Who, me?

Backpack guy in mountains_Danka&Peter_Stocksnap

There’s this saying in the world that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, which I think may be the case sometimes. I also think, though, that the opposite can be true. There are moments in life when we think we know exactly what we want, and do everything in our power to try to achieve it. Then when we get it, we start backtracking. We may get super creative with reasons why it’s suddenly a bad idea, or won’t work right now, or proof that the opportunity itself is somehow inauthentic – as in, we don’t deserve it. Being faced with evidence that we are actually as worthy, capable, and even powerful as we hoped we might be can be scary, and if we don’t navigate that space mindfully, that fear can cost us opportunity. 

We as humans have great instincts. Our bodies (which include our brains) are wired to recognize threats to our well being, and well-equipped to help us handle them. Modern, “western” life has messed with that wiring a bit, though, and we now spend way more time inventing potential threats (through hypothesizing, excessive planning, and worrying) and prompting our bodies to respond to them than we do facing down actual threats in real time. This leads to chronic stress in our bodies, which is bad for us in a multitude of ways that I won’t go into right now, but essentially, we’re in “fight, flight or freeze” mode way more than we should be.

Mindfulness can help to change that by offering us the tools to shift into “rest and digest” mode, giving our bodies and brains a break from the constant stress response. The point is, it’s a great system we’ve got in us. It’s nuanced enough to help us decipher danger from simply “different,” and pain, which may be a sign of danger, from simply “discomfort,” which is often a sign of impending growth. You have to be tuned in to notice the differences, though. You have to know and be honest with yourself, and recognize your internal responses and emotional patterns before they become external. In other words, you have to be mindful.

So, back to this world of dreams come true. Sometimes, when courage and hard work and maybe even a little good fortune align just right, a reality that seemed too good to ever be true suddenly is. Although you desperately (thought you) wanted it, now you’re uncomfortable. If you sit with that discomfort instead of reflexively pushing it away, you will see what it is really made of. Disbelief, self-doubt, fear of the unknown, fear of failure…cleverly disguised as logic, reason, and “the truth.” Just as we approach the boundaries of our own perceived limitations, they chime in to make us question whether we really need to venture ahead. Of course, sometimes they’re right – but not nearly as often as they’d like you to think they are.

It’s true that sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone…because you let it go out of fear that you couldn’t possibly be the person who deserved it. With practice, mindfulness offers the ability to see discomfort for what it is, and to intentionally choose whether it should stop you from moving forward. When you’ve reached a new height, it’s going to feel unfamiliar, even weird, and most likely also scary, but that doesn’t mean you don’t belong there – especially when it’s your hard work that got you there.

Photo credit: Danka & Peter

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