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Monk Notes 07 - The Fears of Growth

The first step of growth is facing what we’d rather not see.

From a young age, most of us developed a norm when handling our biggest emotions: we avoided them.

We did this to protect ourselves, or to protect others, or to better fit into our social group. Our motivation was good. But avoidance always hurts us in the long run.

One model suggests that the way we cope with big, public emotions is by turning them into more private ones. We transform outward anger into self-plaguing anxiety. We swallow our joy into guilt so as not to make anyone else uncomfortable.

But, no one wants to sit in anxiety and guilt forever. So we numb, distract, rationalize, crack a joke. This protected us for a long time. We learned to feel safe in our avoidance.

That’s why the first steps of growth are often so painful: all the things we’ve been pushing down or looking away from suddenly come roaring back. We likely didn’t realize everything that was underneath our defenses and inhibitions. It can be frightening to see ourselves and our situations as they truly are.

An inconvenient truth of growth is that things often seem to get worse before they get better.

As we engage the places that scare us, we are frequently confronted with a cocktail of negative emotions.

This painful kickback often dissuades us from pursuing the path we know is good for us in the long term. Our brain, which favors pleasure and flees from pain, yells from the command center that we must have certainly taken the wrong turn. Alternatively, moving away from this precipice of change may even provide us with some positive short term feedback... a rush of relief, a return to relative comfort. Our short term experience deceives us.

But as long as we avoid what we’d rather not face, we carry with us a malaise in our bodies and minds, a feeling many people describe as being “stuck.” Frustration, persistent stress, overindulgence, numbness: these have become our norm.

To break through we need courage and clarity, both of which come as we learn to reframe these hidden places as our allies instead of our enemies. While it’s counterintuitive, we can learn that the pain we feel initially is actually the pain of growth, the germination of a new possibility in our lives.

We can then learn to make reality our friend, and as we do, the cycle of inhibition and defense will slow down, allowing us to live honestly and relate to others more sincerely.

This week, what’s one relationship you could take a closer look at? It could be a partner, your job, a family member, or even your relationship with God. What would happen if you decided to turn towards that instead of looking away? Might the pain be worth it to get to the other side?

All the best,

"The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is." - Kurt Vonnegut


The Change Triangle -Hillary Jacobs Hendel

The emotion-inhibition-defense cycle comes from a psychological model called AEDP, and has been popularized by Hillary Jacobs Hendel. We can identify where we are in the cycle to help us return to what we truly need to face. LINK

Mindfulness And Meditation Can Worsen Depression And Anxiety -NewScientist

A not-insignificant number of people report that mindfulness actually has the opposite effect than intended. Solitude can bring up painful feelings, causing us to face what we’ve been avoiding; one solution is using more guided or active meditations. LINK

10 Unconventional Habits to Live Distraction-Less -Becoming Minimalist

Want to rid yourself of distractions so you can have more whitespace for growth? Here is a short-list of 10 habits you might want to try on. LINK

Featured Art: "Red over the Mountains as if the Forests are Dyed" Li Keran 1989