We went into nature with Older Child all day yesterday. We woke up and hit the road long before sunrise.
We birded in a national forest all morning. Birds were scarce; trees were abundant. We saw not a single person or other vehicle all morning on the forest roads. We drove with the windows open despite temperatures below freezing.
We relaxed some. Older Child’s acceptance, positive attitude, and love were the perfect recipe for unburdening. The lack of other people’s energy and the inclusion of nurturing energy from the 3 million-acre forest (that number is not a typo!) contributed.
Then we looked in the big lake for visiting sea ducks and found one.
Then we drove around looking for owls. We didn’t find any. We didn’t mind. It wasn’t the finding that was important to us.
When we got home, stress greeted us. We have trouble not personalizing other’s stress. So we personalized it and tensed up almost right away.
The tensing up allowed us to notice we had experienced less stress during the day.
We resisted the stress, which intensified it and creates suffering. We noticed this and tried to remember that everything is impermanent: the relaxing day in nature was over but it did happen; the stress of right now was real but would also end if we let it.
We tend to assume stress is the permanent default for our life. We cage it, examine it, hold it close. We make it the default somehow.
Why would we choose stress?
Stress is familiar
For us, the pain we know is often preferable to the fluctuations and unpredictability of emotional states.
There is no disappointment if/when stress ends
When pleasure ends, there can be resistance or mourning. This is less often the case for us when stress ends. We can sometimes lean into the pleasure of birdwatching or into sexual intimacy with Spouse. These are our two primary sources of pleasure.
We are “in charge” of our stress; therefore, we cannot be a victim of other’s actions
Others did contribute directly to our stress, when we were younger and did not know how to choose to be safe. Trauma was stressful both when it occurred and after and still is stressful (the S of PTSD).
So if we choose stress now, then we won’t blame those involved in our trauma or those we live with whom we might blame for our stress. That has led to anger, and we used to yell at our loved ones.
In reality, current stressors don’t “cause” stress; they are like clothes hangers that are familiar places we used to hang our clothes so that now we put our clothes on them whenever we see them, and then walk around naked (metaphorically).
The interpretations of other’s actions are in our brain. Cognitive distortions live—thrive—there. So when we go to blaming mind, and start to get angry at people, we work around it by choosing stress or thinking we deserve stress or are stress itself.
Other ways to be have to exist. Getting to them is the challenge of a lifetime.
These strategies are well ingrained. Choosing anything else is hard. Still, we set the circumstances for less stress with Older Child yesterday and maybe can make such choices again.
It’s harder to choose less stressful options at home because other people are always here. This is where we must practice then since this is where 99% of our life happens now.
We will try to check in with ourself—me’s are often getting our attention by ringing our ears. Being attentive to our needs may help us notice what is and help us make choices that are less stressful.
To change to less stress, we will have to convince enough people inside that choosing stress is not the safe default we think it is. This is hard.
We also know we have to keep it simple. There are so many rules and so many things to work on to try to improve our quality of life that we get overwhelmed and discouraged easily. Progress is hard to see while evidence of suffering abounds. We are pessimistic by habit.
So noticing things in the present may have to suffice for now. It is a first step to making other choices.