There are times in your life when your cup is full—all is well with you and the world. There is a flow, and creativity bursts like buds and leaves in spring. You feel connected with people around you—you like them and feel reciprocated. New ideas, initiatives, and possibilities pop up while you are driving, bathing, exercising, going for a walk, reading. And there is a willingness, a readiness to bring them out to the world—present them to your seniors at work, clients or customers; a step in a new direction; a different job. A readiness to face the consequences. Because this involves taking risks, stepping out of the comfort zone. And taking the chance of acceptance or rejection. Whatever happens, we will deal with it.
However, a time comes when from the world comes a response which is disappointing. A rejection, an indifference, a relationship that is not moving, an unexpected loss. As these accumulate, your resilience muscle is stretched, you start feeling ‘dried-out’, and self-doubt, anxiety, sadness and even anger at the lost opportunities surface.
These changes of emotional seasons of spring and winter are natural, inevitable, cyclic, rhythmic. These periods can last a few days or few weeks or even a few months. But we believe the rah-rah message of toxic positivity from the world: ‘Success is to fall down and dust your knees and get going’; ‘Success is always doing your best’; ‘Success is knowing your life is filled with abundance’; ‘Success is not giving up’. And then we fall into these traps.
We absorb the externally imposed labels of ‘success’ and ‘failure’. We start believing that we have to function like a winning racehorse every day of our lives. When we are unable to ‘dust off the knees and get going’, we judge ourselves harshly as ‘weak’, ‘inadequate’, ‘looser’. The misery intensifies and the stuckness increases.
We mistakenly believe that when we are in spring, it will last forever, and when we are in winter, it will last forever. James Baraz, meditation teacher and author of Awakening Joy, says: “Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
How can we learn to respect and ride these waves of energy, instead of admonishing ourselves for ‘procrastination’ or being ‘lazy’? How can we be kind to ourselves at the times when we are in this ‘frozen land’ or when we are in a desert? Where nothing seems to work, seeds don’t germinate, productivity is low, we feel out of sorts. Here are some suggestions to find ways of nourishment and replenishment.
First is the acceptance of what is, and to look at this phase with curiosity instead of fear. This helps us become patient and compassionate with ourselves, in reminding ourselves this is a temporary phase, and soon the new wave of energy will wash over, and we will find the resources to get up again. And in the meantime, it’s ok to retreat into a cave to rest and recover.
The second is: Do something totally different. Breaking the routine gives an opportunity for old patterns to dissolve and new ones to emerge. Go for a guided heritage walk in your city, or paint, or journal, or do some gardening, or sing, or dance. Binging on Netflix doesn’t count. You want to ‘be’ with yourself, not ‘escape’ from yourself.
The third is: Do differentiate between the listlessness that comes from burnout and fatigue, anxiety from a strange environment or facing a difficult challenge; and on the other hand when you have complacency. The latter arises where things have gone well for a while, we are tempted to drop everything and celebrate the reaping of the rewards. However, this can lead to losing the traction that has been built. Take the pause, but watch out for the danger of ‘too long break’.
In the end, we build the capacity for equanimity. ‘Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow, come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all,’ said Gautama Buddha. We can develop the power of observation, the ability to see without being stuck in what we see. We climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other.
The writer is a psychodrama trainer and organisation development consultant.