Our society and our education system offer next to nothing with regard to mental health and emotional intelligence. Instead we are force-fed like fois geese − not with grain but with facts. Not surprisingly, just like the geese, we become ill.
Approximately 70% of visits to the family doctor are stress related. An alarming statistic, don’t you think?
How does this happen? Our education is focussed almost exclusively on the rational mind, or as some perceive it, the left cerebral hemisphere. No time is given to the observing mind or the body. Although this is starting to change thanks to some dedicated and forward thinking teachers, most students will leave school or university without having once been taught about these vitally important ideas, perspectives and practices.
Instead of learning how to manage ourselves with intelligence and kindness, we are educated to become good employees and good consumers. Because we are low on emotional intelligence and identify too closely with our thoughts, we try to manage our lives with “things”. Our society’s strategy for managing stress could be accurately described as “take something”: medicine, street drugs, legal drugs such as nicotine or alcohol; sugar; or “buy something”. One human resource director once said to me without any hint of irony: “I don’t have a problem with stress. When I feel stressed, I simply go shopping”. Her comment and the sincerity with which she expressed it left me with my mouth open. The other favourite strategy that has been drummed into us is guilt, making us feel unworthy, which in turn, promotes merciless self-flagellation. These strategies do not help; instead, they lead to ever greater suffering and take us further away from real happiness, connectedness and purpose. But it does make us better, always hungry, consumers.
We have been brainwashed into believing that buying more stuff, ingesting some chemical substance are a solution. In reality, consuming and buying simply keep us away from lasting happiness and are exactly the opposite of what we need.
Most human suffering comes from two sources: too much thinking and trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings.
Thoughts: If you have practiced mindfulness and mindful meditation, you will know that what goes on in the rational mind cannot be relied upon. Although a useful survival tool, the rational mind can also be the source of much suffering, when we identify too closely with our thoughts.
Emotions: An emotion is simply the chemical reaction of your whole body to a perceived situation. An important point here to understand is that our emotional response is to the perception (our thoughts and beliefs) about a situation, and not to the situation itself. So how can we know what we really feel unless we have connection with our senses, connection to our bodily sensations. It is simply not possible. Your body cannot lie (unlike your rational mind). It can provide you with a stable, wise and truthful anchor in difficult moments. It is also the seat of your intuition. I have learnt to listen to my body; if my body and mind do not agree, I will always go with my body.
The practices you should concentrate on are: the body scan, being kind to yourself, an exercise known as “creating space”, analytical meditation and Kum Nye −things we teach here in Cantabria.
Links can be found here for the body scan and creating space practices. Make a commitment to at least one body scan a day and the create space practice (which lasts only three minutes) at least five times a day.
These practices will help you;
- feel greater sensational joy of life,
- always bring you back to the present moment
- attention to the body has a “centering/grounding” effect
- help you work better with your emotions; instead of unconscious reaction, you respond according to your values.
In other words, create conditions favourable to the experience of happiness!
Remember these exercises will only work with the right attitude:
- open curiosity (without judgement),
- kindness to yourself
- a sense of humour.
If you have any doubts, send me your questions. Better still join us on one of our retreats!
I wish you peace, health and happiness.