Your three year old is smearing food on the wall instead of getting her shoes on. Your spouse walked away from you in the middle of an argument, again. That coworker is constantly thwarting your efforts. Your dog chewed up your shoes…
And you find yourself losing it…again.
It’s easy to think that these external events are causing you to lose it. But you’ve probably also had the experience of not losing it when these things happen. So what’s really going on here?
Here’s what I’ve learned. We lose it when we can’t tolerate what we are feeling.
We feel some kind of pressure, some kind of overwhelming confusion, some intense feeling that we literally cannot stand – so we blow up or distract ourselves or shut down.
There are many, many ways we have of coping when we can’t tolerate what we feel. And it’s a good thing we developed all these coping strategies – they’ve kept us going and got us to where we are today.
But we don’t want to lose it with our children. We don’t want to blow up at our spouse. We don’t want to feel estranged from those we love and we don’t want to do them harm.
We don’t like it when we lose it.
Remember, we lose it when we can’t tolerate what we are feeling. So how do we keep from losing it?
We could learn to gently widen our ability to be with what we feel.
A practice I often mention is to pause and feel. Simple. Pause – feel what you feel – bring a caring attention to all that arises. Hey, no problem!
Yeah, right… Sometimes pausing and feeling is not so easy.
I pause and feel this tornado of frustration. I pause and feel this dark, heavy, I-could-just-lie-down-and-not-get-up despair. I pause and feel complete overwhelm – I have no idea what to do with myself and it scares me…
These are some of the kinds of feelings that are so hard to tolerate.
And it can happen so fast, often we don’t even know what’s going on. We think the situation or the other person caused it. But if we look more deeply, we see that there are some very real feelings we are having a hard time being with.
So if we pause and feel them, if we can tolerate staying with ourselves when we feel that way, even if just for a few seconds – something important is happening.
We are gently and gradually widening our ability to be with these feelings. We are slowly getting to know what is really going on in our inner world.
And over time, we don’t lose it so easily. And we naturally become more compassionate when others are losing it – because we’ve gotten to know, intimately, what that’s like.
So the next time you find yourself about to lose it, or fully losing it, or you already lost it and now feel bad about it… try pausing and feeling. Just feel. Just be with that.