Just when it seemed like things were going smoothly and in the direction that you wanted, bam! You get hit with the unexpected and even the unimaginable.
Perhaps it takes the form of a difficult internal challenge, an external disappointment or a major loss. These experiences can take your breath away, sometimes with awe at the power of life and other times like a punch in the stomach.
With each passing year, I am starting to soften more and more deeply into the unpredictable nature of life. I’m realizing that to live is to stand with two feet fully in the ocean without any certainty as to when a wave will come or go, or whether I will live or die.
We do not get to know exactly how big a wave will be, but we can guarantee that at some point it will arrive. Inevitably the wave will crash, and eventually it will also recede. With this wave might arrive a jubilant thrill or a terrifying fall. There is an inherent vulnerability to this human life, and it is imperative that we consistently care for ourselves amidst the ever-changing tides.
Below are four guidelines to support you on your journey, wherever you may find yourself in the great sea of life.
4 Essential Guidelines for Facing Difficult Times:
1. Put on your own oxygen mask first.
Most women are keenly aware of the people and needs that surround them. Whether you believe this instinct originates from nurture or nature is not what matters in this moment. Instead the caretaker impulse is something to be aware of. When a stressor of any sort comes into your life, it is essential to prioritize yourself first. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Wait and listen for a response that feels authentic. There is no “right” or “wrong” here, simply honor what is true.
Often times, when we feel overwhelmed, anxious or sad, there can be an unconscious instinct to ask what someone else needs or to fill our time with activities that serve someone else’s agenda, not our own.
In order to avoid this habitual pitfall, I recommend you create a list of 10 things that reliably nourish and support you. Ideally, make this list at a time when you are not in crisis or overwhelm, so that when challenge does arise, instead of getting swallowed in a swamp of debilitating emotions, you can seek out items on your list for a lifeline.
If you’re having a hard time knowing what you need in the wake of a difficult experience, here is a list of some possibilities to inspire you:
1. A 30 minute walk outside
2. 15 minutes writing in your journal
3. Getting in the bath or shower
4. Listening to some relaxing music
5. Calling a supportive and loving friend/family member
6. Scheduling an appointment with a therapist, mentor or spiritual guide
7. Delegating a task at work that will alleviate additional stress
8. Asking your partner, housemate or friend to do something you normally do in order to relieve some pressure
9. Reading an uplifting book
10. Meditating and/or praying and asking for support and guidance
2. Ask for what you want and need.
Once you have taken the space and time to attune to yourself and figure out what you want and need, determine which of the items on your list you can fulfill on your own and which might require support. For example, if we were to refer to the list above, you can meet your own needs by taking yourself on a walk, getting in the bath or listening to some relaxing music. Some of the other items on the list such as scheduling an appointment with a therapist or delegating a task at work or at home require something from someone else.
Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for what you need. More often than not, people want to help out and will be glad you asked.
Particularly, if you have already done the hard work of tuning into yourself, others are even more likely to support you because they don’t feel that you are desperate, needy or demanding something from them. Instead, they can feel you making a solid and clear request for help as you navigate whatever difficulty you are facing.
For many women, asking for support can be one of the most difficult tasks. If you notice that you are having trouble requesting help, inquire within as to why. Very often when this happens, it is because you are afraid of something.
3. Feel your feelings, don’t push them away.
Doing things to soothe yourself and asking for the support you need creates a solid foundation and safe container to then begin the hard work of feeling your feelings.
In my experience, there are two primary ways that women relate to their emotions. Either we deny, repress and ignore the true depth of what we are feeling or we become completely consumed and stuck in extreme emotional states for very long periods of time.
Whichever way is your tendency, both approaches are a mechanism for remaining disconnected to the present moment.
With courage, support and an internal witness, there is the possibility to feel the full extent of our feelings in any given moment, without becoming permanently paralyzed and stuck in our emotionality. Ask yourself, which tendency is more typical for you.
If you tend to be the type to push away your feelings, notice what you are doing instead of feeling. Perhaps you are eating, exercising or habitually checking email. Whatever you are doing does not make you “bad” or “wrong,” simply notice and acknowledge to yourself that you are avoiding your feelings. The acknowledgment itself can create immediate permission for the part of you that is sidestepping your emotions, and often opens the door so you can start feeling your feelings.
If you are more of the type to get lost in your emotions, try creating some boundaries for yourself. This could look like setting a timer for 15-30 minutes and giving yourself full permission to feel your emotions. Make sure you are in a safe place and not harming yourself or another. Make a solid commitment to yourself that when the timer goes off, you are going to transition to something that will support a shift in your perspective.
Perhaps, commit to doing something from the list you created above. If you are facing a particularly intense challenge in your life, you may need to carve out a solid amount of time every day focused specifically on creating space for your emotions. Honor yourself by creating conscious times and places to do this, so that you can also stay present with the ever-changing states you will go through.
Often times when we are experiencing extreme disempowerment, for example, we can get locked into a mentality that this is the only thing occurring, when in fact, if we stay attentive to the more subtle nuances of each moment, many other things are also emerging in our minds, bodies and emotions in addition to the feelings of disempowerment.
4. Remember that what you are experiencing right now will not stay the same forever.
The only promise of the present moment is that it is ever-changing. This is simultaneously terrifying and liberating. The terror exists because nothing lives forever and this presses against one of the most painful aspects of human life, that of loss and separation.
And yet the liberation arrives in the very same fact: nothing lives forever—not the sorrow, nor the pain, nor the grief.
Our souls are in a constant journey and they desire to move towards balance. When we can start to view the challenges and heartache of life as an opportunity to become just a little more alive, a doorway opens and there is a choice to walk through it.
A note to the reader: This is not a quick-fix strategy. Disappointment, grief, trauma and loss are very real parts of the human journey, and can sometimes take years to integrate, feel and heal. Have compassion with yourself and get the support you need. May these four guidelines serve you deeply and offer solace in difficult times.
The Buddhist path of being of benefit and dealing with grief and loss of a loved one:
A Buddhist Perspective on dealing with Anger:
Author: Emma Derman Teitel
Editor: Catherine Monkman