When we believe our suffering is something happening to us, we’re living a victim mentality. Things, of course, happen to us that are beyond our control, but what we have power over is our response. It’s the difference between the man wrongfully jailed who becomes bitter, living a life of crime and feeling justified due to his original injustice, and Nelson Mandela—imprisoned 27 years and went on to become a leader, activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Our emotions are a natural reaction to the world around us, but we can choose whether we’re carried away by them or not. Many of us don’t feel this way, though. Many of us experience emotions that feel larger than us, especially if we’re experiencing a triggering emotion that brings back a memory of trauma or intense pain.
How do you choose not to rage over something that makes you angry? To not give into depression when you’re sad? To not panic when anxiety sets in?
Learn to choose your focus.
You can allow your mind to be in charge, or you can take the power back and choose where your mind focuses.
As with anything else, it takes practice.
A simple practice for this is to take a few moments and find a spot on the wall in front of you. Fix your gaze on that spot or object. Don’t move your eyes until you’ve decided what you’re going to look at next. Choose first where you will next move your gaze and then move your eyes. Notice how often your eyes wander without you deciding first. And when you notice your eyes wandering aimlessly around the room, simply find a new spot to fix your gaze and begin again.
Practice choosing your focus and you can learn to sit with your emotions and yet decide to look somewhere else.
Whether we are born with the hole inside us, or something happens to us in life to open it up, we’re accustomed to reaching for something outside ourselves to fill it. We’re conditioned to avoid pain, but to be alive means it’s unavoidable. We want to control everything around us so we don’t have to feel pain. Sometimes, the only thing we can do is sit with our negative emotions, but fixating on them can intensify them. However, rather than avoiding them, numbing them or squashing them, try allowing them to be with you while you choose to focus on something productive, something positive.
Choose to focus on what you can control. Allow what you cannot to take its course. Stay calm and breathe. This is acceptance.