Our feelings seem to be the stuff of life. They mark our biggest milestones, whether it’s getting our first promotion, giving birth, or experiencing the death of a loved one. Our feelings clue us into our lives and what action we want to take next. Without them, we would likely exist like a buoy in an ocean, bobbing up and down endlessly. Instead, our feelings infuse us with the energy of the waves, sometimes crashing violently onto the shore and at other times breaking like a gentle caress. Again and again, we feel the ups and downs in response to whatever Life is bringing to us in that moment. We feel emotion in response to what we are bringing to ourselves. Our feelings are how we know we are alive.
Sometimes we experience extremes of emotion that seem to take us over. Maybe it’s that feeling of frustration at the child who won’t stop crying, embarrassing us in a public place and drawing disapproving glances from those around. Or extreme bliss when we fall in love, which suddenly infuses us with the energy and creativity to accomplish long overdue projects. These extremes of emotion can often feel like in that one moment, the particular feeling is who we are. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. You are not the emotion itself. Who you are, is the experiencer of the emotion, the intelligence behind it. Just as the ocean is not each wave crashing against the shore, you are not the emotion passing through you at any one point in time.
It is important to understand this difference because the implications can change your life. Once you understand that your feelings are merely a part of your energy moving through you, you can recognize that they are drawing your awareness inward for some purpose. The frustration at the child might be a sign that you have been neglecting your own needs. The utter bliss of falling in love can be an expression of deep gratitude for Life and a sense of connection with all beings. You can use your emotions as a roadmap to your intuitive self. When you feel a strong emotion, focus your awareness on it and the location it occupies within your physical body. This alone can be a transformative practice for many, but once you locate the emotion, become open to the message it is trying to communicate to you. Likely, it is acting as an invitation for your awareness to address unmet needs, or to connect more fully to the flow of life. And while your role as the experiencer is not to appease the individual emotions that may arise, it is to derive information so you can make conscious decisions about your life.
You will begin to notice that your emotions filter through you like little pieces of information. Truly, they are sensory signals from your body to foster awareness where there had been none. For this reason, our emotions are the greatest gift our soul has to offer us. It is a direct translation of an immaterial, metaphysical aspect of our existence into one that is concrete enough to allow our consciousness to rest on it for continued forward progress in our self-development.
You are not what you feel. But what you feel is the roadmap to being who you are. Each emotion that you experience, whether you label it negative or positive, is part of your soul’s vocabulary that you must learn how to read in order to fully express your true, immaterial essence into your real, expressive self.
As adults, most of us have stopped dreaming. We don’t imagine the wildest scenarios that we could find ourselves in tomorrow, next week, next year, because we know we are supposed to be more practical than that. We become burdened by the responsibility of adult life, of paying the bills, securing insurance, and making sure a roof is over our heads and food on the table.
Some of us have a stronger need for this type of adult security than others, but we all have that inner dreamer hidden within. The dreamer that thinks of the best possible scenario, whether its falling in love again after a divorce, moving to a new city with exciting job opportunities, or growing the family with another child. Our dreams change as we age, as we evolve as people. But for so many of us, the dreams begin to lose their vibrancy and texture once we enter adulthood. It’s almost seen as silly to have a dream as an adult, as if somehow by not currently living the “dream”, we have failed. We begin to domesticate our wildest dreams, to house train them so that they can fit into what life currently represents for us. But having a dream as adults is so important for our overall health and well-being. Having a dream means that we are connected to some deeper part of ourselves that knows our full potential. And the more urgency we feel to live out that dream, the more we know the current situation has been limiting us for far too long.
Finding your dream is both hard and easy, depending on how you look at it. The easy part is that your dream is already within you, waiting to be explored. The hard part is that often we are unconscious to the dream, and we need to interpret Life’s signs and symbols to help make it a reality. The latter requires immense faith in ourselves, faith that we can know something so intangible about what others would call mere coincidence. But to those of us who are in touch with the dreamer side of our personality, we know there is no such thing as coincidence. We know that a dream is on the horizon, and we just have to follow the signs to find it.
Start to pay attention to the little signs that Life directs your way. When you sense you need to follow in a certain direction, allow the dreamer in you to take charge. Allow yourself to dream as big as you possibly can, to look to the future with anticipation and glee that it will be more amazing than you could even possibly realize now. Finding your dream begins with the permission to dream big. There is nothing holding you back, there is no one else you need to please, just dream big and take one step closer to the life you have always wished to live.
Following your dreams doesn’t mean it will always be easy. But the darkest night of your soul when following your dreams, will be nothing compared to the darkest night in a life you weren’t meant to live.
Creating a vision is an important coaching tool that helps each client connect with their innermost values and desires, and links it to their motivation to make the vision a reality. Some may find this exercise easy, while others will struggle with visualizing clearly what it is they want most for themselves. It requires a shift in thinking. The center of the vision is ultimately you, after all, and no body else. Not your family, friends or significant others. This vision is all about what you want in life, and this can be a hard shift to make for those who have spent much of their lives focused on the people around them.
A clear vision is so important to create because it actually begins to train our brain and nervous systems. We all have well worn paths of thought we tread down again and again. This is no coincidence – this is merely how the brain works. The more we think and do things, the easier it becomes to think and do those same things again. By creating a detailed vision that reflects what we want most in life, we are allowing our nervous system to lay down new tracks that we can hopefully reinforce with further thought and action. The more we focus on this vision, the better chance we have of bringing it into reality.
Understanding some of the neuroscience behind habit change is important, because we find that ultimately creating good habits that lead us to our ultimate vision is not just a matter of willpower. We can actually set ourselves up for success. We can begin making progress, even if it seems slow to us in the moment, towards a larger vision that has the power to transform our lives. We begin to see that we have always been moving forward, but without a clear vision, we weren’t going in the direction we wanted. Choosing where you want to be in life is something only you can do. No one else can choose for you. Therefore, its best to create a vision that reflects your wildest dreams and impossible hopes, because truly, within a vision, nothing is impossible.
Distress needs no introduction to most of you. You see that word, and right away images come to mind of what your particular distress is. Maybe its being stuck in an awkward conversation with someone you hardly know, with your cheeks aching from that fake smile. Maybe its feeling trapped in your home, with toddlers who won’t eat their lunch or listen to anything you say. Maybe its being stuck in traffic, on the one day you were able to leave work early to hopefully catch a yoga class. We all know distress really well, and the consensus opinion is we could use a lot less of it if we want to live longer and healthier lives.
Eustress, on the other hand, is a word many of you may be unfamiliar with. This is described as “good” stress, the kind that challenges us and motivates us to grow. It’s the type of stress we feel when we sign up for an athletic event, giddy with anticipation for what we will achieve. It’s being promoted at work, knowing that the responsibilities will be greater, but so will be the rewards. Or its finally taking the time to write the novel you have always wanted to write, for better or for worse. Experiencing eustress is what cultivates many positive traits that contribute to longer and healthier lives.
Now, here’s something that will surprise you… Your body can’t tell the difference between distress and eustress on its own. They are both stress. Your body will likely go through the same stress response in both scenarios, whether its an increased heart rate and respiratory rate, dilated pupils or increased circulation to your extremities. Your body is preparing to handle the stress, no matter what form that is. What is it then, that determines whether a stress is distress, or eustress?
It’s your mind. Your perception. How you view a stress ultimately determines whether that stress will fall into the distress versus the eustress category. If you see the stress as a threat, your body will kick into survival mode and divert its resources to either fight or flee from the stress. We can agree that this type of response, when chronic, ultimately leads to poor health outcomes. On the other hand, when we view stress as a challenge that we are fully equipped to handle, we may experience some of the same physiologic changes, but we no longer need to engage the fight or flight system. Instead, we activate the parts of ourselves that see deeper than the surface, into the meaning behind the stress. We see the potential for learning and growth. We know we have a unique opportunity to experience the rich complexities of life, and we look forward to the challenge, unafraid. The main difference between the negative or positive effects of stress comes down to your own perception.
I won’t try to convince you that being stuck in an akward conversation, or soothing a fussy child, or sitting in traffic, isn’t stressful. These scenarios definitely have components to them we can all identify as negative. The challenge is to find meaning in each one of those scenarios, and recognizing that each distressful situation offers us an opportunity to evolve our views. We won’t be able to do this all the time, but we must commit to trying to do it as often as possible. Chances are that when you are in that awkward conversation, you will relax and potentially discover something interesting and genuine about the person you are talking to. Or that your calm presence will aid in ending the tantrum thrown by your angry toddler. Or that when you are stuck in traffic, you will use that time that you have to yourself to reflect on life, listen to a radio program, or sing out loud to your favorite song.
When you encounter a stress, no one else but YOU has the power to decide how it will affect your body. It can either be an accumulating negative force on your body leading you to various chronic illnesses, or a momentary challenge activating you to rise up and find a deeper meaning.
Your body is prepared to meet every challenge that comes your way. Why not in turn help your body by shifting your perspective of stress. By learning how to convert distress into eustress, you no longer have to stress about all the stress! Just find even a little deeper meaning behind your challenges and you will be well on your way to living a longer, healthier life.