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Finding your way back to center

I launched a book two weeks ago. A few days before that, I wrote a different book in an intensive three-day workshop process, while co-facilitating said workshop. All told, it was two or three weeks of solid work without a day off. Followed by a week of emotional fall-out (aka constant crying) from some Unexpected Interpersonal Drama the popped up along the way.

Not the worst it’s ever been by any stretch, but definitely a taxing time.

At the end of it, facing my first free day, I felt this tense combination of urgently needing to relax and a complete inability to let myself rest. It was like my engine was still revving alarmingly high and I’d forgotten how to shut it off.

Before my own personal self-care awakening, I spent years in this state. And based on many conversations I’ve had over the past few weeks, many of us do.

Relaxation is a skill

We think it should be innate and obvious—but we practice the opposite so rigorously, running ourselves into the ground with stress and overwork and a compulsion to Go and Do, that relaxation becomes forgotten wisdom. Rest, recovery, relaxation, self-care. All of these things are actual skill sets that we get almost no encouragement to practice. Until it’s too late.

So, how do we find our way back to center when we’ve spun out of balance?

Look it in the eye

The first step, as always, is awareness. A little self-check of ‘hey girl, looks like you’re off the rails’ is often enough to start the process. This isn’t an invitation for a bunch of criticism and recrimination. We don’t need to dogpile punishment on top of a white-hot engine that has momentarily forgotten how to gear down. We just need a gentle, Psst, It’s Time from the little internal voice who always knows what’s what.

A reminder that even if we’ve forgotten how to kill the ignition, we can at least take both feet off the gas pedal to start.

Remember what worked before

In my case, I had this hilarious blank. I’ve spent years building up a massive personal toolbox of self-care practices, but at the moment I needed them, I forgot every single one.

So, just take a minute and calmly think back to what has worked in the past. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal—you don’t have to concoct a huge lavender-scented antioxidant recovery strategy for yourself right now.

You just need to remember one or two things that worked to settle you, and do them.

For me, it was a bath. A 20-minute bath with some sea salt and a couple drops of essential oils. I did this two or three days in a row and it was enough to start the process of unravelling the parts that were wound-up tight.

Trust your tools

Is a sea salt bath the silver bullet that’s going to save your entire life and solve all your problems? Nope, but it’s going to be the One Thing that reminds you of All The Other Things that really work to bring you back into balance.

That bath is going to remind you that you haven’t spent time around big trees and silence in awhile, and you’re going to get yourself to a park or a forest. It’s going to remind you about eating well and drinking enough water. It’s going to let you know that it’s totally okay to book an extra therapy appointment or acupuncture treatment. That what you need is a really great hug and an afternoon reading young adult novels.

It reminds you to make conscious choices on behalf of yourself.

These individual practices bring the big picture back into focus: that going deep with self-care has always served you, and it’s safe—and appropriate and necessary—to do that now.

Clear some space

This is where I tell you to say no. This is where I ask you point-blank if that other person’s needs are really and truly more important than your own well-being.

This is where I ask you how far down the Minimizing Your Own Health road you really want to travel. And where I ask you, gently but firmly, to not go to that barbecue party and not acquiesce to that unreasonable deadline and not offer yourself up as punching bag and serving wench to anyone who walks by.

I want you to nope out on anything that asks you to draw fumes from your already-empty tank for someone else’s benefit.

Does this mean you are offloading all adult responsibility and becoming a self-serving hermit? Uh, no. It means you’re taking a hot second, a solid week, or as long as it damn well takes to feel like yourself again, which is the adultest thing I’ve ever heard of to do.

Chill out about chilling out

There’s a thing that can happen where because you risked a lot to actually take care of yourself for a minute, you feel like you have to Achieve Ultimate Wellness And Personal Transformation.

I give that a no.

It would serve you way better to do a half-ass job at relaxing. For you to stare off into space and completely forget that you were planning to make a decaf almond milk latté, listen to Bach, and read the Dalai Lama’s writings.

Try doing nothing and see how difficult that actually is.

Rest and recovery are not things to accomplish or perform. They aren’t boxes to tick. This isn’t status-update-worthy stuff.

It’s sweaty pajamas and asking for help with the dishes. It’s making it to the farmer’s market, not because you’re going to post about it on Instagram, but because holy God those strawberries are so shinyredsublime they heal a part of you. Because pressing your forehead to the trunk of an ancient oak grounds you. Because watching a bird take a bath in a puddle is so simple and beautiful, it unwinds some of the burdensome complication you didn’t know you were carrying.

Get permission if you need it

Years ago, my psychiatrist would advise me to do the bare minimum. I loved her for that. Now, I keep a couple of friends close to me who, when I can’t seem to let myself off the hook, will do it for me.

These “permission slip friends” are folks who know how hard you work, who see how you put a hundred-and-ten into everything you do, and how deeply you serve everyone in your life. These are people who have your highest self in mind at all times. These are the people who you call when you need permission to phone it in for a second in order to get yourself right.

One of my dearest friends created a beautiful hand-painted sign that reads: Permission granted.

We could all use a sign like that.

What do you do when you can’t seem to slow the spin cycle? Share your strategies in the comments below.

 

Losing your lower self

Dreams are a lot of work.

You’re outside your comfort zone—raw, naked, vulnerable. And you’re working your ass off for something that’s a risk. Maybe it’s utterly new or scarily costly or dangerous to your physical safety. Maybe it’s not supported well by your friends or your spouse or, say, a consumerist, productivity-obsessed culture that eats human souls for tapas.

You’re dangling in the wind and hustling like a mofo all the livelong day.

That shit? Is taxing.

That’s not quite all, though is it? It’s tax season. Your lease is up in a couple months. Your bathroom sink just sprung an objectively fantastic leak. You have to bake 26 gluten-free, peanut-pristine cupcakes by 7:35 a.m. Your boss is crawling directly up your butthole. Your internet connection sucks, and you slept approximately 3.7 hours last night.

You’re TIRED, man.

Ah. But, wait, there’s more. You’re a perfectionist, albeit a recovering one. You’re introverted and sensitive. Your self-esteem could be better (thanks, childhood trauma). Your recurring back injury is threatening to recur, along with your recurring alcoholism. And today, at some point, a subtle or unsubtle combination of the world’s shittiest trifecta—capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy—will come over and slap you in the mouth.

Have we hit exhaustion? Oh, yeah. I think we’re there.

So, does anyone blame you for making out with a pint of chocolate ice cream and six consecutive episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine?

No, we freaking don’t.

It’s just that you do it every day. Or, at least, more often than you’d like. Enough that your Internal Okayness Monitor is on orange alert. We’re not at red, yet, thank god. But we’re way beyond that peaceful, lagoony bluey-green right now.

When pushed to the limit, we take refuge in our lower selves.

We do the things we know aren’t healthy or helpful. We skip out on self-care. I have been known to actively resent the things I know will help me, like meditation or exercise or looking on the bright side. Sometimes, I just want to be angry and blamey and victimy for awhile.

Sometimes, my pain and rage needs to be heard. And seen.

And sometimes, I need to eat an entire pie. (Pumpkin. With whipped cream. Screw you.)

There’s a subtle connection here with last week’s post on surrender, and I think the common element is that vibrating tension of rage. We work so damn hard on so many levels, and it doesn’t get acknowledged. Not really. Not enough.

So, let’s start with that.

I acknowledge you.

I see you girding your loins and stepping out of safety every single day. I see the risk you take in being who you are. Fighting to use a public bathroom. Doing what’s best for your kids amid judgement and ridicule. Dealing with bullshit microaggressions while launching your new career. Walking the tight rope of “wellness” and the razor’s edge of paying rent.

I see the battles you wage and the risks you take on behalf of your highest, most divine self. And I see the world undermine you and tear at you with its claws.

I see you. I hear you. I feel you.

And even though you feel terribly, desperately alone, and like the hits come from all directions at all times, I’m with you. We’re with you. There’s a whole lot of us. We’re here and we’re watching. Allies. Fellow travellers. Wounded healers, all.

We don’t see you as a freak making life harder on yourself. We see a valiant hero, slashing through the tangled woods.

Now, let yourself rest.

We’ll watch over you while you sleep. Trust us. Imagine that we’ve formed a circle around you, facing out. This is your protection. Here, we’ve gathered some lovely soft leaves for you. Your only job, and I know it’s not that easy, is to let yourself rest.

You know the effects of chronic stress. Of a body always in a state of fight or flight. You also know, intuitively and implicitly, that you can’t go on like this indefinitely.

So, in whatever form that takes, explore the experience of deep rest. Let down your guard for a moment. Sink into it. Like the softest blanket. Rest.

And, when it’s time, eat a piece of fruit.

Something bracing and alive. Like grapefruit or a cold strawberry just from the fridge. Something with that green, awake flavor that seems to contain all of life vibrating inside it.

Now, drink a glass of water. Drink it all the way down until the glass is empty.

Let these things cleanse you from the inside and trust that’s what they’re doing because they are.

See this not as a “healthy snack” but as a sacred ritual. A freshening. A conscious newness. An intentional act in the face of the world’s ridiculous, random folly.

This small offering is a link connecting you with Life and Earth. That which you are. Pure. Unfettered. Part of the larger organism of oceans and plateaus, one-celled creatures and herds of elephants. Fellow travelers. Wounded healers. The heartbeat that started when you were a tiny secret in the womb. Part magic, part carbon, part electricity.

And now, you rise.

The urgency of finding stillness

If you want to connect with your dreams and purpose, you need to hear yourself.

It’s not that you need to hear yourself think—it’s that you need to hear yourself not think.

Thinking and mental chatter, all that habitual processing and analyzing and worrying, is the mind’s default setting. It is Monkey Mind 101 to have a brain so filled with swirling clutter that you can’t identify your dream amid the flying thoughts, let alone prioritize it among all the brush fires alight in your mind.

You need to create some space. You need to find some stillness.

You need to slow the general frenzy and get clear about what you want. In a few weeks, I’m going to start talking about your intuition, the single most powerful dream navigating tool there is. My book is filled with intuition workouts. This is a critical skill. But, your intuition is only discernable in stillness and silence.

So, consider this fair warning, and a nudge to start training.

Inner chaos (to which you may have just added sixteen well-thought-out New Year’s Resolutions) might be your status quo, but it is not a life sentence. In fact, it’s the easiest thing to change because it requires nothing but a few mindful breaths.

This is where I tell you unequivocally that meditation can save your life.

I would love to make light of the repeating thoughts in people’s heads. I would love to crack a joke here about grocery lists and sexual fantasies and what to have for lunch. But, I’m afraid it’s much more dire that that.

The thoughts most of us have rattling around in our heads eat away at our life force, self-worth, and power.

I know people who keep apocalyptic, end-stage climate change front and center in their minds. I know folks for whom suicidal thoughts are regular houseguests. There are others who wake up with money stress every single day. And still others who, quite rationally, fear for their lives and the lives of their children.

So, this isn’t about grocery lists. This is about survival.

Rather, it’s about moving from a state of survival to a place of grounded and empowered strength.

You do that by sitting your ass down every morning, closing your eyes, and watching your breath.

Meditation is the easiest thing in the world to do. And it’s also the hardest. Your athletic mind will throw up every excuse in the book not to do it. (Which makes perfect sense. Nothing marks the end of monkey mind clearer than sitting down to practice.)

But, let’s address the big one directly.

How can something so ridiculously simple actually work?

Your problems are so intricately unique and complex, how can sitting with your eyes closed help?

Most of us operate our minds with a foot on the gas, another on the brake, hazard lights a-flashing, while we white-knuckle our way into oncoming traffic. Meditation is consciously taking your feet off the pedals, loosening your grip on the wheel, and letting the car gently coast to a stop.

You are, at the very least, no longer adding fuel to the fire. But, there’s more.

As you focus on the breath, you create a breath of space between You and Everything Else.

The financial panic, the pain and loss, the state of the world. Instead of having its hands wrapped firmly around your throat, it’s a few feet back. Over there, where you can see it clearly. Where it’s not actively trying to take you out.

This tiny breath of space between you and the world is the space in which you get your feet underneath you. It’s the space where you see which fires need fighting and which fires are simply not your fires. Where you move past the storm of emotion and start to understand responsibility and action.

The space gives you clarity, and it gives you choice.

You cannot access your dreams and your purpose in an environment of fear and chaos. You have the power to change the environment.

All you need to do is watch the breath. It’s bloody miraculous, if you think about it. It costs nothing. It requires no elaborate training. You already have the prerequisite skills. You can start right now with ten deep, mindful breaths.

In fact, do that.

Stop reading right now and take ten glorious breaths.

What happened? Did you do it? Or did resistance pop up and convince you that it was more important to finish this article and get on with the day?

I can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t start meditating “later.” Start now. (Start now, start badly, remember?) And start small. Ten minutes in the morning, or if that’s too much, five. If that’s still overwhelming: ten good breaths before you get out of bed. When you feel stressed or scared during the day, pause, take five breaths, and carry on.

This is not about reaching enlightenment in thirty days or less. This is about saving your own life one breath at a time.

Because this is 2016, there are amazing tools to help you start: