living in the middle
masters of living in the moment
Life is fucking hard. Noone gets a pass.
We are currently living in strange times indeed. Maybe it is because we’ve all been living with less than optimal conditions for some time now— no matter what our baseline lives were pre-pandemic. It seems that many people are subjectively flowing back and forth from amazing to devastating and the middle-ground that once may have felt comfortably or maybe boringly mundane has been all but abandoned.
This concept could be dissected to bits. Is it because social media has brought such extremes to the fore and the middle doesn’t feel like the sexy place to be? Maybe it’s because two+ years of a pandemic has folks aching to abandon the one room middle it created. Maybe the financial/medical/social/emotional type of challenges feel overwhelming and one struggles to find any middle ground— a space where any reprieve may give us momentary euphoria.
As a collective we seem to be riding a roller coaster of extremes— the horrible and the woo-hoo positives. It’s unrealistic to think we can maintain space in that more euphoric space. (It’s healthier to see those visits of bliss as a lovely gift.)
The good-enough middle became muddled and challenging to find during the extreme times we’ve been living in.
This phenomenon within the context of death has long been alive. Death is all bad: a failure; losing the battle. The cheerleader mentality tells us it’s keeping folks alive at all costs for the win. Chasing a lie. In turn, avoiding important conversations and actions surrounding death.
People try to glide through life as if one can actually be the first person in history to avoid their inevitable demise. If I don’t talk about or acknowledge death I can avoid it.
Rather than processing death and planning around its future arrival (the smart and loving choices for yourself and your loved ones) people live like ostriches with their heads in the sand hiding from death. If I don’t acknowledge death, it won’t find me.
Most of the time the bad bits we focus on aren’t even wrapped up in what is happening in the here and now, but what’s happened in the past or the fear of what’s to come.
Grief can frequently claim residence in that space. An anxious spiral— all manner of regrets— how you didn’t show up like you wished you would have, times you were betrayed or victimized or you were guilty of such acts, infinite possibilities… it’s such fodder for our anxious monkey-mind.
Processing and accepting these thoughts is the healthy, admirable choice that has a beginning and an end— and possibly an action involved for closure. Asking for forgiveness. Self-forgiveness. Accepting the job. Ending the relationship. Strategizing how to move on with your life …
Repeatedly beating yourself up with repetitive worry and overthinking with no possible concrete action to remedy situations can be a form of self-torture.
For me, probably my most difficult part of early grief was the mental images of my fragile loved ones coming to my mind and breaking my heart. I recognized it was a phase of my unique grief process, sent love-energy to them, and practiced some of the techniques shared below to move forward into a different part of a grief process that will be part of my life forever (acceptance of that middle). A place where traumatic images may still occasionally arise but I now understand and accept them better and am not as shocked by any intrusiveness.
On my recent trip to the US, I had lunch with dear friends; a couple we’d always admired for their positivity, compassion and the way they walked in the world. He’d been through a wrestling match with stage four cancer. At some point during the conversation he responded to an inquiry with, You know, I never really think about the past. I just don’t. I just have my focus on today and keep moving forward.
Ding. Ding. Ding!!!!
Think about it. Most of the time we are dwelling in the past, it involves ruminating about hardships (I’ll just stop at the word, but that encompassess how you’ve been done wrong, how you’ve wronged, how things could have gone differently … over and over and over again).
I filed his statement for the remainder of the trip that held its own set of stressors and when feeling the gravitational pull on my brain and emotions to the dark side of the past I’d tell myself something to the effect of— ever forward— after I’d assessed that feeding that thought spiral was not going to serve my greater good and would not affect any positive change.
Long being a practitioner of mindfulness, that practice is excellent for this dilemma. Our day to day moments live in the middle. By practicing being in each and every moment, our big emotions are felt and acknowledged but we don’t fall into their abyss. We stay present. But even people who aspire to live in a mindful state get blindsided and run off the road of the present moment, veering into unhelpful internal dialogue.
This week I heard it again from someone I admire. Someone asked them what they thought their life would have been like if they’d chosen another path, I never think about the past. I just sit with where I’m at right now and know that this was the right choice and I’m on the right path for me in this moment and there will be more changes as life moves on.
We know that when you are over-focusing on the past or the future, we are not experiencing our lives in that very moment. The past and future are where worry and anxiety and panic lives its best life.
It’s okay to let euphoria or devastation wash over us and have its way with us. It’s also okay to not let it take us hostage and find our way back to the middle ground of the way my hands feel in the water as I’m washing dishes. The sound of the rain and wind on a blustery day or the sensation of the sun on my face. The interaction with my pet or my humans.
My monkey-mind thoughts won’t save me or the world. Half of them aren’t even true. Take action if that’s what is required, but be fully aware that action or simple acceptance is where the remedy lies, not torturing yourself with worry.
Be careful not to fall into a pattern of trying to self-medicate and shut down the hard with substances and/or alcohol or over-doing behaviors. That is where many addictions get their jump-start.
Remember to not believe everything you think and work at being present to every minute of your life. Below are some tips for the journey.
Tips with links to resources:
Nature— Let your body connect with the ground every day. There’s research about grounding or earthing and its positive effect on our systems. Most people report an overall sense of ease being in nature. It’s a lovely way to work on living in the moment, letting yourself experience and observe the great outdoors through all of your senses. Consider it a dose of daily medicine.
Breathwork and autonomic regulation— We have to breathe anyway … My husband and I conducted a study with 150 cardiac patients (some who’d been to the ER/A&E for cardiac symptoms that were later evaluated to be anxiety causing autonomic dysregulation) who practiced this technique for 10 minutes twice a day (before you get out of bed and before going to sleep was most effective— as well as if you needed or wanted it throughout the day) and witnessed staggering positive changes. This practice helps regulate your autonomic nervous system and assists your mind-body wellness with the ease of being done anytime, anywhere with eyes wide open. “Let go” can be a helpful phrase to repeat with each breath when our troubling thoughts are knocking us around.
Balance — Get this free resource for tips that enhance day to day coping.
Mindful practices— Jon Kabat-Zinn is responsible for bringing mindfulness into the mainstream. I recommend his book Wherever You Go, There You Are which was my introduction decades ago. The first link shares a few quotes from the book.
Changing the lens— Consider pausing and asking yourself, what would I say to a beloved friend right now? Most of us have no problem feeling and expressing compassion to others, but struggle to pause and do so for ourselves.
Don’t believe everything you think: —At that link you will find the list of the 10 cognitive distortions. At the very baseline cognitive therapy principles are a method of self-help and is simply smart brain hygiene for stinking thinking. The first step is simply familiarizing yourself with the list. You will see that there are many times we fall into the trap of distorting our thinking away from reality. I’ve worked with people for over 30 years using these techniques (and practice it myself for self-care). Many times, just understanding and catching your thought distortions is enough to provide huge relief and prompt you to look at the issue more realistically. The next time you are stuck on some disturbing thinking, let this list guide you to discover where your thoughts have been distorted and restructure them into more realistic thoughts. The relief can feel instantaneous and with continued practice it becomes a habit.
Write—Maybe there are big things you need to process and that’s what is taking up your brain’s bandwidth and fueling unease. Write those thoughts down. Many times that simple act will actually ignite answers. At the very least, when we put thoughts on paper, our brain knows we’ve been there, allowing us to let go a bit easier. We can always pick it up and look at it again and we are more easily able to divert worry.
Action— Is there anything you can do to change whatever issues have been riding piggyback and weighing you down? If the answer is yes then make a plan of action and do it. If it’s no— that is your cue to let them go.
Acceptance— Go back to the opening words. Life is fucking hard. No one gets a pass. We are all imperfect. Bad things happen. People hurt us. We hurt people. We all have experienced varying levels of trauma. The luscious part of acceptance is then letting go. Even as a child of abuse, I have done the work that allows me to see my father as an imperfect and hurting soul. Even though my childhood frequently made me feel trapped in a hell on earth it is possible to reach a place of not clenching against that trauma or torturing myself over it and allowing myself to harvest the life lessons that allowed me to move forward in a way I could choose— when I finally had a choice. Of course, I can still have WTF moments or unwelcome memories and despise that anyone abuses children or others, but with doing the work, I can choose to control that rather than allowing it to control me. Acceptance doesn’t mean denial that bad things happened, it’s about moving the bad things from the driver’s seat of my life to the back seat or trunk of the vehicle.
Connection— Be open. Find your people. Practice compassionate reciprocal relationships.
These are just a few self-care suggestions. Maybe this conversation has you remembering what some of your personal go-tos are and you will revisit them.
Life is an unpredictable journey and we continue to experience challenges and evolve until our final breath. Buckle up and gather the resources that help you move forward and appreciate the ride of your one wild and precious life.
Here is our latest podcast episode:
Dr. Robbins is the Director of Mental Health at BIÂN (Be-on) and a Clinical Psychologist in private practice for almost 20 years. Dr. Robbins, has experience in both traditional and energy psychotherapy and spiritual intuition. She encourages people to awaken to and live their essence, using the wisdom of death in an unexpectedly positive way. After the unexpected death of her aunt at a young age and a spiritual transformative experience with “the other side,” Dr. Robbins began a long journey into spirituality that has paralleled her clinical psychology work. Only three years ago, Dr. Robbins opened up to share her experiences through her podcast, Life, Death, and the Space Between, where she provides an ever-growing library of resources to explore the complex synergy between the psychological and spiritual – empowering you to know your true self and live a more fulfilling, connected life.
Since we last chatted I had the pleasure of chatting with TJ and Taj Jackson of the Dee Dee Jackson Foundation’s Power of Love show. It was beautiful.
There was also a recent interview here at Open to Hope Foundation recently released:
Just a heads up that the hardback version of our gorgeous book is on sale and is currently less expensive than the paperback HERE.
Please excuse any sloppy writing. Coming out of a lengthy flu may have zapped some brain power. ♥︎
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