Don’t Forget the Brain Chemistry!

When I sat down to do my practice on Sunday, I experienced feelings of sadness and anxiety. I have been experiencing these feelings pretty consistently over the last few months and along with this a real sense of self-criticism for feeling this way and a longing to feel a bit happier. I have an expectation that I should be joyful and not miserable, especially after quite a few years of practice and so then there is an underlying feeling of being a failure. I know that these are thoughts that I am buying into, but it feels so real and relentless. So, in my practice, I have been feeling the feelings and placing my hand on my heart and telling myself, that I am there for myself, unconditionally. I have been practicing softening, soothing and allowing and the self-compassion break. I have been reminding myself that I don’t have to buy into thoughts that I am a failure or that there is something wrong or that I have to fix the situation. At the same time, I have been practicing joy by reminding myself of what I am grateful for and appreciating the good things in life.

Sometimes it feels a bit desperate! I long for the period last year when I felt joyful almost all of the time and could see clearly when I was buying into worry thoughts and making a mountain out of something that might not be true. Given the length of my to do list, running the MA, and with teaching commitments, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the impossibility of getting everything done. When I am feeling joyful, I have a sense that I don’t have much control about how things turn out and so just do what I can day by day and the job seems to do itself. When I feel a bit low, I get caught in the delusion that I do have control and blame myself if projects falter or get delayed and the job feels like wading through treacle.

Anyway, on Sunday after sitting for an hour or so I went for a run. When I say run, I mean I started a ‘couch to 5k’ app on my iPhone, which means that I was mainly walking and then jogging for short periods in between. As I did this I was listening to some of my favourite upbeat tunes on my ‘running’ playlist. As I did this, I felt periods of joy and even euphoria. After doing this, I sat and meditated for a bit longer and my experience was of joyful clarity and tranquility. This felt a lot less like failure – a significant preference! I recognised that the endorphins released after my run had led to this change of atmosphere in my mind. This reminded me not to forget the brain chemistry!

nutrition

One of the best things we can do for low mood is some exercise and while it is important not to suppress difficulty, it is equally important not to wallow in it. Our inner resources of joy and happiness need constant attention if we are to skilfully go about the work of facing the difficulties we experience in our lives. So, next time you have a period of low mood, do some exercise – to your favourite music, if that works for you, and be curious about how your experience unfolds. Don’t forget the brain chemistry!

After writing this, I am reminded of Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s phrase of ‘real but not true’. Our perspective, our buying into an idea, unconsciously done, feels so real. The meaning we place on something, feels so real and important, especially if it is about ‘me’. But the switch of mental atmosphere after a short period of exercise reminds me that it is not true. It reminds me of how we create our own reality, moment by moment. It reminds me that in every moment we have a choice – to buy into our negative thoughts, or to do something different. Choosing something different that supports the growth of habits of love, kindness, compassion, joy and happiness is possible.

So what can you do that is different today?

Kind Wishes

Heather

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