Hello Everyone, It’s good to be back after taking a few months off to recover and rejuvenate!
Like many of you, I push myself hard, and I strive for excellence. Of course, we want excellence. But there’s a shadow side to this drive. It tends to put the ego in the driver’s seat, and the ego is never satisfied.
I invite you to think back to when you began your career. You were probably motivated by idealistic pursuits, like developing your skills and talents in way that serves something bigger than yourself and that helps others and making money to provide for yourself and your family.
But even the best intentions can get caught up in our society’s pressures to always do and achieve more. And it’s ok, this is human nature. Plus, you’re constantly inundated with messages in our culture that push you to keep driving harder.
I’d like to share with you some of the lessons about gentleness I’ve learned during my recent haiatus from over-working:
I felt the stress overload way back in early 2021. But by the time summer rolled around, I had reached full-blown burnout. At the same time events related to my work and the pandemic reactivated some old traumas from earlier in my life.
In discussing this with my teacher, Dr. Stephen Parker, he noted that in Europe they consider burnout to be a life-threatening condition. In the United States, we tend to see it as a badge of honor, proof that we’re working hard and “valuable” to society.
But the reality is that BURNOUT IS A LIFE-THREATENING CONDITION! Especially if we ignore the signs from our bodies, minds, and souls, and just keep pushing through (like I did)…
Long-term stress, anxiety, and burnout can have equally disastrous consequences as being exposed to major life trauma, such as a natural disaster, living through war, a serious accident or injury, or relationship-based traumas (abuse, neglect, etc.).
Once these biological and neurological activations are in place, your body is trapped in the fight-or-flight response. You’re in heightened state where you’re always tensing, feeling an impending sense of doom. Psychologists now say that our bodies have 4 responses when our system is overwhelmed by burnout or trauma. We can fight, flight, freeze, or faint.
How you embody those different responses varies from person to person, and in different contexts. For example, when I start to feel like I’m failing at something (at work or a relationship) I go into freeze mode. I shut down. But in acute moments of stress I’ve also been known to faint.
In this state you feel like you’re losing your mind and it seems like it will never end…
It’s hard not to entertain thoughts about ending everything if you feel that trapped. If you’ve ever felt that way, or you feel that way now, I want you to know that you’re not alone, and that it doesn’t have to last forever.
It does, however, require taking some action.
And that’s the cruelist trick of burnout and trauma. If you’re experiencing the depression, anxiety, and exhaustion that comes with full burnout or trauma, everything in your body is fighting to keep you in that state (because your body and brain are actually trying to protect you from danger).
Herein lies the beauty of this kind of social connection and support that we’re developing (online blog, videos, and Facebook group, or booking a Breakthrough Session). Maybe you can find the energy or the hope to take a small action that breaks the pattern and sets you on the path toward healing.
I recall something my coaches used to tell us in high school – “You play like you practice.” They knew that the habits we developed in practice directly effect how we play when the game is on.
The same is true of your spiritual practice. How you show up to your practice is a mirror for how you show up to your life, your work, your body, your health, your relationships, and all of life.
A few questions you can ask yourself, if you’re brave enought to look in that mirror:
- What am I saying to myself? (Is it positive and encouraging, or judgmental and critical – things you would never dream of saying to a friend or loved one?)
- How are you holding your body and muscle tension? (Are you relaxed, aligned, and present, or are you tense, bracing for the next big stressor or anticipated tragedy, or alternatively, hunched over and shut down?)
You might not like what you see in that mirror, but it’s ok. Change starts with awareness, so rather than judge yourself for what you see, thank your body and mind for the feedback they’re providing you. (Note: Your body CANNOT LIE! It will always give you an honest assessment of how you are feeling – TRUST IT!)
It’s amazing to become aware that even if you’re just sitting in a centering practice, or a mindfulness practice, or a yoga pose, it’s still possible to over-extend your effort, gripping and holding tension in your body, in your mind, even in your soul.
What exactly are you holding onto, or bracing yourself against, when you do this? This can be a powerful question to ask yourself!
But God or a Higher Power will always send us reminders that we are not to become attached to the outcomes of our practice, or to think that we can control the agenda of what happens when we give ourselves over to the Divine Will and Wisdom.
As part of my recovery, I enrolled in a series of trauma-informed yoga sessions. The difference in teaching is subtle, but extremely powerful. Everything is a suggestion and an invitation. The most important thing is that you exercise the freedom to choose what you want or do not want to do in your practice. Everything is invitation.
When you’re trapped in burnout and trauma you can feel like you have no control. It’s impossible to “turn it off.” That’s what leads to the sense of despair. And it creates a negative feedback loop where we keep expecting things to happen.
Our instructor also offered subtle clues to tune into different parts of the body. After moving into a pose, she’d ask us to notice where we were holding extra tension, where we were over-gripping, or ever-exerting ourselves.
I noticed that I am often bracing myself for some unforeseen disaster or fear, and holding extra tension, in my body trying harder than I need to. I was doing this “on the mat” (in yoga), on the cushion (in Centering Prayer & Meditation), and in my work (on the computer, sitting in meetings, in Zoom calls), and even in my relationships (with my wife, kids, family and friends).
In other words I was practicing (in my contemplative practice) with tension and too much effort, so therefore I was playing the game of my life in the same way.
But what I discovered is that there is a sweet spot where I am giving the least necessary amount of effort to accomplish something. That’s just as true if I’m twisting up in a revolved side-angle pose or if I’m working on a project at work.
The gift of my past few months is that I found that I could tune into a very subtle level – which I felt especially in the front of my chest and solar plexus area – where the energy or prana in my body is guiding my movements. I became the student, following the ebb and flow of these subtle energies.
As I tune into this subtle level of energy in my practice, I am also returning to this level of gentleness in my work, career, and daily life. I’m learning that it’s not necessary to over-strain in order to achieve good results. I can find that minimal required effort and let that be enough.
ENOUGH – Such a liberating word! (BTW, You already are enough!).
Despite the fact that I teach and coach the process of Centering for Wisdom, this experience has helped me to appreciate on a visceral level what so many of my clients are going through. The Boddhisattva vow (in the Buddhist tradition) is to accept everything that occurs as an opportunity to move closer to liberation from suffering – for ourselves and for all living beings. I strive and hope to bring that intention into my own suffering and when I enter with clients into their suffering together.
If this experience of burnout and trauma resonates with you, and if you’re looking:
- to break that cycle…
- to bring more gentleness into your practice and your life…
- to yield to the grace of the Spirit without having to worry about controlling the outcomes…
…but you’re not sure how to do this, then I want to invite you to book your free Breakthrough Session with me.
Clicking on that link will bring you to a page where you can choose a time that works for you. I’ll call you at the time you chose, and we’ll have an honest discussion about where you’re feeling burnout or trauma, and come up with a plan to help you move forward. I fi can help you, I’ll discuss that too.
May you find greater ease and gentleness in your practice and I look forward to talking with you soon.