I’ve had one of those days, caused by, well, nothing pleasant. So of course I decided to write.
To sum up the day: s*#t happens.
Which got me thinking that as much as we might believe that we can prevent and control whatever it is, that’s not how life works.
You will be tested. And usually just when you think you have things figured out. Because the universe likes a good test. Not to mention that the only way to grow and evolve is through challenge.
A very frustrating truth, but there it is.
And so you panic, start to scramble and risk accepting the worst thoughts your mind produces. Your mood sours. You are likely to consider or even engage in the most unreasonable levels of compromise, imagining for a while that becoming a doormat to the expectations of others or circumstances will somehow win you salvation. You might yell really loud and slam many doors. Your anxiety will skyrocket. And the list goes on.
Notwithstanding horrific tragedies…the most unpleasant, annoying or scary things that routinely happen to all of us in life are manageable and temporary, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.
And here comes the wisdom. Experience taught me things like the importance of paying attention to what we tell ourselves. As in…don’t exaggerate by taking poetic license for dramatic effect. The brain is always listening. If you tell it things like “this is a disaster”, it will believe you and create thought patterns and body symptoms to match. It’s so important to label carefully and realistically.
Then there’s the feeling of our feelings. And expressing them. To a friend, in a journal, to the walls in your room. What isn’t felt and expressed gets buried and turns into illness. The body truly does keep the score, as the title of that famous book by Bessel van der Kolk says. Your back will give out. Digestive issues will flare up. Insomnia and racing thoughts and exhaustion will visit. Lump in the throat, dizziness, headaches or migraines…you name it…will show up.
Another thing to consider is that fear and anger lead to our pain points. And not so as to punish, but only so that we can heal. We have to take some time to breathe and do some work to figure out what hurts and why. With compassion and patience. Give ourselves permission to be our own supportive, gentle guide.
And last but not least is the breathing. Everyone always talks about the miraculous effects of deep, diaphragmatic breathing. I dismissed it at first, but after a few months of daily practice, I can only say it’s a lifesaver. Reasoning yourself out of difficult moments is a lot harder than breathing yourself out of them. And don’t practice mindful breathing just in moments of tension or upset. Do it when you feel calm and settled. In the morning, at lunch, before bed. It will become a habit, and it will give you a handle on your sanity. Trust me on this.
I am not fond of clichés. At least not the ones that seem to minimize our distress in difficult moments, and turn everything into a positive message.
Still, I started with a cliché and will end with the same one. This too shall pass is a gentle reminder and to me, feels like a hug. A simple utterance to provide perspective, while acknowledging the presence of things that are less than pleasant or desirable.
Because the reality is we need time and space to deal with adversity, even if it’s just a really lousy mood for a while. Unpleasantness we go through deserves respect. It’s ok to call adversity for what it is, and not constantly try to make it into some kind of blessing, even if ultimately there is always a lesson and opportunity in there somewhere.