“How are you?” It’s a question we ask and are asked frequently. Depending on who’s asking, I have different responses, from a surface level ‘fine,’ to something that sinks deep into vulnerability.
Recently, when catching up with a friend, I heard myself recount challenges I’ve faced over the last 18 months. My two encounters with cancer, a family bereavement at Christmas, the clearing out of a family home and the challenge of selling a house with a large tax liability looming. But as we both agreed, that is simply life and we do our best to keep going.
Friends, clients, workshop attendees often comment on my positivity and I suppose I am a glass half full person.
But just as everything in life is based on duality (up and down, hot and cold, yin and yang) because we are human, there are times when we will struggle, when life’s load feels incredibly weighty.
In challenging times, we have two options – do we allow ourselves to sink, or do we keep going?
We sink when we become overwhelmed by the doom and gloom that bombards us every day. We sink when we succumb to pessimism and cynicism and perpetuate it in our daily conversations. We sink by continuing to do what we have always done in the vain hope that we do not have to change.
If we choose to keep going, we focus on what is within our control. We reach for gratitude when we can. I’ve found when life feels heavy, I’m being invited to ask for help, to surrender and to stop resisting what life is attempting to teach me.
Here are five ways that help me keep my head above water.
Fear looms beneath worry, frustration and stress. Facing life’s challenges means dancing with it, often on a daily basis. Fear is disabling, unfaced we will hunker into powerlessness. ‘What exactly am I afraid of?’
This is a liberating question when we are brave enough to ask it. Our inner child will answer it, so with compassion, we can wrap our arms around our vulnerability and perhaps allow ourselves to breathe just a little more softly. When we acknowledge our fears and label them, we contain them.
Do I really need to tune into the news first thing in the morning? Do I need the unending commentary about the latest Donald Trump tweet? Of course not.
I put effort into controlling my exposure to the news and negativity that doesn’t really impact me. My ‘news’ is what is happening in my immediate surroundings and with people I care about.
That doesn’t mean I don’t stay informed, but I refuse to buy into news editors’ or social commentators’ depressing interpretation of the world. I work on controlling the quality of the information I absorb and my response to it.
As Martin Luther King said ‘the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’
It is at the time of a crisis when our backs are to the wall that we show what we are made of. It is amazing what you can do when you have no choice but to take action and push forward. We all have libraries of memories, past trials where our courage trumped our fear and we survived, that we can now draw upon to resource ourselves for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.
When times are tough we can easily sink into the habit of ‘poor me.’ Unintentionally our focus and language can keep us stuck. ‘I don’t want to be sick,’ ‘why is this happening to me?’
‘I don’t understand why my business is failing,’ ‘what did I do wrong?’ All understandable and very human sentiment, but some things we will never understand and perhaps we are not meant to. ‘What do I want?’ ‘What’s within my control?’ ‘What can I learn from this?’ ‘What might be on the far side of this challenge?’ These questions help us reach for the light at the end of the tunnel.
I’ve never been good at putting my hand up and saying I’m struggling. Like many people, I saw it as a sign of weakness and I would never want to be a burden on others. Recent challenges have taught me that there are many people in my corner more than willing to help, but I have to ask for it and be open to receiving it. There is tremendous strength in vulnerability and it is only when we are at rock bottom do we learn who is there supporting us.
My recent challenges reminded me that I cannot control everything in life (though I have tried!) I learned that I ran a limiting belief ‘that ‘bad’ things shouldn’t happen to ‘good’ people.’ When we didn’t actively contribute to current difficulties it is easy to see ourselves as victims, but ultimately this never sits well with us. With an open mind, life’s challenges remind us of who we are and who we have the potential of becoming.
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