Breaking through the clouds

I have read and reread a vivid metaphor for many years now that has played a substantial role in my journey through life. It is about an eagle, attempting to reach her home in the midst of a terrible storm. The sky is painted dark, clouds are black and thunder and lightening surround her as she fights to stay aflight. As she flies she becomes exhausted and even confused, fighting to keep her flight path, being dashed about and pummeled by rain and wind this way and that, attempting to “sweep away the clouds” with her wings. The author graphically describes how she “awakens the doves… with her wild cries and vain endeavors to find a way out…” The story concludes with the eagle finally dashing upward, with all her might, into blackness and valiantly breaking through the clouds, finding herself above the storm and then “all is light”. That final scene is etched in my mind, and I replay it over and over, often with chills up and down my spine. Such a powerful depiction of a battle well fought.

Out for a run earlier this morning I was growing tired, finding myself wanting to slow down, perhaps even walk for a bit. I have been stepping up my mileage and my pace over the past couple of months and some days that is more exhilarating and enticing than others. Today as I was pushing myself rather hard, that little eagle came to my mind, seemingly out of nowhere. All i could think about was this little eagle, flying through a raging storm, beaten down, wet, confused, exhausted, yet flying with all her might. I could visualize the entire scene in my mind, I could hear hear screeching and see her straining with everything she had. I could sense the darkness and the cold and the desire to be in a safer, calmer space. Then the moment arrives, when she gives it all she has and with one final gust, she emerges through the clouds. Hard not to be inspired. To want to push through. To keep fighting.

The effort. The struggle. The fight. Sheer exhaustion. I cannot help but resonate with that. It seems that life is never short of providing us ways to practice building stamina, endurance and will power to push through. I have experienced many moments in my life where I simply did not feel I had it in me to keep going. I see a similar battle in my clients that I sit with from week to week. I hear their stories, see their emotion, sense their drive and admire their courage. A battle is not won by hiding. A battle is won by showing up and using all you’ve got to give, and not stopping until it’s over.

Many people say that “it is in your blood” or “you either have it or you don’t” when they talk about courage, will power, drive and sheer determination. Perhaps there is some truth to that. But I tend to believe that if we were not simply gifted with such qualities, we can certainly seek them out, learn them, even obtain them. Perhaps grow to become them…

I believe that we as human beings are capable of change. We are capable of growth. We are certainly capable of being motivated, inspired. So my question becomes; how does one share the power and possibility of breaking through the clouds with one who is still in the storm? How does one practice their way through life in such a way that renders one ready and willing to stay the course when the storm begins to rage? How do we as connection driven beings, assist one another in the plight… of life?

The following link provides a powerful reminder of how each and every one of us are seeking to feel we are not alone, that we are somehow seen, heard, even cared for by another being. That someone not only sympathizes with us, but actually gets it, feels it, sits with us in it. Brene Brown did a fabulous voiceover for this little cartoon, in which she describes the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Dr. Dan Siegel, neuropsychiatrist and researcher uses the phrase “feeling felt” in his body of work around interpersonal neurobiology, a fancy way of describing how people connect and why. Feeling felt provides an almost sacred word picture for me, as i contemplate the actual internal feeling I get when the person I am with seems to get what i’m saying or what i’m going through or where i’m coming from. It is so powerful, perhaps even softening to ones soul…. to feel seen, heard, felt, for who you really truly are at the core of you.

It is a rarity however, and a feeling that many people have never experienced. Most often we walk around feeling very isolated and alone, even misunderstood or actively judged, for not being enough… smart enough, pretty enough, athletic enough, intelligent enough, fast enough, creative enough… you name it, we mostly feel inadequate and not only judged by others, but often times judging ourselves against how we feel others see us. It can be debilitating if we do not find a pathway through it, that allows us to create a buffer. Buffer against the storm, buffer against others judgments, buffer against our own feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt.

In therapy, we often use the phrase “grounding”. We are referring to a technique that is used to help those of us who become overly anxious, unstable in mood, “flighty”, or disconnected from self or others. The concept behind grounding is actually quite simple; soothe the anxiety, fears and instabilities that cause the person to feel out of control or distant from the present moment. Quite literally it means to root or ground the person to the earth beneath their feet.

We utilize meditation, often guided meditation to bring the focus of the individual to the present moment. An example would be to focus on the chair one is sitting on, how it feels beneath you, supporting you, holding you up from falling. Another example would be to imagine yourself flying through the air like a kite, and to feel the gentle tug of the string as you are being guided back in for landing. The concept behind the technique is focus. Where one’s focus lies, has a great deal to do with one’s perspective on life, and the individual moments that make up the larger picture of the journey.

This concept of grounding seems to come into play as I think about the eagle desperately flying through the storm and eventually breaking through the clouds to the sunshine above. Perhaps if one can find a way to sense the solid ground beneath ones feet, when we feel the world around us crashing down or swirling up… Perhaps if we could shift focus, see the strength we possess and even the purpose beyond the present moment pain.  Maybe we could connect with a larger picture, even when everything seems to be falling apart. Perhaps if one could reach out and connect with another being when loneliness threatens to engulf… One could find strength to stay aflight amidst the storm.

Perhaps even break through the clouds.

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Find your Song and Sing it

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Ever just find yourself incredibly frustrated with your own lack of follow through on something that is so unbelievably important to you, but you just repeatedly sabotage your own efforts? How is it that we can want something so badly, and yet thwart our own efforts so precisely that we often can fool ourselves into thinking that it’s not possible to accomplish the goal itself?

 At the end of a very long day of therapy sessions, I found myself spun up, impassioned and simultaneously irritated with the seemingly universal experience of the cyclical pattern of self-sabotage! I ask these questions and make this statement without judgment of self or others, but more with a very exuberant expression of “come on people, we have to figure this out, and get out of our own way”…

 I will be completely candid; It is incredibly disheartening that there is such a global experience of lacking self-acceptance… in addition to having ongoing feelings of discontentedness, and lacking the self esteem to push through and fight for something so worth fighting for! How is it that we have become such a lost and fragmented society of individuals that feel so alone and so inadequate? The world is quite literally at our fingertips and we have very little to hold us back from living life, aside from ourselves… yet so many of us are wrecked with feelings of “I’m not good enough”.

 I say this without judgment and instead with much grace and a hope for strength to push past the negative inner voice of “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have anything to give” and instead, give like you have THE WORLD to give! Cause you quite literally do have so much to give- to yourself and to others!

 It might sound incredibly cliché, but the reality is that sometimes we have to fake it till we make it…. I don’t intend to say that we should stick our head in the sand or ignore any realities about our lives, or ourselves, but we get so caught up and stuck in our negative spirals of self-doubt and chaos that we miss out on SOOO much potential to actually live our lives!

 The way I see it, the goal should be to live as genuinely and authentically as possible. If there is something that is getting in the way of that for you today, then figure out how to get rid of it or push through it, because it is causing you to live a stunted and unfulfilled life.  A life in which you are held back, restrained and confused when you want to be able to be passionate, engaged with others and interactive in your world.

 If your inner voice is asking you to shrink, or disappear, to be quiet or to hold back, then perhaps it is time to tell that voice to shut the hell up, and show yourself just how present, loud, and alive, you are capable of being.

I have a 16-month-old daughter who just so happens to be really good at letting her presence be know, her opinions and what she would like to contribute. It’s just so natural for her, that we actually designated the song “Roar” by Katy Perry as her theme song. If you haven’t listened to the song, perhaps today is a good day to put it on and turn it up loud and dance~ But regardless of whether this is your song or not, my challenge for you this week is to Find Your Song and Sing It!

Some days are dodge ball days

A dear friend of mine once sent me a card which pictured two little kids, backs against a wall, with facial expressions of fear, seemingly clinging for dear life and the caption read “some days are dodge ball days”. I have kept that card for many many years now and look to it often when I need a way to simply sit back and smile at what is outside of my control.

This morning as I went for a run with my daughter, we paused at the duck pond to watch the mama and baby ducklings swimming in the pond, and they repeatedly were diving down into the water and then coming back up, and we watched as the water droplets simply rolled off their backs, leaving them with a dry appearance once more. I couldn’t help but think of the popular phrase “water off a ducks back’, and how many necessary moments there are in life to simply channel those little ducklings and let whatever it is just roll off, because the alternative is to become heavily weighted, carrying around more than necessary.

So my question today; Is this a dodge ball kind of day? If so, how could you possibly channel those ducklings and let it roll off?

We as a society have become so accustomed to struggling and fighting and working really hard at everything that we do, that we seem to be like a fish out of water if something comes easily or isn’t incredibly heavy to carry. As a result of the amount of time and energy we spend going strong and pushing hard, we have become an anxious, harried and “I’m so busy” kind of people.

In my line of work, I see both the short term and long term ramifications of carrying these kinds of stressors throughout our lives. I see the toll that it takes not only on individuals, but also on families, and then in a larger context, on neighborhoods, communities and societies… We are exhausted. We are worried. We are stressed and we are tired. Often times this lends to a lack of patience, an inability to be in the present moment and a large ambivalence toward others and their own life experiences, because we are so caught up in surviving our own.

So I am challenging myself and all of us today, to slow down. To breathe in a few deep breaths. To look around us at where we are and who is close to us and how we may have disengaged, and check in to see if we can re-engage, with life, with our families, and with our own sense of connectedness to the world at large.