Editor’s Note: This article came from a prompt to the author find the most frustrating thing in his life, because there he would find his unique gift to the world – his wounded healer. It is a practice worth trying on yourself…
It is difficult to say what it is that frustrates me the most. In order for me to answer that with any clarity, I feel as though I may have to unravel a few nagging questions. What exactly is frustration? Where does it come from? Why do we experience it? How can we learn from this feeling? Upon a more thorough analysis, it can be seen that frustration may actually be utilized as an ally for personal or spiritual growth.
As I flow through each new day, it is almost inevitable that I am met with turbulent winds and unsuspecting challenges that disrupt my rhythm and bring about frustration. In my own experience, frustration seems to be a fiery bundled emotion swirling with traces of anger, disappointment and pain. This seems to arise from moments or encounters of obstruction in movement, limitations set on free will, miscommunications, power struggles or unmet expectations, which spark the unharmonious frequency of frustration.
The feeling can be rather wily and agitating, as a stress response becomes activated and circulated throughout the body. It can be easy to allow these sensations to spiral down and negatively affect my mental and physical performance. I often times find myself struggling to keep focus or hold a sense of happiness when in these states. It is at this point that I must remind myself of one of the most important techniques and skills I have found for managing anything stress related, Vipassana Meditation.
Vipassana is Sanskrit for “insight” or “seeing deeply” and is the Buddha’s direct method for the release of suffering. After undergoing a ten-day silent meditation retreat, I have yet to find a more effective means of stepping into control of your mind. As part of the method, I close my eyes and pull my attention towards the triangular area below my nostrils and above my top lip, and then just observe the behavior of my breath. (Is it coming in the left nostril or going out the right? Is my breath warm or cold? Deep or shallow?) By doing this I regain focus, still the mind, sharpen my awareness and become better equipped to navigate through the emotion without becoming fully immersed by it. In a sense, I step into the director seat and decide where my attention goes.
With this expansion in awareness, I become reminded that life will be as I choose to see it. This is where I can begin to see that frustration can be my ally if I understand how to utilize it as such. In fact, some of my best work and brightest ideas have had roots in incredibly frustrating scenarios. In Your Brain At Work By David Rock, he calls to awareness the notion of positive stress and how it can benefit us:
“Peak mental performance requires just the right level of stress, not minimal stress. Peak mental performance occurs when you have intermediate levels of two important neurotransmitters, adrenaline and dopamine, which relate to alertness and interest. You can consciously manipulate your levels…to improve your alertness or interest. Positive stress helps focus your attention. Fear and urgency can definitely generate a helpful level of focus at times.”
Keeping this principle in mind, I try to direct, channel and transform the fiery aspects of frustration into motivation and inspiration for new creations. I attempt to take all that heat, passion, intensity and turbulence, allow it to surface and then dance with it in an artistic embrace. However, there certainly is a balance to playing with frustration, as is cautioned by neurobiologist Amy Arnsten at Yale:
“When you’re too stressed, you get massive levels of adrenaline and dopamine, and this causes all networks to disconnect, and leads to shutting off of nerve firing altogether. We end up with nerve cells saying very little to each other.”
In essence, I feel the key to utilizing frustration as my ally has been to first place myself in control via mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, yoga, Emotional Freedom Technique, etc. Once I have activated my inner director, I immediately try to remind myself that this frustration can be of benefit and holds transformational potential for me, I only need to search for this illuminating route. This thought alone is enough to cause an increase in dopamine, which could then catalyzes a spiraling upward as happiness settles in and multiplies. Lots of research, by people like Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina, shows that happy people perceive a wider range of stimuli, solve more problems, and come up with more new possible solutions to a stated problem.
What is most frustrating to me is when I allow myself to stay in states of frustration without utilizing the opportunity to bring about transformation and change within myself. I must always remember that frustration can be my ally – it just depends on how I decide to look at it.