Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: I am 59 years old, even though it feels like just yesterday I was 20. I have read most of your books. I am trying to write something smart, so you'll notice me, but it has taken an hour to write this much. My thoughts fly at 300 miles an hour, while my hands go so slow I put down my work and erase, over and over. My wanting to run from suffering is what gives me more suffering. How can I stop? Am I dreaming this life? How can I bring joy to my life? Simple questions, because in the day to day we forget. I need me to help me from feeling totally lost at this time.
— Luisa F., Salt Lake City, Utah
Between the lines of your letter, one reads enormous confusion and distress. The issue isn't necessarily whether to run from suffering or not. Difficult situations fall into three categories: things we can fix, things we have to put up with and things we should walk away from. The ability to tell which is which doesn't come automatically. When your mind is racing with anxiety and you don't know how to make even basic decisions, suffering mounts on suffering. Seeing a way out becomes all but impossible when your energy is completely taken up with simply coping.
To find a way out, you first need to find some mental stability. At this point, you shouldn't focus on clinging to a few scraps of happiness, obsessively analyzing your predicament, running from one helper to another, escaping into fantasy, suffering in silence, wrestling with yourself or being in a state of constant complaint and worry. I'm not saying you are doing all of these things, but I have no doubt that at least a few apply. Please realize these are futile tactics. They are getting you not one inch closer to a solution. By an irony of the mind, we all do more of what never worked in the first place. I know how that works, and I'd like to see you get off the merry-go-round whirling in your mind.
It's time for a realistic game plan. Sit down with a piece of paper and give it the title "Mental Stability" or "Calming My Mind." Itemize 10 steps you could take to become less anxious, restless and worried. Once you've made your list, choose the top three things and actually follow them up. Your list of remedies might include the following:
Learn to meditate
Reduce everyday stress
Avoid negative situations and people
Find an enjoyable, positive outlet
Open up to a friend whom you trust
Ask for comfort from a pastor or a mature, compassionate friend
Set down a cherished goal with steps for reaching it
Organize your finances and live within a budget
Heal old emotional wounds
Clean and straighten up the house; make your work environment orderly
These are familiar steps to readers of this column, but if you take them seriously and act upon them, you will begin to regain your balance and feel more secure within yourself. Without control over your own life, the result will be inner confusion and distress. Make sure, before anything else, that you feel safe and protected and have trust in the people closest to you. When writing down your list, be specific. You need to know exactly what steps you plan to take and who you are going to approach for help, kindness and guidance. Your mind may be a present source of distress, but it is also your source of healing.