When Do the Ebbs and Flows Stop?
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I recently heard Glennon Doyle Melton say this. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the same idea. Martha Beck, Eckhart Tolle, Brene’ Brown and Pema Chodron talk about pain, fear and the stories that we tell ourselves. But over the course of the last month, I’ve been reminded how important it is to remember that as humans going through life, even the most enlightened among us will have ebbs and flows. Life happens. Take me for example. I’m a life coach. A yoga teacher. I’m supposed to know how to catch my thoughts, be the observer and not let myself get caught up in stories in my mind. Except that it happens. Even to me. To all of us.
Most recently, I spent a solid day stuck in the mud with the thought “I am a hypocrite” and all the associated stories that I gave power to. I’d been teaching a group of beginner yoga students (and fellow teacher training peers) as part of our training and had the opportunity to close our practice. I invited a group to consider friendship in a new way – to find compassion for themselves.
“Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.” - Pema Chodron
I shared the words of Pema Chodron, and invited each person to be their own best friend instead of their own worst critic when they left their mat. But guess what? Somehow I struggled to be my own best friend because of feedback that I’d gotten about my teaching. What struck me was that as much as I sing the praises of feedback as progress, I wasn’t showing up with integrity to receive the feedback. Any pride or confidence that I’d felt, was erased. And most of all. I felt like a supreme hypocrite.
I spent the day in my funk. I wallowed.
The next day, I went back to my yoga mat. I remembered an intention that I’d recently set. “I am me.” (By the way...Setting an intention works. Trust me.) And yes, I used some self-coaching to begin to create space around the thought and then eventually was coached around the idea.
Because life is a series of ebbs and flows. Ups and downs. Highs and lows. Pain, discomfort, fear, followed by hope, optimism and joy.
With the thought, I am a hypocrite – I retreat. I do not accept encouragement and I’m not really nice to those around me. I isolate and start to doubt everything.
But without the thought, I can see growth. I enjoy connection with others. I feel a sense of hope for the future without expectation. Without the thought, I’m able to show up with compassion and gratitude – for others, but also for myself.
I had a choice. Do I want to retreat and doubt myself or do I want to feel hope and connection?
I chose hope, growth and connection. (Phew, because then I'd really be questioning this whole life coaching thing.)
A client recently asked me, “But when does it stop?”
Here is the deal.
It doesn’t stop. Life doesn’t stop. AND...for better or worse, when you start doing the work to find flight in the fight – sometimes things get worse before they get better. Opening yourself up with integrity and vulnerability is HARD work. Allowing yourself to FEEL is hard work.
Ups and downs are part of the journey. The trick is to have enough tools in your arsenal to catch the thoughts. Acknowledge the thoughts. Maybe even make friends with the pain/discomfort/fear/feelings. It isn’t about bottling yourself up so tight that you never feel.
We all have a choice.
Life happens. Suffering doesn’t need to.
I’m not talking about being constantly in search for silver linings, but I am offering the idea of accepting what is. Imagine choosing to move forward with intuition and intention. The more we can create space and acceptance around anything that feels yucky, without connecting a story to it, the better we can respond.
Think about it. How many stories have you told yourself today? What if you could catch yourself when the story starts to unfold. Notice the thought. Name it. And then...breathe.
Yes. You read correctly. I just said breathe.
Honestly, breath is the most powerful thought-dissolver there is. Also, gratitude. Notice the big and little things you are grateful for. Combine the two togehter, and the results can be magical. Trust me.
Go try it. As in right now. Close your eyes. Take 6 breaths – inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Then, think of at least 3 things you are grateful for. Maybe the sun is out. Maybe a colleague/family member or friend smiled at you today. Maybe you are just thankful for your coffee.
Ebbs and flows happen. They don’t stop. But you CAN respond in a way that doesn’t invoke suffering. It probably won’t always be easy. But it is possible.