Change Your Relationship With Life

Change Your Relationship With Life

Recently I’ve been tapping into a more relaxed/joyful state of mind, often thru a mindful activity that involves movement – a hike out in nature, or a really good yoga session. Nothing outwardly in my life has necessarily changed, but I feel much more relaxed, fun, playful, connected, greater sense of joy and ease. I think it’s what Stephen Porges calls the Social Engagement System being turned on. I can feel a shift in energy that is different from states of anxiety or nervousness or fear. I feel a lot lighter, smile a lot easier.


And I find myself wanting to hold onto that energy, hold onto these pleasurable states, get myself to be there all the time. Bottle up that experience of the energy I have, and the effect it has on those around me. But that exposes a misconception – thinking I can control or force the state I’m in, or have control over how others around me act.


There’s a fine distinction here – I can do the things in my life that I enjoy, and those pleasurable states are more likely to arise, as Dan Siegel says when we allow energy and information to flow freely, but I can’t force any particular state of mind. It simply arises. Or when it comes to others – people might respond to me based on the energy or state I am in, but their response is of their own volition, there is a million other factors at play, so I’m not ‘getting’ them to react in the sense that I can’t control how they respond. They are just responding.

Which brings us to an even deeper truth –


That state of joy, the state of being, of social engagement and connection is always available to us. It’s not part of my experience. It’s not dependent on something outside of me. It IS my experience. It is accessible at any moment, and any place. Often times, it’s those things we search for in life that we think will ‘make us happy’ – meaningful relationships, friends we can count on, loving family, a career where we can have an impact – but maybe those things don’t make us happy but arise from that state in us that is already happy – something we can’t fully control, yet also a function of living our life with vitality.


This ties to what Sam Harris has said about non-duality as it relates to our experience of life:

“…there is no one standing on the riverbank, watching the contents of consciousness flow by. There’s only the river. You’re not aware of consciousness and its contents. You are aware AS consciousness and its contents. In the sense that there is something being aware is itself more of the contents. Right now, you are not having an experience, from someplace outside of experience. You are IDENTICAL to experience.”


The external things we often seek or avoid aren’t the cause of your happiness, and they aren’t the cause of your suffering or pain. Those external things are often the OUTCOME of how we live our lives, and are often the contents Harris refers to. These things are often just happening – like energy flow. It’s why many have said it’s not what happens to you in life (external, contents), but how you respond that counts (internal) – many times it’s how we respond to the events of life, thru our stories, narratives, or beliefs can block that energy flow or keep us stuck.


The point here is there is a misconception that life is good only when everything is going our way. That need for life to ‘go our way’ is more of the contents. Life is neither good or bad, life simply is. When focused purely externally, become attached to how things ‘should be’, life will only be good in the moment we attain whatever outcome we think will satisfy us, and then it’s on to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. It never ends.


But like the non-duality that Harris talks about, the very feeling that life needs to go a certain way other than how it is actually going can separate our sense of self from our experience. But you aren’t separate from experience, experience isn’t something outside of you to get, you ARE experience.


You can’t control specific events, or people, but when you realize that you are no different from experience, and remain connected to experience – things start to shift. The very act of resisting or forcing or trying to control life’s experiences is what often leads to suffering. And the irony is the more you stop resisting, stop grasping, stop forcing or trying to control – not only brings more ease in life, on the whole more things will likely go your way because you have unblocked the energy flow that Dan Siegel talks about – in touch with yourself (energy within), connected to those around you (between), and not separate from experience.


So that state of joy, ease, peace and calm is always available. You ARE that state. You’re not having an experience, you ARE experience. You are that ever-present state regardless of external circumstances and suffering often comes when we lose sight of that, when we attach ourselves to other people, places, things, ideas that we think once we get will make everything good.

This is why meditation is so powerful, and how you can change our relationship to life – those states of joy, peace, ease are always available. How you access those states are a function of the way you live your lives and where you place attention:


Living life is about doing those things you value. And it’s not necessarily one big thing, it’s everything. Whatever it is – yoga, meditation, nature, exercise, reading, working with your hands, building things, fixing things, helping others, dancing, tai chi, martial arts, music, writing, art, food… The more you fill your life with things that bring joy, the more you access those states. Simple, but not always easy.


How you pay attention is also important – if you’re constantly thinking about that guy who cut you off in traffic the other day, you are constantly practicing that state you were in when that guy cut you off. If you’re constantly focused on people who treat you poorly, like family members, and how that reinforces a negative self-image – you are constantly practicing that state. If you are constantly focused on bad experiences at work, or from childhood, you’re in that state.


Sure you want to learn from suboptimal experiences – while our thoughts about negative experiences (real or imagined) may be an attempt to learn how to do things better, in reality they are more about reliving experiences in a way that retraumatizes us over and over, keeping us stuck in life, stuck in negative states, or stuck in narratives that don’t serve us.


If you aren’t able to direct or focus attention, the states you continually experience will be either on autopilot, or dictated by the ever-changing circumstances around you including things you can’t control – states like stress, fear, anxiety, distrust, or disconnection. But you can change that. It just takes practice. Repeated states become traits!


A famous saying in neurology is where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows –the more you do things you love the more you are practicing certain pleasurable states. And how you direct and focus attention dictates your ability to access those states – it becomes easier to dip into those states.  


So the things you do in life, and how you direct and focus attention (energy) can change your relationship to yourself, to others, and life itself – even if nothing outwardly changes, your experience of life can change!


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