It happens frequently that my clients’ come to a session with me, feeling deeply troubled by a ‘monster’ they saw on the beach (metaphorically speaking, of course). They described this monster in a lot of gory detail partly hoping that I would confirm how terrifying this beast was, yet partly hoping I wouldn’t. Luckily, when a bucket of water was thrown on the monster, it revealed its true nature; it melted away because it was made of the same sand as the rest of the beach. The metaphorical monster was of course an upset my client faced. The bucket of water was nothing more than awareness. There is great power in awareness: it can help us shift from victim land, where we react from fear, stuck in an old unhappy story — to creator-land, where we make choices rooted in love, rewriting our narrative.
Our upsetting monsters are life’s invitation to develop a deeper understanding of the principles behind reality, experience our innate resilience, and learn new ways of being with ourselves and others.
This chapter was born out of the request of a number of my clients who said, ‘Okay, I kind of get that my upsets are homemade, but when I feel upset, what should I do?’
At first, my response can be somewhat frustrating for them. In effect, what I say is, ‘Stay curious. Look deeper. Wait.’ When we speak about how thoughts create feelings, and the rather flawed logic behind our intuitive models of reality, the monster often begins to melt in a quiet and unspectacular manner.
In lieu of a conversation with a coach or a friend, there is a simple practice that can nudge your awareness and invite a different understanding to emerge. I created a little memory hook for this simple practice:
Pause: Literally means to pause. Slow down. Follow your in-breath and out-breath. Breathing interrupts the amygdala-driven response and supplies the brain with more oxygen (which you need in order to think).
Acknowledge: Just be present to yourself.
- What do I feel right now? (The range of human emotions is actually quite limited — see ‘The Needy Iceberg — part 2’)
- Where do I feel it? (Notice what is going on in your body.)
Understand: Certain questions will bring your thinking to your awareness, and help you discover your most upsetting thought. We only ever feel our own thinking, therefore anything you feel in this moment is caused by a more or less conscious thought. If you understand which self was triggered, you can explore the situation from this specific perspective in you with compassion.
To understand means to understand the perspectives of the different selves within you — as well as understanding the situation and making an effort to empathize with other people that might be involved.
Select: There is always more than one way in which one can respond. Once you understand better what is happening, get clear on what parts you can affect. If in doubt, err on the side of optimism — we have a tendency to underestimate or deny our capacity to change things!
- What can I influence right now?
- What outcome do I want to produce?
- What options do I have to get there?
Engage: In the end, the only thing that counts are the actions we choose. It is impossible not to engage with the world around us, because even choosing to do nothing is a choice your environment will respond to.
- How will I move this forward?
- What is my very next step?
We all will, at times, find ourselves below the line, caught up in parts of us that think and feel like a victim. And it is fine: don’t push this vulnerable self away or make it wrong. Telling this part to shut up is about as productive as shaking a crying child in order to calm it down. Instead tune in and listen. You may notice how treating your vulnerability with attention and love has the power to change your reality.
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