I felt my frustration rising to the top. Somehow my to do list felt like it was spinning and clarity felt far out of my reach. This was me...yesterday.
When my partner got off of his work call and stood up to announce that he was ready to take a walk that we had discussed an hour prior I was definitely not in the same headspace. My thoughts, my feelings, everything felt sticky. Like that jar of jam that you are utterly confused about how it somehow always gets sticky, gooey, sugary ooze on your hands, the knife, your shirt...what the heck even in your hair!
I paused. I tuned in. Anger. I was feeling super angry. What was I angry about? Why was I feeling so frustrated? Several hours ahead of time I felt completely fine. Upbeat even. Clear about my next steps and what I wanted to get done before the end of the day. Now, a heavy, sticky, jam covered cloud blocked my mental clarity. Clogged up my momentum. I stood up.
With each step I could see what was happening. I felt frustrated because I put others needs before mine. It was the afternoon and I started the afternoon wanting to get some big things off of my plate. Instead, I willingly took text messages and e-mails of those looking for help and provided some support. Normally I love doing this...when I’ve also addressed what I need. But there I was, moving into helper mode without paying any attention to that original moment of clarity about what I needed to move forward.
As I walked towards the door I stopped and stared. I know this really intense emotional shift is because I’m not honoring what I need in that moment. I’ve lost touch with that deepest intimacy with my inner being. “What do you want, Marci? What do you really need right now? Over the next two hours?” I asked myself. I kept tuning in as my partner lovingly rubbed my back, sensing I was feeling overwhelmed. “I just feel super overwhelmed in this moment,” I said to him. It felt good to name it and then I kept tuning in. What was probably just two minutes felt like fifty as I waited for what I need to sift to the surface.
“Go grab a decaf latte, go back to your co-working space, work until your 4 pm course, attend the course, close out your tasks, and then come back home. Everything will be different for you.” I heard my inner voice say. I grabbed my laptop, backpack, notebooks, pens, kissed my partner goodbye, and walked in silence to the coffee shop and to my co-working space.
As my feet edged closer to my office I tuned in. Sigh...I already felt different. The tightness that had been brewing in my belly softened, and a lighter energy of excitement, even motivation started moving in. “Now this is what i’m talking about.” I thought to myself.
We all need conscious skills for unclear moments.
For moments when it feels like overwhelm, frustration, and heavy energy are winning the day. Where all we want is clarity. We need a bucket of go-to’s that we know intimately and maintain to pull us out when we get consumed with cloudiness in moments when we absolutely need clarity.
Old Marci would have gotten super stuck in a lack of clarity. I would have been like a restless puppy finding anything to chewing. Starting to chew everything, but never really finishing anything. Attention starved and frustrated, my ego would have started barking loudly inside as my inner critic yelled to get shit done already! As the pressure mounted I would have eventually likely had a total melt down which looks like several different scenarios. By the way, adults are not that much different than kids, except kids own their meltdowns. We try to pretend we don’t melt down, but we do. Let me just own mine.
Scenario one: The fuck it scenario. In this melt down I drop everything and give up on work for the day in desperation. I completely shut down and pretend I don't care when I really, really, I mean really, do.
Scenario two: The martyred pusher. This is the “justified” melt down where feeling frazzled, I push through anyways at an unsustainable rate and hate every moment of it. You know the I can’t wait for this to end experience? It’s that.
Scenario three: Run away forever. This is my trap door, “I need to go live in a cave” impulse that grows stronger and even has me distracted with retreat centers, forests, and remote places I could go to (this used to happen a lot for me before).
Today, I opt for leaning on more helpful strategies. Conscious strategies when I’ve moved into a survival drenched place.
When we shrink down into that tight sticky place where it’s hard to see clearly, we’ve retreated into a very primal place.
In this cozy primal place where our minds are focused entirely on surviving we feel frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, and irritable. We have disconnected from our more conscious, fuller self, and shrunken down into a slice of ourselves that is fueled by fear. What happens for most of us in these moments is that we leverage survival-born skills and strategies that just reinforce our fears and produce more survival-like responses.
For this week’s Joy Tip Wednesday I want to invite us to practice conscious strategies in survival moments.
While the example I shared with you is composed of many conscious strategies, I want to share what I see are the bare bone essential strategies to lean on and get you started.
The next time you feel frustrated, irritated, overwhelmed, anger, try one or all of these and see what shifts:
Universally this is the number one thing to do. Always and forever. Take space from what you are doing, thinking about, trying to figure out. This seems completely nonsensical since what you want is clarity, but honestly taking any moment of space in a moment when you feel completely revved up with do you wonders. You can do this by stopping what you are doing and taking three deep breathes. Or redirect your thoughts by putting your mind's focus on something else. An old favorite of mine is the A, B, C, D method where you look around you and find anything that starts with the letter A and then continue through the rest of the alphabet until you feel a shift. Make sure you take space with the intention of getting to a more conscious, whole, place and perspective. This will prevent you from just avoiding your feelings and the problem. The idea of taking space is simply to allow your system to start shifting out of survival mode.
Acknowledge that the feeling is temporary.
Oh man. When we are in the stick of the stickiness it feels as if it will last FOREVER. The Buddha taught that everything, I mean e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g is impermanent. The good, the bad, and everything in between is forever and always impermanent. This means that in a moment I feel frustrated I know it will not last forever. Remembering this can help me soften around the edges that are otherwise growing hard. It calms the survival mechanism inside of me that is feeling very scared and wants to avoid pain.
Get in touch with what you need.
Ultimately I’ve come to realize that in moments when I move into a limited, survival-oriented version of myself I need something and I’m not listening, or even tuning in to discover what that need is. One of the most powerful things we can do in a moment we feel mentally clouded or overwhelmed is to keep lovingly asking and patiently waiting to discover what we need. Practice patiently, softly asking yourself “what do you need right now?” and listen to what you hear.
While these practice seem simple, and you may have even heard about them before, employing them on a regular basis, intentionally in moments when you feel like clarity is evading you is profound. What I hear often from people is that they know certain strategies and practices, but struggle with how and when to use them. Is this challenge familiar to you? Write me in the comments below about how you struggle with using the tools you already have in your toolkit. I'd love to start a conversation.
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