Want Mental Health? Lessons from a King
There is a story of a king in an ancient land who had 3 sons. The first son was handsome and intelligent and liked by many people. The second son was also handsome and intelligent and liked by many people. The third son was neither handsome nor intelligent and many people were averse to him. As the men came of age it was time for the king to give them their own space. For the first two sons the king built great big castles nearby and had regular visiting times for all the townspeople. When it came to the third son the king explained there was no more space close by in the town, but he would build him a great big castle right outside the town and provide him with a small army of guards to prevent against any attacks. After a year, the son wrote to his father and said the situation was untenable because there were too many attacks. The king decided to build a bigger castle and send a larger army of men to defend his son, but this time, 50 miles away. After a year, the son wrote to his father with the same response. The father decided to then build an even larger castle with an army twice the size over 100 miles away. Again, a year later, the son wrote and said the natives were attacking him multiple times a day and feared for the lives of the army men as well as his own. Finally, the father decided that it would be a better strategy to bring his son home and learn to love him rather than trying to push him away and avoid him.
How does this story relate to us and our emotions? Often times, in an unconscious way, we try to avoid and push away our uncomfortable emotions only for them to squeak out in other ways such as greater stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and addiction. What no one taught us growing up is that these uncomfortable emotions are a part of us. So ignoring them or even hating them is really ignoring or hating ourselves. This doesn't help alleviate or heal these emotions. The problem comes when we have had traumatic experiences with anxiety or depression or maybe were told at a very young age that expressing certain emotions was not Ok, so we kick into auto-pilot when these emotions arise and repress and suppress them.
Sometimes it's difficult to even recognize our emotions because we were never taught about them so we need a vocabulary to work from. For a vocabulary of emotions, click here.
We need to radically shift our perspective on how we relate to emotions. In being mindfully aware of our emotions, we set aside our lenses of judgment and learn to "be with" the feelings as they arise. Instead of hating and shunning them, we try a completely different approach of acknowledging, welcoming, and even embracing them. How could we possibly embrace uncomfortable emotions? The logic here is that when we are uncomfortable, what we need is love and care not being ignored and hated. However, to give ourselves this is easier said than done. First we can begin by just acknowledging and name the emotions as they arise. Then we can try the radical shift of welcoming and embracing these emotions (aka "ourselves"). It's almost as if we are re-parenting ourselves with unconditional love.
This may not be an easy process, but if we can become present to the way things are and change the way we relate to our dis-ease, we will cultivate greater peace and harmony within ourselves which is critical for our mental (and physical) health.
As always, share your thoughts, comments, and stories below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.