When what used to work, no longer works

Hello, dear one.

I’m back. Did you miss me? I missed me. I missed you!

About 10 months ago, I shared with you that I was going on a Sabbatical of sorts, mostly taking a break from launching programs and doing consistent emails, social media, blogs, and the like.

I was at a crossroads, one of those face-in-the-dust moments, in which I knew if I kept doing the things that I was doing, in the way I had been doing them, I was going to break.

It was a good sabbatical.

And then I forgot I was on a sabbatical and the fam got sick for a long time and life got very un-sabbatical-like. But regardless of taking several un-sabbatical-like steps backward, I have some sweet fruits born of this time to share with you in the coming months.

What I’ve been chewing on, gnawing on, all these sabbatical months, is this question:

What do we do when what used to work, no longer works? And not only does it no longer work, but actually makes things worse?

As an example, working hard and harder still, used to work. It no longer works.

In fact, working hard and harder still — while it’s a great skill sometimes and it certainly has helped me in the past — is part of what’s caused such deep soul-level exhaustion for me.

I can’t dig myself out of a hole of exhaustion by working harder and harder still, which is in itself deeply exhausting.

There’s a moment when we realize that what’s worked in the past, perhaps quite well, no longer works now. In fact, now it’s making things worse.

What do we do then? When there are still bills to pay, bellies to feed, hearts to nurture? When we can’t stop the ride of life and get off?

Here’s what I’ve been in a deep examination of, one that is still going on.

The skill of working hard and harder still? It’s a good one. It has its place. But it only works for some things, some of the time. What about for the other times? What’s THAT skill?

There’s a counterpart to “work harder,” a skill that most of us weren’t taught at all, or if we did learn it, we were taught is for losers:

Rest. Pause. Stop. Replenish. Lay Fallow. Listen. Wait.

If I build a life and a business using both these skills, in which there are times of work and times of rest, can I have a thriving livelihood? Can you? Dominant culture would assure us no. But I think we can. I don’t see very many examples of people doing this, but I see a few. And although it’s still a work in progress (ha, ha), it’s looking promising over here.

How about the skill of pushing through pain? It’s also a good one that has its place, at times. Like caring for babies, the elderly, or a friend in a face-in-the-dust moment, or getting up when you don’t wanna and delivering whatever thing because the people are counting on it. But what do we do when pushing through pain, brings more pain?

It too has a counterpart. It’s called listening to pain.

I believe that the root of our suffering is that we don’t know how to work with our own pain. We know how to ignore our pain, pathologize our pain, medicate our pain, lightwash our pain. But listen to it? Engage in a respectful dialogue with it? Discover what it’s trying to tell us?

One of my mentors likes to say, “The messenger will not rest until the message is delivered.” The messenger is whatever feeling you’re feeling — like pain. The feeling, the pain, will not rest until it delivers its message to you.

Knowing how to listen to our pain and discover its message, is one of the most grounding, liberating, resilience-creating skills I know of. It’s quite simple, but there are plenty of decent reasons we don’t do it:

Most of us weren’t taught or shown or modeled how to listen to our pain. We can only be what we can see. So when we are shown how to listen to our pain — and that it won’t kill us — then we can do it ourselves, with the natural ease of any birthright.

Another reason we don’t listen to our pain is that later in life we get fed (misleading and destructive) messages that one self-improvement regime or another will make our lives pain-free. And that if there is still pain, that’s a problem, and it’s because we are not yet fully self-improved.

Pain isn’t the problem. It’s our immature relationship with pain that creates problems.

And also, so many of us were in such pain-drenched situations growing up that ignoring, numbing, or medicating our pain was a wise, effective way to survive. It was good that we figured out how to feel less pain!

However. It’s just that now, that skill of ignoring pain that used to work, no longer works. In fact, it makes things worse.

Because what we knew yesterday is not what we need to know today.

Dear one, I keep waiting for the pandemic to be over, for the genocides to stop, for the wars to come to a cease-fire, for the courts to say “Ooops, what were we thinking? Silly us! Never mind,” for our hearts to stop breaking, for the daily overwhelm to calm the F down.

My friend, I’ve stopped waiting for any of this. I have been looking for and finding new skills that allow us to draw a breath of relief, to rest, to listen to what’s there, including pain, even though the madness of the world continues its whirl.

I have some beautiful things for you in the coming months. Programs, offerings, supportive tools. I look forward to sharing them with you.

I want for you to feel sweetness in being you. I want you to know what is yours to do this lifetime. I want for you wisdom, radical self-respect, and a good life. I want for you to break the trance of worry about wrinkles or gray hairs or the size of your thighs. I want for you to see beauty all around you and — most importantly — all up in you. I want for you to love your flesh. I want for you to know how to mine for the golden wisdom in such unlikely places as shame, overwhelm, and inner conflict. I want for you to buff those muscles of celebrating your wins and of voicing your joy.

I want you to put down the tools that used to work but now don’t and to pick up new ones that do.

I want all of that for you even while, especially while your life may be as full of fallen branches and sharp stones as mine is.

With warmth,

liyana-sig-magenta-350px

PS: Image by Wendy K. Yalom

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