The life-changing power of allowing yourself to be sad, angry, and afraid

I recently bought marijuana for the first time in years, and on the way to the shop I was reminded of the power of mindfulness.

Playing in bands in my 20s, I used to get weed from a friend or bum off friends of friends. Drugs and alcohol were always just hanging around.

After it was decriminalized in D.C. in 2014, I began to wonder how to buy it. A friend told me, while shops can’t sell directly, they skirt the law by giving it away as a “free gift” with the purchase of merchandise, like a t-shirt. Supposedly, shops are routinely raided by the police.

Walking through the Columbia Heights bustle, anxious thoughts raced through my mind: what if the shop gets busted when I’m there? What if a cop sees me leaving?

Then came ego: I’ve got this. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

Then came self-judgement: why am I afraid of buying pot at 33 years old? Why am I smoking again? When am I going to grow up?

Then came logic: I’m a college-educated, white, heterosexual, cisgender man. Cops don’t care about me.

None of the self-talk helped. My shoulders and stomach were still tense. I still felt a little claustrophobic and off-kilter. I wasn’t going to talk my way out feeling anxious.

But then I remembered a story the spiritual teacher David Deida tells about his own teacher feeling jealous at a party. Deida sees the teacher’s wife across the room enjoying a conversation with an attractive man and asks his teacher, “Aren’t you jealous?”

His teacher responds, “Yes, but the fact that I’m jealous isn’t bothering me.”

In other words, the teacher was aware of how he was relating to his jealousy. Instead of making it a problem, he was allowing it to just be.

Mindfulness is often associated with focus and paying attention. But it also involves accepting rather than resisting what’s happening inside of us.

We often deny, ignore, or repress emotions we don’t want to experience. The mind tries to calm us down by telling stories (There’s nothing to be afraid of).

But think about what makes you feel better when you’re sad or afraid. It’s when your partner or friend or relative gives you their undivided attention without giving advice or trying to change how you feel. When someone let’s you be yourself, with all your messy emotions. When someone just listens.

Once I acknowledged that I felt nervous and a little silly about buying pot at 33 years old, the tension in my body dissolved, and I saw it as yet another of life’s adventures.

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