What Do You Do When You Hit a Wall?

mocha momentsThe stories that we hear about people rising to the top are hero stories…warrior stories even. Obstacles are surmounted, battles fought and finally the hero rises triumphant. These stories focus on the journey of the individual and even though we may see people around them, their will to push through and conquer throws a blanket over everyone else’s contribution.

Upon reflecting on my own life, I realized that sometimes, while we’re scaling skyscrapers and mauling monsters we often always hit a wall or a ceiling that no amount of willpower can push through. What do we do then? As Oriah Mountain Dancer shares in her book ‘The Dance’, “I have heard enough warrior stories of heroic daring. Tell me how you crumble when you hit the wall, the place you cannot go beyond by the strength of your own will. What carries you to the other side of that wall, to the fragile beauty of your own humanness?”

ralph waldo emersonI really like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on Self Reliance. He talks about things that I relate to and know to be true – fundamentals regarding life no matter the year or Century. He explores trusting and knowing yourself; about imitation being suicide and and the importance of finding yourself in your work. I absolutely agree with a lot of what Emerson has to say and have tried to convey many of his ideas through my writing and teaching. Except I probably made things confusing recently when I started using this line “It’s time to take back control of your life” on both my Facebook and Twitter pages.

What I meant was that we shouldn’t look to others to determine what we need to do with our lives. We shouldn’t imitate others or try to be like anyone else but who we already are and that if we could rely and trust ourselves more that we would make better decisions and choices in our best interest.

Taking back control of our lives does not mean that we can now control everything. Sure we know that we can’t control the weather, other people or even some of our own thoughts and feelings. But we do have a tendency to think that when life throws us a curve ball, which it often does, that we can reason and use our own efforts to manage situations and try to make things happen so that we could quickly move past the curve ball situation we’ve been thrown and get back to our lives as we know it.

In studying addictions I realize that addicts simply cannot use will alone to change the behavior that is destroying their lives. And so they hand over their addiction and their lives to a Higher Power.

We’re not much different. We may not be addicted to drugs or alcohol, but we do have addictions in our lives like overworking, over striving, spending enormous amounts of time on social media, grazing or snacking and anything that can get in the way of focusing on us and giving ourselves what we really need. When we encounter what we cannot control we resist continuing. We look for distractions, anything to turn away from the wall we’re approaching and to “postpone the inevitable recognition of our limitations.”

You know the phrase “like a phoenix rising through the ashes?” As the story goes, the phoenix is a mythical bird with fiery plumage that lives up to 100 years. Near the end of its life, it settles in to its nest of twigs which then burns ferociously, reducing bird and nest to ashes. And from those ashes, a fledgling phoenix rises – renewed and reborn.

When we hit a wall it’s as if we’re plunged into our own fiery furnace. Logic tells us that we should fight to save ourselves. Spirit tells us that we need to let go and allow ourselves to pay attention to what’s before us and to be renewed and reborn through the process. Clarity is one of those things that the harder you try to achieve it, the further away it can feel.

Psychologist Gail Brenner shares her own experience with hitting the wall: “When life threw me a curve, I longed for the turmoil to be over with. I wanted to pick myself up and move on. I tried hard to create a plan, to know what I didn’t know, to gain control. I was so busy trying to make things happen that I overlooked what was actually happening. I ignored my feelings and resisted the present moment. Finally, I realized my approach wasn’t working. I stopped trying. I let myself be frustrated and impatient. I admitted that there was so much I didn’t know, and I let go of figuring it all out. Life was messy, so I suspended my fruitless attempts to clean it up. When I look back I see that I had very little control over what happened. The seasons of my experience had to run their course – severe winter storms, cold and darkness, then the seeds hidden from view beginning to sprout (very exciting!). The best I could do was ride the waves, which I did with varying degrees of success.”

When there is reduced visibility, drivers have to leave more space between them and the car in front. The situation is no different with aircraft. When there is reduced visibility in your life – why do you insist on either taking off or landing when you can’t see where you are going? Here are a couple of steps to remember when next you hit a wall and everything around you looks foggy:

  1. Until the fog settles, let things happen.
  2. Give up trying to control.
  3. Don’t pretend you know what you don’t know.
  4. Stay close to what you know is true in the moment.
  5. Feeling bad isn’t wrong – it’s just how things are sometimes.
  6. Take good care of yourself.
  7. Engage with others.
  8. Reach out for support.
  9. When the time is right, feel the emotions.
  10. Get perspective – learn what not to do next time.

Oriah reminds us that there is a difference between being the determiner in your life and being the controller. We often confuse the two. Our desire to control is the normal human response to fear. Our ability to determine is to remember WHO and WHAT we are and to act from the center of this awareness.

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