thought, but instead to defuse it and see it for what it is. A string of words tied together that we get to decide what meaning we put to it.
Eventually, as this becomes easier, there will probably be laughter at the absurdity that we gave so much power and belief to these thoughts in the first place. Ultimately, if you can accept your mind is going to come up with trash, just as much as it comes up with insight, than we can appreciate this marvellous mind for all it’s cleverness, yet stop believing everything it churns out.
For more information on ACT please visit www.actmindfully.com.au