Starting From the Bottom
You've got to love yourself first. Lyrics from the playlist that inspired some healing.
This weekend, I taught at Yoga Journal Live and had the pleasure of taking a few master classes as well. One in particular stoked a fire in my belly. It was a conversation and practice about cultivating resilience through yoga and Buddhism. Most conversations I have with people about vulnerability, resilience, guilt, or shame have hints of Brene Brown's research in them. Brene calls herself a research-storyteller, a hybrid human who is both interested in data and the very real stories that data tells. It is a large part of the reason why I cultivated such a strong practice of writing or journaling. We each have a wealth of data to collect and observe in the story of our own lives and experiences. If we don’t record the data, how can we ever learn from it? So my task today is to look at the story of hitting the bottom. This is what Brene calls the physics of vulnerability. When we cultivate vulnerability, inevitably, we will fall. Hard. We will break down. We will hit the messy, painful bottom and then we will build ourselves up again. The building back up is resilience.
We like to hear stories of triumph, of coming from nothing and gaining everything. By glamorizing those stories of resilience, skipping over the messy details, the hard-won battle to keep going, the clawing out of the darkness and the pain of broken pieces slowly mending themselves, we skip the part of the story, the data, that teaches us what it means to truly be resilient. As much as I wish it were, life is not always sunshine and rainbows and smiles. There is a large chuck of time that is spent trying to find joy in the midst of unimaginable sorrow. So let’s get honest. Let’s get real. Let’s go back to that time of hitting the bottom hard, of being knocked down so far, you didn’t know you had the capacity to feel such depths.
Not to luxuriate in. Not to linger in. No to succumb to it. But to learn from it.
Resilience starts with self worth. If you don't believe that you are worth it, it's hard to fight for yourself. If you don't believe that you are worth the effort, the chance, the risk, you will stay in the depths. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to climb out from the darkness that is the the bottom of the fall. Show up for yourself at the bottom. Show up for yourself at every moment along the journey of building yourself back up. Keep proving to yourself that you are worth it. You are worth the learning and the healing. Pour love into yourself by taking a few minutes every day to be mindful. Even if it is just one minute, every breath, use a mantra like "I am WORTH IT", "I am ENOUGH", "I MATTER". If you have more time, do an act of self care. No distractions, just you and yourself and feeding your heart. When we take time out of our busy schedules to take care of ourselves, we show ourselves that we matter.
Resilience happens in both big and small ways. I came to the realization that when I think of resilience, I only conceptualize it with large battles of adversity. But we are cultivating resilience all the time. Every time we get our feelings get hurt, every time something doesn't turn out the way we hope, every time we make a mistake, we have the ability to learn resilience. I look at these instances of small adversities as stones. You can let them pile up on top of you like Giles Corey and eventually be crushed under their weight or you can take those stones and use them to build something, in this case your concept of resilience. When things get hard, instead of wallowing in anger or defeat, get creative. A solution, a conversation, an artistic form of expressing the way you feel. Whatever it is, do something to collect data from the experience and learn from it. For example, when my ideas get shut down in meetings, especially if I am super passionate about what I've pitched, instead of retreating and deciding none of the rest of my thoughts are worth sharing, I make a point of it to speak, with purpose, at least once more or to send a email after with a thought that I might have had that I was too afraid to speak out loud. If I'm going through a terribly hard separation, instead of calling in sick, staying under my covers, and crying for the whole of the day, I make plans with one or two people I can trust. I go to my job and I kick ass. I keep on living and use the stones as stepping stones to the next moment of my life.
You have to stop running. Running away from the problem, the conflict, the feelings, the hurt, will not make it heal faster. Pretending that the pain doesn't exist doesn't actually make it go away. It will be there waiting for the unideal moment when it reveals itself again. It will hurt even more when it resurfaces. So, instead of running, be there with it. Acknowledge it. Get interested in it. Write about it. Study it. Without the knowledge, the data collecting, it's very hard to recognize the pattern of what knocks you down and how you respond when you get hit. So let yourself be in the hurt place for a beat. Let the hurt be a place where you get inquisitive. Let the hurt place also be the place for gratitude. I had a moment recently where I wrote for an hour about how grateful I was to be at my emotional bottom. I had no idea that I could feel so sad and tired and defeated. I had no idea that I could care so deeply. I believed for so long that my ability to be vulnerable stopped at a certain point; it expanded much past what I thought I was capable of. That ability to be seen, to see, and to care of course meant the fall would be much harder than the ones I had experienced before. So, instead of running away from all of those feelings, I let myself be there, grateful that this depth also meant that my capacity for joy and love had also expanded in some pretty beautiful ways.
It doesn't matter from what position of privilege or adversity you come from. Every single human has dealt with moments of breaking down or feeling lost or hitting the bottom. It is part of being human and living life. Especially if you are cultivating a life of vulnerability (not in the "weak" sense but rather in that sense that you are fully showing up as your authentic self, letting yourself see fully and be seen fully) your awareness will expand, and with it the potential to fall and get hurt. Falling is not a bad thing, though most of us are afraid of it. Falling is how we learning. If I never fell in any of my attempts to get into forearmstand or eka pada one, I would not have learned how to get into those postures with the most ease. When you have fallen, when you have hit the bottom, remember that this is the place where you learn resilience. You learn how to get up and keep moving. You learn how to care more, how to value yourself more, how to show up for yourself more.