Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (from Random House in October ...Read More
What helps you carry your load?
Feel the support.
We’re all carrying a load, including tasks, challenges, worries, inner criticism, mistreatment from others, physical and emotional pain, loss and illness now or later, and everyday stresses and frustrations.
Take a moment to get a sense of your own load. It’s very real, isn’t it? Recognizing it is just honesty and self-compassion, not exaggeration or self-pity.
There’s a fundamental model in the health sciences that how you feel and function is based on just three factors: your load, the personal vulnerabilities it wears upon – such as health problems, a sensitive temperament, or a history of trauma – and the resources you have. As a law of nature, if your load or vulnerabilities increase – over a day, a year, or a lifetime – so must your resources. Otherwise, inevitably, you will get strained, depleted, and ground down. I’ve had times like this myself, and I’ve seen it in loved ones.
Outer resources are things like friends, health insurance, and a well-stocked refrigerator; inner resources include fortitude, positive emotions, and a kind heart. Do what you can to increase your outer resources, though many people have sadly few options there, such as the million or so children in America who are homeless every year. Meanwhile, you can grow your inner resources by taking in the good to build up inner strengths – including the felt sense of support.
The more you feel supported by the people that care about you, by the natural world, and by your own capabilities, the better you’ll feel. Plus your load won’t seem so heavy, and you’ll be more able to carry it. There’s also the matter of justice: if the support is real and is there for you, it is only fair for you to feel it. And the more supported you feel, the more supportive you’ll be toward others.
In the practices that follow just below, you are not overlooking the ways that you are not actually supported. You are just focusing on that part of the whole truth that is the support that truly does exist for you. In particular, you are trying to help this recognition become an experience, a feeling of being supported, which might be subtle, but could still have a sense of ease, relief, calming, or happiness in it.
Try to make feeling supported a regular part of your day. For example, yesterday I went out for a walk and took a few seconds here and there to feel supported by my legs, the air I was breathing, the rock and roll mix in my earbuds, the technology that brought me this music, and the chance to watch some baseball with our son when I got back home.
Start with something that is literally solid and concrete. Sitting, standing, or walking, become aware of how your bones are holding you up. Shift your posture until there is a clear sense of being firmly supported. There could also be a sense of uprightness, dignity, or strength. Really register this whole experience of very physical support.
Also be aware of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling. Pick a sense and notice how it keeps working for you, probably without any effort on your part.
Know what it is like to support someone in your life: things don’t have to be perfect between you, but you still wish this person well and are basically on his or her side. Then bring to mind someone who you know cares about you. Also touch on others who wish you well, like you, or are rooting for you in some way. Soften and open to get a sense of this support; just like it would be OK for another person to feel your support, it is alright for you to feel the support of others.
Problem-solving or worrying – like thinking about how to pay the bills or nudge a relationship back to a better place – is necessary for coping, but it puts a natural focus on what’s not supportive. So stop problem-solving for at least a while every day. Even consider a whole day of rest! If your mind goes back to chewing on the worry bone, that’s natural. Just notice it and then guide your mind to where you do feel supported, even in the simple pleasure of a glass of water or a cookie.
When you are doing problem-solving or worrying, try to be aware of what is supportive, such as your own capabilities or the caring of others. For example, if you are grappling with a health problem, you could keep bringing to mind the sense of vitality in other parts of your body, or your determination to do whatever you can to deal with this issue, or the concern and kindness from your friends and family.
Try to feel the support that is coming to you . . . from yourself. You can know deep down that you are on your own side, that your benevolence and advocacy extend to yourself as well as to other beings.
Explore other sources of support, such as the sense of being nourished by the natural world, held by the earth, at peace in awareness itself, and if it’s meaningful to you, cradled in something spiritual.
This practice is down-to-earth and always available to you in one way or another.
And it can become something quite profound. Imagine going through much of your day with an ongoing feeling of being supported. Whew. What a relief!