How do you take a tough situation — like dealing with debilitating pain — and make it worse?
Simple, just carry around mental and emotional baggage, and then let that baggage dictate your response to situations.
Suffering due to the mind, not the spine
My recent herniated and floating lumbar disc issues reminded me of this important lesson.
A few days into the ordeal, it dawned on me that my real suffering came from my mental state more than my pain levels. (…and yes, the pain levels were extreme.)
After the first sleepless night, writhing around on the floor, unable to find a way to lessen the pain, I unwittingly started down the path of making my situation worse.
I let my mind run wild.
I imagined worst-case scenarios as being inevitable.
I built up the situation beyond what it was.
I discounted all the helpful actions I’d taken in the past and forgot the lessons I’d learned.
I felt sorry for myself.
I ruminated on my suffering and didn’t work to see the possibilities of my state of affairs.
See, this isn't the first time I've encountered a situation like this.
Having prior experience with a severe spinal issue, I had the opportunity to utilize lessons learned, or to let trauma from the past impact my present.
Unfortunately, I chose the latter.
Instead of using the positive lessons from my past challenges, I gave into fears and guilt, which I unwittingly carried as baggage.
I focused on all the negative possibilities without taking into account all the positives that came from it.
From there I amplified those negatives — in other words, all the bad things that happened before were going to be even worse.
My previous severe spinal issue started with a few months of tolerable pain. From there, it escalated to levels similar to this time around — i.e. lots of writhing around on the floor, and no relief.
From there though, things quickly got worse.
Following the pain came the loss of sensation and functionality in my lower body. From there, an emergency spinal surgery to prevent permanent paralysis.
So, with that in my head, my fresh disc issues brought on a dose of fear and worry of what was likely to come — as well as frustration and guilt for being in this predicament once again.
The weight of past baggage
Bringing that baggage into the present caused multiple issues.
It increased my suffering and amplified my pain levels.
For example, due to the worry, I subconsciously tensed my muscles throughout my entire body. This increased my pain, cramping, and amplified my stress levels and related hormonal responses. All of this lead to my body being in a more antagonized state than necessary, and making my condition worse.
In other words, my mentality was negatively impacting my body in a very real, concrete way.
Additionally, giving in to the worries, past baggage, and the guilt resulted in my having a poor attitude and outlook.
As a consequence, I caused those around me to suffer even more from my situation. This of course lead to a vicious circle of feeling even more guilty and having an even worse response to my situation.
Furthermore, the mental and emotional weight kept me from focusing on healing. It kept me from relaxing my body and muscles to the level that I could have, and it kept me from addressing my pain in a mindful way.
A fortunate break in the downward spiral
Fortunately, a few days into this summer’s spinal issue, something — likely past mindfulness practice and the caring people around me — allowed me recognize what I was doing, and the impacts it was having.
I saw that I was bringing baggage from the past and making my present situation worse.
There’s no denying my situation and prognosis was less than ideal, and I was in severe pain.
However, that meant I needed to focus on taking small steps towards improving instead of making my own situation worse.
Recognizing this, I began the process of shifting my mindset and perspective, and thus really start the healing process.
Redirecting out of a downward spiral and starting to heal
Even without past practice though, it’s possible to break out of a negative cycle.
As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.
That means that regardless of what has or has not happened, the best time to start heading in a positive direction is now.
When working to shift out of a negative cycle, these are some actions I remind myself of:
- Pause and take a moment to recognize when you are carrying baggage from the past and letting it influence your present.
- Instead of dragging baggage, set it down. If you still look back towards the past, consider the useful lessons from previous experiences, and use those to help in the now.
- Make an active effort to let go of worries, fears, and doubts. Accept that if something is inevitable, it will happen regardless. Worrying only brings needless pain and suffering into the present.
- Stay realistically optimistic. Maintaining a positive state of mind makes it more likely that fears and worries won’t come true. In other words, your best chance at changing a future negative is to come with your best attitude and energy. Plus, positivity will bring greater relaxation, the release of helpful endorphins and hormones, and a greater clarity of mind.
Dragging baggage around from the past and letting it impact our present is incredibly easy to do.
For a multitude of reasons, we inadvertently weigh our present selves down with unresolved concerns from the past. We let these past things influence our responses to situations, alter the actions we take, and change our attitudes and behaviors.
Unlike utilizing helpful lessons we’ve learned, carrying this baggage harms us — and those around us — in many ways.
When we take steps to understand this, and recognize when we’re carrying past baggage, we can learn to set it down, break out of negative cycles, and begin the process of healing.
Key mindset shift:
- Let go of the negative and the baggage, and act with the positive.
Realizations to consider:
- Baggage from the past is different than lessons learned from prior experiences.
- We frequently worsen our suffering and circumstances by letting baggage from the past inject itself into our present.
- Letting go of baggage, worries, and fears, and acting positively, helps with healing.
Actions to take:
- Recognize when you’re carrying baggage from the past.
- Let go of worries, fears, and baggage.
- Use the useful and helpful lessons you’ve learned.
- Take positive action and steps.
- Stay positive and optimistic.
Fellow Journeyer @ BigSkyRise
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