At this time of the winter solstice, nature experiences an energy of slowing down, going inward, and shedding of old skins – like deaths in preparation for rebirth. This is reflected in us as well, yet sometimes we meet this natural tendency with resistance, or feel so overwhelmed with activity and stresses that we don’t even realize we need to slow down.
As I sank into some inward time recently, I realized that much of my life now is structured very differently than 15, 10, or even 5 years ago! The way I naturally experience my life now, the way I create it, is so vastly different than before that I often forget that at one time I didn’t even realize it was possible! And so as I hear clients and other people remark about frustrations they have in their own lives, often in 3rd person generalizations…things like “well you know, all men out there are…” or “everyone is stressed out and rushed, that’s normal” or “no I wasn’t abused, but I did experience, you know, the ‘normal’ spankings and verbal attacks of childhood” or “you can’t just leave your job…”
I would like to offer a new way of seeing it – a sample of a possible reality, a portion of my story. And share that it didn’t all happen easily or overnight, it was progression of waking up, seeing things a new way, making mistakes and trying again, feeling the differences in my body as I explored new ways of being.
So let me share a few things that I used to consider “normal”, or even necessary, that are no longer a regular part of my life:
Diet Coke (or other artificial beverages) – in high school I drank the stuff like crazy; I quit a year or two into college, and suddenly headaches I had experienced regularly went away. Over time, other artificial foods and substances that no longer resonate for me have dropped away as well.
Bar Scene – I thought the only form of recreation and meeting people was hanging out with alcohol and “friends”. Sure it was great for numbing out, but once the drinking stopped I realized how “sensory-overloading” the places are. Sports on TV’s, music, loud conversations, aggressive behaviors, heavy food, smoke (or at least in those days) — so overwhelming to the senses…that is, when I finally started to feel my senses again.
TV and associated media bombardment – I realized the TV was on when no one was even in the room. Or, it would be on with people in the room and no one watching it. So, I turned it off. At first it was hard… it was so QUIET! Wow, silence. Suddenly I had to start listening to the voices in my head that I had been drowning out for so long.
Sitting at a Desk – I sat at a desk all through school, college, and 15 years of corporate engineering. We in the west just assume we must sit in chairs and position tables or desks in front of us to eat or work. I began sitting cross-legged, meditation style, on a zafu (cushion filled with buck wheat hulls, designed for meditation) years ago to explore meditation and yoga. I realized after I left corporate life that I enjoyed sitting that way so much more than in a chair. So I created a workstation for my laptop which positions it in front of me at arm level, while seated on a zafu on the floor. This is how I spend the computer portion of my “work day” now!
I feel so far removed from some of these things that often they don’t even cross my mind in the realm of possible options anymore, sort of like a whole new baseline of what is “normal” in my world and that of my closest friends. Sometimes I forget they exist. I feel healthier, happier and more connected to my body than I have ever felt. Does that seem possible?! Yes, it is!
So if you feel stuck, how can you begin to make the shifts that feel good for you? How do you even know what feels good from a place of authentic self? (Note this can be very different than the messages from your wounded self that often throws in some curve balls like “oh yes, eating chocolate covered marshmallows all day long sounds like it would feel soooo good!”)
Here are a few things that have been pivotal for me:
Get a journal and a pen and start writing! Streams of consciousness at first — just dump out all the thoughts in your head. No need to write with any grammar or spelling perfection, or even sentence structure. Just let the thoughts pour out.
The book, “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron was one of my big inspirations for this. I was resistant at first…I remember thinking, ”I’m not a writer”. I recall at one point in my early days of journaling, literally writing the words “blah, blah, blah, I don’t feel like writing right now, I don’t know what I should be writing, blah, blah, blah….” And within a few more lines, emotions, thoughts and important areas of awareness in my life began pouring onto the pages. The key was giving it a chance, actually doing it daily to create the new pattern.
Years later, I still journal regularly as an integral part of my life and how I process self-growth. What and how it works for me has changed in many beautiful ways and it all began with simply putting pen to paper!
Just slow down enough to notice 5 breaths. Sit quietly, remove distractions (silence phones, turn down lights, find a comfy way to support your body while remaining alert; an erect seated position works well for this if you can get comfy in it…knees below hips helps keep the back happy) and notice your breathing. See if you can count 5 breaths, each inhale, each exhale, and just notice what it feels like to breathe. If after those first 5 breaths it still feels good to explore what might open up, stay seated and continue. If after those first 5 breaths it feels like you are done, then get up and continue with your day.
Slowing down like this gives us a chance to actually notice the messages that may be bombarding us to get our attention, but we’re operating in such an accelerated state we never knew they were there. So if you feel a flood of thoughts…take this chance to journal! Capture the ones you are worried you’ll forget about and make a to-do list, etc. Notice the ones that don’t need your attention and let them float on. And notice if some come in that you are resisting; write them down, see them, witness them. Give them the honor of being seen, even if you don’t like it. And then notice if some space opens up to just BE in the moment. Often our mind just needs some reassurance that you’ve got things captured, so you can let go of the reins a little bit and relax.
Yoga, or at a minimum a form of movement where you are also noticing your breath and your body, is also important. Mindful, intentional movement and flow is very different than disconnecting from your body and forcing yourself to “exercise” because you “should” (hmm….reading a magazine on the stationary bike–sound familiar to anyone? Yes, I have to admit, it does to me!). Yoga is about union, finding and connecting with opposite energies in the body to integrate and find balance.
I was drawn to yoga initially for the physical benefits (at the time I was an endurance athlete who had experienced many overuse injuries) to improve flexibility and strengthen the small balancing muscles in my body. What I experienced over the last 15 years in my practice was a shift in awareness to the spirituality of yoga, the life philosophy of yoga. What began as “what poses can I do?” has grown into “what can I learn about myself from the poses?” My yoga practice has helped me discover more about who I really am, because of the awareness it’s brought me about the messages of my body and breath.
Consider this…there is no “normal”! “Normal” is just a button on a washing machine. The only people who are “normal” are the ones you don’t know very well. YOU get to define your life, you don’t have to force yourself into any boxes that society wants to create for you. Rewrite your script, repattern the old limiting beliefs that lead you into thinking they are the only way.
You have the power to choose!
Decide if anything I’ve suggested here resonates for you and if so, go for it! And no need to beat yourself up if it feels like there’s too much to tackle at once! Go slow, take your time, start noticing your life and your patterns and see if there are ways to make small changes right now that will shift your trajectory over time. It doesn’t have to match my list, I only offer it here as a possible reality. Notice what your list is. And while it all doesn’t have to happen overnight… Yes, it CAN BEGIN right now!
What do you feel stuck with because you assume it’s “normal”? What do you choose to change?