Transitions are ruptures, and through the fissure we’re given an opportunity to see ourselves more clearly. We see both our gifts and our challenges. We see where we shine and where we struggle. We see where we go when anxiety is high and the ground beneath our feet is more unstable than ever before. Whatever is needing attention along the pathways of our emotional and spiritual journeys is highlighted.
For many of my clients and course members, this means not only seeing how their lifetime of being acquainted with anxiety is serving them but it is also revealing the multiple offshoots of being on the sensitive-anxious spectrum, one of which is the tendency to absorb other people’s lives and stories during this particularly scary time when we’re all vulnerable to challenges around health, money, security, and stability.
The highly sensitive is always prone to taking on other people’s stories, for one of the great gifts of being highly sensitive is the high levels of compassion that are intrinsic to your nature. When the inner walls are more porous, it’s difficult to hear a story that taps into your own deepest fears and struggles and not take it on as your own.
We’re hearing a lot about how to create physical immunity during this pandemic, which is important. But for my clients and course members who struggle with anxiety and intrusive thoughts, it’s the mental immunity that also needs attention. The Dalai Lama speaks to mental immunity in The Book of Joy:
“This is how we develop mental immunity. Just as a healthy immune system and healthy constitution protects your body against potentially hazardous viruses and bacteria, mental immunity creates a healthy disposition of the mind so that it will be less susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings.
“Think about it this way. If your health is strong, when viruses come they will not make you sick. If your overall health is weak, even small viruses will be very dangerous for you. Similarly, if your mental health is sound, then when disturbances come, you will have some distress but quickly recover. If your mental health is not good, then small disturbances, small problems will cause you much pain and suffering. You will have much fear and worry, much sadness and despair, and much anger and aggression.”
Let’s break this down when it comes to intrusive thoughts, whether around the coronavirus or any other hook where you anxiety hangs its hat (relationship anxiety, money anxiety, health anxiety, sexuality, parenting, etc). The Dalai Lama is saying that the more you work with your mind and heart, which means committing to regular practices that grow your capacity to know yourself, love yourself and find your calm, wise center, the less rattled you’ll be when “disturbances” come in.
What Are Disturbances?
Disturbances are triggers that cause your anxiety to spike. For example:
You’re talking to a friend and she’s telling you about her father who was just diagnosed with the virus and is in the hospital hooked up to a ventilator. You feel a pang of fear hit your solar plexus, and before you know it you’re having visions of your father in the hospital hooked up to a ventilator.
Or you hear about someone your own age who contracted the virus and you think, “Oh god, that could be me.”
Or you hear about someone who has lost their job in a similar field and a pang of anxiety about your work security shoot through your system.
The examples are endless right now. We are all vulnerable to the virus itself and its ramifications, which is why it’s more important than ever to learn how to strengthen your mental immunity.
And of course absorbing other people’s stories doesn’t only apply to this pandemic. In my work around relationship anxiety, one of the most common anxiety spikes is hearing about a couple who broke up because “they fell out of love” or someone who left a relationship because “they just knew it wasn’t right and then they went on to find their true soulmate.” The list is endless here as well.
When you have mental immunity you’re strengthened from the inside-out and less permeable to every story and headline that crosses your path. Mental immunity means the waters of your inner well are so full that when you hear a story about someone else having a terrible case of the virus or you read a headline about the financial state of our world the flame of fear might enter but it is quickly doused by the waters of your inner well.
Let me be clear: This isn’t about not being rattled. We’re all going to be triggered by “disturbances.” But as the Dalai Lama writes, and as I’ve seen in my own life and in the life of my clients, when the waters of your inner well are full, you feel the trigger, you get knocked off center, but you quickly recover. A trigger doesn’t have to equate to days of suffering in the cesspool of an unfed and unattended well.
How Do You Fill the Inner Well and Create Mental Immunity?
Creating mental immunity hinges on learning how to turn inward. It means committing to practices morning and night that help you know yourself and love yourself so that you can trust yourself. This doesn’t happen through reading about inner work or talking about inner work. It happens when you embark on a journey that teaches you to excavate the root causes of your lack of self-trust, then offers you the roadmap and tools for repairing the crystal compass of clarity that is rightfully yours.
This is what I teach in my Trust Yourself: A 30-Day Course to Help You Overcome Your Fear of Failure, Caring What Others Think, Perfectionism, Difficulty Making Decisions, and Self-Doubt, a course that has guided thousands of people through the tricky terrain of the inner world and helped them to learn how fill the well of self. One of the extraordinary aspects of this challenging time is the number of people I’ve heard from who have gone through my work and come back to tell me that they’re managing these challenges with a fair amount of grace and equanimity because of the work we’ve done together, including the Trust Yourself Course.
We’re always being asked to turn inward. In a world that encourages us to track outward from the time we’re born, most people abdicate their sense of self early in life and look to others to fill their inner well. This never works, for the well that tracks outward is a bottomless bucket; it’s only when we learn to turn inward and trust ourselves that the need for external approval, perfectionism, and self-doubt fall away and the inner waters regenerate themselves.
If there was ever a time to turn inward, it’s now. Transitions burn away layers of distractions and defenses. What is left in the ashes are the glowing embers of what is ready to be healed. This might include grief from old losses, unfinished transitions, self-doubt, and the tendency to absorb other people’s lives. As Michael Singer recently said of this challenging time in his brilliant interview with Tami Simon of Sounds True: “It’s going to hit the stuff that’s left inside of you,” by which he means that this global transition is ripe with opportunity to see ourselves more clearly and address the glowing embers of wound that are left in the ashes.
This is what we’ll address together in the Trust Yourself course. The next live round starts on Saturday, April 25th, 2020, and I very much look forward to seeing you there.
Note: If you would like to take the course but the cost is prohibitive, please reach out to us using the contact tab at the top of this site and we’ll discuss options.