A personal tale of pace, peace, productivity and possibility
It has been seven months since my last blog post. This is not a confession. Many of you have been asking me when I am going to write next, and shared with me that you eagerly await my posts. Thank you. I have been so touched by your enthusiasm, your interest in, and support of my writing. I want to share with you why I haven’t written in a while.
As a therapist and executive coach, I help people to use whatever is happening in their lives, including great difficulty and pain, to create possibility. I ask in The Possibility Practice Manifesto and most everywhere:
“What if you could turn your greatest obstacle into discovery and possibility?”
Many people are skeptical about this proposition. We think of discovery and possibility as coming from nice, good, beautiful things, open and ripe for creativity. Despite endless accounts of people creating all kinds of possibility with hardship, and having done so before ourselves, we say, firmly grounded in certainty and probability: at the end of the day, it is what it is, end of story, nothing to create or discover here. Impossible.
What if it is what it isn’t?
I am always aware of how challenging this question/ing can be, even, or most particularly, in the midst of pain and suffering. And I try to practice what I practice. This summer, I had an unexpected opportunity to do so.
In the beginning of June, I suffered a serious injury to several of my ribs while up in the mountains. If you have ever injured your ribs or know someone who has, you know that it is extremely painful, and debilitating. It was. At first the pain was constant and excruciating. It was shocking, as was the extent to which I was unable to carry out activities of daily living. I could not do many things that I had taken for granted: sit up or turn over in bed, laugh, and breathe. And please, no, not a sneeze! And later, walk down the street, get up from a chair, and more. As an active and able-bodied person, I was stopped in my tracks.
The prescription for healing bruised and fractured ribs, according to traditional and alternative healers alike, was to take pain medication, ice constantly, remain still, rest, and take a host of anti-inflammatory and bone healing supplements. Initially, I did not want to take pain medication.
I thought, based on my assumptions and idealized notions of progressive health practices, that it was better not to take pain medication.
It was impossible not to. I was in excruciating, debilitating pain. I consulted with the wonderful homeopath I work with on the matter, and he said, without skipping a beat, “take the pain medicine!” And so I did.
I was unable to move. My loved ones iced me around the clock for the first few days, and then purchased many ice packs in various shapes and sizes, which I wore like apparel at home, and then at the office, when I was able to return to work.
I have always enjoyed and found great solace in stillness. I found it easy and meditative, and have sought it out on a daily basis throughout my life. I discovered that it was easy when I had a choice to be still or not. But being still because it was all I could do was not easy for me at all.
Rest and stillness are not the same.
I needed to rest, and that was a challenge too. I have always had the need to do all I could to make a difference in the world; I have always had discipline and a passion for my work. As a therapist and concerned citizen I have spent the bulk of my waking adult hours working. I love what I do, and I love the activity of work, whether it is therapy, or training, or writing.
I was not allowing myself to rest and heal, and even as I was still, I was doing so from the vantage point of hurrying up so I could get better and get back to my life as it was. I was not resting.
As I was lying flat with a huge ice pack wrapped around me, staring at a glossy copy of The Possibility Practice manifesto, it occurred to me that I should take my own medicine. I had been incurious, and full of assumptions about the fruitless nature of my injury and recovery. I was stuck, in more ways than one.
I was reminded by my own manifesto, my view of the world and way of helping so many others, that I too can get lost in this regard when left to my own devices. Unchecked and unquestioned, I would adhere to socially sanctioned probability, rather than creative, therapeutic, possibility. I was not using the tools available to me to become unstuck, and create discovery and possibility with my injury and all that had come with it.
The universal experience of a wake-up call
My story is not unique. Most recently, Arianna Huffington generously shared her own wake-up call in her timely book: Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. I, like many people, contemporaries and otherwise, was at a moment in my life in which a debilitating event offered a wake-up call for me to examine my current measures of success, and the accompanying architecture of my life.
Reminded that practice makes possible, I began to question my perspective, and the assumptions it rested on. I began to ask new questions, and doing that allowed me to see my life, my wants and needs, and my injury anew.
I asked questions like: How can I make use of this stillness and rest? What can I learn from it about myself? What is the current organization of my work and life based on? What do I want my life to look like? Might it be helpful to me, and my work, to SLOW DOWN and rest even more? How often, and how do I need and want to work, and what else might I want to do, in order to create a good life for myself, and help others to do the same? What does a good life look like for me at this moment? What arrangements, business and otherwise do I have in place, and do they contribute to my thriving in my work and personal life as I want? What if I give taking great care of myself the same priority that I give to providing extremely good care to others? And, how come I hadn’t asked these questions more frequently, or more recently?
I emerged from this process ever more mindful, and committed to embracing what Huffington calls “the third metric.” I wanted to thrive, and to invest in doing that.
To start, I allowed myself time over the summer/fall to heal, to slow down, to meditate, travel when I was able, see friends and family, and hear live music, all of which feed my soul. I nurtured myself with good food, reading old and new favorite works, and surrounded myself with loving people. I did concentrated work with my homeopath to heal my body as thoroughly as possible. I changed business arrangements that were not contributing to my ability to thrive. I slept better, and more.
I adjusted my hours at work, including moving the times of my evening groups so that they start and end a half hour earlier, and shortened another of my work days so that I have a week-day evening free. This might not seem like a big deal, but after working this way for 26 years, it is significant. It is the difference between going right to sleep after a long day of work, and being awake and available for my family and friends, for culture, for meditation, and for more fun.
I allocated writing/thinking time, in which I can write, unpressured, with more joy about the things that I would like to write about in the timeframe and intensity that I enjoy.
I am working and living at a pace that feels like a friend I greet every morning, and accompanies me throughout the day.
So, ribs mostly healed, peaceful, and living with greater intention, I am organizing my days and my life so that I can thrive, and better help you to. I have resumed writing, and have a host of things on my mind and projects in the hopper.
Thanks for your patience, your love and your support. I am looking forward to continuing to create and discover and produce possibility together, at a pace of our choosing.
Portraits of Karen by Mary Weldon, oil & pastel on paper, ©2007