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Author: Jessica Ruprecht

May we all be heroes in the dark

heroes in the darkI’ve been struggling to find the right words since the election. I don’t want this blog to become a political forum, and yet I feel like the election is something that cannot go unaddressed — we cannot just pick up and go on with business as usual because what happened on November 9th means that business is no longer as usual.

For many of us the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States was devastating. I count myself among that number.

As a candidate, Trump espoused a platform built on hatred and intolerance that I find difficult to stomach. At this point, it seems increasingly clear that he intends to carry at least parts of this agenda forward into the White House and I fear what this will mean for those of us who are most vulnerable: racial minorities, immigrants, women, LGBTQ+ people, and religious minorities.

I do not want to shut out all possibility for hope, because I think that hope is crucial. Hope is what encourages us to keep trying, to keep fighting, to pick ourselves up and keep pushing on. So I remain willing to be wrong — but from where I stand right now it seems not overly-dramatic to say that dark days and hard times lie ahead of us, and that the next four years will likely demand more of us than did the previous eight.

In the absence of a government working to protect our interests we, the individuals, will need to stand up for the rights we believe in more vocally and more visibly than we did before.

We will need to be braver, to be stronger, to be kinder, and more compassionate than we knew ourselves to be.

We will need to be ready to stand up for each other, to stand beside each other, and to fight together for the rights we believe in.

We will, each of us, be called upon to be heroes in the dark.

However it may seem from where you stand today, this isn’t a fight we’ve lost yet. This is a fight that’s only just beginning.

So with that in mind, here’s what wisdom I have for you in these dark times.

First and foremost, care for yourself and your safety.

I can’t know what lies ahead for any of us and I don’t want to be prematurely alarmist, because I know how easy it is for the mind to slip into catastrophizing and catastrophizing (in my experience) only makes us panic and panic leaves us ill-equipped to face the needs of the present moment.

However, I also don’t want to tell you that you shouldn’t be afraid, that you shouldn’t pay attention, that you shouldn’t take whatever precautions seem helpful — because I think you should. You should prepare yourself in whatever ways you can for the days to come.

Do what you have to do to keep yourself safe.

Listen to your fear — it’s trying to get your attention.

Your fear has one and only one agenda: to keep you safe.

However, problems arise when your fear cripples your ability to act in a misguided effort to keep you safe. I have a theory about why and how this happens: I believe that fear cripples us when we are unwilling to feel scared, when we are unwilling to engage with our fear where we stand.

It is this unwillingness to engage with our fear that paralyzes us and leaves us unable to act.

So what to do instead? Be willing to be scared, be willing to listen to your fear when it’s screaming for your attention. When I ask my fear what it needs from me, most often I find that my fear just wants me to know that danger is present — it wants to know that I’m paying attention so that if action is required, I’ll be ready to act appropriately to keep myself safe.

Don’t try to push past your fear, don’t try to ignore it, and don’t try to shove it aside into an unused corner of your mind. Trying to set your fear aside usually only makes it scream louder.

Instead, honor your fear and invite it to make the journey with you — you don’t have to be fearless in order to act with courage.

Practice reconnecting with a sense of calm

Here’s a truth I’ve grappled with in my own life: while the urgency of panic may seem productive or even helpful, the truth is that if you spend your whole life swept up in a state of anxious urgency you dull your ability to discern the difference between true, helpful fear and the false, panicky urgency that naturally creeps in around the edges of our overly-scheduled, busy lives.

Because of this, one of the most important things you can do is to develop a habit of checking in with yourself, noticing what emotions and physical sensations you are feeling in your body, and offering yourself and your feelings compassionate witness.

My morning meditation practice is something I’ve turned to for support in recent weeks. Meditation is just a drill for this more important daily habit of exercising awareness and mindful attention to ourselves and our emotions: I spend 20 focused minutes practicing so that I can build the muscle I need to carry this skill with me throughout the day.

Please note: I don’t believe that meditation is always right for everyone. I spent years trying to “make myself” meditate because I thought it would be good for me. And until recently, it wasn’t. I think you have to be ready to begin a meditation practice and not wanting to is generally a sign that you’re not ready. This is *especially true* for anyone dealing with unresolved trauma, as meditation can unlock old traumas and can be re-triggering and damaging if you’re not prepared. I’ve written more about this here (scroll down to the note at the end of the post for my thoughts on trauma).

Regardless of whether or not a meditation practice is the next right thing for you, cultivating habits that return you to a calm and peaceful sense of being grounded in yourself (this could be writing, a hot bath, going for a walk, making art, etc.) will be a crucial mental and emotional support for each of us in the years to come.

Don’t disdain the power of small actions

I’m so guilty of this, so I want to make sure to mention it. Please don’t disdain the power of small actions. I know how easy it can be to feel that as an individual you have so little power, so little ability to influence anything of significance, that you might as well not even try.

And from where I stand, this belief is a lie my fear-based thinking tries to sell me in order to convince me that I shouldn’t bother risking failure. For me, that’s what it’s really about: my ego hates to fail, my ego hates to lose — and so my ego would rather quit than the run the risk that I might try and not succeed.

Do what you can and let that be enough.

If all you can offer is five dollars or five minutes, then do that — and let that be enough. If you can offer more, that’s amazing — but don’t hold back because you feel that whatever you have to offer isn’t enough.

Don’t discount the power of small actions taken in aggregate. Do what you can, especially if your mind is trying to tell that a gesture so small must surely be meaningless.

It’s really, really not.

Take action in whatever way is right for you

In the days, months, and years to come there will be many people who want to tell you how you should take action. “Come march with me in Washington”, they’ll say. Or “Sign this petition!”. Or “Donate to my favorite charity!”. Or “Call your congressperson about X!”

Not all of these actions that other people will want you to take will be actions that are right for you.

I, for one, will not be participating in marches. I dislike crowds and loud noises and I find the energy of large, excitable, angry groups of people to be utterly draining and exhausting. It’s not a way of making my voice heard that is right for me — I’d much rather sit behind my computer and type words.

I love that people want to march to express themselves — to take a public stand for what they believe in. But I will not be joining them.

This is absolutely okay.

There are other ways I can contribute to this fight: I can donate money to organizations that will fight for our rights, I can sign petitions, I can call my congressional representatives, I can use my voice to speak about my beliefs with others, I can read the news and stay informed, I can bear witness.

Here’s another thing I can do: I can listen to people whose opinions differ from my own, I can challenge my own assumptions about people who are different from me, I can work to build bridges between people who have competing interests, belief systems, or priorities.

There is no one right way to fight injustice. There are always many paths to the same goal.

You don’t have to let other people pressure you into acting in a way that isn’t right way for you.

If you want to explore some different ideas about how we move forward from here, this post might be a good place to start.

Be patient, be kind, be gentle with yourself

This, perhaps more than anything else, is the most important thing I have to offer. The world right now is asking us to step up, to become braver than we have ever been.

This is not something that will be easy.

Over and over again I catch myself in the belief that not only should I be able to do hard things, but I should be able to do them easily, effortlessly, gracefully.

This is not true.

As a former ballet dancer, I know that the appearance of grace is always the result of thousands of hours of hard work and sweat. You have to put in the practice, you have to push against your own edges, before you finally master something new.

The same is true of courage.

If you’re not used to being brave, if you’ve spent your life feeling small, silenced, hidden, or afraid — don’t expect yourself to become someone different overnight.

It’s not going to be easy. It’s might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

So be patient, be kind, be gentle with yourself. You’ll get farther faster if you treat yourself with kindness and compassion than you will if you try to beat yourself into bravery with 10,000 judgemental sticks.

Courage is a muscle you build; it doesn’t happen overnight

Courage isn’t always something we’re born with. Courage is something we develop, it’s something we cultivate.

We grow our courage in the teeny-tiny steps, small acts of daring that slowly accumulate into the ability to move mountains.

Allow yourself to start small, to stretch your comfort zone out slowly. Don’t expect to be able to carry the world on your shoulders overnight.

But if you start small, if you build your courage slowly by taking actions that are just the tiniest bit outside your comfort zone and then the tiniest bit farther than that, your capacity to act bravely in the face of fear will grow and someday soon you’ll be brave enough to move a mountain.

And together we will need to move mountains.

Much love,
Jessica

Healing has its own timeline

As I’ve been watching the seasons change here in Boston, I’ve found myself unexpectedly at odds with the Earth’s natural rhythm: as the world slips into the dark winter months, my energy finally seems to be returning.

I feel hesitant to say such things out loud because this isn’t the first time I’ve hoped I was recovering only to find myself slipping back into familiar lassitude.

And yet, here I am again, quietly announcing that this time I hope it’s true.

You might think that after however many months (has it been four or five now? I’ve lost count…), I’d be used to the slowness with which this healing has proceeded, but it’s still so easy to trip over my own impatience.

I’ll have a really great day where I feel amazing and get a lot done… and then I’ll spend the next three days recovering.

But here’s the thing: this is just what healing looks like.

As much as I wish that healing was a straight line from unwell to well, a steady climb from rock-bottom to dazzling new heights, the reality of it seems to be that healing looks more like a rambling mountain road filled with unexpected twists, sudden turns, and jarring bumps.

And, just like when driving that winding road, it is easy to get frustrated.

It is easy to feel that after months of malaise there hasn’t been any real progress. But if I take the long view — if I compare where I am now to where I was three months ago, or twelve — it becomes easy to see how different things are now from how they were then.

I think that the changing season serves as a really good metaphor for how change proceeds in our lives. I can predict the first snow of winter no better than I can pin the day on the calendar when I’ll be “better” or “ready” or “healed”.

As much as my mind might wish to do so, there’s no line to be drawn in the sand — no well-defined boundary to cross between “when I was there” and “now that I’m here”.

At the change of the seasons, the weather is often volatile and contrary — a dizzying tour of hot, then cold, then hot again. And yet, there’s an underlying trend: summer’s heat yields inevitably to winter’s cold, and eventually cold will yield to warmth again. But the exact progression of days and temperatures that will lead us from here to there is impossible to guess.

I’m increasingly convinced that all change proceeds like this: a dizzying tumult of ups and downs, that mixes us up until we’re not quite sure how far we’ve come or how far we’ve yet to go. A series of largely-random fluctuations that catches us so off-guard it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

And my mind hates this.

My mind hates being unable to predict, because what I cannot predict I cannot control, and what I cannot control seems dangerous.

My mind wants to say that if I cannot predict when I will be well again then there is no way to know I will ever be well. And yet when I look at the trend over the past few months, it remains clear to me that I am getting better.

And here’s another truth: it’s when I let my fear run away with me and forget to trust the process that I trip myself up.

When anxiety wins I stop listening to the needs of my body, I overdo things, I relapse.

When anxiety wins I lose patience, I become unable to remember all the reasons there are to hope, all the evidence I can see pointing to signs of improvement.

When anxiety wins I slip back to where I was a month ago, or two — I slip back until I fall into something familiar. A pattern, a rhythm, a habit that I recognize because we’re old friends now: I spent my summer becoming intimately acquainted with their shape and heft.

And so now when anxiety wins I slip back, but in backsliding I find myself once again on solid ground. Familiar, well-worn ground I’ve walked four dozen times before.

When you think about it, it’s almost magic: the process itself catches me.

Over and over I return to where I began and each time it gets easier to crack the puzzle because I’ve practiced this now. This place is familiar but time has moved on and I’m not the same person I was the first time I landed here.

The more times this happens, the more I trust myself to hit the bottom and rise up again.

It is this trust that offers us real freedom, I think. When rock bottom is something we fear hitting, fear holds us prisoner. It becomes impossible to do anything that might trigger any sign of collapse for fear it might grow into an inescapable, all-consuming collapse.

When fear holds us prisoner, we inevitably find ourselves unable to risk anything at all.

But when we trust in our own ability to bottom out and pick ourselves back up and try again, the paths that used to seem too risky might begin to seem more enticing.

And if we can learn to navigate the dark days with kindness, with awareness, with compassion and gentleness — then we can learn to bring these qualities to the bright days, too — and ultimately everything gets better.

So if you’re muddling through a dark time right now, I’d encourage you to make friends with the process. Learn how to comfort yourself through the dark times.

Because falling apart is inevitable. 

No matter how much we try to control things, no matter how hard we work to protect ourselves — our hearts will always be vulnerable to life’s bumps and bruises.

But if you can learn to greet the dark days with gentle curiosity instead of fear or anger, if you can learn to comfort yourself with compassion instead of beating yourself up with self-judgement — then I really believe that you can do anything.

Much love,
Jessica

 

What’s the kindest thing you could do for yourself right now?

You may or may not have noticed that my blog has been on hiatus for almost two months now. At first this wasn’t on purpose — I didn’t plan to stop writing. But I did and one week became four, became six.

For the past two months I’ve been turned inward, moving through a phase of transformation that has left the rest of my life on pause. I haven’t been blogging. I haven’t been marketing my coaching business. I haven’t been keeping up with the chores and minutiae of everyday living the way I usually do.

This is what the first phase of change looks like.

It’s inward-turning and silent. It’s still to the point of motionlessness.

When you’re deeply buried in the first quiet stirrings of a profound shift, you move so slowly that some days you might not move at all — a breath caught in your own tightened throat.

To pause in this way can feel so uncomfortable.

In the first weeks after I slowed all the way down to my stop, I felt like everything was falling apart — or maybe that I was falling apart and taking my life down with me.

It was hard to watch.

It was hard to watch myself fall apart, to watch the habit and abilities I had attached my self-worth to fall away until it felt like there was nothing left but me — naked, needy, useless.

In part, I stopped writing because I felt I had nothing to offer, nothing to give.

I don’t want to sugar-coat this because this is what the beginning of a transformation looks like.

In order to make room for what will be, what was needs to fall away.

And in between what was and what will be you may feel as raw and naked as a newborn baby, squalling with the first stinging breath of air in your unaccustomed lungs.

I think that all change begins like this. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and ungainly and in many ways objectively awful-feeling.

And when it happens to you, here’s what you do.

You take care of yourself.

It sounds nice on paper, and maybe what you imagine in your head when you read these words is a kind of retreat or idyll. Cozy mornings, long baths, quiet hours spent reading or journalling — but in my experience taking care of yourself in the middle of a meltdown is not nearly so romantic.

Because when you get down to brass tacks, taking care of yourself in a meltdown looks mostly like giving yourself permission to not-do all the things you want to be not-doing.

  • It looks like making oatmeal for dinner instead of cooking when you’re tired.
  • It looks like calling in sick when you wake up in exhausted and aching and feeling awful.
  • It looks like not-doing anything that isn’t essential: laundry when you’re out of underwear, the grocery store when you have literally nothing left to eat

If you’re like me then you have words for yourself when you live this way.

Lazy. Useless. Irresponsible. Worthless. Slob. Slacker. Whiny. Disappointment. Burden.

They’re not very nice words, are they?

Your words would maybe be different than mine, but I think most of us tend toward self-judgement when we feel like we’re falling apart.

I think that most of us have a habit of feeling like letting things fall apart is not okay.

It’s hard to recognize in the moment that these words are lies.

There’s no actual difference between “barely holding it together” and “thriving” — you’re living your life whether you made oatmeal for dinner or three loving courses from scratch.

It’s good. You’re alive. It’s enough.

You are doing enough.

In moments of meltdown it can be hard to remember this, which is why it’s your job to keep remembering.

In the middle of the meltdown taking care of yourself looks like giving yourself permission to fall apart.

To keep whispering softly: “hey, it’s okay, you’re okay, it’s going to be okay” to that scared little part of you that’s deathly afraid of letting things fall apart.

When you’re ready to make a big shift it’s going to feel like you’re falling apart. This is because the old you is falling apart… you are shedding the skin that no longer fits you and it’s going to look ugly at first.

(There’s an awkward beauty to that ugliness if you look long enough.)

So when it happens — because it happens to all of us eventually: take care of yourself.

From moment to moment, just keep asking: “What’s the kindest thing I could do for myself right now?”

Do that.

Much love,
Jessica

Should you treat yourself for “bad” behavior?

Here’s a question: what drives us to do things that seem self-defeating or self-destructive?

Now obviously, this isn’t a question that has a single simple answer. There are lots of reasons why we do things that aren’t in our own best interest. Some of which are more obvious than others.TreatYourself

We might be numbing ourselves to avoid feeling discomfort, or honoring a hidden agenda of self-protection that is in opposition to our stated goals and “best interest”.

However, I think there’s another common reason why we do this that’s less talked-about: you might be forcing yourself to do too many things you don’t want to do and not allowing enough time to do the things you really want to do.

In Martha Beck’s book, Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, she introduces the idea that we each have two selves inside of us the “essential self” (the wild, untamed, impulsive, child-like part of us) and the “social self” (the grown-up, responsible, law-abiding self).

You can watch her describe these two selves and their relationship in this hilarious video. (It’s one of my favorite things on the internet).

The idea is that as we go about or grown-up, responsible, adult lives these two selves come into conflict with each other.

The social self tells us to get up or we’ll be late for work when our alarm goes off in the morning but our essential self is tired and wants to go back to sleep so we compromise and hit snooze for 10 more minutes.

At 11 am the essential self wants to buy a cookie but we’re on a diet so our social self buys us a grapefruit instead.

By 3 pm the essential self is ready to pack up and head home for the day but the social self tells us firmly that we aren’t allowed to leave for two more hours. The work day isn’t over yet.

If you are like me, your natural inclination is to follow the rules, to march along to the dictates of your employers and institutions, and to brush off your essential self’s desires all day long.

Particularly for those of us who are high-achievers, setting aside the social self’s dictates in order to follow the essential self’s whims can feel intensely dangerous and uncomfortable.

Our academic and professional success seems to have hinged upon our ability to set aside our own needs and wishes in order to dedicate ourselves to achieving someone else’s priority (a teacher, a boss, a parent).

However, there’s a hidden cost to treating our essential selves this way. 

What happens is I get home at 6 and I’m exhausted but I haven’t had any fun yet today so my essential self stages a revolt. Instead of going to bed, which would be reasonable under the circumstances, I find myself watching silly videos on YouTube until past my usual bedtime.

At the end of the night neither self is happy.

The social self is spiraling in a guilt trip and envisioning how dreadful work will be tomorrow when I’m tired. The essential self isn’t satisfied because the fun it got wasn’t what it was really craving and it’s busy sulking about how the only time we get to have fun is when we’re too tired to have fun anyways.

The solution, as best I can figure, is to treat your essential self to the real fun it craves during the day when you have the energy to play.

Maybe you need to pull out your journal at 3pm and noodle for a bit when your essential self feels ready to call it quits.

Maybe you need to go for a walk outside on your lunch break instead of eating at your desk and then returning immediately to work.

Maybe you need to take every second Friday off in order to let your essential self roam free for a day.

Only your essential self can tell you what you need to do.

But if you have a history of “self-sabotaging” behaviors and nothing you’ve tried to date has worked I’d encourage you to try consulting with your essential self and identifying some treats you can give to yourself throughout the day.

Until your essential self is satisfied there’s always going to be a war going on inside you. And it’s so much easier to get on with things when both your selves are on the same side.

Much love,
Jessica

 

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I make a (very) small referral commission from purchases made using my links. This does not affect your price.

Sometimes you just need to make a little space

Sometimes you just need to make a little spaceI reorganized my room this past weekend.

It wasn’t a project I’d planned, but one thing led to another and suddenly there I was with a tape measure in hand, dreaming of a way to increase my floor space and to make more room for my writing.

That was Friday night.

By the time I went to sleep on Friday I’d reduced the problem from a $5,000+ problem to a $500 problem which only required replacing just a few pieces of furniture and buying some new shelves.

But what I realized when I woke up on Saturday was that I probably didn’t need to acquire any new furniture to make my new dreams a reality… I just needed to be a little more creative with the furniture I already had.

Because here’s the thing — I’ve lived with this same furniture in this same apartment for more than a year and it wasn’t until yesterday that a video opened my eyes to a new vision of my living space.

Having that dream allowed me to believe in the possibility that I could live in my space differently.

For over a year, I’d just tolerated “the way things were” because I couldn’t imagine a better solution.

And once I had, it took me a night of sleeping on it and an hour’s labor to move the furniture around and create a room that feels very different to live in. A room that is much better suited to my needs.

It is not lost on me that this is exactly what we do in coaching — we look at where your ideas about what you are capable of might be narrower than reality or where maybe you are unable to see some new possibility.

We break your rules about how your bed fits into your bedroom and test your unquestioned assumptions about relative dimensions (metaphorically speaking, that is).

We do this so that you can rearrange the furniture of your life and create a new space (a new life) to live in.

I’ve written before about my troubled relationship with rules, and it’s because they cause exactly this kind of perceptual blindness that I both love and hate them.

After all, rules are good — the help us eliminate decision fatigue which makes life simpler and more convenient.

However, rules also have an unfortunate tendency to become artificial limitations on what we believe is possible — exactly the way my bed had become an artificial limitation on how I could use my room because I had assumed (without measuring or verifying!) that it simply wouldn’t fit any other way.

So this week I want to give you permission to dream about the things that aren’t working so well in your home or your life right now. If you had a billion dollars, infinite free time, and a magic wand that could create anything, how would you want those things to be different? What would your ideal solution be?

The trick is to dream without rules or limitations, as much as possible. To really let your creativity run wild.

If you can’t think of anything better, try looking online for inspiration. You might just find your answer is a random video about furniture that transforms seamlessly from a desk into a bed and back again.

Once you’ve hit upon an ideal solution, keep puzzling out ways to downsize it until it’s something that fits within your budget (for time, money, and energy!).

How might you create the ideal effect, but do it unexpectedly?

Perhaps you don’t need a bigger desk in order to create more space for your writing — perhaps you just need to move a nightstand next to your desk so you have more space to store things.

Perhaps you don’t need a smaller bed — you just need to make some measurements and discover that your bed fits in the room in an unforeseen configuration.

Perhaps you discover that you already had everything you needed to make your wildest dreams come true and that the answer has been there all along — wanting only a vision for a better future and a little applied creativity to make it a reality.

After all, as Marie Kondo writes in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, “The amount of storage space you have in your room is actually just right. I can’t count how many times people have complained to me that they don’t have enough room, but I have yet to see a house that lacked sufficient storage. Once you learn to choose your belongings properly, you will be left with only the amount that fits perfectly in the space you currently own.

So, perhaps the answer is just waiting for you to put aside your assumptions and see it.

Much love,
Jessica

 

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I make a (very) small referral commission from purchases made using my links. This does not affect your price.