We don’t get through life without having a few good ‘A-ha’ or ‘Come to Jesus’ moments. Sometimes it’s little things, like the first time the bagger at the grocery store calls you “Ma’am” or you realize you aren’t being carded at Happy Hour anymore. Sometimes they are whoppers – like the realization that your marriage is not going to work, that the person you’ve become was the very person you feared of becoming, or that your job is actually the very thing that is making you ill.
There are many responses to these moments of what Laurel Mellin refers to as “essential pains”. An essential pain is that moment when you face the fact, see what is, and have a negative response to it. That pain piece is usually because we have attachments to things which are at odds with what is directly in front of us.
“I thought we would be together forever.”
“I told myself I’d never get above 180, and look at where I am!”
“I let him hit me because I believe I’m not worth better than this.”
“Oh look, here I am again eating leftovers at 2am! WHY DO I KEEP DOING THIS?!?!”
A lot of times, our impulse is to get angry, and like the Tasmanian Devil from the Warner Brothers cartoons, we become outwardly destructive with others in our frustration or take that anger inward and beat ourselves mightily for our mistake. If the pain feels like it is more than we can deal with we may turn around like a squirrel and skitter off in the opposite direction or refuse to do anything but stand there, immobilized like a donkey. Sometimes we turn to denial and try and forget by sticking our head in the sand like an ostrich and pretending nothing was discovered.
The discomfort we call pain can be a powerful motivator, if we know what to do with it. It’s what brings most people to my door – a realization and a tipping point where they are ready to make different choices for themselves, but aren’t sure quite how.
There can be a long valley between the realization and the action, but I have found personally that the following tips, practiced over time, turn that valley into a small crack in the soil that you can very easily step across.
- Ask, “what is the unreasonable expectation here?” This comes straight from “The Pathway” by Laurel Mellin, a fantastic book with very clear steps to unite the logical mind with the more tumultuous emotional mind. It was very helpful for me in allowing myself to experience anger and in working with my emotional eating. Knowing that pain is caused by a refusal to accept what is, we can then surmise that we have an obstacle to what is – an expectation that is not reasonable, given the current circumstances. Keep in mind, it needn’t be logical or rational, it is what it is. Examples: “I have an unreasonable expectation that I can neglect to eat all day and have willpower at night.” “I have an unreasonable expectation that I should stay in this relationship because he needs someone to love him and I’m the only one.” “I believe that I deserve these donuts because I had a bad day, and I keep telling myself that even though they make me feel worse…oh wow, I believe I deserve to feel bad.” “I believe if I say ‘No’ that makes me a bad person.”
Knowing our unreasonable expectations gives us awareness to where we are at odds so that we can make changes. Sometimes these awarenesses are as painful, or moreso, than the actual discomfort. It is very hard for rabbits and ostriches to stay engaged if this happens. I tend to be donkey-like (this stems from perfectionist tendencies – if I make a move, I have to make sure it is the right one! Otherwise – DON’T DO A THING.) and have spent months in paralysis while letting go of what my Ego told me I needed to be in order to be loved and accepted in the world. This is where the second tool comes in:
- Cultivate Compassion.
This is what turns the ostrich into the elephant (funny analogy, no?). It is going a layer deeper and forgiving ourselves for our mistakes and bad choices. It is the top layer of our Ego that has adopted the unreasonable expectation, but the layer underneath that which tells a story of ‘knowing better’ or ‘deserving it’ or whatever excuse we use to keep us stuck is Ego as well. When I say Ego, I refer to the adopted and created stories we tell ourselves about who we are, what we should/shouldn’t do, etc. It contains both healthy and unhealthy beliefs about ourselves, who we are, and how the world works, though in this instance I refer to the latter aspects of Ego.
Here are some simple tools to bring yourself compassion:
- Remember – you ALWAYS do the best you can in any given situation, with what you know and what you have at your disposal.
- What would someone who loves and cares for you unconditionally say to you about this situation?
- What would you tell a close friend or small child about this situation?
When we are living in a state of compassion and awareness of our past choices and their contribution to the present, it is usually easy to make a change. The drama and the story is gone and it becomes about making a course correction in your life to get to where you want to be. When we let go of shame and anger and “shoulding” all over ourselves the answers often appear very easily and readily, making action clear and decisive. We move like the elephant, unobstructed by a crack in the soil or a dense thicket because we embody our grandness and our ability to move through what is in the way. We pull our head out of the snow and continue the journey towards Happiness, which is our true home.