This instant is the only time there is.
– Course in Miracles
The reason for most of your distress is often very different than you think it is. Remember the two examples in the last chapter. My friend seemed to be reacting to approaching another car when she was a passenger but the real cause of her reaction was the trauma that had occurred many years earlier.
The reason I was obsessing about my minor unsuccessful conversation was not the encounter itself. I was really reacting to being bullied over a half century ago and some of my energy was still stuck in my past.
Energy Gets Stuck
You may think it is normal and unavoidable to feel stressed out or hurt or anxious about various situations in your life. When you examine those things you discover that they have already happened or you believe they will happen sometime in the future. Most people you encounter probably agree that those reactions are just a necessary part of living. And the stress and drama are certainly major elements of the stories we love to watch in the media.
The truth is that most of this suffering is completely unnecessary. Sadly, it is hard to opt out of this pervasive cultural belief system. It’s hard to even imagine what life would be like without all this drama. Part of the reason for this is almost everyone believes that the distress they experience as adults is caused by the various challenges they encounter in their daily lives.
Another way of looking at the situation is that if we had all of our life energy available to us, we could easily manage most uncomfortable situations. Then the challenge becomes locating and reclaiming our life energy that has somehow been misplaced during the course of our lives.
Over-Reacting Means Energy is Stuck
Sometimes you respond to challenges and forget they were stressful; the ones you over-react to are the problem.
My friend and I both over-reacted to minor stress – stressful situations that most people would simply respond to and forget about. We each got stuck in our own past life experiences. We each had forgotten about the old situations but our energy about those incomplete experiences and our emotions associated with them held us in the past instead of letting us solve problems in the present moment and forget about them.
Can you tell when you are over-reacting? Over-reacting is a good signal that you are reacting to something else. Signals that you are over-reacting include:
• You just can’t stop thinking about something. You keep trying to think about something else but you always come back to rethinking the same situation over and over again.
• You always get upset (angry, teary, worried) when you are reminded about someone, someplace, or some event, even if it happened a long time ago.
• Anniversaries or other reminders of difficult experiences are difficult for you.
• You get physically uncomfortable (butterflies, tension headaches, pounding heart) when you need to talk to someone—often an authority figure.
• You get your feelings hurt easily.
• You have an intense reaction (anger, sadness, fear) because of something someone else says or does.
• You feel very judgmental in response to certain ordinary situations like traffic or others making mistakes.
These over-reactions are examples of your life energy being stuck.
When you were born your life energy was freely available and you used it to attach to your parents as all babies do. But as things happen you lose bits of it by using it to try to protect yourself when you react to problems. This happens to everyone because no one had perfect parents or grew up in a perfectly responsive environment.
These problems overwhelm you because you don’t have enough resources to manage them when they occur. That may be because you are a child and simply lack the maturity that comes with growing up—or you may have experienced a truly traumatic situation. In any case you need that energy back for other things now, but you usually don’t even realize that you left it somewhere in your past.
Letting Go Isn’t Easy
Life is all about attachment and letting go. We need attachment for survival and we need to let go for growth. You were attached to your mother with your umbilical cord and being born broke that attachment and allowed you to join the world as a separate being. Then your first and most critical task is to reattach in a new way.
Once you attached, you had to learn to let go. That is a hard lesson. When you learned to hold on to something—like a piece of furniture—you did not know how to open your hand and let go. So you stayed in one place and when you got tired you probably screamed until somebody came along and released your fingers. You probably then promptly pulled yourself up again and went through the same routine until you finally learned to let go.
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