I am a firm believer that everything that comes our way, the good and the bad, is to teach us about ourselves and to help us grow. This is what I call "life's lessons." There is a reliable pattern to one's awareness and application of life's lessons. The process is one of identification, understanding, accepting, applying the lesson, and moving on. To illustrate this process, here is a step-by step account of my inner work, as applied to a bad case of flu which kept me in bed for a week.
Identifying the signs that lead to a crisis is the first step of the healing process. It takes years of practice, of sharpening one's awareness until you have an almost instant 'ha ha' reflex. You often hear people who say "I saw it coming"; "The writing was on the wall," but, while it is happening, are blind to the signs. Here are some guidelines to the process of identification:
a. Nothing Happens in a Vacuum.
Until you accept that something is wrong and that you need to do something about it, you will find yourself in an up-hill battle against everything that comes your way.
When something out of the ordinary happens, we can start by asking ourselves what events may have led up to it.
- Are there any changes in my lifestyle?
- Are there any changes in my daily routine, eating habits, sleeping habits, working and social habits?
- Have I been under stress? Is there any family event that has had an emotional impact on me? Any couple problem that I am not attending to?
"A couple of weeks ago I came down with a bad case of the flu which kept me in bed for several days. Since I am rarely ill, I reflected on the above questions to understand what made me vulnerable to catching an illness.">
Each one of us will ask the questions which are relevant to the particular problem facing us. In my case, the answers to those questions showed a direct relationship between stress and flu.
b. What Is Happening in Your Life.
Once you have answered the questions, a story starts to unfold in your mind. In a couple crisis, you may realize that there have been several little fights which led to the major explosion, or a huge fight with a mother-in-law which brought to light your couple problems.
"There had been one big change in my life: I had joined the ranks of the modern Superwomen, juggling career, home, social life, children and couple relationship. I was commuting, eating at irregular hours, sleeping less, and playing less with children, friends and spouse. I had become, without realizing it, a workaholic. With a passion. And now with a vengeance."
Steps To Inner Work
- Identification of the signs
- Understanding the message
- Accepting the message
- Applying the lesson
- Moving on
Each of us has a story that, with hindsight, gives us the perfect account of what was happening in our life at the time of the crisis.
c. The Signs.
The signs come in a quick succession, gentle at first, then more obvious. Be aware of the changes in your behavior, and in your mental and emotional states.
Are you doing things that you don't usually do in your daily routine?
"I started falling asleep on the one and a half hour bus ride back home. Usually, I would read, write, listen to tapes or catch up with my friends on my mobile phone."
Are you overreacting, feeling irritable, confused?
"I screamed at the technician who came to fix my brand new computer when he said I needed to buy more memory."
Are you doing things against your better judgment?
I went horseback riding when I was already feeling so bad that I was wearing two sweaters at the peak of the summer.
In a couple crisis, you may find that you suddenly want to get away on your own. If your partner says no, it may provoke a huge fight, which may end by your slamming the door in his/her face and not coming back until late at night. If this is unusual behavior for you, you may realize that you were acting against your better judgment, from a motivation of anger.
Once you have identified the signs, you start understanding what they are telling you. As you decode each sign into your own emotional language, you realize that you have received the perfect message which will guide you into the next step of the process.
"That night, after the horseback riding, I crawled into bed, shaking, shivering and sweating profusely. Since I am ill about once a year, I have great respect for my illness, and its symptoms, because I know that it is telling me an important message. This time, it was flashing STOP - you are in a state of burn-out, you need to balance yourelf."
When you understand the message, you can choose how to go about the healing process. If it is a couple crisis, you may decide to start couple counseling; if it is an illness, you may want to use a mix of conventional and alternative approaches to help you recover.
"It was a viral infection, so I had no medication to take. I used gentle alternative techniques to alleviate the fatigue. In my experience, receiving hands-on healing helps me to relax deeply. I also use visualizations techniques as part of my inner work. "
Even though you have identified and understood the signs, you may find yourself resisting the message. For example, you will postpone making the appointment at the marriage counselor, thinking that your couple crisis will pass on its own.
"I continued working from home for a couple of days. Then my computer got infected with the 'Love' virus. All my files were erased. It seemed as if I had to be pushed against the wall in order to stop fighting and accept the message that I had received days ago: Stop. Take Stock. Find your balance. From the moment my computer crashed (a computer burn-out?) I decided to be very gentle with myself. Rest. Rest. And more rest."
Until you accept that something is wrong and that you need to do something about it, you will find yourself in an uphill battle against everything that comes your way. Resisting takes a lot of energy and leaves you feeling drained. Accepting allows you to go with the flow.
4. Applying the Lesson.
Once you have accepted the message, you can start applying the lesson. Do it as quickly as possible, so that it becomes part of your new daily routine. If you realize that what you want is to work on your couple relationship, then at that very moment call the marriage therapist of your choice.
"I had learned that, in order to re-gain my strength and my inner balance, I needed to reorganize the priorities in my life. I decided to cut back on my overtime hours, meet again with my inner work group, and spend more quality and quantity time with my family and friends."
5. Moving On.
Once the lesson is part of your daily life, you move on. You may have a new awareness that the traps along the way are challenges, and you will develop a new capacity to face and solve them. You may feel a bit wiser, more compassionate with yourself, and have a better sense of your own limitations.
"I moved on, feeling rejuvenated and stronger. Work became manageable and play re-entered my life. Since play and stress are not good bedfellows, I was in a win-win situation."
Each person can find their own 'steps to inner work' - it is a question of awareness and practice. Good luck and let me know what works for you.