There are three places I want to start this post. I want to tell you that for years I worked with self-help books and therapy to look at, heal, and grow from stuff that was broken inside me. I want to tell you that I’ve only really started the practice of loving myself in the last 8-10 months. And I want to tell you about a conversation I had on Facebook this week where we discussed this tool I’m going to tell you about. These are the roots of where this tool comes from.
For probably 15 years I’ve used various self-help books to learn more about myself. I went to therapy for two years and have no hesitations about going again if I need to. I spent a lot of years and time looking at what felt broken inside of me (and sometimes got a little stuck in the cycle of seeing my own brokenness). It was hard, good work that did help me heal many things.
Doing the self-help and therapeutic work helped me feel that there wasn’t anything big, overwhelmingly dark, or self-destructive rattling around inside my psyche. I’ve still got issues (don’t we all), but I’m better at dealing with them. I’m starting to listen to myself and take better care of myself at a level I haven’t before. I think ‘I love myself’ is an over-used (and not terribly well-defined) phrase in coaching and spirituality, so I’m hesitant to use it. But I am treating myself more kindly, and that is a good indicator of love.
In a chat on my personal Facebook page* I was talking with someone about what it means to take good care of ourselves and what a revolutionary, rebellious thing that can be. We were talking specifically about learning to sit with our own discomfort. And that is today’s tool.
Learning to sit with our own discomfort sounds simple – and maybe it is – but it is a revolutionary act. And it is one of the foundations to loving ourselves (or, treating ourselves with kindness) and having greater power at mid-life.
When we sit with feelings that are uncomfortable we allow the full truth of ourselves to exist (here is a fine list from the Non-Violent Communication foundation- see: Feelings when your needs are not satisfied section). When I notice that I am feeling sad and let it just be, I am allowing the truth of that emotion to exist. This is a hugely revolutionary act because so much of modern life is built to distract us from unpleasantness. Let’s watch Game of Thrones or an entire season of something on Netflix! Let’s go buy something! Let’s eat something (but probably not really taste it)! Let’s have a drink! Pick your pleasure- these things are all meant to distract us from feeling the truth of difficult things.
One of the most loving, kind things we can do for ourselves is to accept that sometimes we will feel discomfort, pain, sadness, depression, unhappiness, fear, shame, guilt, stupid. When we make space inside ourselves to feel these things, we are opening our arms wide to our whole self- warts and all. Letting what is inside us be there is incredibly loving- it is, in fact, unconditional love.
The capacity (because it is something you can build an increase) to sit with our own discomfort is also a point of huge power at mid-life. When we can let the truth of something be there, we have better information to make choices from. When we can say, “I am sad right now” we open up more possibilities for handling our emotions and ourselves than when we say, “I am sad right now and I’m going to ignore it or do something else.” Doing something else is a way to distract from our feelings when what we want is to feel our feelings. And distracting ourselves from our feelings just leaves them there, inside us, unfelt. Do you know what happens to unfelt feelings? They come out anyway- just in places and spaces that cause a lot more trouble. Feelings will be felt, one way or another.
Now, you may be wondering, “What about depression and other feelings that could turn into serious problems?” Great question! Both modern neuroscience and thousands of years of meditation practice point to the fact that emotions change rather quickly. One of my favorite meditation teachers, Sharon Salzburg, says that an emotion will always change in 30 breaths or less. (It’s true, btw!) In the course of 30 cycles of breathing in/breathing out, your emotion will change or shift in some way. It may be very small, but it will shift. The act of feeling your feelings, sitting with your discomfort, allows the feeling to do what it was made for: be felt. And once it is felt, it will move on from your system.
Of course, some emotions, some discomforts will stay longer than others, some will revisit often. If that is the case, it might be time to ask for support through therapy or friends. But it’s almost never a bad idea to simply feel what you’re feeling, especially if it is uncomfortable.
Sitting with our discomfort, learning to let it move through our body and mind, is an invaluable tool. When we can accept our discomfort, we bring kindness to our own hearts. When we can accept our discomfort we also unhook from all the games society likes women to play (especially the “I’m fine” game) and this can help us regain our power. After all, what is more powerful than a woman who knows who she is and where she comes from and what she wants? Not much.
I think, honestly, that’s where this comes from and goes to: women who can feel their full feelings, who can sit with their own discomfort, begin to realize what they want changed in the world. When we welcome all of who we are, we know what’s bullshit and what is worth our time. When I had to sit with the discomfort of the Sex Surge, I knew I wanted a world where this was understood and accepted (and so was women’s sexual expression). As I sit with the discomfort of aging and shifting hormones I’m super clear that I want a world where mid-life women are supported and listened to. That’s love. That’s power. And that’s the wisdom of mid-life.
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*If you have friend requested me on Facebook, on my personal page, and I haven’t answered, please don’t be offended. My personal page is just for me. I do and say what I like there, which is a freedom I won’t let go of. There is a page for this business, but it’s not in good order yet. Give me a week or 3 and I’ll have something more fun and useful for you there.