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A Personal Lesson You Can Learn From...


I’m at a moment in my life where I need to be open - open to solutions I can’t predict, from sources I can’t see…I’m feeling pushed to the edge of the unknown.



This is usually where I meet others and guide them through the process of surrender, of building trust, of identifying the needs and non-negotiable values that emerge from the not-knowing. It’s fairly comfortable space for me when I’m guiding others, but I’m suuuuuper uncomfortable in my own experience right now.



When clients, are in a state of disconnection, disruption, or distress, I practice compassionate curiosity with them. So I applied that to myself - I asked myself how is it serving me to be resistant to being open, to trusting the unknown - especially when I’ve helped others do so and know how valuable it is? I checked in with my body, my nervous system, my emotions, and when I stopped trying to force them to feel differently or better, I got some good information.



“Being open” can feel a lot like being snuck up on, being startled or in shock. “Being open” is accepting you don’t know what’s coming or when, but something is coming. That kind of suspense can be intimidating to even those with nerves of steel some days.



If you have a hyper-vigilant nervous system, one that’s always on alert to what’s happening and preparing for what could possibly come next, being surprised is a special form of torture. It’s one of the most dysregulating and panic-inducing experiences, usually because hyper-vigilance is a way you’ve adapted to protect yourself from unpredictable or unstable situations.



For the human brain, familiar = safe, and not just from a comfort perspective. It takes less energy for the brain to utilize established neural pathways than it does to develop or practice newer ones. Conserving energy is a biological form of survival, so familiar = safe. This is even truer in a hyper-vigilant nervous system, which expends excessive energy by being locked in fight-flight-freeze-or fawn mode (the sympathetic nervous system). The capacity for accommodating the unknown, for allocating resources to respond to unexpected stimuli, is limited and therefore can feel tremendously threatening.



So “being open” can feel like saying to Source Energy, the Universe, God (insert your choice of non-physical forces here), “Hey, surprise me! Attack me with solutions!” It’s like volunteering to experience something terrifying in the hopes (but with no guarantee) that it’ll lead to something pleasant.



AND ISN’T THAT GROWTH IN A NUTSHELL?



To grow, we have to become students of life again. We have to be willing to say, “I don’t know” and learn a new way. We have to make ourselves vulnerable by intentionally NOT doing what’s safe and familiar, by reframing the use of energy it takes to develop and practice new choices and behaviors as an investment of energy not an expense.



But to grow sustainably, it’s important to discern and determine the pace of growth that will allow you to build momentum, not overwhelm you and shut you down. “Being open” can be like cracking a window and gradually letting the room cool down, it doesn’t have to mean throwing the doors wide open and shocking your system so you slam the door shut again.



Part of the process of expanding is finding your somatic ceiling and floor - the height of stimulation when you become overwhelmed, and the low point of stimulation when you become immovably unmotivated and possibly hopeless. Then gradually, and in a way that feels supportive, stretching those boundaries to make more space for your ability to experience life - in all the ways: excitement, exhilaration, grief, anger, and my personal favorite, Enough-ness.



If my intuition is right (and like, duh), then the disorientation I’m experiencing will ultimately connect me with a new level of depth in my own capacity for discomfort with the unknown, and will guide me to be more intimately familiar with navigating these steps with courage and compassion to create stronger safety for those I’ll be guiding through my work. My trust in the unknown and the process of its unfolding is being rebuilt in a new, sturdier way, and my ability to hold space for surrender is growing.



It fucking sucks. But this is the part where I’m accepting the terrifying bit because I believe in the benefits that will come of it. So when I tell you in our sessions that “I understand” I really, really mean it.



If you’re finding yourself resistant to “being open,” keep in mind that you’re not being stubborn or that your mindset is weak. It’s very possible that you’re having a completely reasonable response to being asked to subject yourself to an experience that feels fundamentally threatening - trusting what you can’t see or predict.


In that space, see if you can discern what you need in order to feel safe and stable with the knowledge that change is happening. How can you help yourself bend with the wind rather than break? Then identify the most sustainable step you can take in the direction of your growth. It could seem almost too simple, even stupid - it’s not.


Every choice has a ripple of influence, and the more strongly you feel about and commit to that choice the stronger the ripple is. Think of accidentally knocking a pebble in the water with the edge of your shoe vs. throwing that pebble with all your strength and focus into a very specific spot in the water - the ripples will be different.


If you’re concerned about disturbing the water - what if you hit a fish or disrupt the underwater ecosystem somehow? - you’ll be less inclined to throw the pebble, or you might give it a very gentle minimal-consequences toss. That can be OK. Not everything needs a leap of faith, baby steps will still take you forward.


In this metaphor, you can wait until you feel really clear about throwing that pebble so you get the maximum ripple effect. You can also gentle plunk pebble after pebble into the same spot and let the ripple build with each effort. Only you can determine which way feels right for you in the moment, but support and reflection can help you determine that.


When my clients are in this place, I advise them to start somewhere that doesn’t matter. I’ll give a personal example:


I’ve got an ADHD brain, so it’s very common for me to not realize I need to replace something until it’s gone. My brain recognizes that there’s still some there, so I don’t need to worry about it yet. The ADHD brain commonly perceives things in terms of “Now” and “Not Now.” Still-some-left falls under “not now.”


But this naturally leads to a peaks-and-valleys style of resourcing. I start with plenty, whittle it down to nothing, and then think I have to fill it all the way back up again to create as much distance between doing this task now and doing it again.


Peaks and valleys with no plateaus is exhausting and unsustainable. It can affect finances, relationships, health - really important things to staying alive and being well while doing so.


So my question to myself was, “How can I work with my brain wiring to get my needs met in a way that feels sustainable but still natural?”


I started with my car. Rather than wait until I was almost out of gas, I committed to recognizing a half tank as being the new Empty, the new “Now.” I’d have to get gas more often, which felt disruptive to my routine (enter Autism) and like an extra task for my impaired Executive Functioning to manage. But hey, I wanted to grow so I tossed a little pebble in the water to see how it rippled.


I did it twice! In a row! I was proud of myself. Just as the indicator was reaching half a tank for the third time…my car - my old, shakes when I go over 65mph, always needing something tweaked or tended to and kinda stressful to drive because surely something was gonna go wrong soon - got smashed while parked and it’s now out of commission.


The point: it’s not always the action that determines the result.


The fact is, my car wasn’t working for me. It got me from A to B, but only if A and B were pretty close to each other and didn’t require too much highway time. It was something, but it wasn’t enough.


By changing my perception of what “not enough” was with something as seemingly innocuous as when to refill my gas tank, it changed my experience of what enough is in terms of safe, reliable, and maintainable transportation.


Now, at the moment, I have no car at all. Which feels like…not the original goal? But in the nothing, the No Thing, there is potential.


I’m at the edge of the unknown - how will I afford another car? How will I afford to insure and maintain a better car than the one I had? What if there’s another accident and I have to do this all over again before I’ve built my resources back up?


Worrying about any of that neither solves nor prevents it. Right now, while I wait for insurance to do its thing, here’s where I have influence over my experience:


  • I have agency over identifying the needs and non-negotiable values of what a safe, reliable, maintainable (and stylish, c’mon now…) vehicle is for me.

  • I have agency over building trust that this problem can be solved, even if I don’t know the how or when, as well as building trust that sometimes the unknown can feel thrilling like a surprise birthday party and not always scary and full of doom.

  • I have agency over getting clear about what I need in order to feel safe surrendering to not having complete control over the fact that this happened or how it will work out.


In this way, I’m setting the foundation for my needs and establishing boundaries for the ways my needs must, and must not, be met. This kind of self-connection is essential for generating a life and sense of self-worth in which you are the author of your experience, not a supporting role acting out others’ demands, ideas, and expectations. And it’s a fluid process, there’s no achieving “the way” and kicking back to put living on autopilot. The conflicts and challenges of life are where we refine who we are, what we want, what we value, and how we want to contribute to and inspire others.


Before anyone is a coach, a teacher, a guide of any kind, they are a human being. We are all learning, growing, fucking up, sliding backwards, careening sideways, and launching forward in our own ways and at our own paces.


When I offer my experience, it’s to illustrate a perspective or provide a reference point that you can draw from and respond to in your own way. I can’t tell you what to do, I don’t have the answers. But I have really sharp questions that help you recognize and reveal the answers you need.


It’s natural to feel fear in the face of the unknown, so I encourage you to meet yourself in that fear. Hold yourself, soothe and comfort yourself. Let it lead you to what you need, and the resources you have available or can cultivate to fulfill those needs. Listen for the information beneath the emotions, and your intuition will show you where to focus so you can find the next actionable step forward.


If you need support, I’m here to help - just holler 🖤


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