Choosing to be Present – Part 2

Woman waiting for train

Yesterday we talked about the value of being present in the midst of our activities – specifically physical activities such as running. Today I want to get a bit more curious:

If boredom and tuning in are such good things, then why aren’t we doing them more?

I think this question is key. Just like so much that I talk about here on Powered by Love, I always want to do so from the stand point of compassionate curiosity. That means that I want to start with the assumption that if it was easy for us to do the thing that was good for us to do, then we would be doing it already. It also means I want to assume that if we could find the reason that it was hard, then we might be able to shift our perspective or our experience in such a way that we could move forward in an area of our life that we’ve felt trapped or stuck in for way too long.

So I think that the reason that we’re avoiding boredom and tuning in is because they are hard.

Which might sound a little simplistic, so let me unpack that a bit.

Zomorodi mentioned in her talk that the more stressed we are and the more sleep deprived we are, the more likely we are to use distraction techniques. The more tired and stressed we are, the harder it is to be alone with our thoughts and more importantly, with our emotions. And since so many of us are uncomfortable with our emotions and so many of us lack emotional self-regulation tools, being suddenly confronted by our emotions about the fight we had with our partner the night before, or the fact that our child is struggling in school, or the fact that grandma’s in the hospital again and not expected to make it, or the difference between the bank balance and the bills that need paid can be really tough to handle. Especially when our brains then snowball into thinking about  how that relates to our dissatisfaction about work and the unmet desire that we had to be able to pursue our dream job because of our parents expectations that we get a degree in something ‘useful’ and settle down and buy a house and get married and start a family when what we really wanted to do was to remain single, go and work on a chicken farming commune and write existential poetry with an audience of 200 potential readers for the rest of our life.

Okay, so that might be an exaggeration, but you can see how we might start to work overtime to protect ourselves from going there because if we don’t have any tools to deal with this sea of stress and emotion then it might be safer to just never have to confront it at all.

Except that unfortunately, this is a really vicious cycle, because the more that we use those techniques, the more neuro-resources – in the form of glucose – our brains use, and the more exhausted and depleted mentally we become. (4:22) This makes it less possible for us to deal with the very stressors that we were struggling with in the first place. In other words, it’s sort of an ‘anti-emotional self-regulation’ tool.

It can be equally hard to deal with the idea of listening to our bodies.

So many of us struggle with the idea of being connected with our bodies. From a young age we are socialized to think of pain as a bad thing. We can live our lives in hermetically sealed, climate-controlled bubbles. We can choose not to go outside because it’s too hot or too cold or too wet. Most of us grew up with mosquito repellant to keep the bugs away, showers or baths every day and most importantly medication when we got sick and painkillers when we got hurt.

And I’m not saying any of that is inherently a bad thing!

But the problem is, all of those choices mean that we have a very limited range of tolerance for what we are ‘comfortable’ with.

That in and of itself would probably be surmountable, except that we then layer something else on top of it. We tell children to ‘stop whining’ when they’re tired or hungry or thirsty – teaching them to tune out of their bodies from a very young age, instead of helping them practice listening in and tuning in to the messages that their bodies are giving them. And then when we finally introduce physical activity, so often children and youth are encouraged to ‘push through the pain’ or play through their injuries or get back to training sooner rather than later.

In other words, we spend years telling kids that they shouldn’t listen to their bodies, after telling them for years that all discomfort is a negative that should be avoided. Which means that by the time we become adults we find ourselves unfamiliar with our own bodies, aware that we’re ‘supposed to’ exercise, but without any of the skills necessary to listen to what our bodies are telling us, or the mental and emotional skills needed to be present in the midst of the discomfort that training inevitably entails.

Tune in tomorrow for our final installment on this series.

Photo by hannah cauhepe on Unsplash

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