Freedom Within Barriers — Reclaiming Emotional Freedom

The past couple weeks I have written about the very large questions of freedom, and the limitations that living with diabetes imposes on us. We’ve weaved through some philosophy, some contemplative ideas about the nature of the self, and questioned the very nature of freedom itself. I’ve certainly had fun exploring, and I hope it’s been interesting.

But this week, I want to wrap up with some practical advice that we can use to address the fundamental takeaway from last week — that is, how do we cultivate an inner sense of freedom that can hold strong even when our material freedom is limited by our condition? It’s easy to just say, “Hey, freedom is a myth — once you see that, you can claim true INNER freedom!” But that doesn’t really help move anyone toward a resolution. What we need are concrete steps that can be taken to access that inner freedom on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis.

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What is underneath?
This is a guiding question that a great many meditators use, and it’s found in both Eastern contemplative traditions and in Western contemplative traditions like the silent meetings of Quakers. In times of distress, ask the question, “What else is here” or “What is underneath this feeling?” When you are feeling burdened, trapped, or depressed by your condition, ask yourself this question. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to feel angry or upset with the situation, but often times going a little deeper reveals that there is more to that anger than you realized, and a good deal of it is based on fear or self-judgments that can be let go.

When you experience a string of high blood sugars, you might begin to feel trapped. You might feel angry, and feel like diabetes is clamping down on you. But if you stop to really examine the situation, you will see that what you are feeling is a lot of fear about what this string of numbers WILL MEAN in the future, coupled with a good deal of self-judgment for being “bad at managing diabetes.” Very little of it is actually based on any current pain. Now, I don’t mean to make light of the very real dangers of chronically high blood sugars, or to say you should ignore trends and pretend the future will never come. But recognizing that so much of what you feel is based on projections about what the future will hold, or projections about your own self-worth, helps make the present moment so much clearer and more manageable. You begin to see that worry about the future, or the creation of stories about your own self-worth, do nothing to help the present moment. What they do is create a trap for your own thoughts and feelings — steering you away from that internal freedom we’re trying to cultivate.

Let go and be present
Once you identify what else is present for you, it’s time to let it go. Great, how do we do that? Meditating is certainly one option, as are sports or other similarly contemplative or creative activities. But we don’t always have the time to meditate for a half hour, or run for 45 minutes. What if we’re feeling trapped while we’re at work, and we have to be at a meeting in five minutes? Well, with a little practice, we can deal with that just fine.

I’ve seen firsthand the power that just a few deep breaths and a few minutes of focused, calm attention can make. I’ve seen clients come down from a state of pure anger using nothing but calming breaths. The trick is this — you’ve got to mean it. Have you ever had a moment when you feel angry, and you know, deep down, that you COULD snap out of it but simply decide not to? We all have. If that’s the case, I’m not sure what to tell you. But if you’re feeling anger and are willing to genuinely make an effort, follow this very simple “mini-meditation” given to me by one of the wisest people I know: my mother.

Take a deep breath in, and say to yourself, “May I meet each moment fully.” Then, on your out-breath, say to yourself, “May I meet each moment as a friend.” Do this for just five full, calm, focused breaths. And when you’re done, maybe ask yourself that guiding question again — what else is present? What’s underneath the feeling? You might not have time to really dig into it, but just identifying what’s there really helps to take away its power over you.

How we feel is how we think
What we see by going deeper and asking what is underneath our immediate emotions is that the meaning we give the events in our lives dictates how we feel, not the events themselves. It’s not so much the isolated high number; it’s the self-judgment that goes with it. It’s not that we have to wait a little longer to eat; it’s that we worry we’re somehow “different” than everyone around us, “weird” and somehow how not OK.

Self psychology, a method for therapeutic interventions, centers on this very idea — that the real issue is not the events that happen in our lives, but the meaning we CREATE about ourselves and the world based on those events. Become better at simply directly experiencing life without the excessive meaning-making in our minds, and you become freed from the emotional entanglements those stories create.

And so I leave you with this — let go of the stories, and simply experience the present moment. There will be good moments and bad moments, triumphant ones and painful ones, but that’s not something unique to us Diabetians. We simply have to face it more directly than some. But it can only take away our freedom if we let it.

People with Type 2 diabetes being treated with metformin and insulin have a reduced risk of death and major heart problems compared to those taking insulin alone, according to a new study. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.