2. What if I struggle and struggle and seem to get nowhere?
When a problem arises, most people can figure out what it is, and try to fix it. If your house needs painting, you paint it. If there are dirty dishes in the sink, you wash them. If there’s an argument between you and your friend, you talk it out.
But thoughts and feelings are different than unpainted walls, dirty dishes, and misunderstandings. Very often, the thoughts and feelings we really don’t want to have stick around—and the thoughts and feelings we really do want to have stay away. it is seldom that happy thoughts keep people awake at night. Usually it is anxious thoughts or self-doubting thoughts that play themselves over and over again, keeping people tossing and turning throughout the night.
Why is this? There are several scientific reasons for this that have been researched (you can read about these in our ‘Resources’ section). But we’ve found that it’s often easier to see why thoughts and feelings change by doing some exercises and ‘looking at’ your thoughts and feelings from a different perspective.
Below are two kinds of situations. In the first cartoon, the man is being pressured to do something in the outside world. In the second cartoon, the man is being pressured to do something about his emotions in the internal world, between his ears.
Problems in the outside world can literally be grabbed hold of and solved. If your house needs painting, you simply grab hold of a brush and a paint can and do the job. You may not feel like doing the job, but you can just do it anyway.
In the cartoon below, the man is being threatened into painting his neighbours house. Now he may very well not want to do it, but he can do it.
But thoughts and feelings can't be grabbed hold of. You don't have the same degree of choice. If you were hooked up to an "anxiety detector" (a polygraph machine) and told not to be anxious (or else!), how anxious would you feel?
What if our thoughts and feelings are a natural response to the seriousness of a situation? What if they come up whether we want them to or not?
What if there are two rules in operation here?
The rule of public experience: If you are not willing to have it, you are usually able to get rid of it. For example, you can always get rid of an ugly sofa, clean a dirty house, or drive to the store and buy groceries. Often, if you do not like something going on in the world ‘outside the skin’, you can simply identify what the problem is, and change it.
The rule of private experience: If you are not willing to have it, you have it - sometimes even more of it. How many times do you get anxious that you will get anxious ,or afraid that you will be afraid? The more you try not to have a feeling or a sensation it can seem as if you just get more and more of it.
Our lack of control may be disappointing. Yet it is possible that if we let go of unhelpful attempts to control, we may free ourselves to do more of what we love. If we let go of the struggle, we have a chance to do something else with our energy!