Is There a Message in Disturbance? 

by Leslie Sann

“Life goes by fast. Enjoy it. Calm down. It’s all funny. Next.”
~ Joan Rivers

When we are upset, a key for calming down and lifting up is choosing to love ourselves. Especially in the midst of our upset. We calm the upset, as if it were a crying baby, by paying attention to it. Bringing our attention to that which is upset inside. Curious. Open. In wonder. What’s going on? What is this upset about?

Sometimes it is just the Mind Monsters growling for some food.

Other times the upset is bringing us a message.

We develop discernment to distinguish the difference.

I remember a time I woke up in the night anxious. Startled and now fully awake I tracked the feeling to the thinking. I became aware I was fretting because I hadn’t paid my phone bill. (That was back in the day when you had to remember to pay your bills.) In that instance, my upset was a messenger. The anxiety was tapping me on the shoulder attempting to get my attention. I thanked the message, got out of bed, found my check book and put the check in the envelope for the next day post. With a now quiet mind, I tucked back in and fell quickly back to sleep.

Ignoring this anxiety would not have served me. Sometimes our feelings and thoughts can be used as guiding mechanisms to keep us on track. Listening to the anxiety brought to my awareness important information. Message received. Phone bill paid. Connection to the world stays uninterrupted. Credit remains good.

Other times anxious feelings have to do with future thinking such as worrying. Worrying is another version of fear. Fretting about something that has not yet occurred. Thinking about thinking about thinking, thinking that somehow thinking is a way to avoid the dreaded future.

I could be anxious about my mom living by herself at this point in her life. Worrying she might fall. Alone, what might happen to her? Now the disturbing feelings have my attention. What am I going to DO about it? Doing matters. Paying my phone bill mattered.

In this instance, I can turn worry into useful action. My mother now wears a Life Alert. She has also created a ritual where when she comes home, she hangs up her keys on a hook and puts the Life Alert around her neck. This is a comfort to her, to my sister and to me.

Learning to calm down and lift up is not a spiritual bypass. It is not about ignoring stressful thoughts, pretending nothing is going on when something is going on. If I am driving and the gas light appears, I don’t worry I’m going to run out of gas without doing anything to avert that outcome. At the same time I don’t calm down by chanting affirmations about miraculously arriving at my destination on an empty tank. Either choice would be silly. Instead, I design a solution to my problem. I look for a gas station. I fill up my tank.

The warning light indicating the gas is low can be seen as similar to a disturbing emotion. It is an alert attempting to get our attention. Letting us know something is amiss.

I have a client who is currently dealing with a difficult boss. The situation seems to be somewhat of an inquisition. The boss’s behavior is accusatory and threatening with no substantiating evidence. My client’s upset about the situation is calling her into action. In this situation, action looks like consulting a lawyer.

Another client is working in collaboration with someone who, becomes controlling when she gets anxious. This controlling behavior on the part of her partner is becoming irritating to my client. My client realizes the irritation is a message that she needs to do something. She is learning to make requests, thus leading the relationship in a better direction for them both.

Upset is not bad. Disturbance opens the door to opportunities for learning and growth. We calm down to lift into the part of us that knows how to design creative action. That is hardly spiritual bypass.

I’m not telling you to breathe yourself into peace and then go out into the world chanting Hare Krishna. I’m instead inviting you to realize that upset happens. And what you can do about it is to make good use of it. Engage with it as it is: a doorway to your next best. Embrace it as part of the process of your personal evolution.