A friend was telling me today about how their sister could spend hours outside reading and enjoy it and she can’t. I thought it was lovely that she could see this. Lovely, not because her sister could enjoy something that she couldn't, but because it shows that it isn’t an activity that brings us enjoyment, but the state of mind we’re in during the activity.
When we explored the difference in her sister's state of mind and hers, it was clear that her sister was calm and settled but that when she thought about going out to read for a few hours, she was looking at it from an anxious, overwhelmed state of mind.
If we’re in a nervous and anxious state of mind, whatever we do will have us feeling nervous and anxious. How could it be any different? So, if we're looking for relief from anxiety, it isn’t by looking for something different to do, but looking for a different state of mind to do the activity from.
And how do we find a different state of mind? What works best for me when I feel anxious or anything other than calm and satisfied is to look for what’s really true about what’s happening. Questioning if what I’m thinking is really true or not. Not questioning whether the facts I’m thinking about are true, but whether what I’m telling myself the facts mean is true.
For example, if I’m upset waiting in line at the market, which can happen from time to time, if I really want to feel better in that moment, I’ll look to see why I’m upset. It’s usually something like, I have more important things to do. Or it may be that I’ve agreed to meet someone and I’ll be late if things don’t move more quickly. I can get really upset about things like this.
And it’s true that I may have more important things to do or that I’ll be late getting to the meeting, but the anger or annoyance is because I’m believing that not getting these “important” things done means something about me or my future. Like my future won’t be as good as it could be if I got them done right away. Or, that being late will upset the person I told I’d meet and they’ll be upset with me and it could affect our friendship.
When I see the truth about the situation, first, that nothing is really wrong or dangerous in my current situation, I begin to see that I’m upset because I made a rule or have an expectation that isn’t being met. And that leads to thinking that something in my future will be affected in a negative way.
And that’s made up. I don’t know if there will be negative impact from this situation. And there are often simple solutions that will remedy the possibility of it having negative impact. For example, I can let the person know I’m going to be late and what can we do? It may turn out that they’re running late too and it’s a benefit to meet a little later. Ever have that happen?
So, the bottom line for finding a better state of mind when I’m out of sorts is to get present and look at what’s really going on instead of following the anxious thinking that’s racing through my head. It’s like stopping and considering which way to go at a stop light by evaluating the situation instead of listening to a backseat driving telling me to “turn right, turn right, you’ve got to turn right or else.”
And, from that better state of mind, I naturally enjoy what I'm doing more. My circumstances don't need to change for me to enjoy my life. But when I'm not enjoying it, my state of mind can change, opening me to what I'm looking for: the natural enjoyment of life in this moment.