How to Manage Overwhelm

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a serious objection to January.

In my ideal world, Januarys just wouldn’t exist. December would be immediately followed by February (which I’m not a huge fan of either, but it’s better than January), or even March.

The only January I ever encountered that didn’t fill my soul with darkness and gloom, in a manner that seems never-ending, was when I lived in Barcelona (it was 14°C and sunny every day).

I haven’t written a blog post since December.

I haven’t, in fact, written anything since December. And when I don’t write, something in me starts to die.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, it begins to wither, the juice dries up, and one day I realize I feel shriveled and brittle, and that any creativity I may ever have known has deserted me.

It’s frustrating (and humbling), that as someone who’s spent over a decade exploring mindfulness practices, and trying to learn how to find a slightly less tumultuously emotional way of experiencing life, I can still get into a state of such severe overwhelm that I worry myself.

And yet, that’s what it came to.

Last Monday, at work, feeling far too close to the way I was feeling before my meltdown in Switzerland four (!) years ago, I remembered that I still had some of the anti-anxiety pills I’d been given back then (they’re probably past their shelf life but that didn’t cross my mind in that moment).

It’s also awkward because I’m currently creating a mindfulness course – and yet I myself, in extreme cases (and this has been an extreme case), can still have trouble committing to the practices that help keep me sane.

Hello integrity check number 278 (or thereabouts; I’ve lost count the last few months).

And despite the frazzled state I have whirled myself into once again, I am proud of myself for coping as well as I have. Of giving myself spaces to breathe and nurture myself, of letting go of things, of appointments, of ‘doing’ in order to re-connect to myself in those precious pockets of be-ing.

For dragging my butt out for a 7k run every week. For letting go of a million ‘shoulds’. For doing what needed to be done despite how I was feeling. For taking the decision to stop any and all arguing with reality.

Overwhelm may still be able to sink its teeth into me occasionally, but nowadays I know how to fight back.

Self-Love

All this overwhelm (moving house, emptying & letting go of my childhood home, a plethora of issues with the new house, an intensive coaching course, and a full-time job and too many side projects) has provided an excellent setting to practice self-love.

Limiting commitments. Letting go of previously made commitments. Getting enough sleep. Being endlessly gentle with my weepiness and need for extremely cheesy pizza. Many (many) long hot baths with candles, bubbles and giant glasses of red wine (yes, multiple glasses were often necessary). Re-committing to sitting (meditating) every day.

Using aromatherapy. Colouring mandalas. Buying myself flowers. Reading “Eat, Pray, Love” (for about the 100th time). Lighting candles. Sage-smudging. A delectable new skin-nourishing oil. Deep belly breaths. Flower essences. Kind words. Tea. Kitten snuggles.

And slowly, the stillness is returning.

It’s also been a great opportunity to practice asking for what I need, and for allowing other people to see me when I’m feeling like my skin is paper-thin, when I don’t give a rat’s ass what my hair looks like, or that I haven’t worn make-up in weeks, or the possibility that I might never get rid of the ‘winter weight’ (especially if I keep munching on those immeasurably comforting, overly cheesy pizzas – I’m fairly certain at this point that cheese must be good for the soul).

Managing Overwhelm

So that said, here is my list of everything I’ve found to deal with overwhelm:

  • Know your habitual mental/emotional/physical patterns of behavior when overwhelm begins to creep in (the sooner you spot it, the better)
  • Notice when you’re starting to stretch past what feels comfortable and slip into those habitual patterns
  • Take immediate steps to reduce/let go of activities that feel draining at this point in time
  • Check your priorities, and if necessary (re-)align them with self-care; are there things that can be let go of, backed out of, said ‘No’ to?
  • Write out a giant Self-Love List of every single thing you can think of that nourishes you/makes you feel safe/makes you smile/makes you relax
  • Insert at least one of the things from your Self-Love List into your program each day
  • Watch for where you’re numbing rather than nourishing yourself
  • If the issue(s) causing the overwhelm are likely to be part of your life for a while, brainstorm with a partner/friend about longer-term systems to put into place in order to support you
  • Especially if you’re someone who’s prone to anxiety, make sure you share where you’re at with one or more close friends/family members. If you’re in a partnership, make sure you also seek additional sources of support
  • Take a few minutes to visualize how you want to feel. Breathe it into your cells and anchor it in your body. This is the feeling you are aiming for; make yourself a cute note to stick in your workplace or somewhere you’ll see it at regular intervals that will remind you to plug in to this feeling at regular intervals throughout the day
  • Take ten minutes every day (it can be 5, but every day, non-negotiable) to sit somewhere quiet and just be with whatever is there 
  • Journaling can be helpful if you feel like getting your insides on paper is calming
  • Be incredibly gentle with yourself; try to speak to yourself as you would your best friend, or if you’re really strung out, as you would a small child. You’re overstretched right now – give yourself as much leniency and kindness as you can (and if you can’t, ask a friend to provide you with these words)
  • Physical activities really help to release stress (the product of overwhelm) from the body – a daily activity outside (Oxygen! Nature!) is great; yoga or other indoor activities that activate the parasympathetic nervous system are also wonderfully supportive
  • Get enough sleep, Get enough sleep, Get enough sleep
  • Eat as much fresh, colourful, leafy goodness as possible (in addition to ludicrously cheesy pizza, if that also happens to be your comfort food of choice) – this will support your nervous system and help to balance your endocrine system (which is probably spinning out on crazy cortisol levels)
  • Breathe deep. Expand. Stretch 
  • Take Magnesium and B vitamin supplements to help your body combat stress (or just eat tons of the above-mentioned leafy goodness)
  • Have this ACIM (A Course in Miracles) lesson as your mantra: “I could see peace instead of this”
  • Aromatherapy can help your mood; lavender, rose, ylang ylang and patchouli are my favourites
  • Read Pema Chödrön’s “When Things Fall Apart.” You will feel better

As a general rule of thumb: do anything and everything that you know is good for you. Try out different things. The struggle against overwhelm is a battle that must be fought on all fronts; body, mind and soul.

That being said, in a state of overwhelm, less is more.

Rather than desperately adding things to your schedule in an aggressive assault, be mindful that it’s going to serve you more to release things. To do less. To have more time to simply be.

So let the words ‘Nourish’ and ‘Peace’ be your guides, align your behaviour with self-love, and practice breathing and expanding into each moment.

And remember; nothing lasts forever. This will pass. And you’ll emerge tougher and wiser than before.

Hang in there.

You’ve got this.

//

 

Photo Credit: scriptical.wordpress.com

We HAVE to hurt people – we have to speak the truth

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“We HAVE to hurt people – we have to speak the truth”

These words were spoken by a man I respect enormously, a teacher. We don’t have time, he said, to become perfect ourselves before we start taking action in the world, before we can act with complete compassion, complete love, complete selflessness.

We must speak the truth that is in us, even if it hurts someone.

To me, with my desperate desire never to hurt anyone, that’s a radical thought.

And yet somewhere in me, I know this is not only necessary, but a secret possibility for grace. When we allow our truth to come out of us, something a bit mysterious happens – as that energy leaves us, our state changes, and if we are speaking with a pure intention, what is left afterwards is love.

I’ve only experienced this once that I recall – I was so tense, angry, frustrated that I felt like I was going to explode, so I spoke. I spoke my anger and frustration, directed at one person, but as I did so I stayed anchored in my heart – and she heard, was with me as I spoke, allowed herself to be impacted. And as I spoke what was there, it softened, and ebbed, until it was almost completely gone, and all that was left was love and compassion.

Radical Responsibility

Those of us who see – what is wrong, but more importantly, much more importantly, where the path lies for positive change – must act, and empower others to do the same. The urgency of this feeling is getting increasingly hard for me to ignore.

And these things that stop us, or at least which stop me – “Who am I to…” / “What can I possibly hope to change…” / “I’m scared I’ll be rejected…” etc. – are all ego-based fears. But this powerful desire to change things does not come from ego. It is driven by a heart-based desire for a more just, balanced, beautiful world – and allowing ego to stand in the way of that drive is to give in to the most base aspect of human nature; which most of us who hear this call vehemently do battle with in other areas where it holds us back.

So why not here as well?

It feels big, and powerful, and terrifyingly audacious to think about changing the world. And horribly humbling to realise we can only do it one small action at a time. And to take that responsibility, even if it means hurting someone.

Something that massively lessened the load for me a few days ago was realising that when I allow what is in me that comes from this deep desire, to emerge, the consequences are not just on me, on Steph. If I am truly allowing the creative impulse (or Divine impulse) to flow through me, then what happens as a result is not just for me to hold.

This can be seen in certain group settings, where many people are tuned in to a transpersonal/collective truth, and one person speaks it – the impact/effect of that will be held by the whole group (if they are holding a commitment to collective growth rather than individual), and doesn’t have to be borne alone by the individual who put it out there in words.

Power And Vulnerability

Holding the growing urgency of this desire to change things is becoming increasingly interesting. The last few weeks I’ve had intense creative energy washing up in waves from my second chakra, bringing storms of ideas and insight.

It feels immensely powerful (which is intoxicating), and most interestingly, it doesn’t feel like “me”. It’s like a force sweeping through me, and not part of my Self that I’m identified with. This is what helped me tune in to the idea that what comes from that energy is not 100% my ownership – because it’s not “mine.”

This power (I feel it as feminine) is strong and demanding, and she’s pushing me to take these ideas and insights and put them out into the world – which is great, but also terrifying (to my ego, which feels increasingly like it has no say anymore).

And so the flip side of this power is intense, incrementally increasing vulnerability; the more I tune into this power and follow the creative drive and put myself out there (Really? Me? Or just my creativity?), the more vulnerable and naked I feel.

And it feels like a paradox – as my power increases, so does my vulnerability.

It feels like that’s somehow a necessary balance.

And there’s a beautiful lesson in there as well; non-attachment to what comes through me/what I create. To not take things personally, whether ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ To live, fully expressed, and rest in that, whatever the outcomes of my living, of me.

And…I feel like I have no idea yet really what it’s all about ;)

“Are you really naked?”

I was asked this recently, by a – highly perceptive – man who reads my blog, shortly after meeting him. And I was forced to say “No, not entirely –  I’m working on it.”

Ouch.

This was just one of many integrity checks that have been coming my way (internally and externally) in the last few weeks. Another thing I’m discovering about putting more of yourself out there into the world is that the stakes get higher, people’s expectations get aimed at you more, and being certain that you are walking your talk becomes a knife point of precision.

Thinking about facing that as ‘Steph’ is way too scary.

But tuning in to the feeling I have when I allow the creative force to flow through me, and not being attached to it or identifying with it takes away the fear – or rather, there is simply an absence of fear in that state.

And I don’t want to create anything that doesn’t come from that place anyway.

 

//

 

Photo credit: rifmnet.ru

What sweet torture after all, to stand here in the wind, to fall

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My restless mind is running wild,

Beyond the strength of my denial

Mocking words that I abhor -

I want you, I need you, I am yours.

The breadth of your shoulders 

Has made me bolder – 

There is nothing of my desire

That is not fed as fuel to fire

The curve of my back whispers free

Of sinuous movement, of ecstasy

The parting of my lips suggest

That they are yours, and all the rest

Of what I am, pulses fiercely as it can

To call you in, oh wanton man

You who have stripped me of my pride

And left me naked at the wayside

Trembling now with open fear

That you will go and leave me here

My yearning heart a lone wild beat

On this cold and dark and windy street.

How is it you can twist and turn 

And make me weak and melt and burn

How is it you have conjured me

Into a wild raging sea?

But what sweet torture after all

To stand here in the wind, to fall;

To surrender to this ancient call,

To love no matter what befalls -

This call that I can not resist

That woke in me at our first kiss

That asks of me to simply be,

That urges me to wait and see.

//

 

Photo credit: Aneta Ivanova on Behance

Have mercy on me; I am starving and have nothing to eat

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Have mercy on me; I am starving and have nothing to eat. 

It’s 6:30am. I’ve been awake for hours, anxiety-ridden thoughts gnawing at my peace, my gut, my soul, as they have for months. Health issues that leave me with the terrifying fear that if I do not live what is in me very soon, my body might fail and it will be too late.

Finally I decided, Enough – I will read rather than listen to the endless tirade that the lonely hours of early morning leave me helpless to withstand.

I picked up the book I’ve been reading; “Vision Quest” by Steven Foster. A description of his journey and how it led to what is now the Western adaptation of the ancient timeless ritual of going forth alone into the wilderness to seek purpose, answers, and visions for ourselves and our communities.

Throughout the book, these words are present again and again;

Have mercy on me; I am starving and have nothing to eat.

Again I read those words. But this time, I heard them as I had not done before.

This time, they rang in my soul, through my very being, as though a great bell had been stuck deep within and reverberated through me like a massive earthquake, leaving me heaving with huge wracking sobs.

For the first time I saw it so clearly; his understanding mirrored mine, my own experience, my own perspective of the world, and the pity of it washed over me, into me, through me as the full meaning sunk in.

The people are starving and have nothing to eat.

And in their hunger they devour grease, cheap entertainment, horror, images, products. And this desperate urge to fill the starving abyss within is so urgent that they pay no heed to what they devour, to the quality of what it is they fill themselves with.

All they know is that this hunger does not leave; they consume and consume but the raging burning of starvation remains.

Our starving is killing the world. Our mother earth lies dying in protesting contractions as our hunger and ability to feed it with the illusion of satisfaction increases daily.

And in me, the recognition of starvation; my whole life until a few years ago, and even now sometimes, for a few hours here and there, it will take me back. Starving, and no one could tell me why. Starving, hurting myself in my futile attempts to stave off the aching chasm inside, a desperate scream unscreamed pulsing like a deadly poison in my veins.

I am starving and have nothing to eat!

Why does no one feed me? Why am I left alone in my misery to die of this unnamed illness? Why can no one tell me what is wrong with me? Why am I starving in a world where I can have everything?

My people failed me.

Alone.

Starving, with nothing to eat.

Many years of darkness before finally I started to learn where to look for my food. Started to feed myself. And it hurt so much, to finally have this food inside, because it made even more apparent the unspeakable desolation of all those years of starvation.

We are starving; a culture, a world now, starving to death, and the death of all we touch. Starving for our souls, for meaning, for truth, for realness, for life, real life, life that we feel pulsing through us, life that dances us from infant to elder, life that is connected, interconnected, raw, terrifying, passionate.

My people failed me, but I will not fail them.

I will dedicate my life to feeding my people, for they are starving and have nothing to eat.

This is my vow.

//

 

More information

Joseph Campbell – The Monomyth

The School of Lost Borders

 

Photo credit: alexstoddard on Flickr

I am a creature of the forest

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I am a creature of the forest

I am her winding mossy ways

I am the rain that leaves no shelter

I am the ending of the days

I am the bird that flies above

I am the dead that rots below

I am the raven and the crow

Who know much you do not know.

Listen to my ways;

I will show you all you need to sow

A new world from ancient ken

A dragon’s lair, a lion’s den

Must be the challenge you will face

Before I lead you forth in grace

For nothing in this world is free

Except the marvel that is me.

Listen to my ways;

And do not doubt, what the path is all about

For only he who bests the trial

Can know the fear and the denial

That knowing all would bring about -

Therefore wait, and fight and shout

Offer all you are, brave one

Or be slain, and then be gone.

And when the long night is over

When the morning dawns sober

Cold light on your tattered soul

Bearing forth the gifts of old

All the people will clap their hands 

The new king come to save the land -

But forget not that it was I

That showed you how, that let you fly.

I am a creature of the forest

I am her winding mossy ways

I am the rain that leaves no shelter

I am the ending of the days

I am the bird that flies above

I am the dead that rots below

I am the raven and the crow

Who know much you do not know.

//

Photo credit: Pinterest

I want to open a space for Dark + Messy

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I love dark and messy. It’s where I spent most of my life.

I’m good at dark and messy. The chaos, the falling, the desperate unknowing if I’ll ever climb back up into the light..It’s so fucking familiar that it *almost* doesn’t scare me anymore.

And there’s still so little space for it in our culture.

Still this pervasive “keeping up appearances” bullshit. Don’t be messy, you’ll ruin your reputation. Don’t be messy, you’re meant to have it all together. Don’t be messy, it’s self-indulgent. Don’t be messy, you’ll upset people.

The Dark isn’t even acknowledged for the most part.

And so the Dark and Messy gets hidden in the murky rooms of our souls where no light gets in, and festers like darkly growing cancer. It takes up space that could otherwise be filled with light and love. It weighs on us like a dead weight, a burden, a shameful secret.

I want to open a space for Dark and Messy.

A space in which it’s safe to look; in which we feel brave enough to take a first peek, to let in a single beam of light into that musty room….and maybe even to start pulling out bits of mess, offering them as the sacred pieces of our souls that they are, letting them be purified and alchemized into grace.

Because when we share those unspeakable parts of ourselves, those whispers of dread, those raw, pining, aching, ugly, grieving, groaning, screaming bits, and they meet with total acceptance and love; they are transformed.

And it feels like a miracle.

I want to invite us to go there, together. To take each others hands, say a prayer, and jump.

Because secretly, deep, deep down, we all love Dark and Messy.

It’s scary as fuck when we try to pretend it’s not there, but even holding that fear there’s an almost dirty desire to claim it, to tear off the mask and howl, to dive into the dark and revel in the mess.

Dark + Messy: Coming soon.

//

 

Photo credit: polished-to-perfection.tumblr.com

The Passion

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There is a passion in me,

That is burning,

Burning.

She comes in waves, rising up in me,

Washing over me

And I am left open-mouthed,

Trembling.

She feels powerful –

So powerful that I don’t know

If this one fragile human body 

Can hold all that she is.

She commands devotion, complete surrender,

And I, in my innocence, ask myself

How much can I let her out?

Where are the boundaries

Of where I let her wander?

But the passion doesn’t give a fuck about boundaries.

She wants me to open.

To open and burn.

Burn, burn into nothing

Until I am one with God,

Formless and universal

United with the mystery.

To open and burn in her will, 

Her raging, terrible, bewitching desire

That no one can stand against.

She is all I love, and all I fear

Within me.

I hear her commanding me, louder each day;

Open and burn, Open and burn

And I, entranced, bewitched by her power

Nod, mesmerised, -

Yes, Open and burn,

Open and burn.

But there is terror behind my starry gaze,

Knowing as I know, her wild ways,

Unspeakable, unknowable

Mighty in their mystery

Ferocious and unpitying

Demanding me to Open, Open

Into the dark, the ugly, the vile

Secrets left buried, beneath the shapes

And stories I have grown

To build myself a pretty home

To be called ‘normal’, ‘good’, and ‘pretty’,

When I am wild, and raw, and gritty.

But she doesn’t care about consequences,

And in the centre of my being

She storms and howls

For me to Open and burn,

Open and burn.

//

Photo credit: thesacredlifeofrain.com