We live in a world where external stimulation can create opportunities for stress in any moment. And the war we are engaged in against COVID-19 has opened our eyes to a whole new level of stress.
Yet, the external world around us is ultimately not responsible for our suffering. It is our response to it that causes the biggest problems. Your response is your responsibility, and a choice. I believe this deep in my core, and this understanding has changed my life in countless ways.
I believe there are three basic ways that we induce suffering upon ourselves on a regular basis. My hope is that as we work together to slow the spread of this virus, you have more awareness and a greater understanding of how your response can lessen the personal impact.
1. The Illusion of Control
The illusion of control is widespread. We have this idea that we can work hard, and what we do is so important that through force of will, we will ensure things will turn out as we want.
The truth is—we’re never in control! There are only 2 things that we control: our attitude and our response.
Everything else, if we’re lucky, is a matter of influence at best.
When the illusion of control collides with reality, it highlights one very important truth: You’re responsible for what you do and the actions you take, but you need to release yourself from the outcome as you have no authority or control over it.
We can either deny that fact, or we can embrace it.
2. Imposing Our Expectations on Others
Often, we mentally consider what we would do in a particular situation or with a certain task and then assume that standard for others. This is futile.
Are your relationships based on expectations or agreements? Expectations lead to disappointment; they also create external blame and place all the responsibility outside yourself. But don’t we want to live our lives in a way that maximizes our responsibility and influence?
The alternative to expectations is agreements—co-created, mutually-agreeable arrangements between key players. In an agreement, people come together and negotiate what is desired and when it will be delivered.
Agreements work because they are promises created out of mutual respect. Agreements infer that you were seen, heard and respected. Consequences are rarely necessary in a true agreement because people give their word based on the best information available. People honor agreements far more than expectations.
3. Our Inability to Simply Accept What Is
As Eckhart Tolle states, “Accept the present moment as if you had requested it.”
Our thoughts are easily consumed by how things “should be.” The problem with this is that the present moment is already here. The situation is what it is. It may be different moving forward, but this is what we have now.
This is about accepting or surrendering to life and using what you have available to you for your benefit instead of struggling against reality to get the exact outcome you need.
The words “acceptance” and “surrender” may have negative connotations – they can imply defeat, giving up, failing to rise to the challenges of life. But I’m not suggesting that you passively put up with whatever situation you ﬁnd yourself in and do nothing about it. Nor should you cease making plans or initiating positive action.
Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to, rather than opposing the ﬂow of life. It is to relinquish any inner resistance to what is. This resistance comes through mental judgment and emotional negativity, but the moment the judgment stops through acceptance of what is, you are free.
Surrender is a purely inner phenomenon. It does not mean that on the outer level you cannot take action and change the situation. In fact, it is not the overall situation that you need to accept when you surrender, but just the tiny segment that is this present moment.
I repeat the mantra below when I catch myself frustrated by being stuck in traffic, getting in the wrong check-out line, or fretting about the weather.
“I accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation.”
I challenge you to reflect on which of these three is your “go to” suffering strategy as we cope in these unprecedented times. It may be helpful to look at yourself through the lens of your Enneagram Type. Which one of these do you oppose or breach most often to create unnecessary stress?