Regard Yourself as a Cloud


Positively Present Alan Watts Clouds

 

Regard yourself as a cloud.  Clouds never make mistakes.  Did you ever see a cloud that was misshapen? Did you ever see a badly designed wave? No, they always do the right thing.  And if you will treat yourself for a while as a cloud or wave, you’ll realize that you can’t make a mistake whatever you do.  Because even if you do something that appears totally bizarre, it will all come out in the wash somehow or another.  Then through this capacity you will develop a kind of confidence.  And through confidence you will be able to trust your own intuition.

Alan Watts

 

Over the past few months, I've been listening to a lot of Alan Watts videos on YouTube. Most of them say very similar things, but the underlying theme is the same: acceptance

You don't know what's going to happen. You don't always (ever?) know what the best decision is. The infinite number of possibilities in life can feel overwhelming. Most of us are so overwhelmed by them that we just ignore them entirely, convincing ourselves that we have no choice but to stay where we are, to do what we've always done.

But we always have a choice. And choice, odd as it might sound, can be a terrible burden. That is, until you start listening to Alan talk about clouds and water and explaining just how essential acceptance is. If you never know what's going to happen (regardless of the path you choose), how can you do anything but accept what's going to happen? 

Every struggle we face -- both internal and external -- stems from a lack of accepting what is. You don't always have to like what is, but if you don't accept it, you will be in a perpetual state of stress and anxiety (which, to be honest, is what a lot of us are in a lot of the time.) 

Rather than reading my thoughts about what Watts has said about acceptance and choice, I recommend you check out this beautifully edited video featuring his words and consider how choosing acceptance -- regardless of the other choices you make -- might improve your life. 

 

 

If you can't see the video, click here to watch. 

 

Choosing acceptance, even in the most positive of situations, is no easy task. We're taught from day one to always be striving, to always seek improvement, to analyze and assess, to judge ourselves and the world around us. But imagine if you could truly embrace these words...

When you look at the clouds they are not symmetrical. They do not form fours and they do not come along in cubes, but you know at once that they are not a mess. [...] They are wiggly but in a way, orderly, although it is difficult for us to describe that kind of order. Now, take a look at yourselves. You are all wiggly. [...] We are just like clouds, rocks and stars. Look at the way the stars are arranged. Do you criticize the way the stars are arranged?

Alan Watts

What would your life look like if you accepted the world (and yourself!) as it is? What would it feel like to choose acceptance over anxiety, to feel peace instead of the constant push to do or be something else? 

 


Thought-Tinters: 8 Things That Impact Your Thinking

Your Toughts Colored By

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Whenever I do interviews, one of the questions I get asked most frequently is, "If you could give out one piece of advice, what would it be?" It's a tough one to answer, but my instinct is almost always to say, "Pay attention to your thoughts." It sounds like simple (or perhaps even strange) advice -- after all, aren't we always paying attention to our thoughts if we're thinking them? But, if you think about it (ha!), we actually don't pay attention to our thoughts very often.

Maybe when we're infants or children we pay closer attention because many of them are so new, but as adults, we've often grown so used to the voice inside our own head that we don't give it much thought, particularly when it comes to thoughts we have frequently. And paying attention to our thoughts can actually be challenging if we're not used to it. I learned best how to do this by reading Byron Katie's Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. That kind of grandiose subtitle is often a stretch but, in this case, it happened to be true. Reading that book, and learning how to pay attention to my thoughts, really did change my life.

If you've been wondering about how to change your own thoughts (or just curious about what it would be like to better understand your own mind), I'd highly recommend reading that book. But if you're short on time, here are a few things that might influence your thoughts. Taking note of them (and perhaps changing them if you don't find them to be positive and beneficial to you) can really help you understand more about how you see the way you think. These are just a few of the various aspects of life that can influence you (some others include your culture, time period, what you eat, who you surround yourself with, whether or not you use mind-altering substances, etc.), but these are, in my opinion, some of the most important to reflect upon in order to better understand yourself. 

 

LOVE

What you love -- or don't love -- impacts the way you see the world. There's a reason that the phrases "rose-colored glasses" and "blinded by love" exist. What we care about (or don't) influences how we see the things and people around us. Just think about a few things you really love (right now I'm envisioning dogs, rainbows, and a big stack of books from the library). You probably feel really positive and joyful thoughts about them, don't you? Whenever you encounter those things in the world, you'll be predisposed to enjoy them because you already have positive experiences with them. This isn't to say this is a bad or a good thing. It's just something worth noticing as you go about your day-to-day life. 

 

SEE

Likewise, what you see is going to have a big influence on your thoughts. If you witness something horrific (or watch it on the news), you're going to be impacted by that image. If you see something outrageously wondrous, that image is likely to stay with you for awhile. You cannot control everything you see, but you do have the ability to make choices when it comes to a lot of what you look at (and surround yourself with). Pay attention to what you spend most of your time looking at and consider how it makes you feel. Do you feel uplifted? Informed? Interested? Bored? Overwhelmed? Knowing that what you look at influences your mental state can be the push you need to pay attention and look at what is positive and productive for you. 

 

DO

If you've never done something, it's going to be pretty difficult to understand what it's truly like. For example, I've never had a baby, and though I ask my friends and family members for all of the details, I'll never fully understand what that experience is like (no matter how vivid the thoughts in my mind!) unless I do it for myself. Understanding this notion -- that you cannot 100% understand until you do it -- can be really helpful not only in interacting with those who have had experiences different from our own, but also when trying to share our experiences with others. Our thinking can, for better or worse, be limited. Sometimes this can be a good thing, but recognizing it can help to improve our interactions with others and help us assess what kinds of actions we want to experience first hand. What you do shapes you, so choose wisely. 

 

READ

Reading ties closely with seeing, but it's worthy of its own category because it influences me so deeply. I read a lot of books. I always have and I hopefully always will! What I've read -- whether it's nonfiction, fiction, a newspaper, magazine article, back of a cereal box, etc. -- has had a humungous impact on who I am as a person. Reading makes me more empathetic and open-minded. While I cannot fully understand the experiences of others (even if I've had them myself, since we are all so incredibly different), reading allows me to have a better understand of things I will never live through myself. Reading is, in my opinion, a gateway to open-mindedness. The more you read, the more you know, I believe Dr. Seuss once said. Personally, I avoid reading things that scare or upset me, but that's my preference. Whatever you choose to read, it's helping you to think differently and in new ways. (Did this just become a PSA for reading? Yes, yes it did. Go to the library!)

 

HEAR

Just as what you read and see contributes to how you think, so, too, does what you hear. Whether it's news, YouTube videos, podcasts, music, the voice of a loved one -- it doesn't matter. It's changing how you think about the world and about yourself. Which means it's very important to select what you listen to with care. You don't have to limit yourself (after all, the world is a really big place and there's probably all kinds of cool things to listen to that we don't even know about!), but pay attention. Every single word that you here influences you in some way. Some more than others, yes, but all of it matters. Take notice of what you listen to most and, most importantly, what you're thinking about when you listen to it. 

 

FEEL

Feelings and thoughts are so closely intertwined that sometimes it's hard to know the difference. A thought is typically complex, while a feeling can be narrowed down to one word. A thought: "I have so much work to do that I'll never get it done." A feeling: "Overwhelmed." They're certainly linked and one can impact the other, but often the gut instincts, those feelings that arrive without us even realizing it, influence our thoughts. For example, you often feel overwhelmed -- a tenseness in the shoulders, a clenched jaw, a snippy attitude -- before you can form the thought, "I am feeling overwhelmed right now." Pay attention to the ways feelings and thoughts work together and look for the truth and root cause (Katie's book referenced above can really help with this.) Feelings aren't facts, but sometimes they can appear that way to our thinking minds, so it's vital to recognize the role feelings play in your thoughts. 

 

KNOW 

The more you know, the easier it becomes to understand the world (and the notion that so little of it can be fully explained!). The Red Hot Chili Peppers have a song lyrics that goes, "The more I see, the less I know," and it's honestly one of my favorite lines ever because it's oddly true. What you know matters (just consider how much more you understand as an adult compared to your childhood self) and that shapes who you are. What you don't know also shapes who you are. So many of the worlds biases and prejudices are based on what's not known. Knowledge is power, sure, but the most powerful knowledge you can have is recognizing how little you know and how your small amount of knowledge transforms the way you think. 

 

WANT

And, finally, what you want (and value) has an incredible power over how you think. If money and success is important to you, those things will be the focus of your thoughts. If you family is your focus, your thoughts will prioritize them. If desperately want a relationship, finding a partner will always be on your mind. If you desire to make a positive change in the world, your thoughts will home in on how you can do that. What you want guides the choices you make. No one thing is better than the other to want (no judgments here!), but taking note of what you want (or think you want) can be an essential element of understanding your thinking and how it shapes the way you're living. 

 

 

As you can see, there are so many factors that go into every single thought in your head. It's hard to imagine fully understanding all of it, no matter how much soul-searching we do, but it is worth paying attention to how (and why!) we think what we do. Our thinking shapes our actions, choices, feelings, relationships, and so much more. The better we know ourselves, the more we can shape our lives to live the way we'd like to. If you're struggling with self-awareness or self-love, shift your thinking with one of my workbooks, available for purchase here (or by clicking one of the images below!). 

 

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Assist, Don't Resist: Adventures in Accepting Anxiety

Positively Present - Anxiety Might Look Like
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For as long as I can remember, I've been anxious. During some periods of my life (like now) it's worse. Other times, it's just a faint trace, like someone's perfume lingering on you after a hug. 

For as long as I can remember, I've been trying to elude my anxiety. I've tried almost everything. I've tried mixed drinks and drug cocktails. I've tried sleeping too much and sleeping around. I've tried therapy (which does, to some degree, help) and soul-searching (also helpful, in its navel-gazing way). I've tried shopping and scrolling. I've tried yoga (also useful in the moment) and meditation (albeit, only a handful of times). I've tried snacking and starving. I've tried calming apps and I've read (and probably written!) beat-your-anxiety articles. I've gone for long walks and I've sat by myself in silence and I've tried new things and I've clung to old comforts. Maybe I haven't tried everything, but I've put in a lot of time trying to avoid or quell my anxiety. 

And guess what? I'm still anxious.

Not all the time. And not always in the same way, but it's always there. Maybe there's a part of me that, deep down, doesn't want to let it go. Or maybe I literally cannot let it go. Either way, it seems to be here to stay and, after three and half decades of trying to outrun it, lately I've been thinking... what if I just stopping trying? 

Resisting it obviously hasn't been working for me. Sure, I've been able to dodge anxious feelings by altering my mind or distracting myself, but the anxiety always finds a way to come back, no matter how hard I try. So what if I just accepted in instead? This obviously isn't ground-breaking idea -- the notion of accepting anxiety has been around forever (god knows, I've probably even written about it somewhere), but this is the first time in my life I've actually felt like, hey, maybe I really can just stop resisting this and see what happens. After all, what have I got to lose? 

Acceptance of anything, but particularly of difficult things, is rarely easy, but here are a few things I'm going to try in an attempt to assist, rather than resist, my anxiety. Yes, it seems like a bit of a backwards idea, trying to help my anxiety instead of hinder it, but, at this point, I'm willing to give anything a go! 

 

REFRAME IT

It's only in recent years that I've come to realize how closely connected anxiety and excitement are to one another. If you pay attention, you might find that you feel similar when you're excited and when you're really anxious. So I'm going to try to use that to the best of my ability and try, when possible, to reframe anxiety as excitement. This won't always work, of course, but when it comes to certain things (for example, a speaking event I'm nervous about or a party I should attend but feel too anxious to go to), maybe it will help to try telling myself that I'm actually excited, rather than anxious. (Because, to be honest, something I think I am actually excited and I'm so used to being anxious that I confuse the two!)

Here's an interesting article, "How 'Anxious Reappraisal' Can Turn Anxiety Into Productivity" on this subject, if you want to learn more about this idea of choosing excitement over anxiousness. It claims that reframing anxiety as excitement can lead to improved performance and productivity. While I can't vouch for that yet, it does make sense. And I like the idea that, in reframing the anxiety, you're not attempting to get rid of it but rather to use it to your advantage. 

 

LEAN INTO IT

The article mentioned above also discusses what is going to be my second anxiety-acceptance tactic: leaning into it. Trying to get myself to calm down or chill out clearly hasn't worked for me. (Or, rather, it doesn't work in the long-term, as there are definitely some things that can calm me for a bit, but they never last.) According to the article (and some other sources I've explored), it's easier for the brain to go from one amped up emotion to the other (going from anxious to excited is easier than going from anxious to calm, apparently) so, rather than trying to chill out, I'm going to try amping it up (in a more positive way though).

I could see how, depending on the situation, the person, and the level of anxiety, this might not be a good idea, but for me personally I can see it potentially working. I have a lot of energy and thoughts and ideas (sometimes it feels like my mind is just one giant exclamation point!), and trying to work with them instead of trying to get rid of them might just work for me. I also read about this idea of inviting the symptoms, in which you're supposed to pay attention to the symptoms and take control of them by attempting to heighten them. This seems a bit of an odd trick, but the whole "using paradox" thing might be interesting to explore as another way to really lean into the anxiety. 

 

SIT WITH IT

And, finally, I'm going to try to just sit with it and let it happen. One of the most difficult aspects of feeling anxious for me is knowing that it's irrational, unhelpful, and not productive. I know it's a waste of time and stressful not only for me but for those around me, so I try to resist it. But I think, much like trying to untangle a knot by aggressively tugging at it, this just makes things worse. Whenever I feel anxious, I try to undo the feelings as quickly as possible, which, so far, hasn't really worked out for me. I'm going to try to stop fighting it and see what happens. I'm going to sit with it, even if that means literally just sitting and doing nothing, and I'm going to try not to judge it. 

I'm going to try, best as I can, to observe the anxiety and, if possible, even try to enjoy it. Weird as that sounds, so many good things (like the illustration above -- my most liked post on Instagram so far!) come from my anxiety. It's always been a part of me and, while reading First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety the other day, I pondered my answer to the question, "If I could give up my anxiety completely, would I?" There are times that I would probably say yes and, sure, maybe I would be better off without it, but I also know that it's part of me, like it or not. Maybe it won't always be, but, while it's here, I might as well try to find the good in it and make the most of it. 

 

I know these ideas won't work for everyone (and they might not even work for me!), but I figure that if something (resisting anxiety) really isn't working, it might be worth trying to do the opposite (assisting anxiety) to see what happens! If you have anxiety, what do you think of the notions of reframing it, leaning into it, and sitting with it? Do you have any other ideas for coping with anxiety without trying to run from it? I'd love to hear your thoughts or experiences in the comments section below! 

 

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