I teach people how to be healthy with their feelings and guess what? Sometimes I feel all kinds of uncomfortable stuff. That’s right. Even when you know how to be healthy with your feelings you still have uncomfortable feelings. Why am I telling you this? I am taking the time to write this out because I think that sometimes we look at other people and think they have it all together, or that once we learn how to be healthy with our feelings means we no longer feel stuff we don’t like. But that isn’t how it works. Being a human means feeling the whole range of human emotions. A practice of inner growth is a life long pursuit. The more we know ourselves the more we have the opportunity to keep getting to know ourselves, you know what I mean? Anyway, I wanted to share with you a piece of my own process because it illuminates how I use the Tools in my own life.
Recently, while I was facilitating a Seven Tools Coaching call I found myself feeling my own inner work rearing it’s head, asking for attention. It was a holiday week so I was working from a cabin on beach on one of Washington’s beautiful islands. My new baby was down at the main house with my husband and in-laws while I snuck away to throw on my work hat for a little bit. Before the call began, I has already thinking about some family stuff that had me feeling small. Lets just say that I wasn’t feeling too great about myself and I certainly wasn’t grounded.
Ordinarily I am pretty good about grounding and putting my own life aside when I start working. It was part of my training, and I have had lots of practice as a psychotherapist. But this day I wasn’t able to do that. On the call I felt an old wound, a place of deep insecurity triggered. I saw it happen, and I was able, in the moment, as the call progressed, to practice the Seven Tools and I felt some relief.
But how? Well, I became aware of how I was feeling (nervous, inadequate, and as though I needed to prove myself as smart enough). This particular sitation was familiar enough for me that I instantaneously knew where the feelings were coming from. From past exploration of this part of myself, I knew the beliefs (the roots) to be two-fold: that I am inferior because of the way my brain works and that I have to be good at everything I do. Those are fun ones, eh? Because this was an old story that I have examined over and over, I also knew that these beliefs do not hold up when I listen to my inner wisdom. With the re-emergence of this old story I also became aware of my frustration at not yet being over this story and disappointment realizing that I will have to return to more work on the origins of this story.
In the moment, I accepted that once again this old story was playing itself out in my head. I allowed myself a few seconds to feel my feelings and to think my thoughts (“I don’t measure up! Intuitive thinking is not as worthy as intellectualization therefore I suck. They are going to think I don’t know what I am doing. They are all going to feel like this isn’t worth their money and time.” Etc., etc., etc. Down the self critical rabbit hole I went.
Since this is a story that I have been practicing the Tools with for years, I was also able to remember what my inner wisdom had to say about it all in the past, and for the most part, I was able to listen to those thoughts and feel those feelings while also staying connected to my own inner source of compassion and love for myself. I was also able to have trust in my own brain and it’s ability to do great things, albeit in its own way. I was able to think things like “This is a moment of self doubt and criticism. It hurts so much when this old story of not being enough resurfaces and this is one of those times. My way of doing things doesn’t work for everyone but it works really well for some people and that is enough. Etc., etc., etc..” Allowing space for the truth and for self compassion, things started to feel better and I thought “phew! I am feeling more grounded, the call will go ok!”
And then the next blow hit.
The content of the call turned out to be all too familiar to me. To protect the space and work of the participant on the call I won’t go into the details of it but let’s just say it is stuff I am working on in my life too. I felt myself losing my footing again as the conversation continued, slipping farther and farther from my center and feeling completely unable to stop it. One thing after another took me farther into self criticism and doubt. Again, I fell into the same story of inadequacy and perfectionism, but this time I wasn’t able to feel any compassion for myself in the moment. I saw all the things I was doing and saying wrong. I started doing and saying things I wouldn’t normally do and say. Things like trying to answer questions that aren’t mine to answer and trying to fix the situation for the participant. I forgot to help the participant connect to their own compassion around their new awarenesses. We went over time, which is my boundary to keep. And the list of my misdoings went on and on and on. My inner critic was having a field day! By the time I got off the call I was feeling sick to my stomah with regret and shame and, as you might be guessing, I was feeling highly inadequate. The old story was alive and well.
As the day progressed I continued to feel sick to my stomach about it. I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry. I saw what was happening inside myself and responded to it with compassion one moment and harsh criticism the next. I saw that pattern and did the same oscillation between compassion and criticism about it too.
I struggled to connect with Right Action. I wanted to fix all of my misteps, perceived and real. I had the urge to reach out to the call particpant to explain what had happened. I wanted them to see me owning my part in how the call went. At the same time, I realized that they may not have even noticed or have been bothered by it if they did. I recognized that it is inappropriate for me to do my inner work with them. There are times when it is appropriate to be transparent about this kind of stuff but in this case it would have been for my benefit, not theirs, rendering it inappropriate. But I urgently wanted to clear my name, so to speak, so that they would see me as good enough. Or at least that they would know that I am working on myself and that I did see what was happening on the call. Cue my ol’ call-myself-out-before-someone-else-can-since-wrong-but-aware-is-better-than-wrong-and-unaware self deprocating routine. I had the urge to feel hard on myself for having yet another old story activated and the slew of feelings that arose because of that. And on and on and on. It was opressive and crippling. I won’t share how many hours I was thinking about all this because frankly, it’s a little embarassing, which my inner critic was all over “you teach this stuff for goodness sake, can’t you pull it together already??”
It felt as if life, and this one call in particular, had taken the basket of all my “stuff” and dumped it onto the floor between me and inner peace and there I was trying to wade through it. All while trying to keep my head above water in the pool of shame and inadequacy I was feeling.
Thankfully, I have the practice of the Seven Tools in my pocket and I envoked them over and over and over as each new piece arose. Under it all, I had faith that if I kept bringing enough compassionate accepting awareness to the situation, that the Right Action would emerge.
I think this often happens in life. Everything is connected to everything else so we rarely have any feeling in isolation, let alone the ones that disturb us the most. It’s like we have to not only make space for the discomfort but also make space for the complexity of life all at the same time. Staying present to each moment and tuning in to ourselves about where to dig deeper and where to let go is so vital. And this call was a good reminder for me of that.
I would like to say that this story can be neatly wrapped up in a beautiful little package with a rosey bow of joy tied around it, but the honest truth is that I am still over here practicing the tools about my feelings and beliefs. I know and trust, from past experience and my faith in the power of the practice, that with continued practice of the Seven Tools that I will feel the shift around this. And I am breathing into my faith in compassion and my belief that when I bring enough compassionate accepting awareness to enough pieces of this old story enough times, that it will shift in a more permanent way. And in the meantime, I know where my work is and I am here, calling on compassionate accepting awareness of what is my truth of this moment, whether I like it or not.