The people described in this blog are composites of many different clients with whom I have worked. Names and identifying characteristics are fictitious, and any resemblance to a single person is coincidental.

Looking for signs of life

Claire came in down in the dumps and down on herself.  “I give up.  What’s the point?  No matter what I do I just get sabotaged.”  Claire had been working on dropping some winter weight, and had been eating better and getting more exercise.  Before she could see any results, along came her brother’s birthday dinner (along with baked brie appetizer and coconut birthday cake).  She took a slide on the eating front for a week and then, no problem, we just re-set the agenda and started back.  Once back on track, she strained a calf muscle at the gym.  Off her fitness regime for ten days, she had just got going again and was feeling hopeful when she caught a nasty cold.  She showed up in my office snuffling with the tail end of the bug and feeling like a failure.

Even with our best intentions and our most stalwart efforts we face limits to our control.  Sometimes the limits are inside us, like when faced with the temptation of coconut cake.  Other times the limits are outside us, like little cold bugs lurking on doorknobs.  We are vulnerable.  Claire, like all of us sometimes, was up against  limits to a goal that was important to her.  And that place does not feel good.  We don’t like how we feel and we often don’t like ourselves when we are faced with vulnerability.

When things feel bad it can feel too painful to hope and try.  We seek out what is wrong with ourselves.  We are oriented to the negative.  We hang out in a dark room with our critical inner voice telling us that we don’t deserve to succeed, or that we are lazy or weak or bad.  That is when we might feel like giving up.  And perhaps eating more coconut cake…

Many of us are oriented to focus on where we are failing.  We look for the shortfall, for where we aren’t succeeding.  We focus on the gap between what we want and where we are, and feel hopeless.  Sometimes, like with Claire, it seems like there is nothing positive to grab hold of.  .

That is when I asked Claire to look inside herself and notice “What else is there?”

“What do you mean?  There’s nothing in here but a collapsed feeling and frustration and some tension in my chest.”

“That’s a great start.  What else do you notice?  Take your time and really feel.”

Looking for signs of lifeWhen we are struggling to find our path we need to look for signs of the life force.  Even the tiniest glimmer of interest or curiosity about my difficulty, desire for change, or compassion for the struggle deserves our focus.  As we pay attention to these forces we fan the flames of our growth.

We paid warm interest to her feelings.  We observed her inclination to judge herself and returned to her body again and again.  After a short while Claire was aware of a surge of energy in her arms that formed itself into fists.  She brought her fist down on the armrest and exclaimed “I really want to get in shape for summer!  I love biking and hiking and playing tennis and I want to feel fit!”

We slowed down and focused on that feeling.  Claire’s back straightened and her eyes were bright.  Her voice was stronger and deeper as she said “I really want this for me!”  Her energy rose and she looked surprised.  We stayed with the feeling a bit longer and it intensified.

We acknowledged the other feeling also, that of the frustration and judgement, and made an even bigger space so Claire could feel both feelings.  One did not have to overtake or erase the other.  She was free to feel them both.  It felt so liberating for Claire to feel both the negative forces and the positive ones at the same time.  She felt calmer and free to focus on what she wanted most.

And of course, what she wanted most was to re-connect with her life force, with her drive, with her desire for what she wants.

When we keep our eye open for signs of life we do not have to deny what doesn’t feel good.  We can feel both.  Then we can choose.

Keep your eyes peeled for signs of life: interest, desire, compassion.  You are so worth it.

Photo Credit: Peanut Edith

Dr. Sandra Parker, copyright 2009 - Dr. Sandra Parker. The stories & quotes in this blog are fictional. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only.
(translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)

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