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Skipping Over Life To Manage Overwhelm

I went to a weekend retreat for women 20 years ago and I’ve been staffing it ever since. The Woman Within community has become a part of me, a place where I belong. My weekend in 1994 broke me wide open and showed me that it was okay to feel emotions I’d kept locked inside. I learned that I didn’t have to do everything on my own after all, that I could nurture the softer sides of myself, and that I could reach out to other women and they wouldn’t reject me. I found a lot of laughter, tears, love and hope that weekend and it has inspired me to continue on a path of growth and healing.

Staffing has taught me a lot. As I have worked my way up the ranks from Apprentice to Facilitator-in-Training or “FIT 3,” I have had the “opportunity” to receive feedback. Sometimes this feedback has felt more like criticism and I have retreated to lick my wounds. Most of the time I have been harder on myself than the women giving me feedback. As time goes by, I have learned to have more compassion for myself and now, at age 53, to be more forgiving. My new good friends, Kristen Neff, Brené Brown, Tara Brach and Wendy Palmer, have all been helping me to cultivate compassion and bring more acceptance into my life.

But there was one big hurdle I was having trouble getting past and it was no small part of the weekend. For many years, I have found myself terrified by the intensity of some of the growth work offered. I would feel it in my body and then try to soothe myself or chase away the anxiety. I tried affirmations. I talked to people to get some support. But time and time again, I still felt this underlying FEAR taking over whenever the Pandora’s Box of Big Emotions was opened.

This past weekend when I staffed in Vernonia, Oregon, I hoped my experience would be different. I hadn’t staffed for two years and had done some EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy to work through some early trauma regarding my mother’s suicide attempts. I’ve also been reprogramming my body by soaking in the hot tub on a daily basis and meditating. Not only does the 102 degree water allow me to relax, I also get to see and hear a lot of beauty. As trite as it sounds, something in me lets go when I look at clouds. I love when the geese fly so close overhead I can hear their wings beating in synchronization; and the frog’s serenade in the Spring is a close second.

I noticed something new while staffing this last time. The way I reassured myself that I could survive my fear was by throwing my mind to a time in the future that seemed more pleasant to me than the present moment. I would start to imagine the delicious dinner I had planned at a restaurant in Portland, where I’d made reservations to go with my friend, Deb. I would think, “It doesn’t really matter what happens now, in about 48 hours I’ll be sipping a nice Syrah wine with my good friend and laughing!”

And then I heard the words of an old teacher of mine, Sarita. A few months earlier, she’d said to me: “Sometimes we skip over things and we miss what’s happening in the present moment.” This was in response to another time I was putting a positive spin on a breakdown I’d had with a fellow student, when I tried to dazzle him with my brilliance by making a super-special, fantastic, over-the-top program to “help” him with some problems he was having. I can hear the buzzer in my head still from that time: BZZZZZZ, wrong answer! But good try! I can still feel the nausea that came over me when my teacher exposed my positive reframing and how I like to wrap life’s ugly chaos up with nice wrapping paper and a big, shiny bow.

Once I noticed how much effort I was putting into painting how good the future was going to be, I realized this must be what Sarita was talking about. Aha! (I love those aha’s!) Instead of swirling the imaginary wine over my tastebuds, I brought myself back to the present: What did the woman I was working with right now need? How could I best support her in what she wanted to do? I stood with the different woman, one at a time, not lumping them into “if I can just survive these next few hours . . . “

Instead of my survival, it became about service. I made a choice to stay in my body and pull upon all that I am, in the service of others.

I remember a card from a deck of empowerment cards I have: “The point of power is in the present moment.” Yup. Indeed. Sounds good. So obvious. But for me, it wasn’t until I experienced “catching myself in the act” how I siphon off my energy when I am scared. I leak out my resources and intuition in my desire to skip over the present. If I don’t like what is happening in the moment, I conjure something else I think will be better. If it is in my mind or in the future, either works . . . or rather, either doesn’t work.

The dinner with my friend, Deb, was great in the end, probably even better than I could have imagined. And staffing the weekend went well too. I got the nod to go to the next level as a Facilitator for Woman Within. Now all I have to do is remember this little trick--this key to remaining present--and remain curious.

How can I continue to stay in my body with all its many sensations and emotions? How can I set my intention and focus and still stay yes to uncertainty and the Unknown?
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