I have started to fully understand why so many people stay asleep in their lives. Why they pretend things are OK when they really aren't, why they don't acknowledge their feelings about things, and seemingly go through life as a walking ghost... Because this waking up and being conscious shit is HARD!
We have all, at some point, tried to pretend something that is happening isn't really happening in our life or if maybe you know someone who is living life this way currently, but I finally totally get it why people choose to stay asleep or unconscious in their life. There are many of us who run from how we feel because it hurts, because it means we'll have to face something, because it means what we thought we had… isn't real. And if this is what's true for you I understand, I get it, I have compassion for you, and my truth is that pretending and staying asleep just hurts way too much for me to live that way.
I didn't used to believe that unconscious was more painful than conscious. I used to put on the masks, pretend things were OK when they weren't, make excuses for the way things were, even make it my fault that things were the way they were. Pretending is one of the methods of dealing with stress more commonly known as “flight”. Emotionally leaving, taking flight… from OURSELVES. I made a conscious decision to wake the hell up in my life and at this point I'm too far in to go back. I can't yet fully see the light at the end of the tunnel, so I'm somewhere in the "dark middle" as Martha Beck says. I've heard it called the "dark night of the soul - between no longer, and not yet." But to some extent, I am seeing a glimmer of light ahead of me.
I know, that I know, that I know, that I can no longer live in the way that I used to, where I accept things as they are simply because I don't want to jeopardize the facade of what is.
This is a very scary, heavy, bold place to be because plenty of people are not going to understand. They may think I'm crazy, or just think I'm having what many people refer to as a "midlife crisis". Here's the thing… going through is a "crisis", in my view, is an Awakening it is an awesome opportunity step into your light to be fully who you are. It's a wake-up call and it is a huge gift. I love the fact that the Greek origin of the word crisis means to sift. Sift out what matters from what doesn't. Sorting and deciding until what has meaning for us is clear.
So many times we use a crisis to become a victim. We get our friends to rally around us and tell us how wrong the other person is or how unfair the situation is or how unfair the situation is. It seems to feel good in the moment, justified… “I’m good – they are bad, poor, poor me”. I believe that if we choose this path, we are missing the GIFT of the crisis. Settling for a feeling of justification over the opportunity to heal, to grow and become what the crisis was here to help us evolve to is to short change yourself big time.
The stress response of flight, just like the other options available to us to deal with stress, has healthy and unhealthy options. Unhealthy flight can look like pretending, addiction, and it can also look like people pleasing – making others needs matter more than your own as a way of avoiding your real feelings, because you are afraid of what you’ll find if you go allllll the way into them. Unhealthy flight can look like working lots of long hours, so you don’t have to face how you feel about what is waiting for you at home or inside yourself. Unhealthy flight can also be when we blame and live in a way that we refuse to look at the reality of a situation by painting it with a brush that says you have no responsibility in it, it’s all THEIR fault. All of these unhealthy methods of flight are attempts to simply to disappear and run from the GIFT that is in front of you by facing it.
Of course, there are healthy ways to take flight. Call a timeout or simply say that you need to take a break when a conflict gets too much for us. Taking a walk around the block to cool off is HEALTHY flight.
I just listened to a great session with Anne Davin, PhD who talked about this subject of how we use four main responses to stress:
What we don't seem to realize is that all of these mechanisms we use to try and avoid pain - are exactly what are causing our pain. Our pain doesn’t come from the event, it comes from our reaction to it and the meaning we put on it. The pain comes from running from ourselves, abandonment, pretending.
Waking up, getting real with your own truth is very intense and it’s no joke. It takes a major amount of work, staying conscious and not just when it feels convenient. In order to become who we most desire to be, to live our lives as whole, loving beings, we often have to first PURGE. You might need to purge items, or people from your life to create space for what you want to come in. Or maybe what you need to purge is your auto-pilot response to stress? Instead of taking flight, stand and lean into the pain, the heartbreak, the emptiness and let it pass through.
For me, the clear example is my marriage to Don. I took flight for many years. Either I’d travel as a speaker a lot, or be gone teaching exercise classes several nights per week, or emotionally try to tap dance around the reality that things just didn’t feel on track with us. I was trying to avoid the pain that the lack of connection that I seemed to feel and the challenges we were having HAD to be my fault somehow. If I just kept acting like things were o.k…. surely they would be. I was trying to avoid feeling pain.
Don (and he has given me full permission to share this stuff about our relationship btw) was taking flight as well. He was emotionally "checked out", working lots and lots of hours, seeming so angry and unhappy most of the time. My belief was that his demeanor was all my fault somehow. If I were to just figure out how to be in the relationship in the “right” way, things would be o.k. I was always so focused on the outcome of the relationship, fearful that Don was about to leave me at any given moment. This wasn't his fault of course, it was the story I told myself that I would be "abandoned" because I was in fact abandoning myself by trying to be what I thought HE wanted me to be rather than true to myself. Since we never fought, I figured my feelings that things were uncomfortable in our relationship must just be that my instincts were off. We probably never fought because I was to afraid that would lead to the end of the relationship... the outcome I feared more than anything. I felt so unsure of things that I thought one single fight would burn the relationship down.
Then, I got a wake-up call. And I answered it. That choice led to plenty of pain, which, of course, was never my intention. I was simply in a lot of deep emotional pain and hurting people, hurt people. Due to my own unwillingness to feel my pain, get real with it and not pretend – I ended up reaching a breaking point. Thank God I did.
Even with all that that's happened FOR me these past couple of years since the wake-up call, I wouldn’t change any of it. It’s all been a huge gift that has led me back to myself and I really don’t know if I could have found my way back without all that has happened and all that I’ve learned as a result of it.
My experience has been that since I have gotten painfully real, honest, and gotten clear about how I feel and allowing myself to feel those feelings even when they are painful – it has changed my relationship with Don and most of all my relationship with myself, in a big way.
What I want now is to BE the person that I most desire to have in a partner... to be: self-aware, open hearted, present, fun/funny, loving, smart, sexy in ALL my relationships, no matter what the outcome. So while Don and I don’t know what the future holds for our partnership, my intention is to be the REAL me and my marriage is a perfect place to practice being who I want to be in a relationship, no matter what the outcome is of that particular relationship is. It's the best laboratory of all to practice in. “True spiritual work is in relationships with others and with yourself.” -Joan Borysenko And if your partner won't or can't do this work with you - that's not a valid excuse for not doing it yourself. To BE what it is you desire in a partner means you must also give those attributes to YOURSELF.
Michael Singer says in the Untethered Soul that when we feel pain to simply see it as energy. Energy passing through your heart and your consciousness. Then relax. Do the opposite of contracting, closing, running from it. You will feel tremendous resistance to doing this, and that’s what makes it so powerful. If you close to the pain and stop it from passing through, it will stay in you.
If we choose to say in flight mode, deny our feelings – just know that sooner or later that is going to implode or explode in your life. I thought to keep my relationship “safe” I needed to make it appear to be o.k. even when I felt that wasn’t really true. It may seem like it’s safer to pretend in your life, yet it is only in being REAL that we will ever find safety.
To be real, you will have to stop, notice what you're feeling and be willing to ask for what you want or need - and stop pretending. What teeny tiny step could you do today to move in the direction of not taking flight?
Glennon Doyle Milton's book "Love Warrior" is what I'm reading right now. She did a GREAT Ted Talk on the pain of pretending and maybe it will help you know that you too can step into your own light and know that you are enough and that you don't need to pretend.
Sandy Edie Hansen
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