I’ve recently been practicing with repeating the word “allow” in my own head.
I was struck by this passage in a book: “‘Outside the body, the rule may indeed be, “If you don’t like it, figure out how to get rid of it, and then get rid of it.’ Inside the body, the rule appears to be very different. It’s more like, ‘If you aren’t willing to have it, you will.’”*
What I think this means is that whatever emotions or sensations we resist most we will have–anxiety, tension, anger. There is something about the resistance itself that fuels the power of the emotion or sensation.
The wisest people in my life, the teachers, the mentors, the spiritual leaders, they all seem to continue to point to this same thing. We have to make the “u-turn” and be with our own pain instead of fleeing it all the time. When we resist, we increase our suffering.
In the Buddhist spiritual tradition this is often taught with the equation: suffering = pain x resistance. The idea is that pain is inevitable in life. We will have losses, we will make mistakes, we will get angry, we will embarrass ourselves, we will fail. But the more we can allow those failures to be there, the less we resist them, the more we decrease our own suffering.
This week I started working with some new clients one-on-one. When I started this business I just pictured myself teaching group classes, but I’ve had people start to ask if I was available to work individually with them. Starting to do that has brought me such joy because I feel like I can listen to exactly where they are at that day and what is most weighing on their hearts and minds and then tailor the tools and practices that I draw on for their particular situation.
But I noticed a lot of my own anxiety come up with trying something new like this, as I often feel with taking on a new challenge at work. How do I decide what to charge? How can I make sure the sessions are valuable enough for them? Am I good enough to coach executives or people struggling with chronic pain? I have personal friendships and connections with some of these people. How can I create enough safety in the relationship that they can tell me if they aren’t finding the sessions valuable?
I’ve worked enough with my mindfulness practices to have the benefit of being able to see these thoughts as they come up. The seeing is such a gift. They tie to old scripts about pleasing everyone around me and being perfect. About having higher standards for myself than I would for anyone else in my life.
This week as I watched these anxious thoughts come up, and I worked with not resisting them. I felt the sting of their content and the anxiety in my body and gently said “allow” in my own mind, sometimes over and over. I turned down the resistance to the thoughts and emotions being there, and just gave them space. When I noticed that I was clenching my jaw in tension, I changed my message from “relax, release this” to “allow.” I wasn’t encouraging myself to clench my jaw, but I also wasn’t putting so much energy into fighting it. I also practiced with saying “allow” during moments of joy or excitement. Yes, you can have permission to be joyful. You can be excited without scanning for a dark underbelly. You can even stretch out that joy and savor it.
I think the power in this word or practice is that we get sort of confused and trained to think that when anxiety or physical tension or other difficult things pop up, that that means that something is wrong, something is bad, and yes, perhaps we are bad too. I think the power of the allow practice is that it communicates to the body a softening around whatever is present. It’s not wrong to feel anxiety. Anxiety is an important part of the human experience. It is ok. We are ok.
*Hayes, Steven C., Ph.D. with Spencer Smith, Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life: The New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2005.