Sometimes You Need a Little Distance

Years ago I was teaching at a charter school in Washington, DC. The school was struggling with some powerful challenges and I was not very good at keeping my head down and focusing solely on my own business. As a result, the stress was really taking its toll. I was beginning to have physical symptoms from my stress and was averaging about 5 hours of sleep per night.

The lack of good sleep just made my inability to manage my stress worse, increased my reliance on caffeine to wake up and wine to slow down, which interfered with my sleep. It was a vicious cycle. I began to have heart palpitations from the stress. And then my fertility doctor said something that really shook me: “There is no way you will get pregnant like this. You’re going to have to change something.”

When the problem is unsolvableI was completely freaked out. We had been trying to have children for almost 7 years and had identified this as our very LAST attempt. If this didn’t work (there was also adoption paperwork in progress), we said, we would just be the aunt and uncle who traveled a lot and gave great gifts (it was a really good plan). We really wanted to be parents. And I was incapable of seeing or thinking a way out of my problem.

I was talking it over with my Dad one day, as I often did, and he asked if there wasn’t some way I could continue to work, but just not be quite so involved, if I couldn’t have a little more distance between me and my students, between me and the administration, between me and the neighborhood violence (he only knew about some of that and would have had other things to say had he known about all of it), between me and the world so that I could continue to teach without it bleeding into everything else. I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes at him (we were on the phone) and said: “Yeah, Dad, I’m great at that.”

As is so often the case, the wisdom we get from our elders (maybe especially from our parents) takes a while to really sink in. It has to marinate, and we have to hear it from at least 12 other sources, with three of them being deemed infinitely more in touch with our circumstances. I heard it. I read it. I saw it in action, this “getting a little distance” idea. It turns out that, as has all too often been the case, my Dad was exactly right. I DID just need a little distance. I needed a little distance from all of it.

I needed to be able to be involved in a pursuit and not be consumed by it. I needed to be able to experience mishaps and mistakes made by other professionals and not feel the need to address it at the systemic level EVERY TIME with FERVOR and OUTRAGE. I needed to be able to be aware of my students’ academic and personal struggles and not stay awake all night wondering if they’d made it home safely or if their parent had returned or if they would show up to school the next day. I needed to be able to interact with the world without reacting to it ALL OF THE TIME. I needed a little distance. At the time I got the distance I needed mentally and physically by leaving my job. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

Since then, I’ve learned how to get a little distance without changing my circumstances. It took a long time. Some of it was maturing and mellowing, but the majority of it was a concerted effort on my part to learn to manage my mind a bit, to be able to watch how I think and how I feel, to feel compassion for myself when I was struggling and hurting, but to not be consumed by that experience. I learned how to do that, but I still struggle. I still have to remind myself that the things that I think and feel are leaves floating by on a stream and I can just allow them and then choose how to act rather than reacting. I still have to remind myself that I am in charge in there.

I wonder, when I think about this skill set that I’ve developed, how the last twenty years might have been different had I gotten on that lesson a little sooner. I sift through decisions that I might have made differently, not with regret, but with curiosity, as though I’m watching a movie and smiling a little at the inexperience of the heroine.

Distance Doesn't Mean ColdnessWhat’s done is done, as they say. What I know for sure is that the decisions that I’ve made since I’ve been able to get a little distance have all felt wholly different, deeply satisfying. I feared that if I wasn’t so reactive it would mean my heart wasn’t in it, but I think I had it backwards. When I’m not so reactive, my chattering monkey brain gets sidelined and makes room for my heart, for the core of me that’s connected to the core of all of you, the stillness and the peace that lives in the knowledge that we are all but a part and that each moment is ours to witness. When I get a little distance, I can choose peace and love and integrity. And boy does that feel good. Thanks Dad. I miss you.

A Passport to Your Best Life

A friend shared with me that he is in the process of renewing his passport. He shared that he was being particularly careful as some of the rules regarding travel, even with passports, have become more strict, more complex. He also reflected on the number of people in the world who can’t travel freely. It all got me to thinking about this idea of a passport.

What does a passport do? It allows you to go to places that are otherwise unreachable for you. It allows you a measure of freedom that would not be available without it. It also marks a plan, even if it’s only a vague desire, to move – to travel – to change and be changed.

emotional maturityWhat do passports communicate? They say that we are who we say we are. They authenticate our identity (yup, we checked, it’s her). They indicate that you ARE (at least in your home country) free to move about at will. They suggest that you are not a known threat of any kind. And they give a sort of unofficial nod tot he idea that you can be trusted in a new territory. No official would ever suggest that the passport does that – it would be claiming far too much in the way of responsibility should something awful happen, but that’s pretty much what the assumption is. You have a passport, you must be okay at some basic level and you can be trusted to be in a new place.

I love to travel (not the the actual act of the travel, which I detest, but the being in new places). I like to make lists of places I’d like to go and occasionally re-order them according to something that has shifted for me. I like to imagine the circumstances that would make it possible for me to check one of those boxes. I like to experiment with the idea of being in other places, of being the curious and willing foreigner.

When it comes to my own life, however, my imagination and my curiosity sometimes fail me. When I imagine being in new circumstances and spaces, I often draw a blank (which I think is just total brain shutdown). I talk myself out of the appeal of those possibilities. I don’t even get to the point of imaging the circumstances that would make those new spaces habitable, enjoyable, as exciting as a foreign city.

Being BraveAnd I think, really, it’s because I haven’t yet administered myself a proper passport. Because, let’s face it, when it comes to new experiences in life, we are the ones who administer our own passports. I hear you arguing with me, well at least some of you. I didn’t used to believe this either. I put my parents in the uncomfortable position of being the passport office for a long time. I sought their approval (and they are very different, so pleasing all 4 is no small feat) for each plan, every idea, all of the notions that I experimented with. I wanted them to make me strong enough from the outside that I could be brave on the inside. I wanted their approval to form some sort of exoskeleton that I could use to shield myself from the pain and difficulty of trying new and hard things.

stop people pleasingThis version of me, the one who was not yet ready to write her own passport, didn’t meet the criteria. I could not be trusted in new territory. I was not read to administer and sanction my own great adventures, so I didn’t take many, and the ones I took were pursued in a pretty random fashion without any confidence or self-assurance. I never committed fully, and so never achieved the things I set out to do. I was not who I said I was because I was always trying to be the person I thought someone wanted to have around. I was not free to do anything because I was paralyzed by self-doubt and loneliness (because of never being myself). I was a known threat, at least amongst the young men I tried on during this period. I could not be trusted in new territory. If only there had been a guard at the beginning of each adventure checking my criteria and sending me back to improve my game before I got started.

But this is how it goes I suppose. We just keep getting to the edge of the nest and hoping we’re not so high up that it kills us when we don’t fly so well. I think emotional maturity is our internal passport office. When we take responsibility for our own happiness, when we pursue our own goals in order to please and satisfy ourselves, when admit what we want and commit to it fully, then we get a passport.

Then we are who we say we are.

Then we are free to make changes and move at will.

Then we are not a known threat to others, or even to ourselves anymore.

Then we can be trusted in new territory, because our capacity grows as we learn to meet our commitment.

What new lands await you?

Are you ready to give yourself a passport?

When You Don’t Want To Be Right

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be human.

Yeah, I just do stuff like that; let’s move on.

Some would say our feelings are part of humanity, but I’m not sure we can make an exclusive claim there, just based on how my dog acts when I come home.

Some would say our ability to have compassion and put the needs of others before our own is uniquely human. I could take the low road and point to counter-examples, but I’ll stick with my animal companions as evidence that this is not true.

Some would say our ability to think is what makes us really human, but really? Animals hunting in groups, animals figuring out how to get at the hidden food, animals creating hiding places. Yeah, that’s not all ours either.

Having said all of that, I can’t even be 100% sure that this next statement is true, but it seems to be the “last man standing” when it comes to what we can claim as being a fundamental human characteristic: our ability to think about what we are thinking. Maybe they do it too, but the communication gap seems, for now, to allow us to exclude animals from this claim. So a big part of being human is thinking about what we’re thinking about.

How to Feel BetterHow do we use this particular and peculiar gift? Usually, at least in my personal and professional experience, we use it to beat ourselves up. We notice what we’re thinking and feeling and give ourselves a hard time about it. “Feeling blue? Of course you are. Get it together!” “STILL grieving? Are you sure there’s nothing wrong with you?” “Insecurity, still? You should have been done with that years ago.” I think of it as double torture. We load judgment onto feeling bad, and that’s how we use our uniquely human gift. Yay!

And now I’m going to tell you the really amazing and kind of awful part. Once we have these thoughts about ourselves (that we pretty much stink for feeling how we feel, that we can’t handle adulting, that we’ve learned nothing, that there’s something wrong with us – whatever version your brain gives you), we look for evidence. We constantly scan the horizon (and our bounty of data from the past) to confirm those assertions. What?! Why?!

Because our brains get a dopamine rush when we confirm our beliefs. At least that’s what researchers Sara and Jack Gorman tell us. It feels good to have our beliefs confirmed and to stick to our guns, dig in with our position, even if plenty of available facts don’t support what we believe. We actually get the same neurohormone rush that we get when we have sex, do drugs, eat sugar (no, those are not all of a piece for me – no worries). This research points to a number of interesting discussions about politics and science, but it also tells us something about ourselves as individuals.

Once we decide something about ourselves, it can be very difficult to change that belief. If I believe that I am spoiled, for example, perhaps because it was part of my family story about who I was as a child, I will more readily see and accept evidence that supports the idea that I’m spoiled. And my brain will reward me for finding that evidence even though thinking that thought will ultimately NOT reward me. Our biology puts us at risk for hanging onto beliefs about the world and about ourselves that are harmful, destructive, and on a personal level, that create barriers for creating the kinds of lives that we want to lead. Now, the brain isn’t just doing this to mess with you. There are evolutionary theories as to why this occurs, but that’s not what I want to focus on.

I want to focus on the simple fact that believing things that are helpful and productive for you can be life-changing. Why? Because your thoughts create feelings and feelings create energy for your actions. When we’re thinking crappy things about ourselves, the actions that come of that usually serve to make us feel worse. Attend ANY of my classes if you want more info on that.

Why it's not workingSo what does all of this mean? It means that in order to get the results you want, you’re going to have to take a look at what’s going on in that amazingly powerful brain of yours. You’re going to have to see what you’re thinking about who you are in the world. You’re going to have to reset some thoughts so that you can stop collecting evidence that you’re worthless or fundamentally flawed or that there’s just something wrong with you. You’re going to have to replace those thoughts with something else. It doesn’t have to be a positive affirmation. It doesn’t have to be all unicorns and glitter. It just has to be maybe a little more neutral. It just has to allow you some space to see yourself more clearly. It just needs to allow you to take in more of what you’ve done and who you are in the world so you can see more than just that selection of data that proves that you’re no good.

Because friends, you’re not right about that. And your brain will reward you for proving it once you decide to believe something new.

You are here. You are valuable. You have unique gifts (even if you don’t believe it and haven’t found them yet). You are worthy.

If you can’t believe any of that, maybe just start with “I’m okay,” and see if you can find some evidence for THAT. I bet you can.

If you’d like a guide on your journey through your thoughts, I’d love to help.

 

xo,

julia

Whose Battle Are You Fighting?

There have been a lot of hard things lately.

The news has become excruciating.

Some of our relationships are strained by p

olitics.

We’ve got problems and we can’t seem to even agree on what those problems are.

Our thoughts create problems

And that’s just the big stuff.

That doesn’t even get down to the every day hard, the busyness, the job, the elusive work-life balance.

It doesn’t even cover our romantic (or not romantic) relationships and our parenting.

It doesn’t even cover our chronic illnesses and hurts.

Things seem really hard.

And saying that there are difficult circumstances doesn’t begin to account for how difficult they can become due to the way we think about them.

 

How We Make Things Harder

During the last few months my husband and I have been attempting to renegotiate the division of domestic duties. Let me give you a little background. 10 years ago I decided to stay home with our twins and the I made that choice, I assumed most of the domestic responsibilities (because raising twins was clearly not enough). My husband became the breadwinner and I became the bread maker. We plugged along like that for some time. And he got busier, adding a side hustle (out of love) and eventually adding grad school (also out of love). I also added work (out of love) and eventually he whittled his way down to two occupations (side hustle moving forefront and grad school). As I began to nurture my practice and continued being the everything to all people, we felt the need to redistribute the burden.

Our acknowledgement of that need, however, didn’t make it easy to do.

We stalled.

We delayed (him I think because it was not top of mind for him and me perhaps because it seemed easier to just do things than to have a hard conversation about them).

We bickered about the bits that were falling through the cracks.

And I felt resentment growing, like an invasive weed.

And as my resentment grew, I thought of my mother and the women of her generation, so many of whom nurtured a garden of invasive resentment weeds because they felt that they had no choice. I thought of how much my position FELT like that. I thought about how things SHOULD be. And I fumed, growled, and cried, and left things undone out of spite. I grew short with him and with the kids. And I buried all of that in getting busy doing all of the things that poor me HAD to do. No time to be polite. No time to really engage. No time to have a real conversation.

And the a friend said just the thing I needed to hear. Actually 3 friends said similar things on the same day, which even I must concede sounds a little like divine intervention stepping in. All of these wise women asked me to reflect on my husband’ nature. “Is he an old-fashioned guy?” “Does he think you should have to do everything?” “Is he so swamped that he can’t even see what’s happening?”

Leaving the Story Behind

Arguments about HouseworkTheir wise questions pushed me to step out of the argument that I had created and to step back into a conversation with my reality, not my mother’s reality, not women’s reality, not a previous generation’s reality. I suddenly realized that a big part of what was making this so hard was me. I was turning a problem, a challenge, into a full-on ideological issue. I was defending women everywhere.

There was no need for me to do that in THIS particular case.

And when I stopped arguing for everybody’s reality, we were able to have a conversation, a real conversation. I was clear. I was heard. I was acknowledged, and now there’s a plan. When I stopped dragging all of these other people into the issue, when I stopped thinking it was bigger than it really was, when I adjusted my story to account for the reality of who my husband is, who I am, and how we operate, I was able to articulate my needs and my feelings and they were met with exactly the kind of reaction that I would have hoped for. It turns out I didn’t have to fight the power this time.

Why does that matter? Am I suggesting we all stop fighting for the big ideological issues? Absolutely not. Anybody who know me knows better than that.

What I am suggesting is that some problems, some challenges, some issues are just not that complicated or that hard. We get it all tangled up together. We come to the problem with our politics, our feelings, our baggage (and usually a few other people’s baggage as well) and we make it so complicated. Some problems just aren’t that hard.

Rest Into The Problem

I got a little e-mail from one of my mentors, Martha Beck, earlier this week that suggested that when you are stuck and things seem difficult, maybe it’s time to rest into the problem, to stop pushing so hard. And this feels like THAT to me. “Renegotiating” our domestic division of labor was something that I was pushing very hard on, not just because I wanted it done, but because there were principles at stake.

When I rest into the problem, when I get quiet, when I quiet the clamor of ideology, culture wars, activism and outrage, I see things differently. I don’t become a Stepford wife. I become the me who KNOWS how committed my husband is to equality. I become the me who KNOWS how hard it is to take on domestic tasks when you’re out of practice. I become the me who honors the scope of the work I’ve done for these 10 years by not imagining someone could just scoop half of it up and do it efficiently at the drop of the hat. I become the me that KNOWS that we, individually and together, are okay.

Rest can bring truth
When things get hard, what can we do? Rest into it. Get quiet. Reduce the clamor from the outside world. And from THAT space, learn what to do next. Learn what feels like ease and clarity and love and freedom. Learn what feels like truth that is only YOURS.

 

What To Do When You’re Too Busy

I remember seeing a couple on a TV show (or maybe a movie) scheduling a time to have sex. I remember nothing else about the show, the context, anything else. I just remember my horror. I remember thinking that was crazy. I remember rolling my eyes at how people could let their lives become that busy, rigid, regimented. I remember all of those feelings. I think I was around 23. And now I shake my head at my own darned self.

Adulting Can Be Extremely Busy

My family has entered an extremely busy phase. I thought we were in this phase before, but it turns out that the previous phase was just a very busy phase; THIS is the extremely busy phase. The exact circumstances aren’t that important, but I will share that my husband is a full-time seminary student on top of working, so if you have any experience with some version of that, you may have a sense of what things are like here. I am also nurturing my fledgling business, and oh, right, the kids. I won’t go on and on, because like I said, the circumstances aren’t that important. What is important is the way that we handle this phase. We’ve been bumping around a bit, trying to get to the place where we can actually observe ourselves so we can make adjustments. It has been a rough couple of months, but we reached meta this morning – we took a look at ourselves and realized there was a lot to improve on.

How are we going to make this crazy whirlwind better? The short answer is that we’re going to schedule things that are important to us. This will now be a mark of the level of priority – if it makes it on the calendar, it is important. I realize, however, that that is a short answer indeed and that it is not very helpful if you’re not already good at the whole scheduling thing. So, let me break down some other things we’re doing.

8 Steps to Fix “Too Busy”

  1. If it’s a triage situation – like you’re emotionally bleeding out/exhausted/freaking out: Get Real Clear on What’s Not VERY Important and eliminate it. I was going to say “scratch it off your list,” but ELIMINATE feels better right now. Get rid of it. My husband and I are both crossing one thing off our respective lists this morning because we realized he is leaving town and we needed to talk about all of this AND just see each other for a few minutes. I’ve been sick, and oh, yeah, the kids. We each found the least important part of our respective days and are eliminating them.
  2. Feeling better when you're overwhelmed.Stop allowing yourself to be “overwhelmed.” Overwhelm makes us spin, which is incredibly unproductive. The thoughts that create overwhelm are usually some version of: “It’s too much. I can’t possibly do it all,” or the classic circular: “I’m so overwhelmed.” Spinning won’t help that feeling. When I get that spin feeling, I try a thought like: “I need to figure out how to do this day/week/month” so that instead of feeling more overwhelmed, I feel determined to get down to business. That always feels better and is far more productive than the “I don’t know” freaking out that comes with overwhelm. This is particularly difficult if I am tired, which leads naturally to…
  3. Recognize the importance of, and schedule self-care. When we are extra-busy we have a tendency to make cuts in the worst places. We stay up a little later to finish one last bit of work or to have 10 minutes to ourselves. We get a little less careful with how we eat because we think we don’t have time to cook and eat proper meals. We skip taking a few minutes to just breathe because we’re sure we just don’t have time for that. I say all of this without scolding because I’m just as guilty of it as everyone else. I am especially guilty of the sleep part. And my body lets me know. I get less productive. I get WAY more grumpy. I get SO tired of it all. And if I keep pushing, I get sick. Usually not terribly sick and not for very long, but my body lets me know. Want to go from busy to totally UNPRODUCTIVE? Push hard enough that you get sick. Make your body force you to stop. The benefit? You may get some rest. You may recognize that you’re doing yourself in. The cost? All of that stuff you had to do just gets moved around more. Being busy does not get solved by being tired, poorly nourished and stressed out. It’s really that simple. If you don’t take care of you, it will all get worse.
  4. Sit with your goals/plans/big list for a few minutes each day. Check in. What is it you are trying to accomplish? What takes priority this month/this week/today? What steps do you need to outline for yourself to get from where you are to there? When are you going to do those things? Write it down or type it in – whatever your planner penchant is – do that.
  5. Make planning a part, but not a terribly LONG part, of every day. I’ve talked here about my morning meeting and how invaluable I find it. Every day I move from looking at my goals/plans/objectives to actually planning out when I’m going to do those things. I allot very specific amounts of time, not depending on how long I think it will take, but based on how long I want to spend on each item. 90% of the time I actually finish in that amount of time (which is always shorter than I think it will “take”).
  6. Check in with involved parties on a regular basis. We have in the past, and will begin again, having the Sunday evening meeting. This is when we review what’s coming up in the next month and in the next week so we know who’s going to be where and when. So we identify gaps (oh yeah, kids) in case we need to enlist childcare. So we don’t get caught off-guard by someone else’s meeting or travel. So we can prepare for events rather than constantly reacting to them. AND so we can thank each other for picking up one another’s slack.
  7. If it’s important to you, schedule it. And yes, I mean everything, including haircuts, naps, walks, extra long showers because you have a cold, trips to the drugstore because someone’s prescription is ready, lunch dates with your spouse. If it’s important, treat it like it’s important. Schedule it and honor your schedule… which leads me to….
  8. You can handle it all. Learn to trust yourself.Honor your schedule. If you MUST make a change, be conscious about it. Think it through. Recognize all of the implications. Review the rest of the day and see what impact it will have. Never do it because you don’t “feel like” doing what’s next on the schedule. Honor your commitments to yourself and the overload gets a lot less stressful because you will know that you can count on yourself to meet your obligations. You will know that you are reliable and capable. You will know that you are trustworthy with your own time.

You Are In Charge

There’s a lot more I could say, but I’m looking at this like an emergency room situation. These are the basics for moving from insanely and overwhelmingly busy to just plain busy – but busy that is directed, goal oriented, planned, and all-inclusive. This is busy that assumes taking care of oneself in all of the ways. This is busy that allows for productivity skyrocketing because you actually feel good AND feel able to do it all, and you can, OR you can make some decisions that make it all work.

You may fight me on this but you really are in charge. I know, I know, we’re not all self-employed, BUT we are all able to make can keep commitments to ourselves. We are all able to adjust our level of effort so that we can actually complete tasks in a reasonable amount of time. We are all able to use calendars and timers. We really are, and if you are where I was, if you scoff at the use of such tools to mark the time in your day, that’s okay. Just call me in a few months when you’re EXTREMELY busy and I’ll tell you how I do all of that.

 

When We Are Hurting

Learning Self-LoveAre you hurting today? I am. And so are so many people I know and love. Even in times of lesser tragedy and hardship, there are always people hurting. It is so easy to get lost in the analysis of it, to get paralyzed by the horror, to get stuck in the outrage. On Sunday my minister reminded us that one of our values is an ever-widening circle of compassion. Cultivating that circle may require a break from analyzing, being outraged, and being paralyzed. Nurturing our compassion is a practice.

I’m not sure where it started, but there is a bit of a mantra in the self-help world that says that we have to love ourselves in order to love others. We would have to feel compassion for ourselves in order to feel compassion for others. I get the sentiment, and agree that deeper levels of love and compassion are easier to reach when we have love and compassion for ourselves, but making those things a bar to entry to love and compassion for others? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure any self-loathing parent will tell you that you can love your children despite how you feel about yourself. Suggesting to that parent that they must start with themselves seems like a great way to stall that growth altogether.

How to Grow Compassion and Love – Even For Yourself

What if, instead, we saw the practice of compassion as one of simply widening the circle, with the center being exactly where it already is naturally for you? Where is the focus of the compassion and love that you feel easily? Is it kids? Is it animals? Is it victims of tragedy or circumstance?

If you’re not sure, ask yourself what gets to you? What makes you well up? What makes you angry? What makes you sad? What makes you feel things even when it’s uncomfortable to do so? Are there news stories or fictional stories you find it difficult to watch, read, or listen to? These are the key to finding the center of your compassion – the place where your heart meets the world. Find that center; this is step 1.

Find Your Edges; Stretch Your Borders

After you’ve figured out where your compassion lives, feel out the edges of that group. Imagine the people on the borders. If you naturally feel compassion for kids, consider teens , mothers, and parents. If you feel compassion for animals, consider animal lovers, nature, the earth. If you feel for people struggling with physical medical problems, consider people with mental illness, consider caretakers. Find the folks on the edges of the community that you already feel compassionate about.

Step 3? Imagine those border folks. Imagine being them for a moment. Imagine part of a day for them. Imagine that they are just people with all of the insecurities, uncertainties and challenges of the group you already feel compassion for. Imagine that they are as capable of love and affection, joy and courage as those who move you. Imagine those border people in pain. Imagine them laughing. Imagine that your loving focus might, even in some small way, be helpful. Believe in the power of your own affection. In your mind’s eye, surround this growing group with light, a glow of whatever color pleases you. Breathe deeply and continue to stretch the edges of that light to include others.

Self-Compassion

Here’s where things can get tricky for a lot of folks. I hear a lot of people talk about how others don’t have compassion. That’s not what I see in my universe. I see plenty of folks who are serving up compassion for others, but who are unforgiving and unkind to themselves. Learning to serve up some compassion for yourself can be an extension of the love you already give to others.

Think about that group you’ve been growing in your mind. Find the way that you might be like them. Where in your life do you feel like a hurt child? Where in your life do you act like a wounded animal? Where in your life do you feel limited or misunderstood? Where in your life are you called on to rise to challenges you’d rather not have to face? How can you connect to the recipients of your compassion?

Learn to Love YourselfFind that link and then return your attention to your mind’s eye – the big glowing group. Draw the edges of your circle of loving focus out so that you are included. Let the light envelope you. Let it connect you to others. Allow yourself to bathe in the light you so willingly shine on others.

Place your hands on your heart, and say: “I hear you. I know. I love you.”

Widen your circle and make sure that eventually it includes you.

Namaste.

 

 

SaveSave

In the Dark Times

I can’t speak for other parts of the globe, but things have been pretty rough in the U.S. There have been horrific hurricanes that have left so many Americans suffering without vital services. There have been political controversies that seem to be rocking us at our foundations. There have been wildfires raging in and around communities in the West. There’s a lot that’s going wrong. There’s a lot weighing us down. There’s a lot to grieve, to mourn, to argue about, to consider. There are a lot of people facing the darkest emotions the human experience has to offer.

What Do We Do With Our Negative Emotions?

We are not taught how to deal with our feelingsUnfortunately, as a culture, we are not very well practiced at those dark emotions. We don’t often actively encourage people to feel how they feel. We prefer that they “pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again.” We have legends, books, songs, movies, stories, and cultural icons that show us that this is the way. The pause for grief and sorrow must be brief. And then what? Well, I’m afraid for many people, this means an awful lot of stuffing and swatting. We stuff our bad feelings in. When they rise up, we shove them down, often with food or alcohol, really packing them back in there and creating the dopamine buzz that will make us think we feel better. We stuff and we stuff.

We also swat our dark feelings away. We swat them away like they are insignificant as houseflies. “Now’s not a good time. Go away. I’ll think about that later. I don’t want to deal with that now. Oooooh… look, something shiny.” And then we distract ourselves. We distract ourselves with whatever our favorite and most effective distraction is. We distract ourselves with work. We distract ourselves with social media. We distract ourselves with television and movies. We distract ourselves with busyness. We distract ourselves with chores. We distract ourselves with personal drama because outrage often feels better than grief, loneliness, and insecurity. We distract ourselves with pedicures, lattes, and shopping. Swat it away; find something else to do.

And yet, there is only so much stuffing and swatting a person can do. There is only so much the body and the spirit can carry. Because when we stuff and swat, those feelings don’t go away. For stuffers, those feelings just build up. Eventually, many stuffers explode. If you’re not an exploder, I bet you know one. I know a few exploders and have been the recipient of that eventual boom. There’s nothing cheerful about that scenario. What happens to the swatters? Well, the distraction of that one feeling, that one housefly just grows. Eventually it’s a swarm of houseflies (that’s pretty gross) and swatters can’t figure out why they’re having so much trouble getting things done. Why can’t I concentrate? Why do I feel so tired all of the time? Why can’t I seem to make any decisions? Because SO much energy is going into swatting those emotions away. SO much energy is being used to pretend to be okay.

How Can We Process Our Dark Emotions?

There is only one real course of action here, and if you’ve been playing along it will come as no surprise to you. The only reasonable thing to do is to feel those feelings. The only reasonable thing to do is to just freaking surrender for a few minutes, because in all likelihood that’s all it will take to start to feel some relief, to stop feeling the need to stuff and swat. Heck, even if it takes an hour that’s far less time than you’re losing to that feeling with all of that stuffing and swatting.

But I’m afraid if I let myself feel it, I will never feel good again….

If you don’t let yourself feel it, you will struggle to actually REALLY feel good. You may have temporary relief, but that shadow will remain.

But I can’t just break down. I have responsibilities.

Yes, yes you can. Your responsibilities can wait a few minutes while you sit on the floor and cry your eyes out. If it’s kids you’re worried about, maybe it’s time they saw an adult cry so they know that it’s okay. If it’s other adult responsibilities, lists of tasks, things that need to get done, I PROMISE you will be more productive if you let yourself take a few minutes to be genuinely honest with yourself.

But I’m afraid to feel it.

Yes, I know. But you can take it. You were made to experience the whole shebang on this planet, not just the good parts, and not just the shiny objects. You can venture into the depth of it and come out the other side. And every time you do, it will be less scary. You won’t stop having dark feelings, but learning that you can have them, handle them, recover – that’s priceless. THAT will change your entire existence. You don’t have to be afraid, or you don’t have to let your fear stop you from feeling how you actually feel. You are allowed to feel whatever you are feeling and if you finally write yourself that permission slip, things will change.

How to rise higher than you thought possible
But feeling and crying and doing all of that makes me week. 

Oh no my darling one. Allowing the fullness of this life to touch you makes you resilient, makes you whole, makes you a freaking Phoenix. You can never rise to your highest heights if you are always running from the flames.

Feeling Your Feelings

If you’re ready to try, there’s no official instruction manual, but I can offer you some tips. Next time you feel a big wave of negative emotion, get yourself somewhere where you can feel comfortable, and just focus on allowing it. You don’t have to do anything special, just don’t fight it. Don’t try to talk yourself out of it. Don’t ask it questions. Don’t analyze it. Don’t argue with it. Just allow it. If tears come, let them flow. If you need to make a noise and can do that safely, do it. Just allow it. Notice how it feels in your body. Notice that you are still there, that you haven’t been obliterated. Notice how your body changes as you allow the feeling. Notice how the tension falls away. Notice how the feeling diminishes in time. Notice that you are okay, that you are still whole. Notice that you didn’t have to act on that feeling to have it ease up a bit. Notice that you handled it and tell yourself what an excellent job you did.

If you are in a difficult situation, consider how much easier it might be if you just allowed yourself to feel it for a few minutes. I promise you’ll be alright. If you need someone to talk you through it, I’m here.