Philip Seymour Hoffman, an actor whose work I enjoyed very much, died this week, apparently from a drug overdose. The efforts to get rid of unpleasant feelings and to replace them with pleasant ones can take a powerful toll on a human life. I once read that no one has ever died of having a feeling, but plenty of people have died trying not to have one. I am not writing this to suggest anything about Mr. Hoffman other than that he was human.
We all chase sensations -- trying to get certain ones and get rid of others. Each of us chooses our own strategies -- we seek admiration, affirmation, affection, power, material wealth, fame, influence, foods, drugs, success, conquest, and on and on. There is another option. Rather than chase, it is possible to allow whatever shows up and meet it with presence, positivity, and purpose. By practicing in this way, you are engaging and strengthening the circuits of the brain that perceive possibilities, opportunities, and new connections. When we practice desperately pursuing certain sensations and resisting others, we engage the circuits in the brain that perceive the world in terms of problems, limitations, and old restrictions.
Allowing a powerful emotion does not mean that you have to stop everything to feel it. Of course you are free to do so. And you are free to continue to act on things that are important to you in the presence of any sensation. Even though we have been trained, and we have trained ourselves, to seek comfort and resist discomfort, each of us has a profound capacity to rewire the brain we possess. One powerful practice to rewire the brain for wholehearted engagement and enjoyment is:
Bring attention and curiosity to:
The events happening in this moment.
The story your nervous system is telling you about what is happening.
How your nervous system is telling that story (thoughts and sensations).
Take a breath and accept the presence of events, thoughts, and sensations.
Open your posture.
On the in breath, relax your belly.
On the out breath, relax your shoulders and smile.
Connect with gratitude and compassion.
Be clear about what is most meaningful and important to you.
Identify the smallest next step of action
Schedule and initiate that action
Dave Mochel is the founder of Applied Attention; a company dedicated to teaching and supporting the transformational practice of being present, open, and purposeful. He translates research in neuroscience, behavior, and performance into simple principles and practices than can be incorporated into any activity or organization. The result of his work is reduced stress and anxiety with improved performance, relationships, and quality of life.
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