When Trying to Figure It out No Longer Works, Try Asking Different Questions

I’m not sure if it’s something that I ate or something going on in the stratosphere but I have been riddled with self-doubt and anxiety lately. And, for some reason, there seems to be a lot of this going around right now. I really wanted to try to solve this mystery and provide some answers to why this is happening and what I can do about it. In my process to do so and in preparation to share my findings with others, a couple of timely things occurred.

First, I happened to pick up a book (which I highly recommend anyone interested in this topic read immediately) that I read a couple of years ago and was reminded that I do not need to try and fix anything or even figure it out. As Michael Singer says in his book, “When a problem is disturbing you, don’t ask, ‘What should I do about it?’ Ask, ‘What part of me is being disturbed by this?’"

Secondly, I spoke with my father who shared some beautiful — and very vulnerable — wisdom with me. He said that possibly the greatest thing he has learned in his life is that he doesn’t have the answers — just lots of questions. And I think there is a lot to learn from this little gem.

These insights helped me shift away from trying to figure it out to asking different questions.

When we think we should have the answer or know what is going to happen, we simply create more stress and anxiety in our life. Which I’m pretty sure is the exact thing we are trying to escape by “knowing."

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In those moments of anxiety, self-doubt and uncertainty it’s not about having the answer, it’s about asking different questions.

What’s going on inside right now?

Check in. Like Michael Singer says, notice what part is being disturbed. What is happening in the body? What is happening in the mind? What sensations do I notice? Simply observe. It is not about judging it or changing it. Just tuning in.

Who is it that notices this going on?

Ever wondered who it was that was observing all the various thoughts and sensations going on in the body? That is the observer. The consciousness. The true self.

My guided meditation today used a brilliant metaphor for the mind being the clear blue skies. Our thoughts and feelings are the passing clouds. And sometimes they are dark thunderclouds and it can seem difficult to think about anything else. But the clear blue skies are always there — just think about an airplane going above the clouds. And it is from these clear blue skies that we observe the thoughts and feelings. It is from these clear blue skies that we find our self. We are not the clouds below — our thoughts and feelings — we are that which observes.

Is anything wrong in this moment?

This one can be tricky because we sometimes like to think that certain feelings are “wrong” or that the thought that we are having is “wrong” but if we get really honest with ourselves and remember that no feeling or thought is neither wrong nor right — it just is — then we can more often than not answer this question with a resounding “no.”

Most times we can take comfort in the fact that we have our health and our safety. We are not in immediate danger. Just because we feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean something is wrong — it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. That is part of human existence.

Now, if you’re still wondering what to do when feeling a surge of self-doubt or anxiety, all I can say is that I don’t have the answer nor do I think I need to.

See what happens if instead of tasking our minds to trying to figure it out we simply observe what is going on, sit with the discomfort and ask who is it that notices all of this from those clear blue skies?

What one or two things can you start doing when experiencing feelings of self-doubt or anxiety? Share your thoughts below. I’d love to hear what resonates most with you!

The Present Driven Life

Thousands of inspirational books have been written to help people realize their “true potential” or find meaning in life. While the concept behind this is intended to encourage and uplift, I have started to notice that this thinking can actually be quite stressful and lead to a lot of self-doubt and depression. When we get lost in the idea of our goals or the results or even our own potential, we lose sight of the action itself taking place in this moment.

What if the purpose of your life is simply to be fully present in whatever it is you are doing right now and have a willingness to enjoy and learn from the life happening to you?

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Many times in my adult life I have asked myself if I am living up to my “true potential.” This happened again recently as I found myself once more shifting gears and changing careers. I found that as I questioned my potential and whether or not I was fulfilling it, I felt stress and angst about life. Then I listened to a Byron Katie podcast and heard something that changed my life. She reminded me that by being 100% present no matter what I am doing — whether it’s washing the dishes, listening to a friend, or teaching a class — I was “reaching my full potential.” I let out a huge sigh of relief.

It seems like many of us struggle at times with this idea of finding a life’s purpose or knowing if we are realizing our full potential. I would like to share a few thoughts from Eckhart Tolle and Michael A. Singer that helped me shift my perspective and feel less stress and anxiety about trying to figure it all out.

  • “It’s not what you’re doing; it’s how much of you is doing it.”
  • “Give your fullest attention to whatever the moment presents. This implies that you also completely accept what is, because you cannot give your full attention to something and at the same time resist it.”
  • “There may be things to be attained or acquired.…Yet on a deeper level you are already complete, and when you realize that, there is a playful, joyous energy behind what you do.”
  • “When you are free of ‘becoming’ as a psychological need, neither your happiness nor your sense of self depends on the outcome, and so there is freedom from fear.”
  • “Life itself is your career, and your interaction with life is your most meaningful relationship.”
  • “Don’t waste a moment of life trying to make other things happen; appreciate the moments you are given.”
  • “What actually gives life meaning is the willingness to live it.” 

When we believe we are living a life without meaning or feel anxious when we do not know what our purpose is supposed to be, we can get into a spiral of negativity. But when we make a choice to be present and accept what is, we can begin to fully experience the life we have and, by doing so, lead a “meaningful” life.

I encourage you to take 20 minutes to listen to “I’m Not Living Up to My Full Potential” with Byron Katie for additional perspective on this topic.

What is one thing you have done recently and did the best job you could in that moment? Join the conversation by leaving a comment.

 

Why Presence Matters

Oxford dictionary defines "presence" as: "the state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing." Another way of defining "presence" from Inner Frontier is: "inhabiting our body, heart, and mind, inhabiting our space, inhabiting our actions and inhabiting our life, not just passively letting it all happen."

ImageWhile I might be somewhat of a "novice" and am just beginning to dip my toe in the art of presence, I have already experienced the life-changing impact that it has on my life and want nothing more than to help others experience it too. It is clear to me that it only takes a single moment to experience the power of presence in one's life and feel its profound effects. Once the choice has been made to experience life with more ease and joy, it is something that anyone can do - you don't have to have a PhD or be a guru, monk, therapist, licensed coach or anything other than what you are this very moment. You simply need to make the choice to inhabit your life actively, without judging it, and continue to make that choice each and every moment.

Up until about 6 months ago, I was a self- (and sometimes other-) diagnosed worrywart, perfectionist, depressed, bi-polar individual who struggled to be in the moment and enjoy life. From an outside perspective it might have seemed at times as if I was "living the dream" - traveling to foreign countries, having a nice job and living in a beautiful city. But, I struggled to find joy in it. I was lonely, sad, dissatisfied, and at times quite depressed. My thoughts and emotions often controlled me, at times leaving me paralyzed, angry, and confused.

One day, a friend of mine suggested a book to read and I jumped at the opportunity. The book is titled "The Untethered Soul" by Michael Singer, and it suggested some not-so-new (but new to me) ideas around being in the present moment, creating space around my thoughts, and becoming more aware. This laid the foundation for the shift that was about to take place. I then read Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" immediately followed by "A New Earth" which became the building blocks for my new way of living.

After a few short months and making the daily choice to be more present, I found that I was not experiencing stress as I used to. I was significantly more at peace with my life situation and ease was found in nearly everything I did - from conversations with co-workers, to people and ideas coming into my life as if by magic.

In my experience, being mindful and choosing to live in a state of presence has reduced my stress and anxiety, brought more ease and joy into my life, improved the experience of my life situation, expanded my possibilities, helped me build resilience towards the challenges life throws my way and created space for creativity.

All we have is the here and now and I have learned that when I am open to the moment and honest and non-judgmental with myself, life becomes easier and more enjoyable. My situation didn't change - I was still in a job I wasn't thriving in, I was still without a life companion, I was still figuring myself out - but my awareness shifted and I became wholly accepting of each and every moment.

Psychology Today says, "the way to uncover brilliant sanity and to alleviate suffering is by going more deeply into the present moment and into ourselves as we already are, not by trying to change what is already going on."

You don't have to have 30 years of experience studying with Buddhist monks or a psychology degree to experience this sanity. I read a few books and articles and make a conscious choice each day to live in the now to the best of my ability - without judgment, without resistance, and without attachment. And, it has changed my life.

Can you recall a time when you chose to accept the present moment as opposed to resisting it? What was your experience when you made that choice?