Fifteen won’t do it.
Well, let me put it another way: if fifteen does it, then count yourself pretty damn lucky that whatever it was that you requred peace or reflection only needed fifteen minutes of your time.
One of the biggest truths that I continually fail to see the self-help community is how much working on the self sucks. We all talk about being authentic, about taking the time to figure out our dreams and our passions and dumping the bad stuff, but it’s with this attitude that it will make everything better. Very few places will say something like this:
When you start living authentically? People will think you’re weird. You’ll lose friends, relationships, maybe even invites to the family reunion. You’ll feel isolated, you won’t fit in, it will really be hard and painful. You will be living in the Suck.
Until you aren’t. Then it’s pretty awesome. But until that happens, about the only thing that’s worse is living inauthentically.
The obvious follow up is: How long will it take? Good question. I can pretty much guarantee one thing, though: it’s gonna take longer than fifteen minutes.
Getting Your Bearings
“Bearing” in my beloved United States Marine Corps is the state of being in control of yourself, of setting forth a presence befitting one of the Few and the Proud. You see it in the commercials of shiny swords and sharp uniforms and twirling rifles over the Grand Canyon. It is controlled strength, with the hint of potential violence that is supposed to strike fear in the enemies of the U.S.
We all have our own version of bearing. It is the mode of behavior expected of us from whatever role we’re currently serving in our life. A parent’s bearing is supposed to be patient and playful and nurturing for their children; a university professor may be expected to be grammatically correct and socially dignified. Even “alternative” roles (what does that mean, anyway?)Â have a bearing: if you consider yourself a hippie vegan yogi, you probably would feel kind of out of character swearing at and hitting the soda machine that just swallowed your quarters.
There can be penalties for losing your bearing. There certainly are in the Marines. If you lose your bearing in front of your family, you may scare them, worry them. Lose your bearing at work, you suddenly become part of the rumor mill.
It’s a real pain, sometimes, trying to meet the demands of bearing. Especially for what’s expected of you from the most important role of all: yourself.
The Worst Critic
We all know who that is. But do you know why? Not because you’re too harsh. No, it’s actually because you really don’t have an accurate view of what it is you’re criticizing. (Unless you’re Buddha. And Buddha, if you’re reading this blog, dude, you rock!). Critique is a very useful tool, but only if the person delivering it has an accurate idea of what actually needs fixing.
You may have some idea, but it’s far more likely that you, like everyone else, tend to focus on minutiae that both don’t matter and no one else notices. The athlete who talks about their pudgy belly. The singer who agonizes about that one slightly flat note that only they heard. The friend in a new romance who suddenly worries that he might have phrased that text wrong. The impeccably dressed coworker who is positive everyone is going to notice that the dimple in their tie is 3/4″ instead of the appropriate 1/4″.
Instead of seeing what’s there, they see what they fear other people will see. If you’re trying to be authentic you may be even more harsh simply because no one can hear the way you talk inside your head. I was too angry. I shouldn’t have eaten that. Why didn’t I do that workout? I’m never going to make enough money. Why aren’t I rich/famous/settled by now? I’m already [insert arbitrary age here], I’ll never amount to anything.
So what I’m suggesting is this practice: take fifteen minutes and lose your bearing.
Making Room for the Suck
In a workshop this weekend, a presenter was talking about self-care, especially when recovering from breakups. She had a lot of interesting ideas, including one that I heartily endorse: the only way beyond the suck is through it. “Distractions”, in my opinion, don’t work very well – sure, you don’t think about the problem emotion for a while, but it’s usually still there waiting for you when the distraction is over, and you’re not any further along in the healing process.
On the other hand, we can’t always be in the suck. Our roles demand a certain bearing, and being an adult means that you sometimes have to be the nurturing parent even when you want to bang your head against the wall. You have to be the helpful, friendly professor for the students when you just want to curl up in a ball and hide. You have to feed the cat, you have to keep going even when you want to just chuck it all and run away.
Not fair, I know. Sucks to be grown up. But, you can eat dessert whenever you want, so there’s that.
I suggested that there might be a something beyond just staying there in the suck til it’s over (which is often not possible) or just keeping momentum going so the suck never catches up with you (which is always does, eventually, and usually at the worst possible time).
Why not give yourself a specific amount of time. A break from bearing. Fifteen minutes to not be peaceful. To sit there and swear at the wall, about how unfair and evil the problems of life are.
For example: last week I had some circumstances that triggered some really deep emotional reactions. The demands of my roles reared up:
Really, you’re not over that? C’mon, grow up! You should be way beyond that now! How pathetic is it that you’re acting like this. Among other things, you don’t have time for this right now. Have you seen your to-do list? No, because you haven’t had time to write it down yet – but you think you have time to sit here and feel sorry for yourself? Get it together, Miller!
Yeah, that combination of parent and drill instructor in my head is pretty harsh sometimes. Even worse: it was right. I really didn’t have time to be depressed, to just sit in the suck with the emotion until it past. Things needed to get done.
So instead, I gave myself fifteen minutes. Not fifteen minutes of peace, not fifteen minutes of meditative reflection. Fifteen minutes of wallowing in that dark despairing woe-is-me it’ll-never-get-better space.
For that fifteen minutes, I didn’t have to hold the role of writer, teacher, presenter, father, tough Western-socialized sensitive new-age white guy. I let it go, curled up on the bed, and just let the despair happen.
For fifteen minutes. Then my alarm went off, and I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and stepped back into the role. Were things better? Nope, not by a long shot. But I didn’t have to spend more energy trying to stay out of the suck; I’d been there. And that left just a bit more energy to deal with whatever I had to do next.
Take that Role & Shove It
You can let it go, cry, rant, punch the pillow, throw a tantrum. The cat can wait, the kids can watch tv for that fifteen minutes, your boss can think you’re going out for a cup of coffee when in fact you’re going to the supply closet to build a little fort out of the paper towel boxes and huddle away.
If someone catches you and asks, just tell them you’re doing a paradigm shift exercise that you read about on this weird blog, and if they look at you funny, you have my permission to laugh and say “Yeah, seemed like a pretty stupid idea to me, too.”
But I’m the first one to say that sometimes fifteen minutes doesn’t bring peace. Sometimes pausing for fifteen leaves the decision just as hard as it was before. And if the demands of your role are that heavy, then why not take fifteen minutes and let them go?
They can wait fifteen minutes. And perhaps by relaxing into weakness for that fifteen minutes you’ll find the resources inside to pick up the load again, and keep going.
Sometimes, that’s all you can do.