Let difficulty transform you.
And it will.
In my experience we just need help
in learning not to run away.
- Pema Chodron
No one likes it when life feels scary or hard or when a situation arises that seems insurmountable. Many of us end up in flight, fight or freeze mode when we are overwhelmed or anxious. Our brain's natural survival instinct is to get away fast! As children we may have been in precarious, inescapable family situations where we learned to run away emotionally or mentally to survive.
This survival tactic served us as small, dependent beings. But as adults, running away usually compounds the difficulty in multiple ways. If we can find ways to face them head-on, these experiences CAN be transformative. If we can hold on to our mind and not lose it to paralyzing fear or flight, we can find a deeper, stronger place within ourselves that we never knew existed, a place that is paradoxically indestructible in the face of something that may feel annihilating.
But how, you may ask.... having the courage to take a deep breath ( or many) and be with the feelings that arise from the difficulty. Breathing into and fully experiencing them, separating them the anxious thoughts that perpetuate these feelings. Meditating, drawing, journaling, singing, dancing, spending time with trusted others and in nature, listening to your dreams and the messages they may send you. Knowing you don't have to go through this alone, that there are others who can and will support you in a variety of ways.
As the hours of darkness begin to slowly wane from the winter sky,
So too may the fearful places of your heart unclench their grasp on your life
As the presence of light begins to grow with greater sureness with each passing day
May your own courage blossom to open more brightly to truth and love.
Let this be the year that you turn off the television and silence the talk radio chatter
in order to pick up the writing pen, the paintbrush,
and watch the candle slowly burn.
May this be the year that you delight
in seeing how much joy you can extravagantly spread.
May you discover just how much beauty you can recklessly shower
upon this thirsty world.
May this be the year that you tune both the dusty piano in the corner
and the inner listening of your care-worn heart
So that both can play in harmony with the chorus of creation.
May you break the invisible yardstick of impossible expectations
and learn that just as you are,
you are enough.
May this be the year that you cease trying to march to an imagined ideal
and instead, wrap your arms around the messy wonder your life really is,
hold it close
and do the tango.
Let this be the year you befriend your soul in its radical particularity,
not forsaking it yet again for the bland demands and cravings of the masses.
Instead, may you elope with the wildness of your own true calling,
marry your soul to its deepest longings
and invite the hungry world to the wedding feast.
- Kayleen Asbo
room in your heart
for the unimaginable.
~ Mary Oliver
As 2018 begins, many people make resolutions or set intentions for the new year. There is often a desire and a hope for a fresh start or a clean slate, an end to bad habits or to frustration about things not going as desired.
Usually these resolutions or intentions are very specific- around losing weight, eating better, becoming more fit and working out more. They may be focused on finding a relationship or a new job, improved finances or feeling happier.
Specific resolutions and intentions can be useful for staying focused on reaching defined goals. They can assist you in maintaining discipline and achieving your objectives.They can help you create a plan and take actions to master things that may have been difficult in the past.
I would like to suggest, as Mary Oliver does, also keeping some space in your heart and mind that is free of specific goals, so that there is room for the unimaginable to happen; or as the Queen in Alice and Wonderland says, to believe 6 impossible things before breakfast! A space for new passions and interests to suddenly spring forth and catch you by surprise. A space that can take in wonder and beauty in the external world or between people and be deeply moved by it.
In 2018, can you leave some room in your heart and mind for the unimaginable to show up in your life?
We're being turned into a noun,
when the aliveness is in being a verb.
If you love singing, just sing.
You don't have to become a singer.
You follow the aliveness
and the identity follows over time.
~ Mark Nepo
Frequently people get discouraged from trying something new because they are afraid of not being able to do it well right from the start. It's often hard to be a beginner at something as there may be a steep learning curve. This (unrealistic) desire or need to do things well from the beginning and the fear of not being able to do so can stop you in your tracks. The fear of feeling incompetent and the accompanying embarrassment and shame may lead you to either not start something new or to abandon it very quickly, not really giving yourself a chance to enjoy learning whatever you were attracted to in the first place.
What if you could be grateful that a new idea, interest, impulse or passion bubbled up? Could you trust and follow this inner aliveness with anticipation and beginners mind? Might it be acceptable to learn to sing or dance, or play a new instrument without worrying about being a singer, dancer or musician? Can you follow your aliveness with openness and curiosity for the pure joy of doing something that has called to you?
When you go deeply into the Present,
Gratitude arises spontaneously,
Even if it's just gratitude for breathing,
Gratitude for the aliveness
that you feel in your body.
Gratitude is there when you
acknowledge the aliveness of
the Present Moment.
It's easy to feel grateful when life is going well, or to feel gratitude for a specific circumstance or "win." In those moments, it's easy to celebrate life and to feel connected, happy and grateful.
Yet there are other moments that are darker, when there are worries or concerns, a health challenge or diagnosis, a betrayal, a break-up, or some other major loss in your life. You may suffer from depression or anxiety which can cast a dark cloud over your ability to engage in life or to appreciate being alive.
In recent years, there has been an emphasis on "gratitude lists" and though it might sound trite or cheesy, finding even one thing you are grateful for can help you connect to yourself and to life in those dark moments. It is NOT a solution, nor should " looking for the positive" be used as a bypass of real human feelings that need to be felt and worked through before truly being released.
But feeling grateful for even one thing, large or small- the sun shining, a flower blooming, a smile, the joy of a child exploring something, the breath you are taking, a song, ANYTHING, makes it easier to bear whatever you are going through. This gratitude can shine a light into the darkness, helping guide you through the muck.
And if you are in a good space, gratitude will amplify your happiness, joy and appreciation of life. It can help bring you out of past and future thinking and into the delicious, unique aliveness of the present moment!
Call me for an initial consultation
if you'd like help connecting to yourself
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley