Something I often notice when I work with a coaching client is how urgent everything can feel when we are in a space where we have unmet needs.
The interesting thing about this urgency is that it can feel really true.
Sometimes, before we even consciously recognize it, we have acted on this feeling of urgency when — actually — the best course of action might have been, in this moment, no action.
One of the biggest push-backs I get from clients is when I suggest that if they are feeling frantic or highly anxious, they become peaceful before making whatever decision it is that they are sure they need to make.
Two things usually come up:
1) But I can’t get peaceful until I figure out what the heck I’m doing. I need to have my life sorted out first.
2) My needs are enormous and unless I take the “right” action to fulfill them, they will not be met. I am so tired of having these unmet needs. I need to do something about it, now!
I totally get both of these reactions. It can feel so frustrating and overwhelming to have a pile of unmet needs sitting there, unsure of how we will ever resolve any of it.
On top of the fact that the needs seem to be hanging there unmet, we can get really hard on ourselves for not meeting them immediately, or for having them in the first place. (The Buddha told a story where he referred to this as “the second arrow” — when something difficult happens, we in effect have “one arrow” in us, and our tendency is to “shoot another arrow into ourselves” by being hard and judgmental just when we most need to be compassionate.)
Here’s the thing: When we proceed from a place of panic, anxiety, or otherwise stirred-up feelings, we often end up making decisions that either do not actually need to be made right now (or at all), OR we make choices that only create more pain for us and have to backtrack and undo them.
So I like to share this Lao Tzu quote with clients (and sometimes they find this really annoying): “Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.”
Clients usually say, but what do I do to get peaceful? How can I make the muddy water become clear, faster?
These questions make me laugh. They are so, so funny. Can you see why? (And I’ve asked the same questions myself, many many times, so I’m laughing from a place of compassion, for sure.)
Sometimes, it’s not about doing, and it’s not about making things happen, faster.
How can we tell? Because our doing has that frantic, anxious energy behind it. And, the biggest tip-off that we are doing in order to resist being with what is coming up for us: we don’t feel any better for having taken an action or made a decision.
Here are some better questions to ask ourselves:
What is so hard about staying with these uncomfortable feelings until they settle down a little and point me to clarity?
How can I make it easier to allow these feelings to be there, without trying to change them?
How might I support myself in being with the hard stuff that’s coming up for me right now?
Sometimes we might think, but how will I know that I’m ready to take a particular action or make a decision?
The answer is, you’ll know because you will find yourself in the middle of doing the action or making the decision.
When we’re in a place of acceptance, what truly needs to be done and decided arises naturally. We make the call to get the help we need. We withdraw the money from the bank. We comfort the friend who is hurting. We sleep because we’re tired.
This is all there ever is when we’re able to be with what’s actually true for us, right now: the next step presents itself, and we take it. (Or maybe what presents itself is that there is no action to be taken right now.)
But in order to be in our truth, in order to sense our true next step, we may need to allow our muddy water to clear. We may need to exercise some patience and be with whatever is coming up for us. And we can do that a few minutes, or seconds, at a time. We can break it down that much if we need to.
(Byron Katie says that we don’t make decisions — “decisions make us” when we have the necessary information to make them. Do you notice this for yourself?)
What have you learned about your decision-making process? What have your best decisions felt like for you? I’d love to hear.
And: I’m in the process of changing my coaching offerings and won’t be offering them in the current format for much longer. If you’d like to work with me in the current way, check out my offerings, here.