This article is written from out of personal experience and feeling of intuition for what has helped me to feel stronger and emotional more resilience. I don’t claim in any sense that I would know what works best for any other person. My aim in this article is simply to seek truth and to make sense in a complex life.
I’m walking down a forest looking for a place to sleep. The sun is setting and the soft orange en yellow light of the sun shine bright through with white snow covered trees. “Are you lost?” I hear a clear voice in front of me. A man with a forester hat and dark green clothes is walking by and asking me this question. He kinda looks like a forest man and walks with a muscled dog which is now sniffing at my bike. I somehow don’t like the way in which he speaks to me and from his facial expression I’m wondering whether this is a question or somehow a statement. Like he is saying: “You shouldn’t be here and it defiantly is not a good idea to sleep here.”
The path I follow isn’t really a cycling path either. And it’s all layered with snow what makes it impossible to even cycle. Maybe this man is really wondering if I’m lost? I don’t dare to take any risk to openly speak about why I’m here. So I’m telling him that I ain’t lost and am enjoying a nice bike ride in the cold. He looks at me like he is totally understanding that I’m trying to find a place to sleep and wishes me a good night.
In my search on how to adapt a more adventurous lifestyle during this pandemic I find myself often outside connecting with the natural elements. This particular week was especially wonderful because temperatures had dropped to -15°C. I was lucky enough to have planned three days of embracing this cold by cycling, sleeping and even taking a dip in ice cold water with a friend. Long time readers know that I really have fall in love with the cold. I mean, I generally try to embrace every season but winter is often a real treat. In December I went all the way up to Europeans highest mountain roads to ride and camp in proper snow. And the cherry on that freezing pie was a week of extreme cold weather in my home the Netherlands.
Why do I so much love being outside and facing the cold? I’ve been asking myself this question many times and in this article I go about an in-depth explanation on how this interest has been growing on me. The aim here is to have a better understanding in life and living a healthier life where mind, body and nature interconnect.
Mind and body
Let me start with something that I always try to be aware of. I live in a society where the conditioning of constantly wanting to feel better is the norm. With all modern life comforts my default mode has become to not be exposed to acute stress like far more often happens when living closer or in nature. When I’m out there in nature, for example dealing with -15°C while sleeping outside, there is this natural way my mind and body take care and that brings about a very powerful feeling. Here is the place or condition where I believe my body and mind are functioning at its best.
The paradox is that I have to push myself to do this because my primary instinct is a drive for a comfortable and as safe situation as possible. Our society is geared to this, because there are countless ways to enjoy ourselves comfortably. To name a few: food, sweets, coffee, social media, games, cigarettes, watching TV, Netflix, etc.
We all know that it’s not healthy for humans to sit inside and overly eat and consume information but our emotions tend to be drawn to it. I want to feel numb somehow but when I fall into this trap I directly feel psychically and emotionally more vulnerable. I get stressed more easily and over a longer period even start to feel depressed. Questions I then ask myself go from: “How come that conversation turned out in an intens disagreement?” to “Why my life is such a mess?”
Emotions are energy and become stored in the body. Our emotional pain body is stored in the cells of the body. Memories from the past and negative emotions can become fuel for our pain body, if they are not faced at the moment. The accumulated pain body is most of the time active in the background but when triggered can take our emotions completely over.
Because of the human tendency to keep old emotions alive, almost everyone carries in their energy field an accumulation of old emotional pain, what I call the ‘pain body.’Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth
Thinking is an important aspect of human being but as long as there is thinking about something we’re engaged in. That is being in the moment on a task or conversation. Thinking involves often a collection of memories from the past. Memory is useful if it helps us to prepair for the future to know wether or not we are moving forward. Memory is useless if it gives about a repetition to the past.
I feel that overthinking in this way doesn’t serve any greater goal than the creation of emotions which are then fuel for the pain body. I can experience a lot of negative thoughts and emotions and in a downward cycle in which my pain body becomes very active it draws me to staying inside and overconsuming all kind of things. These are distractions and it’s not wrong to have some amount of diversion but the point is to become aware of it. And also very important, without all judgement we often put on ourselves.
The pain body thus painful emotions cause us to seek numbness to dull the reality of these feelings. We seek a world where pain doesn’t exists.
In other words, feelings are developed through the actions we take: therefore I cannot use them as guidelines for action.”Jean-Paul Sartre in Existentialism is Humanism
How less we are able to face pain, how more we find ways to cope with pain in our day to day lives. Many ways do exist to cope with the hard but truthful feelings of pain and people tend to response very different to it. There is this simple distraction of binging a Netflix serie I often fall victim to but it can go much deeper then that.
What I’ve experienced around with others and in myself is:
- Getting extremely into some task (like work or working out);
- Shutting down and closing off from social contact or even the self;
- Being overly emotional about outside matters to avoid feeling own emotions;
- Addiction behavior, most easily seen with alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.
These are all ways to cope with our self and all emotions involved in ourselves and there are many more depending on different personalities and situations a person is can be in.
It’s a good thing to find relaxation in devotion or it may even be a distraction but it has to be accompanied with self-awareness and in the end self-acceptance. If that is not so, changes are high a so-called devoted passion may come with destructiveness to the self and most of the time also with others involved.
I’m sometimes fascinated by background stories of criminals where I can notice that they have suffered a great deal during their younger ages. Accumulated pain from trauma memories has made such an extremely pain body that it’s hard or even impossible to face this. And the story goes from there.
Overthinking which is accompanied in identifying with negative thoughts is a problem and triggers our pain body to be more active. When this proces is going on within myself, I come in a state of resistance to my own being. Deep in thought and worrying about my own shortcomings. I then have to remember myself that everything in life is temporarily. Pain is part of the ongoing cycle of pain and pleasure. With accepting pain and worrying too much about pleasure, it’ll come along.
The hardship of dealing with oneself and the copings involved are better to be aware of when there is a crisis going on like this pandemic. Hardship bring a lot of truth to the surface.
Awareness through facing our emotions can be an extremely uncomfortable and hard task. But this only can lead us the way to self-acceptance and out of complex copings with which we make the same unwanted mistakes over and over again.
How much truth does a spirit endure, how much truth does it dare? More and more that became for me the real measure of value. Error is not blindness, error is cowardice. Every attainment, every step forward in knowledge, follows from courage, from hardness against oneself, from cleanliness in relation to oneself. I do not refute ideals, I merely put on gloves before them.Friedricht Nieszche in Ecce Homo
Being healthy can’t be achieved by simply eating healthy or working out. My definition of being healthy and most important feeling healthy comes from the right communication between the mind, body and movement through life. Facing the hardships of life and moving through them is far more important as eating healthy and working out regularly. When there is no awareness, it just is another way to avoid facing our self and thereby accept ourselves.
The important thing is to know our self and to be aware of our ways of coping with stress and anxiety. We then can understand what works best for us in our practical day to day life and also have a healthy amount of expectations of what can be achieved. Therefore, all there is to do is develop enough self-awareness to take responsibility in each and every moment for the choices we make. As speaking for myself I’ve journeyed the last few years to become more aware of my own self as in how I cope with my pain body.
I’ve felt the more I got to understand my ways to cope with emotions the more I could know why I feel the way I feel. Or also just know that I feel how I feel and to be content with the feeling wether it is pain or pleasure.
Everything in today’s society is aimed at promoting happiness or reducing pain. You just cannot get rid of pain, if you try to avoid it you will only become more sensitive to it.Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
As speaking for myself, I love the strong stimulation of my senses by doing something exited or even considered dangerous. The cycling expedition I’ve taken to Russia and more recent to the Alps are ways to escape an often present and constant feeling of unease. There is a cheerful intoxication and a very sharp focus the moment I’m dealing with challenges in this kind of expeditions.
The question I’ve asked myself is, how could I bring this awareness into my daily life as to avoid a life of running away from my pain body and calling this an adventure while the reality is that I’ll never really face the pain that I’ve accumulated in the body I live in. And the goal here is not to take away the things in my life that make me feel good but the goal is to come to a healthy amount of acceptance of myself.
To break down the ways we cope with ourselves we can start to look at our habits. I’m an advocate of building a stable routine that, especially in this weary pandemic, saved me from feeling that my life is just a clusterfuck of feelings and leading nowhere.
A few things I’m focusing on when forming habits:
- Emotional health, finding inner peace with for example yoga and meditation;
- The abilities to communicate about my emotions to avoid bottling them up, so I can improve my relationship with myself and others around me;
- Physical health, spending time outside, walking, cycling, camping, cold exposure, etc;
- Eating and drinking prefarably in small portions;
- Financial stability, taking responsibility in giving this the right amount of time and focus;
- Find a proper amount of knowledge, to raise awareness about what can be seen as the truth pf things;
- Time management, discipline in time and building consistent habits around personal values.
What works and what not
If talking about emotional health we have to avoid spiraling down the repetitions of memories to the past. That can be like peeling one big endless onion that only leads us to feel more anxiety. I tend to focus on behavior and habits in a practical manner. If at moments I feel I’m repeating an endless spiral of past memories I try and anchor on my breath.
The problem is that we tend to identify with emotions and that only leads us to feel shitty about ourselves. The art is to not ignore, but embrace the feelings that come along and also not to dwell in them with self-judgement.
Starting each day to improve the awareness of the self I consider a healthy habit. I practise yoga most mornings that helps me a great deal to understand my own emotions and make my body more resistant. Also I’ve been falling in love with cold exposure so I do cold showers and when the temperatures are cold outside I like dipping in a natural lake.
The process of discovering what works best takes time because I believe it takes time to get to know yourself well. It takes time and also a lot of energy because it is a repetitive confrontation. That is not always nice, but what is nice is that at a certain point we do understand ourselves a bit and then we are no longer so impressed with ourselves. That saves a lot of drama.
There is this famous quote of Reinhold Niebuhr: ”God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”