It’s been years since I spun scary scenarios instead of sleeping. Of late, I can count the number of major life stressors on two hands. From illness to massive changes in my close relationships, kids leaving home to college application season…and those are the light ones. I recall the halcyon days when that last issue got its very own newsletter.
If I allowed my mind to run how it could all go wrong, I’d have no hope of a decent night’s sleep for the foreseeable future.
I don’t think we are ever given more than we can handle, so it must be that my capacity has grown over the years or I wouldn’t have all this great material.
So. What to do in such a state? We all have our stuff. Whether it is actually BIG or we are making it that way, the resulting dysregulation to the nervous system is real. Before you can do any problem solving, the first order of business is to restore a sense of safety in your body.
The only way to do that is to stop. Rest in comfort. Breathe. Move. Connect with people who get you. Whatever calms you down. There is nowhere to go if you are in freak out mode.
As your body settles and your brain becomes capable of problem solving, creative solutions are available if you know how to access them.
In a recent coach swap with one of my favorites, I was asked to come up with a metaphor for this collection of problems. The right brain is where creativity, curiosity, and presence lives. Left brain worry makes us blind to what is happening because we are too busy hand-wringing to notice anything real. Engaging the right side can help us find our own way. I’ve written about it before but I’ll give you a little demo here. It works well in a coaching session, but I’ve also done it in workshops and on my own. There’s no limit to how this can work for you.
You start by thinking of an object, a place or an animal for whatever problem you have. You may not think you’ll come up with one but that’s just your left brain talking. Engaging our imagination triggers the right brain to go to work. Our left side, which is the verbal brain in charge of running the show all the time, gets a much needed break from rumination and overwhelm.
Clues gathered during a metaphor exercise in the right side can supply information to the left side to problem solve. The right hemisphere does a better job because it doesn’t waste time in the future or past, isn’t subject to social conditioning, trauma or any of the hardships our intellectual brain has suffered. There are no “shoulds” on the right. It’s a party in there all the time.
Back to the trash ball. In the session, my mind’s eye observes how this massive collection has gathered up everything in sight and now towers over me. In the exercise, I use a hose to water down the trash ball which is held together by mud, slowly dissolving it, allowing me to see each item for what it really is. Appliances to keep, debris to collect and toss out. After I sort through it all, fresh green grass is revealed underneath.
So what did this metaphor say about my life? The water is the sustained effort of attending to each of these big changes, showing each for what it really means to me and helping me decide what I want next. Breaking things down into manageable steps, and even some non-steps for the super stressful ones.
The one way through is to stay present so that the information I need to make decisions is available to me. That is all right brain. Music, poetry and laughter can also keep us ground us in the present moment, noticing everything. Those moments are the beauty of life and can really feel like magic.
Little by little, I will assemble the necessary components for the next iteration of me.
When you act from a place of calm, curiosity and presence, you find your way. Doing so creates space in the world for those around you to do it too. When we discover the way that works best for us, we get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.
WRITING PROMPT: What is your list of shoulds? How does it make you feel in your body? How would you like to feel?
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