By Gail Brenner
“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.” ~Hafiz of Shiraz
I have been on a quest to be happy for as long as I can remember. I thought I had looked everywhere. I tried relationships, work, adventure travels, and a life filled with friends and activity, but still I felt anxious. I was disenchanted with life. Even though I’m a therapist, years of therapy attempting to work out my problems didn’t give me the sense of peace I somehow thought was possible. I knew there had to be more, and I am delighted to tell you that I found it when I learned to get out of the way.
The Power of Habits Without my realizing it, I had been caught up in habitual ways of thinking and feeling that dominated my everyday life. My mind went on endlessly with judgments, expectations, worries, resentments, and stories about what should and shouldn’t happen. And I had overlooked the feelings of fear and uneasiness that were running beneath the surface almost nonstop. Life was happening, but with a constant inner commentary about how things weren’t quite right. No wonder I wasn’t happy.
Fast forward to now, and things are very different. No more useless worrying, regret, or getting caught in mental stories about other people or myself. Even my body has relaxed without that lurking agitation. Everything is so open, so fresh! And here’s what I discovered.
Finding Freedom Getting out of the way means becoming very familiar with your inner world. You discover what you do that makes you suffer so you can choose peace instead. Amazingly, you realize that you can press pause in any moment and step back from the momentum of old, recycled habits.
When you do, you see what is actually happening: the pain of being stuck in an old resentment that has been dragging you down, the constricting effect of believing your thoughts, and the chaos that comes from letting your feelings rule. With your eyes wide open, you are primed to live in ways that are intelligent, affirming, and aligned with your deepest desires. Finally, clarity arrives.
Getting out of the way looks like this: Ask yourself, “In this moment, what do I really want to feel?” The answer connects you with your true intention to be happy, peaceful, and clear. Already, you are halfway to being free.
Notice the thoughts and feelings that grab your attention. See how you get in the way of happiness. Do you live in a belief that you are inadequate? Do you tell yourself you are a victim of your past? Do you define yourself by sadness or fear? This is why you suffer.
Befriend your experience by noting what is present, but know that it doesn’t have to control you. Just for now, don’t hold onto your stressful stories. Let your feelings be without acting on them. This is the most loving way you can be with yourself.
Experience the space that remains when you are no longer hooked by thoughts and feelings. Even if only for a moment, you’ve discovered what it’s like to get out of the way. Here you are—whole and relaxed, ripe to enjoy yourself, to make wise decisions that come from love, not fear and limitation. You see that life can be so beautifully simple. You touch into the living possibility of happiness for you.
There is no need to change your thoughts or get rid of any emotions to get out of the way. Just become aware of your inner experience. Realize how defining yourself by it constrains you. Notice that you can make the choice to live fully now, beyond any self-imposed boundaries, with a clear mind and open heart. It is the effortless, practical way to happiness available in each moment. How to Do It: An Example
Let’s take worry as an example. I used to worry about everything; I was full of “what if’s”—what if my plans didn’t pan out, what if I made the wrong decision, what if I didn’t fit in, what if I couldn’t cope. It was endless.
I remember worrying years ago about whether or not I should attend a work-related social function. By that time, I knew that I could actually get out of the way, so I stopped and felt a moment of gratitude—this was my golden opportunity for freedom. I tapped into what I really wanted, which was to be peaceful, present, and clear. Rather than being consumed by worry, I chose to be curious instead. I noticed that my attention was completely taken up by negative projections about what might happen in the future. What if I don’t know anyone? What if I feel uneasy there? What if it’s a waste of time? My mind was flooded with these anxious thoughts. And when I stepped back to observe them, I saw that they squashed my enthusiasm, closed me down to opportunities, and inhibited me from going outside my comfort zone (which wasn’t so comfortable, anyway). Bringing attention to my feelings, I realized I was locked up in fear, with tension everywhere in my body. It was a light bulb moment when I saw how powerful these feelings were, even though they hadn’t been conscious to me before.
As I noticed these anxious thoughts and feelings, I took a breath. I shifted my attention away from them and returned to simply being present and aware. There was an immediate sense of relief. No longer feeding worrying thoughts, the tension subsided, and I found the clarity to make a sane, calm decision about whether or not to go. I saw that the unfolding of life right now was just fine. It was amazing to realize that worry was optional.
It took some time, but as I became more aware whenever worry started to grip, I began to see the opening of possibility. Instead of needing to figure everything out, I could relax and trust. Instead of being limited by fear, there was space for wonder, creativity, appreciation, and ease of living. I was shocked to realize how profoundly this pattern of worry had infiltrated my life. At first, only a tiny crack in the tsunami of worry appeared, but eventually, the whole thing collapsed. It just didn’t make sense anymore.
Things didn’t change overnight, but with care and diligence to worrying—and every other confused habit—it became obvious that they were not serving happiness. Suffering was the tap on the shoulder that brought me back to peace. When I saw that the habits were in my way, my interest in them waned until it disappeared entirely. Why? I am happy without them.
Finally Fully Living When you get out of the way, you stop resisting life. The focus shifts from what you don’t have to what is here and available. No longer doubting everything, you receive what life offers you. And rather than living in the mind-created past or future, you are available to the simplicity of this now moment.
Unclouded by mental noise, you become crystal clear about what to do next. You tell the truth about what is and isn’t working. And you take practical steps to begin truly living. As I became aware of habits that were hijacking my happiness, I discovered why my relationships weren’t lasting and began making different choices. I realized how fear had been keeping me from living fully. I began seeing everything through the eyes of love. Really, it’s true. When you get out of the way, your life will shine…endlessly. Photo here
About Gail Brenner Gail Brenner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and author who joyfully shares insights about discovering that suffering is optional. Find Gail at GailBrenner.com, where she offers articles, conversation, and free guided audio meditations.