I want to begin by telling you a story today.
Actually, it’s a story that Tony Robbins tells of a massive, multi-million dollar factory. It manufactures thousands of items every day on a HUGE assembly line, employs hundreds of people, and has countless moving parts.
And then something goes wrong.
The entire production line grinds to a screeching halt.
No one can figure it out. They’re stuck – literally and figuratively.
So they bring in Gus. Gus asks a few questions, runs a quick diagnostic, and almost immediately figures out the problem. With a simple twist of a single knob, everything is running smoothly again.
Everyone was gobsmacked…that’s it? That’s all it took? How did we not see that?
Same thing goes when we have a problem that feels HUGE, with lots of variables and moving pieces. It’s overwhelming, frustrating, and heavy because we can’t see the way out. Surely it would take a solution that feels just as big and just as complex as our problem…right?
Then someone with a little objectivity and lots of experience taps us on the shoulder and says, “hey friend, have you tried this one simple thing yet?”
We scoff. Get defensive. And feel deep resistance. I mean, don’t they understand our BIG, COMPLICATED, NO-ONE-CAN-FIGURE-THIS-SHIT-OUT problem?! Don’t they get that we’ve spent days/weeks/months/years feeling stuck and trapped by this big, complicated mess that we can’t untangle? It would take a damn miracle to figure it out!
We’d subconsciously much prefer to be handed a big, complex solution because somehow that validates how stuck we’ve been feeling. We want someone to say, “obviously you couldn’t find your way out of this because it’s actually gonna take 3782 steps to get there.”
Then we’d sigh with relief…..phew....I KNEW it was big and complicated!
This kind of ingrained resistance is often why we brush off practices like mindfulness and breathing techniques.
How could something so simple possibly help with our complex, challenging, tangled-up lives?
If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re in good company m’dear. Many of us bristle at the mere mention of the word ‘meditation’ or ‘mindfulness’, believing it’s not for us or that we suck at it. Brené Brown in her book Rising Strong, talks about how she initially resisted the idea of mindfulness too until she started doing the research and was able to reframe it as paying attention.
Makes sense, as mindfulness is just paying attention and being curious enough to ask why.
It can look like…”hmmm, I wonder why I’m eating an entire box of cookies right now? What am I avoiding? What am I afraid to feel? What can I do/say/give to myself that would be TRULY helpful?
Notice and get curious…with NO judgement. That’s all there is to it. Practising ‘paying attention’ leads to a level of self-awareness and conscious choice that can transform our lives.
Brené also talks about her resistance to the box-breathing technique. It felt too simple and maybe a little too “woo woo” since it’s been practised and promoted by yogis for centuries. Then she started researching people in high-stress jobs (i.e. snipers in the military) and getting curious about how they train themselves to remain calm.
They all told her about this simple breathing technique – box-breathing. Turns out it’s not just for yogis, it’s helpful for ALL of us (but definitely feels more ‘badass’ when you know Navy Seals use it to calm themselves down too).
A Small Key Can Unlock A Big Door 🗝
Simple practices can be effective even when the thing we’re facing feels big and complicated. Here we go then, 4 practices that on the surface might feel too easy but can have profound results.
When you’re faced with conflict (humans are hard sometimes) or can’t see your way out of a situation, start here…
Knee-jerk reactions are hard to control (okay, damn near impossible) but the first step is to pay attention and get curious.
Our bodies never lie.
- How does it feel in your body?
- Is your heart racing?
- Palms sweaty?
- Face flushed?
- Is there a sudden knot in your stomach or a sinking feeling like when the elevator stops too quickly?
- Are you cold or shivering?
These are all signs that your fight, flight, freeze response is being triggered. Your body is begging you to pay attention.
Next, get curious….without judgement.
- What is it about this situation or interaction that is triggering this response?
- The words being said?
- The tone of voice?
- The body language?
- What does it remind you of?
- What are your emotions and body trying to tell you? Not about the other person but about YOU?
- Which boundary has been crossed?
- Which wound has been reopened?
I’ll say it again for those in the back…our bodies don’t lie. Our emotions are here for a reason. They point us towards the pain because that’s the only place that healing can take place.
When we start to become aware of our own reactions (how they can rock us, stop us in our tracks, or leave us lashing out at others) we begin to understand that when someone else is behaving this way there is ALWAYS more to the story. There is always hurt beneath their anger or stony silences.
We can see that it’s easier for them to act out because facing that pain… walking into the heart of it is just too scary.
And that my friends, is the beginning of compassion.
That doesn’t make their behaviour okay or acceptable. It doesn’t mean we excuse away bad behaviour or allow others to treat us with disrespect and disdain.
Even while we set clear boundaries we can do so with compassion for their suffering.
Permission To Feel
It needs to be held in order to be healed.
We are the undisputed QUEENS of pain avoidance. And we can turn just about anything into something that numbs us. There are the usual suspects: alcohol, carbs, sweets, drugs, gambling, sex, etc. But there are also the socially acceptable numbing behaviours like “retail therapy”, working too much, and Netflix bingeing. Anything we do can be done to excess if we’re not paying attention.
We convince ourselves that our emotions are too intense, they’ll swallow us up. Or that once we start to feel…that uncomfortable feeling will last forever, so just pass the ice cream. But emotions are energy in motion. They want to move through you. And it’s our avoidance that actually prolongs them.
To be honest, no one ever really taught us HOW to deal with these emotions but our consumer culture has been excellent at teaching us how to push them away, stuff them down, and numb them out. And it works…but only for a little while. The energy needs to move somewhere. Whether it’s a slow leak or an explosion, eventually they will demand to be felt.
And when we do finally stop and get curious enough to sit with our feelings, our losses, and our pain we go in with the purpose of FIXING THAT SHIT…fast.
As in, what do I have to do so that I never feel this way again?
Except that’s not the point.
We aren’t meant to put a steel cage around our hearts, we’re meant to feel it all. And we aren’t meant to rush through the negative and chase the positive but to sit with our feelings, whatever arises.
We need to bring our presence, attention and care to our grief and our anger and our anxiety because they will point us in the direction of healing…but only if we get still enough to listen.
Feel it. Then go back to #1 and get curious about what this emotion is here to tell you.
As mentioned above, emotions are energy in motion. And movement can be a great way to process them once we’ve unpacked the truth they’re pointing us towards.
This could be yoga, dance, hiking, singing, kickboxing, Qigong, martial arts or nature walks…whatever gets you literally moving energy in your body.
Or it could be as simple as breathing.
Take a few moments to do some deep breathing. Even if you just focus on extending the exhale because the inhale will happen naturally but the exhale will force you to sloooow down.
You could take the cue from the yogi’s and Navy Seals and try box breathing. Visualize drawing a box as you:
- Inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
- Hold for a count of 4.
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4.
- Hold for a count of 4.
Repeat as many times as feels comfortable or until you notice your heart start to slow down and you feel calmer.
Try A New Mantra
I’m an empath and healer at heart, so I have a tendency to want to rush in and make things better when others are in pain. This is something I struggle with because I end up taking on issues that clearly aren’t mine. After talking to a friend about getting swept up in some drama again, she had this simple solution in the form of a mantra:
I didn’t break it, it’s not mine to fix.
This simple sentence has LIBERATED me from energetic overuse. I help where/how I can and then leave it be. Not only does this free me up but also empowers the other person to figure it out. Win/win.
These practices aren’t complicated or time-consuming. They don’t involve 862 steps.
But they can be challenging, especially if, like the rest of the planet you’ve got your PhD in Pain Avoidance.
I’m asking you to be open. To try them out. And definitely more than once. Try to make them part of your daily routine. Because only with consistent practice will they become more natural to you. Then when conflict shows up, drama knocks, and those uncomfortable emotions make themselves felt, you’ll be way better equipped to handle them.
Remember, this is a practice, so be sure to meet yourself with grace and compassion every time you forget all this.
These simple practices might be just the thing you need to begin to untangle that big, complex problem of yours. See it in a different light. And understand how to move forward.