I often get asked if I believe that change is really possible.
It makes sense that this is such a frequently asked question because when we are living inside of our own bodies, minds, relationships and realities, it can be challenging to see our own change and growth if we’re not paying very close attention. And sometimes the nuance of our healing is such that we actually need the mirroring, reflection and witness of a trusted “other” in order to truly register that something has changed.
Although there are many overlapping human themes, we all have our own brand of suffering and circumstances which co-mingle to create a unique life curriculum for each one of us. These themes, patterns and lessons are your soul material, and nobody else is designed to do the hard work for you. Certainly we can receive help, support and guidance along the way, but at the end of the day, we are each responsible for our own healing and transformation.
The chronic challenges that I face are going to look and feel very different from yours and vice versa. Given this reality, we must first make the commitment to only evaluate our healing, growth and change by internal measurements instead of what we see in the people around us.
For example, if you are someone who struggles with social anxiety, noticing the moment when you work up the courage to start a conversation with a new person at work and giving yourself credit for this incremental change is going to be way more fruitful than watching your extroverted sister charismatically work the room at the next family gathering and asking yourself why you can’t be more like her.
When we are inside of our familiar and particularly unwanted ways of experiencing life, there is often the impulse to wish these things would just go away and let us be at peace.
More often than not, however, some of the greatest learning of our lives is waiting for us inside the very heart of these all-too-familiar struggles. In order to set ourselves free, we must take a dynamic journey filled with many lessons. If we can stick with it, the path will also bestow us with innumerable gifts, treasures, insights and gratitudes along the way.
So if you’re feeling frustrated, stuck or at a loss with yourself for whatever reason, here is a simple 4 Step Process to help support you on your path of healing and growth. You can use these steps with yourself and they can also be applied if you are supporting someone else with their challenge.
The first step along the way is basic and yet invaluable. We must be willing to acknowledge and therefore admit to ourselves (and sometimes to others) that there is something that pains us or bothers us deeply. This is much easier said than done, and I want to give you a lot of credit and encouragement in the places where you have been willing to exercise the courage to acknowledge and fully face whatever it is in your life that is calling out for your attention.
One of my mentors used to say, “Emma, awareness is 50% of the cure.” While I’m not sure this is always necessarily true, I do believe this is an important thing to keep in mind. Having true awareness of the cycles, habits and patterns that we can get into within the privacy of our own minds or in relationship to others is a huge and essential step on the path to seeking change. If we are not bringing the tool of our awareness into the exploration of our challenges, then most likely we will stay on the hamster wheel of our familiar and repetitive patterns without any chance of change or relief.
Victor Frankl, Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Awareness is the only tool you need in order to recognize the space that Frankl is referring to, which then blossoms into the power, choice and freedom he so eloquently names.
There are so many ways to increase and strengthen our awareness. Some of the most powerful ways that I have grown my awareness over the years are as follows: learning meditation techniques, getting support from trusted therapists, mentors and coaches, practicing yoga, reading books on psychology and spirituality, participating in women’s groups and taking time to reflect through writing.
Awareness has an innate desire to expand in each and every one of us. It is not so much which methods you use to increase your self-awareness, simply that you set your desire and intention on this outcome and it will naturally grow.
Throughout my years of studying human trauma and how to overcome the adversity that trauma can create in its wake, one of the most powerful insights that I picked up along the way is that when we are in a state of curiosity, we are not in a debilitating state of trauma.
What this means is that if we find ourselves caught in a dark spiral and we have the awareness to notice what’s happening and we make the choice to utilize the tool of curiosity, we immediately give ourselves a giant boost of resourcefulness.
Some examples of how to engage curiosity would be to ask yourself, “How does this challenge impact my ability to connect with others?” or “What am I learning from this challenge?” or “What would help me to feel more capable of facing this challenge?”
This way of inquiring can offer a great deal of reassurance in the face of difficulty, because the power of curiosity teaches us that even if we can’t figure out the answer, we still get to have a micro experience of change in relationship to the hardship, simply by deciding to take on an attitude of inquiry as opposed to an attitude of hopelessness and despair. This brave choice is often exactly what creates some space for change to occur, even if it’s not immediate.
Compassion is the lifeline for being able to face suffering both within ourselves and in relationship to others. The capacity to extend care, love, empathy and often times considerate action in the direction of both yourself and others has the power to soothe the jagged edges of this human existence and all of the suffering that it can entail.
Although it can be appealing to seek out the next best method or miracle system to solve our most distressing issues, keep in mind the extraordinary healing potential of compassion. Some of my greatest change and healing has occurred through the process of tapping into genuine, full-bodied compassion for a part of myself that seemed impossible to love or through the process of sitting with a skillful and trusted “other” who could extend that deep well of compassion toward me, when I couldn’t do it for myself.
Change, growth and healing take time. There is no getting around this, despite our grandest efforts.
Nature is one of the most affirming mirrors of this truth.
There is a small rose bush in my front yard and every year I get to watch the slow and steady process of its growth cycle. At first it seems like nothing is happening at all, and then one day a tiny bud appears.
From there, I watch as small, incremental changes transpire each day. Sometimes, if I’m not paying attention to nuance, it will look as if nothing has changed whatsoever. And then one day, I look out my window and there is this huge, gorgeous, full yellow rose that has blossomed.
I know what it took for that one yellow blossom to be so radiant and bright, but of course, if someone were to visit my house on just the right day, they might remark on what a beautiful rose bush I have, not thinking once about all the other days of the year when the obvious beauty was nowhere to be found.
All of these quiet, slow and invisible micro changes that occur just below the surface pave the way so that one day the more tangible and obvious transformations are eventually recognizable.
This is how healing works.
We do eventually break through and feel more whole. Change does happen, but only over time.
So, I want to leave you with this final reminder: have patience with yourself and with the process. I promise you, even though sometimes it seems impossible to believe, you can feel more free than you do right now.