Last month I had the pleasure of celebrating my birthday…it was great because it started outdoors in nature where my soul is invited to dance. I began the day with horseback riding under the vast open sky with the warmth of the sun on my shoulders and the slow gallop of the horse below me. It was bliss. I was struck by all that the guide had to say and the incredible metaphors along our brief journey together. It began with our discussion of the last time I’d been on a horse, which was while working on the Gila River reservation where I offered community based counseling. It was the smoldering midst of summer and most of my clients were enrolled in camp, so I found the best way to connect was to join them; thus I chose an Equine-assisted outing as I have always been drawn to horses after learning to ride with my father as a child. Rewind almost five years prior and I found an opportunity to ride solo along the Nile in Jinga, Uganda while working abroad with war-afffected youth. Other than these two events I hadn’t been on a horse since I was about seven years old but that didn’t seem to matter much. In Africa I honestly hadn’t considered the last time I rode but went alone without a guide on a very steep, mountainous and gorgeous path. Again it was bliss. In fact I don’t recall any fear at all. So back to my birthday. As I am conversing with this guide, remembering my past experiences of riding, and sharing how fearless I’d been to ride the guide casually explains:
“Well, if you ain’t been kicked off a horse then you haven’t done much riding.”
I can appreciate the beauty of this reminder after living a lifetime in the rat race, masking compulsive activity even in the guise of self-care, and finally slowing down thanks to the diagnosis of an autoimmune disease. Not that long ago I shared my story on becoming a therapist and the art of healing those tender wounds of the past that compelled me to strive, strive, and strive some more. The truth is I am still healing physically, but I can honestly say I am no longer striving. And while I am healthier than ever in mind and spirit, my body is still catching up. My condition has not changed much since the original diagnosis a couple of years ago. I still take a myriad of supplements and receive numerous treatments. This used to be a problem. I thought I needed to fix it in order to get on with my life. I lacked acceptance that this was my life. I was trying to hurry up and get well in order to pursue, achieve, accomplish, and succeed. I was in the habit of human doing rather than being. Now I can watch as people hustle around me and its refreshing to just be; to do only that which fills my heart with joy because I won’t allow myself to get sucked into unnecessary busy work. I focus only on those activities and tasks which take me closer to my goals. It makes life pretty simple actually. Using a tool I’ve often encouraged clients to practice I am able to evaluate each activity prior to making a commitment. Its called STOPP:
T- take a breath,
O- observe what is happening internally and externally,
P- pull back/gain perspective (i.e. what would a friend/therapist say)
P- practice activities that return you to a calmer, more neutral place
This has always been helpful for me in slowing down emotional reactions and allowing space for reflective distance. My clients have also shared their success in using it to create space for better choices instead of automatic self defeating habits such as alcohol abuse, loss of temper, impulse shopping, drug use, binge eating, etc. It is equally fantastic for decreasing other seemingly productive behavior which can be compulsive habit. For example, the workaholic who thinks life will come to a screeching halt if he/she takes a break, misses a deadline, or stops to breathe for that matter or the chronic exerciser who becomes so dedicated that to miss a day threatens her entire mood/self-perception. Using the Stopp tool, I am continuously asking myself the purpose of each action before every step to prevent the crazy-making of a jam-packed schedule. For instance, if my goal is to take care of myself (physically-mentally-emotionally-spiritually), maintain a growing therapy practice with clients I adore watching heal/grow/change, and savor the process of daily learning as a human being (not doing)…I simply ask myself how this next activity will fit with such goals? If its a meeting I ask ‘will I enjoy this person, place, or topic?’ If its a potential client I ask whether I am experienced and capable in their area of need as well as whether we are a good fit. If its a social event I ask whether it will fit into the goal of caring for my mind, body, and spirit. Asking the purpose before agreeing to a task, project, or obligation has truly cleared an enormous amount of busy work from my calendar over the last year. I actually make more income, am afforded plenty of time for rest/sleep, shopping/cooking, socialization/play, travel, and learning. The difference is it is now all very intentional. I am not doing anything I feel I ‘should’ be doing. I do things I want to do.
One of those things is my work with clients. I relish helping individuals identify those stuck places and dislodge the debris of the past so they are no longer using energy to defend against such unconscious limiting beliefs like ‘I should be busy doing something.’ Such compulsive need to occupy the hands and mind are defenses created to distract and avoid underlying feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. When we know and love those tender and vulnerable areas we can begin to find stillness. We surrender to what is and find peace and joy in intentionally choosing what is next…not because you ‘should’ but because you want. You can know such desire and peace. You can know such joy. You can unburden yourself from the weight of anxiety, fear, depression, self-loathing/defeat, and doubt. When you are ready to let go of chronic activity and the glorification of busy I am here to help. In the meantime I’d love to hear how you are caring for yourself and resisting the compulsive need to perform! Where are you satisfied and where do you still find yourself stuck? Leave me a comment below….I love hearing from you!