Choosing your focus

My partner and I recently took our annual pre-Halloween zoo trip, which I always relish.

As we wandered around, mesmerized by the free-roaming guinea fowl (who sound like they’re chanting in unison!), I started venting to him about something that’s been bugging me for a while.

Except — I stopped myself.

It’s great to have good listeners in our lives, those to whom we can safely vent — people who don’t tell us we “shouldn’t feel that way” or who shut us down or who criticize us for having something to vent about. This non-judgmental listening is an essential quality if we want to feel deeply supported.

The kind of venting I’m talking about here is also sometimes called “conscious complaining” — you’re aware you’re complaining, and the other person holds space for you, for a certain amount of time, so you can get out whatever it is. This is different than an unconscious onslaught that saps and drains the other person.

Sometimes, though, as I move into more venting, a still voice inside me is like “Hmm … maybe you’ve focused on this long enough.”

That happened for me that day at the zoo. I kind of stepped outside of myself for a moment, and heard myself launching into this topic, again — and, although my partner was willing to listen (again!), it occurred to me that I didn’t need go there anymore. I could choose to move off of that topic because staying on it was no longer serving me.

It’s important to discern between focusing on things and talking about them because of our genuine need to sort through them and work them out — and focusing on them as a kind of fixation that distracts us from the good in our lives and, maybe, keeps us stirred up because anxiety is familiar to us.

We’ve probably all encountered people who go to one extreme or another here: the co-worker who can’t seem to stop sharing the same complaints with you day in and day out, versus the family member who downplays every emotion to the point you’re not sure they actually have any.

Between these extremes there is a place that feels healthier — unique to each of us — where we’re sharing when we need support and in order to work through things, but we’re not going over the same territory again and again when that path is already well-worn.

When I stopped myself from venting to my partner that day, it was because something in me sensed I would only be deepening the “brain rut” I’d already created with that long-held story.

And I realized it’s time to start detaching from it and letting it go. That means, for me right now, talking about it lesshonoring the subtle voice that says, “Let’s be still instead of going there again.”

So I chose, instead, to focus on the colors and textures of leaves, the quiet grace with which a giraffe loped across the grass, the stubby back legs of a polar bear as it swam under water, a squirrel monkey swinging from branch to branch with its tiny baby on its back.

Trees and animals (even those very vocal guinea fowl!) bring me to stillness, which helps me practice discernment.

It’s important to note, in our Western culture which does not encourage the expression of many flavors of emotion, that venting serves a truly important purpose — it helps us to get in touch with the feelings within us so that we can work through them. Often we’re not sure what’s up for us unless we share it with a trusted other.

When we’ve shared something many times, though, and we notice that sharing again may no longer be serving us, that’s when it’s time to choose where we want to put our focus.

Because, yes, we can choose! And it’s this choosing that, ultimately, creates movement, change, and growth in our lives.

(And by the way, the most important sharing we’ll ever do is with ourselves, whether that’s writing what’s true for us on the pages of a journal or in some other form. But, often, we get to that truth through connecting with others at some point in the process.)

What do you notice about this process of discernment for you? I’d love to hear from you. (And a belated Happy Halloween!)

My specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions will continue through November 30, 2019. If you’re in an “in-between” place this fall and need support, you might want to check them out! You can do that here.

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What shifts when you stop fighting your feelings?

The other day I was on the phone with a friend, explaining how I felt about something that had happened recently in a rather heated way. When I finally paused, my friend said, “It makes total sense that you feel that way.”

After I hung up with her, I went out for a quick walk, and as I passed my neighbor and his two adorable dogs (I’m always instantly happy when I see them!) it occurred to me that something had deeply relaxed in me since I got off the phone with my friend.

It had relaxed because she had validated my feelings. She had pointed out that the way I felt totally made sense. For me. In this situation.

And the reason I’d felt so worked up when I’d begun telling her my tale was because I’d felt I needed to argue my point — a part of me was believing I shouldn’t feel the way I felt about the situation.

When my friend pointed out that how I felt made sense, something clicked.

When I relaxed and allowed and validated my feelings (thanks to my friend “lending” me her validation), I knew exactly what I needed to do to take care of myself in the situation.

When I was wondering if my feelings were “okay,” I was judging myself for having them and then believing I couldn’t take care of myself. Because “maybe I shouldn’t feel this way in the first place? Maybe I’m selfish? Maybe I need too much? Maybe my feelings are just too much?”

One of the coaches who trained me back when I went through life coach training in 2010 said that a lot of times when she asked a client to describe what they were feeling, they ended up describing fighting a feeling, rather than the feeling itself.

For some of us, fighting a feeling is all we actually know. We’ve never gotten beneath the feeling of resisting a feeling to the core feeling.

Does this sound familiar? If you grew up in, or currently work or live in, an environment where authentic emotion was or is not encouraged (and I think this applies to, oh, 99% of humans?!), chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about.

If you could believe that how you feel makes total sense for who you are and the situation you’re in, what might be possible?

Could you relax more? Could you, as I did after talking to my friend, connect more easily and quickly with what you need to do to take care of yourself? Could you view yourself, your life, and the people around you more clearly (because your vision is not clouded by fighting so hard against a feeling, or arguing so hard for your right to it)?

When we’re not fighting our feelings, or our right to our feelings, they come up, move through us, and find resolution. (Karla McLaren writes in depth about this process in her incredibly helpful books and on her website).

And we have far more access to our inner guidance when we’re not fighting or suppressing our feelings. It’s from that more relaxed place of accepting the feelings that we can see what their message for us may be. (It’s also from that place of acceptance, I’ve found, that my clients find themselves shifting out of “creative blocks.”)

Signs you may be fighting a feeling:

• You keep venting about something and it feels unresolved

• You catch yourself channeling Spock, saying things like “It’s not logical to feel, think or do this”

• You insist that the only thing you feel is boredom or apathy

• You’re easily irritated, angered, or feel ready to cry (but you don’t)

• You’re convinced that you “should” or you “have to” do something, but you’re not doing it

If this is the space you’re in, it’s time to create safety for yourself. My friend’s kind and patient presence and her validation of what I felt did that for me. On some days, though, I need to find other ways. I love the audios on self-compassion expert Kristin Neff’s site, particularly the one called “Soften, soothe, allow,” for this purpose.

The key word here is permission. If you had permission to feel just how you feel, if you could give that to yourself (because ultimately, we do have to give it to ourselves), what might you notice? What would be possible? These are (some of) the questions to ask. You can probably come up with new ones!

What do you notice about this process for you? What shifts for you when you allow yourself to feel whatever you feel? I’d love to hear from you.

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If you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority, I’d love to help! You can find out more about working with me, here.

Above blue jay images by Steve Douglas and Erin Wilson on Unsplash, respectively

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