You never know how strong you are until you’re put in hot water.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”
I think it’s safe to say that doesn’t just apply to women. If ever there was a time we were all collectively in a big fat vat of hot water — now is it. There is so much external trauma right now triggering internal trauma that actually has nothing to do with COVID itself, and which none of us were prepared to face, it can feel crippling at the worst times, and simply exhausting at the best.
It actually reminds me of that Shakespeare quote about how “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them,” except replace “greatness” with “a traumatic experience,” and you hit it right on the nose.
In all honesty, I don’t have an answer for this time, but I’m not entirely sure there is an answer. Or that there needs to be.
I was hit so hard with depression for a few weeks there, I reverted to pure escapism mixed with constant mantras along the lines of, “I am enough,” “I am exactly where I need to be,” and “You don’t have to do anything but be who you are.” I took all of the “should’s” off the table, and focused on bringing only the simplest, most basic joys that came most naturally to me. I’m taking it literally one day, sometimes one step, at a time — which is I think what we’re all supposed to be doing, anyway, right?
The art of being in the Present moment isn’t just a talking point; it’s a powerful tool that brings us back to a breathable space we quite literally create for ourselves every single time we release ourselves of expectations. Every time I try to force the process, I wind up either anxious about the future or depressed and grieving the past. Every time I allow myself to accept what is happening in the current moment, stop trying so hard, I transcend the pain.
You’d think it’d be harder than that, but it’s not.
Eckhart Tolle puts it like this: “As far as inner transformation is concerned, there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot transform yourself, and you certainly cannot transform your partner or anybody else. All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter.”
And in a way, isn’t that a massive relief? To know that it’s not on you to create transformation? It’s not your job, and it’s not your responsibility. In fact, as Tolle says, “There’s nothing you can do about it.” All you have to do is create space for grace and love to enter — and they will, enough to gradually diminish the darkness until there is no space left for it to be. Sometimes, it will take time, but given enough water, sun, and air, you will see the seeds you’ve planted within yourself blossom. Don’t get let down if it takes a few weeks to see the first bud.
In the meantime, look to your heroes right now. What are they doing? What are they saying? How are they coping, and what nuggets of wisdom have they passed along that you might plant for yourself?
For me, while all of my heroes are struggling right now, they all remain indefatigably hopeful — which is in itself a blessing and an inspiration. They all refuse to be defeated by this darkness, to give into despair, or to believe in anything less than the good and righteous pursuit of leaving this world (and all of us in it) a better place than how they found it.
Sometimes, that means doing absolutely nothing in order to show up for yourself, until you can be back in a place of wellness. Other times, you might already be in a space that allows you to easily find gratitude and show up for others. Both are equally important, both might change from moment to moment, and both depend on you knowing and being honest with yourself enough to never step out of alignment with who you know yourself to be, and what you know you need.
Now, if you’re at a place where you don’t know what you need, and you feel really out of touch with who you are (as I did throughout most of September), go back to the basics. Meditate in the simplest way you know now. Use your breath to ground you, and try to notice when you’re getting stuck in cycles of negative thoughts — in what Jen Pastiloff calls bullshit stories. Then, when you catch yourself repeating those bullshit stories — stories of untruths that you believe anyway — have a go-to mantra, such as “I am enough,” or “I don’t need to carry this much,” or “I am loved, just as I am,” so you can cover up that negativity with goodness.
In On Being Human, Jennifer Pastiloff said, “Rewriting your story isn’t easy because each day you have to wake up and kick the old bullshit story out of bed until it gets the message and stops trying to crawl in bed with you.”
But that’s why we have mantras. That’s why we have prayer, and why we have teachers in our lives who we can look to to bring us encouragement or even inspiration in a time of great need. Because they are antidotes to the lies of self-deprecation.
Here are some of the things my teachers have said that have provided me with encouragement during the constant flow of emotions between light and dark:
Liz Gilbert says, “How can I be Love in every room?”
Jen Pastiloff says, “I just have to look, listen, and tell the truth and beauty will be there. That’s what beauty hunting is.”
Glennon Doyle says, “I see your fear, and it’s big. I also see your courage, and it’s bigger. We can do hard things.”
Brene Brown says, “Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”
I’ll just say it: growth sucks sometimes. It’s almost always tiring, often uncomfortable, and occasionally associated with a prolonged period of pain as we move from a place of less understanding, to a place of greater knowing.
Growth is like our own individual way of eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil — over, and over, and over again. The deeper understanding we have of how the world works, and the more we face it both within and without, the harder life can seem to get. And I believe that’s what’s been happening now.
The walls we’ve built for ourselves over however many years have begun to crash down, over and over again, and I think the following combination of disillusionment and vulnerability is what cripples us. It’s not even necessarily the fear of what happens when those walls are knocked down, but also the daunting question of “How many walls even are there?”
Liz Gilbert once explained it like this:
“Stephen Mitchell has said about the way destiny can change the world in a heartbeat; first, they pull the rug out from under your feet, then they pull the floor out from under the rug, then they pull the ground out from under the floor — and now you’re getting somewhere.” Life is incredibly unpredictable, and “human beings by our very nature do not do well with unpredictability and uncertainty.”
But damn if we won’t be the most resilient, nothing-can-touch-us, refuse-to-quit badasses after all this is over because we are quite literally living through the most tumultuous season in living memory. We are actively persevering despite everything facing us. We have heaps and mounds and freaking mountains on top of us, and yet we’re still fighting to dig our way out because that’s just how strong we are.
Strength doesn’t always look like summiting that mountain. Strength looks like pulling yourself up one leg at a time, even as it feels like the entire world is pushing you down. Strength is crying, strength is crawling, strength is understanding that life is painful and hard and that if you’re feeling that pain it’s because you’re doing something right. You’re living. It means you’re experiencing the wealth of emotions that life has to offer, and even if it renders you speechless or motionless or incapable of doing much more than rolling over in bed — that’s okay.
Sometimes, you don’t need to do anything more than that. And you will still be loved. You will still be exactly as you need to be, and there will be absolutely nothing that can cut you off from the unconditional love that surrounds you at all times, even in your pain.
As my friend told me last week, “You are so strong. You are stronger now even than you were in your innocence.”
Even than you were in your innocence — before all of this. Before the disillusionment, before taking one more bite of the fruit. Before your trauma. You’re stronger now, and you’re beautiful now, and you’re loved now, and you are enough.
Do not ever try to be anyone other than yourself, and do not ever try to be anything other than where you are now. You at your most authentic level are the most beautiful gift you have to offer, the most valuable thing you can or will ever bring to the world.
“There is no place so awake and alive as the edge of becoming.” -Sue Monk Kidd
We’re all on the same precipice together — on that same edge of becoming — which means that I am you and you are me, and there is so much compassion in that, and so much potential.
I love you, my friend — whoever you are.
I’m there with you, and I love you.