We all know what it’s like to be at war with ourselves. When was your last battle? Time you interrogated yourself? Moment agonising over something you did or didn’t do? Last confusing decision?
Sometimes we fight it and resist (and our world is rich in techniques). Sometimes we flee, hoping to avoid the whole thing. Sometimes we’re pulled in opposing directions within ourselves, which is confusing, nauseating, and we freeze in anxiety.
I’m currently in Colorado, USA, and last week facilitated a nature-retreat for women combat veterans from Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was my fifth retreat with CenterPoint Retreats, a fantastic organisation, and each has been different, truly shaped by the women who come. Women who break open their hearts to find a second courage - the one that follows war. The one we all search for, to fall into allegiance, a form of love, with ourselves again.
How do we move out of the pain we cause by making ourselves our worst enemy, to become our own cherished advocate and loving friend?
Last week, in the snowy Colorado Mountains at 13,000ft, in warm cabins and out on the land these women walked this journey, navigating the inner war, one that challenges us every step.
Wisdom is a gift of experience. These women began to access their own wisdom and offer it to one another, and it’s relevant to us all.
Here are 7 gems for coming home to ourselves; toward a new inner paradigm.
1. Vulnerability changes everything
A veteran, completing a PhD on conflict resolution, reported hours of research where she would come across the topic of vulnerability. She said she read and wrote about it from a good distance.
Vulnerability can be seen as weakness, that by being vulnerable we expose ourselves, open to our insecurities, or invite emotions we avoid.
This was until recently, when she “finally experienced it” and couldn’t believe its positive power. “I get it now” she said, “after all this reading, I get the purpose!” Through being herself, sharing her world and letting others in, she found exactly what she needed.
She spoke to the power of vulnerability beautifully – when she spoke the whole room of women were with her, feeling her every word.
Vulnerability is completely brave. It's another one of life's brilliant paradoxes! In the words of Dr Brené Brown, “courage is borne out of vulnerability, not strength” and “we often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.”
With vulnerability, we only need to begin. It opens more possibilities to what we truly want, than any other pathway.
2. Don't compare - connect!
Let’s not compare our pain any longer. Empathy is invaluable in allowing us to see pain and recognise suffering. However when we compare, we turn it against us. We block the ability to be with ourselves.
A veteran offered this wisdom to others; reflecting on the tendency to see a veteran who lost limbs as a ‘truer soldier’, or even more, a veteran who didn’t return. When we compare, we give away our compassion for our own journey, personal insight and the path forward.
We all do it. Sometimes it functions to make us feel better by granting perspective, but it can invalidate our experience. Our experience is where the wisdom lies for us.
We will always share pain and be given a choice to connect through it, rather than compare. When we trust our own path as strong enough, full to the brim with lessons, growth and healing, we embrace it as a guide for our self, for connecting with life and others.
3. All of me is welcome here
With gratitude for the woman who drew this so explicitly on the door! This one really does need to be as clear as a doormat – All of you is accepted and welcome here!
To welcome myself home, I need to take myself aside and gently let myself know, with knowing, kind eyes, that all of me is welcome here.
If this feels difficult, begin to notice what parts are not included in your welcome.
Know that whoever is left on the doorstep, is still on the porch. Usually, they are easier to deal with if we let them inside and offer them our hospitality.
4. Define Resilience
How do we deal with difficult events that change our lives?
The ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.
The ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc. (Merriam Webster)
However... I have to disagree about any hope of returning to an original shape, to how we were. Why would we expect ourselves to do so? We are changed by what happened. This is our way of being with the experience properly, allowing it to transform and affect us, allowing integration and healing.
Life requires us to find a way through, to find a gift or a purpose from our tender places. Have you seen an animal lick its wounds? We honour whatever happened in a way that we can begin to transform it.
Resilience is not only something in us, allowing us to rise from the ashes, like the phoenix. It is the STORY of life shaping us. It is how we found our way and how wisdom reveals itself as us over time.
Take the time to define resilience for you. It’s a powerful process of being with your story in this light. Acknowledge all its characteristics, including the small things, and who you became along the way.
5. Yes and No. BOTH are required.
We all crave being free – how would you like to feel that in every aspect of your life, you chose it. Yes to this. No to that. Navigating each corner with ease.
Instead, it can feel like we are catching up to our lives. We say yes by default, and no by avoidance or delay. We can cover both with blankets of excuses or reasoning that involves other people, rather than ourselves.
When we start to feel into our true Yes we access wonderful clarity, and with that, power.
One of the simplest ways to feel in control, and bring some energy to yourself is to find something small in your day that you genuinely and completely say Yes to. It could be a cup of tea, taking a walk, lying on the lawn, the action doesn’t matter so much as the energy of saying Yes to something with your entirety.
This begins with bringing awareness to what is happening for you. Befriending yourself to listen and act on behalf of you and what’s true. We are given billions of choices in our lives. Whatever you decide, speak it with trust in yourself. There is no time limit on how long it may take to find your clarity. Treat it as an opportunity to continually get to know yourself better.
Part of this is uncovering the No; the thing that doesn’t feel right or which we were going to fiercely avoid. Instead, name it as a No. When we acknowledge discord, we free up immense energy in the nervous system and body. We suddenly relax and have honoured what was right for us. It is only when we have a proper No that we have a Yes with substance!
At any moment, our Yes and No can change, because each moment we have new information. Relax into the truth, for right now.
The discovery of your Yes and No is exciting. Treat yourself like an incredible person you get to discover daily... Approach all new gains in understanding with your attention and kindness.
6. Follow letting go with an ACTION
It is the lead up to letting go (what comes before) which takes energy. We anticipate it for a looooooooong time by holding on. Holding on can take everything we have.
When we let go, it takes care of itself. We are in the release. It flows. Something moves in us, and the world listens in many ways.
After we let go, there is space. Sometimes there is a release of energy, which can look and feel various ways. It's a transition and there is great power in completing the process with an action.
On the retreat, after a circle of letting go of many things, the women wanted to move. Their bodies wanted assimilation, to move the energy physically. We went to a high ropes course where they climbed up the trunk of a very tall tree, and jumped in trust into open air, into unknown territory. They were suspended in the air by the support of the others and equipment.
They jumped out of what they let go of, and into something new, which they named.
Action is powerful, no matter how small. It is the intention and the meaning that we put into it. Create a threshold, an action, with a clear entry and exit. Acknowledge either what you leave behind, or what you step into.
Note. What you "want to be" is already here.
Burn some writing, soak in a bath, wake up anew and step out our door with a claim “I am….”, embark on a walk knowing you will return differently to how you set out – create a marker for where your walk begins and where it ends.
Listen in, to the action being called for.
7. Be where you are
Where you are right now, contains all the information you need.
We use a model of Awareness – Kindness – Action. Find a way to be mindful. This could be by sitting to meditate, simply breathing and noticing what is here, a walking meditation, yoga, dance, or lying down to deeply relax. Take a moment to pause. Be kind to what speaks, what shows up. Listen. Let the wiser part of you listen. Listen to your breath, and feel your body; its weight, its movement or stillness. Be guided by what serves you, what is needed most.
Take these moments in ordinary daily life. While sitting at your desk between emails, 5 minutes before you leave the house, after a shower. It is amazing what you can do for yourself in the ordinary pauses.
I would love to hear your own experience with these.
Which gem for coming home to yourself have you practiced? Which is most relevant for you right now and how will you begin?
Haaweatea Holly Bryson