Sometimes you just have one of those bad days. You know the kind I mean – the ones where everything seems to go wrong, on top of already being stressed about something. Maybe your job is in jeopardy, you’re not sure if you’re going to survive the next round of layoffs. Or maybe your relationship is in trouble and you’re feeling up against a wall about what to do. Or maybe you don’t have a relationship and the loneliness has become overwhelming; or your health has taken a turn for the worse and just can’t imagine how you’re going to get through another day.
Whatever the reason, however dark it may seem, there are a few simple steps you can try that may just help you get through another day, or another hour or even the next moment. Here they are:
1) Breathe! To breathe is to bring your attention back to the present moment and release any sudden tension you may be feeling in your body. To breathe consciously is to live consciously. Breathing should begin in the lower belly, rise like an open wave throughout the torso, and be exhaled effortlessly with plenty of relaxation. Conscious breathing, when in a crisis, immediately gives you an edge to handle and unravel the pain you’re in. Choosing to breathe quickly helps you to deal with dramatic emotions and those wild, unruly thoughts. No matter how it happens or when it appears, the first step in a crisis is to breathe. Just breathe! Bring all of your attention to the physical mechanism of breathing and really let the exhale go. With every inhale, imagine fresh new rejuvenating energy filling you up inside. With every exhale, feel tension and stress leaving every cell of your body. Just 2 minutes of this kind of breathing can make all the difference in the world.
In fact, practiced every day, connected or circular breathing (without pause between inhale and exhale) helps you to create a positive, energetic activation in the body, which helps to release and integrate long-term aspects of traumatic wounding. Intentional breathing is the key that unlocks the healing of most conscious and subconscious anxiety. Over time, working with the activated breath interrupts accumulated stress patterns and allows for relaxation to make a home within the physical body. In times of crisis, staying attentive to your breath helps to reconnect all of the disparate and desperate parts of yourself, and puts you back on the path toward stability.
2) Accept what is and get present. Suffering is the result of resisting the reality of what is. Most of the time, you are caught in a story or belief of the way you think things should be, what should or shouldn’t have happened, or what a person should or shouldn’t have said or done to you. You spend so much time defending yourself, your thoughts, your feelings and your actions; you are unaware of who you really are and what is actually going on in front of you.
Take a step toward reality and accept what is happening right now! Embrace the authenticity of living your life in the Here and Now through acceptance and responsibility. Accepting what is frees you from the judgments of the past and the expectations of the future. It puts you in the Present Moment. Even though you may be experiencing something very difficult or causing great pain, learning to embrace it at face value is an important step to the problem’s resolution and integration. To breathe with the current obstacle and then accept it right now in present time are the two most powerful steps you can take to negotiate any difficulty or challenging life experience.
3) Witness your thoughts. Watch the flow of thoughts as they race across your mind. Let go of owning them, see how they will actually flow through you yet are not you. Learn to watch the steady stream of thoughts and judgments and breathe into the freedom of knowing that they are not really yours. As Byron Katie often says, “Did you wake up this morning and ask yourself to think?!” Notice how your thoughts and beliefs actually seem to generate many of the emotions in the first place. (Each time I think to myself, for example, “I’m a loser and I’m never going to get this right!” I can feel myself getting more and more depressed.) Notice which thought sets off which emotion. After you investigate these thoughts, you may find that the emotion seems less consuming and more manageable.
One great way to take a look at the presenting thought is to use The Work’s first question, “Is it true?” Are these pervasive thoughts an accurate picture of reality? (“What if I’m not a ‘loser’, what if I’m just having a bad day?”) See if after asking whether or not they’re true they seem less powerful and/or reveal something you hadn’t seen before. Remember your thoughts are not representative of the totality of who you are, they’re usually just habitual attempts by a part of you to understand or adapt to the situation at hand. Thoughts can be very convincing. They’re easy to believe if you don’t question them. Learn to extract the meaning or purpose of the presenting thoughts and enjoy all the rest of the drama as entertainment only.
4) Move your body, exercise. There is a great tendency to slow down, withdraw inside and/or retreat from life when you feel scared, lonely or overwhelmed. At times, this may be appropriate. If danger threatens or you are truly overwhelmed, a wise retreat may be just the action that is needed. Most of the time, however, what you think or feel is dangerous is not; it is usually something stemming from an old, unresolved safety issue. The real danger is inside, it’s a perception, and the response to withdraw is a more likely a fearful habit coming from the feeling “I can’t handle this!”
By keeping the body moving, you go directly against the tendency to slow down and retreat out of fear. Go to the gym and do some exercise. Although the body-mind knows when true danger threatens, the brain-mind does not; yet we often react the same way nonetheless. It’s hard to stay depressed when you’re moving, whether it’s doing yoga, walking vigorously, exercising or even dancing. Move your body. Move your breath. Moving the body along with the breath helps to maintain the proper balance and body-mind perspective in light of the problems you think you should retreat or be hiding from.
5) Ground yourself. Remember to come back to the center of who you are, as a physical body on planet earth. Another physical technique to handle stress is to use the elements the environment has to offer: air, fire, water and earth. When troubles grab you by the arm, you lose your center of gravity and your core stability. This not only unsettles your physical body but also your ability to stabilize emotionally and reconnect with your sense of self. Groundedness is not just a function of your connection to the earth; it is about your connection to yourself. What do you naturally love to do – what nurtures and centers you?
The earth in its entirety is a huge resource and reference point for how we connect with ourselves. To reconnect and align with the earth and her elements always helps you feel better to see the larger perspective. Take a shower, take a walk in the rain, sit next to a pond or lake. Get outside in nature, sit down on the earth, and sit around a campfire if you can. Remember to use all the essential components: the earth, the air, the fire and the water. Be in the presence of them, in whatever way feels natural to you. Walk by a stream, climb a tree, stand on top of a mountain, put your face in the wind; immediately, you will notice a shift. Each time you connect to the Earth and her elements you come a little closer to the feeling of being at home with yourself, within your body, in present time.
6) Direct your attention. How you choose to direct your attention and awareness is the greatest gift you can give yourself and the world. In any given situation you always have a choice how to respond, and to learn to direct your attention is essential in times of crisis. Go for a walk, smell some flowers, look at the clouds in the sky and notice everything in your environment. Read a good book, play with a new recipe, take a leisurely drive, call a friend and give your mind something to do. Again, watch the thoughts you’re having as you learn to switch your attention, and notice how they start to flow more according to what you’re focusing on. Learn to access the freedom that comes from commanding your conscious awareness in this way.
So much of the time, you become stuck in the painful feeling or sensation that you forget there is an inner director that still has a choice. Learning to pull your attention “up by the bootstraps”, even though difficult at first, can ultimately be one of the most powerful keys to negotiating negative emotions as they arise. In time, you will realize that the attention you command is the most influential aspect of your conscious being, for it not only directs the flow of thoughts and feelings but also the flow of your life’s experiences as well. Just like learning to move your body and your breath, learn to move your attention and step forward and through whatever you feel you’re sinking into. And if you can’t find the strength to step forward to face your difficulty, you can at least switch your attention and take a healthy retreat to that which you know can nurture you: the breath, the earth and moving your physical body.
7) Ask for help (inside and out). Support for your difficulty and the opportunity to share and move through it is all around you, even if you don’t think so at first. Asking for help from God or your Higher Power, from your loved ones, your friends, a counselor or even a loving pet can make a tremendous difference. Be willing to ask for help. It is your birthright to ask for help and know that you don’t have to go through this all by yourself. Asking for help connects you to your humanness, your humility, and makes you feel less alone.
As you take a risk and make a request for assistance, you fertilize the soil of your awareness to receive the thoughts and energies that will eventually free you from your suffering. Help may not always take the form you think. But once asked with conviction and clarity, some form of assistance is sure to follow. Although at first it can feel like “going through the motions”, asking for help will eventually affirm a base line level of trust and faith that will help you face and overcoming the challenges at hand.
8) Follow your guidance. So many times after asking to receive assistance, you get exactly the help you need but you refuse to follow it. How many times have you asked for help, been told something important, and then made an excuse for not going through with what you’ve heard? How many times have you realized that the very thing you needed at that moment you ignored? Learn to trust your guidance, to remember you deserve to be free of the yuckiness you’re in. Realize that right now you have the choice and opportunity to act on the advice of the wise person or answer in front of you.
Usually, for example, the first thought that you receive in response to any request is usually the best and will help you the most. Then, after several friends or family members repeat the same exact advice, you know that now is the time to let go of the doubt and follow through with the direction that has been given. Following your guidance is an essential ingredient to making the return trip back home to yourself. The more you learn how to listen and follow the guidance and advice you’re receiving, the more easily you will be able to access it in the future.
9) Remember your strengths (use what you know). Oftentimes in the depths of despair, you feel there is no way out, that you don’t have the strength to handle the situation and that you might as well let go of trying and just give up. You become childlike and emotionally regressive to a place where you have forgotten all the things you’ve learned in your life. You forget the courage it took to face the previous battles and the wisdom you learned from all those lessons you’ve confronted. You forget that perhaps the very problems you’re facing have been with you for years, if not decades.
When you find yourself down in the dumps, remember that the degree or pain of suffering you feel is usually commensurate with the strength you have inside. In other words, every situation you have to face is only as fierce as the inner strength you already have. Use this knowledge, use it NOW, and remember what you’ve so valiantly fought for and worked through in the past will probably help with the current situation. Stop for a moment and remember what you’ve done previously that worked. Chances are you’ve been here before, and deep inside you know exactly what to do to bring yourself through it again. Trust your ability to find and know how to use your pre-existing inner strengths and skills – and if not, utilize the guidance you received when you asked for help.
10) Face the fear (Or at least be willing to).
Facing the fear is perhaps the greatest challenge on the journey of self-discovery. Facing the fear means taking an honest look at the core beliefs that are somehow contributing directly or indirectly to the situation you’re in. This is where you take a “searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself” that, when done with courage and ruthless honesty, allows you to undo and permanently change yourself. Reach deep within and find the strength and courage to face the fear – be willing to stand before the situation that is tripping you up right now. After the immediate dust has settled, be willing to self-reflect – for isn’t this the opportunity that your current crisis is offering you?
Ask yourself these two questions: 1) What’s the payoff of holding on to this belief or thought about this situation? and 2) How would it feel and who would I be if I just let it go right now? The more you try to run and hide either through denial or drama, the worse your situation will get. By being willing to stand up to and face the core fears living within the recesses of your inner consciousness, you learn to open up new possibilities for awareness, integration and change. Facing your fear is probably the most important step you can take to understanding how you got where you are right now and how to change it for good.
11) Trust the perfection (of who you are).
All in all, living life is about negotiating change. The harder you try to hold onto a thought, an action, a thing or a relationship, the more difficult your experience of life will be. Suffering is not only the resistance to accepting what is, but it is also the result of resisting change. By learning to trust the inevitable perfection of the changing reality before you, you learn to strengthen and deepen your faith. By expanding your trust and faith through seeing the perfection of your current reality, your capacity to weather the changes of life dramatically increases.
Ultimately, everything dies and is reborn. Whether or not you are able to accept this and steer through the rapids of life doesn’t matter. In the end, everything is washed downstream to the sea. At any given moment you are always doing the very best that you can. Remembering to trust the process and surrender to the inevitability of change will bring you back home to knowing reality is ultimately kind, and you are continually being supported within it. Learning to move and dance with the changes of life is the greatest art form living on earth has to offer.
12) Re-enter your life.
Once you have breathed, accepted, witnessed, moved, directed, asked, followed, remembered, faced, and/or trusted, you are ready to re-enter your life. Perhaps all you needed to do was to breathe and accept the situation you were in. Perhaps you needed to switch your attention through some aerobic exercise, then asked for guidance, and followed that back to present time. Perhaps you needed to take a searching and fearless moral inventory and undo the beliefs that caused the reaction; or perhaps you needed to go through all of these steps and finally return to the perfection of who you are.
In any case, any one or all of these steps are meant to bring you back home to being present with yourself and to the lessons of your life. On some deep level you needed to “go through the storm”, feel what you felt, and deal with what you were able to deal with. It all happened for a reason, and whatever you were able to accomplish was all you could do right now. Re-entering your life is the final step to immersing yourself back into reality and allowing for the next experience to emerge. As you continue to witness and learn from all these lessons, the path usually gets easier if not richer and the path of self-mastery becomes clearer.
Finally, keep in mind, no matter how romantic and colorful, all the rituals of healing cannot replace the true authenticity of being present with your Self and living in your life no matter how good you think you are doing. Having the courage to return to the flow of your life despite feeling gun-shy about what just happened is the ultimate test of true character and inner strength. After all is said and done, re-entering your life you become empowered, more wise and able to be more fully present to the experience of yourself. Your body-mind records the achievement of what you’ve learned, and in the end, you get another opportunity to express the beauty of who you are as a human being living upon the earth.