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EAL #19 — The Rubber Meets the Road

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So the rubber meets the road. I need to get a newsletter out and I’m at the end of a frustrating day. My mind is tired and the thoughts are coming on thick. It’s really dark. Fear, confusion, self-doubt, the whole kit and caboodle.

But this is where it gets real. The places with the most darkness hold the most light. I want to run so badly but I know that if I do freedom will elude me. I will continue to be subject to these states, continue to need to run from them and avoid the underlying bubbling cauldron.

It’s very nice and beautiful to write about living a wise life from the calm and composure, but what about from the chaos and confusion? I don’t feel very wise right now, very excellent at life.

So I tap into the confusion, I relax into the frustration, and I cry. I peek under the hood and warily glance at what’s present — it’s like putting my hand in an oven of fear. Wow. I really don’t want to feel this.

Lost in the river of thought, it’s hard to see clearly, hard to get my bearings. I look for anchors on the riverbank, something to grab onto outside the delusional thought stream I’m foundering in.

What would be a big win for me here? How would I deal with this difficulty if I were my ideal self?

I push through the overwhelm. I push through the thoughts. I write a few words.

These few words will do.

They’re real.


Ten Strategies for When Things Are Really Rough

After I wrote this, I realized it could be useful to list some strategies to use when the currents are so overwhelming. The challenge here is that when things feel so dark it is very hard not to get lost, the thoughts feel so real. At the same time though, there is a huge opportunity here because it is these moments that we fear most and most haunt us. So here are ten strategies to explore.

1. Surrender to the river

This is the ultimate resolution and so often the hardest because our identities are so fixed. But perhaps it also the easiest. Can you stop resisting, stop saying no to what’s here? Can you become the river?

2. Just realize you’re lost

Just noticing and recognizing that you’re crazy and merely holding the aspiration to be able to experience and stay present is itself very valuable. It is the seed that can grow into a flower and celebrating the seed will water it, deepening your intentionality and making it more likely to do so.

3. Mindfully look at the thoughts and feelings

Pause and attend to what is going on inside gently. You may not be in a position to stop resisting the energy of life right now, but by being willing to look at it you will gain more insight into it and greater skill at working with it.

4. Move your attention elsewhere

Thoughts can feel so compelling, so absolute. They are ultimately a fabrication of our minds but at the strongest this is very hard to see. So we want to see if we can slip a little lever between the thought world and the real world so that some scrap of our attention is outside the maelstrom. You can look at the room around you, you could feel your breath coming in and out, put your awareness in your hands, or feet, or body in general. You could meditate on music or on another person or really on anything outside your mind.

5. Mentally narrate what is going on outside of you

“I’m sitting in my house, the temperature is comfortable, I have shelter, and safety, and clothing, and food, and family, and the rest of Maslow’s hierarchy. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the mosquitoes are biting me.” This is an aid that can help you move your attention elsewhere and pull some of it away from the thoughts. And adding some humor is always good for lightening things up 😊

6. Orally narrate what is going on inside you

“I feel so afraid. I’m judging myself as being deficient because I’m feeling overwhelmed. There’s a lot of terror here and it’s scary for me to feel. I feel really lost and confused and I’m afraid I’ll always be stuck like this.” (You could just do this mentally if it’s too difficult to verbalize, but it is powerful to express it because it often allows you to connect with the feelings.)

7. Consider that other people feel this too

This does two things. First, it makes it less personal: it’s not about you, this is just something humans experience. When it’s less personal, it stops bothering you so much; it’s just a process, something happening to you.

Second, it offers the opportunity to turn this into compassion for other people, to understand their experience because you understand yours. Compassion is calming, one of the four “heavenly abodes” of the mind, and gives you a lot more space to hold things.

8. Focus on what you can do

What is in your hands and what is not? Write down what you can do and do it and what you can’t do and ask someone else to or leave it be.

9. Distract yourself

When things are overwhelming it can often be wise to just go to the old-fashioned distraction route. There’s nothing wrong with doing so and then revisiting the overwhelm when you feel more up to it.

10. Ask someone for support

I know I find this very difficult. I feel like I shouldn’t need other people, I should have it together. But leaning on someone else for care, trusting in someone else’s consideration, is a beautiful opening of the heart and critical to human relationship. Obviously, you need to be judicious about who you lean on — some people are way too reactive for this. Overtime, it is good to seek out “spiritual friends” who you come to trust and can be honest with, and who will be honest with you. Sometimes your honesty itself will shift the nature of existing relationships in this way as well.

We are lost and we are okay.


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