What to do when life sucks

Advice to my daughter

Hey friend!

Welcome to the 12th issue of the Inward Ventures Newsletter, my weekly share of what I’m working on and fiddling around with. I share thoughts and ideas I come across in my continuing quest for self-improvement, productivity, and education for myself and my coaching clients. I strive to excel in my writing, creativity, and, well… LIFE. Thanks for being here. Ok, let’s get down to brass tacks.

(if you were referred here by a friend or are visiting my page, you can subscribe here👇)

Handwritten letters & cards

Why are they meaningful to me? I’m not sure. Maybe because they’re a rarity these days and usually a surprise. I delight in sending them. The very act itself gives me joy. I generally say, “Hey there, thinking of you,” nothing too long or boring. I don’t want the recipient to feel obligated to send anything back; I want them to know they were on my mind and heart.

With Nina in boot camp, I’m sending her letters every few days. Yep, I love my jaunts down to the community mailbox every day!

Certification

I’ve been teaching meditation since I became a yoga teacher way back in the late 90s. Dang, I’m old. Getting certified wasn’t a thing back then. While I don’t need certification now, I enrolled in a teacher training course last year to deepen my understanding and expand my personal practice to better help others. I specifically chose this training because one of the main components of the curriculum is self-compassion.

Wait. Beep-Beep. Lemme back up.

A few years ago, when I first heard of Brene Brown, my reaction went something like, She studies SHAME?! What the hell. That’s strange. What’s all this crap about vulnerability? How does THAT get studied? That’s weird.

Weird enough that it wormed its way inside my brain and wouldn’t leave. I relented eventually; my intuition is always right. I was so intrigued, diving into it, coming to realize how shame and vulnerability work in the background of our lives and the importance of understanding and unpacking them.

A recent development in meditation is that of self-compassion. It’s been studied most notably by Kristin Neff, Ph.D. at UT-Austin.

Learn more about Dr. Neff

So when I came across the concept of self-compassion, I had a similar huh, what the hell is this? How is something like this even studied, let alone measured? reaction. Knowing the benefits of my deep dives into unknown topics like this, I consumed as much as I could; reading her book, Self Compassion, then Chris Germer’s book, The Mindful Path to Self Compassion. Next, I took a course with both of them on Sounds True during the beginning of the Covid quarantine in the spring of 2020.

~ Visual representation of how it feels to learn and implement self-compassion into my life ~

The more I learned more about this particular aspect of meditation, the more I knew I needed it; for myself and others. So when I found the certification course, I went for it. I’ve shared this practice with many, including my daughter. The following is a direct cut/paste from a letter I wrote her, reminding her of the practice. After I wrote it, I realized I could share it here; it’s a quick intro on the topic. Feel free to try it yourself; I promise it’s moving and worth your while.

When things get hard

When things get hard, and they will (do yourself a solid: KNOW this and EXPECT this), you’ll find yourself in doubt. In yourself, your decisions, the future… possibly everything.

In times like that, please remember to give yourself grace and self-compassion. Remember that anything you find yourself wishing you could "get" from someone else, you can give yourself. Note to self: that’s another issue to write about

You can place one or both of your hands on your upper chest (or your throat, or cheeks, wherever) and acknowledge, this is a moment of suffering. Out loud if you can, in your mind if need be, the most important thing is: NAME IT.

Let’s define suffering: it’s whatever sucks in your life at that moment. So maybe your suffering is being annoyed at the driver in front of you, or the colleague who keeps cutting you off when you speak, or the shock and fear of a surprise diagnosis.

Like trauma, the word suffering covers a huge range of situations. If the word seems too extra, gimme a break Aileen, getting your feelings hurt isn’t exactly suffering! I’m usting suffering in the Buddhist sense, an experience of unhappniess, stress, dissatisfaction.

You can swap in the word “suck.”

This would actually make me laugh. In a moment where I am annoyed/sad/suffering and place my hand on my chest and whisper seriously to myself, “this is a moment of suck” I would laugh. Hmm, that’s actually a cool idea. Mark, I’m copyrighting that, stat!

Back to Suffering

Whatever that suffering is: you want a hug and can't get one, you feel discouraged, down and out, and want to hear words of encouragement… acknowledge that you are suffering, no matter how minor it seems.

Next, allow yourself to give yourself what it is you need. "May I be kind to myself, may I be at peace, may I give myself the compassion that I need."

PAUSE. What IS it that you need? What are you longing for? A hug? Words of affirmation, encouragement? "aww.. there, there… you've survived 100% of your life so far…." SOFT self-compassion, loving mama-bird, nurturing, and chirping.

OR do you need FIERCE self-compassion? None of that sissy shit! A closed hand/fist like you’re holding a shield or sword or ready to launch a punch? Do you need to hear ferocity? Mama-bear words of action, of setting firm boundaries, "no!… you got this… you can do hard things… Oh yeah, MFer?! I got this.”

What do I need right now?

Whatever it is that you need, you can 100% give it to yourself. I don’t mean a candy bar, LOL.

"What is it that I need right now?" Maybe it's quiet loving-kindness to soothe and still. Perhaps it's fierce action to get you out of a slump. Both? That happens.

Sometimes the most loving and tender thing you can do is stop listening to the bullshit story you’ve been telling yourself and own the mess you got yourself into.

Maybe you didn't get yourself into the dump you’re in, but WHATEVS. You're there, and that's that. It's not your fault, but it IS your responsibility. So self-compassion can be BOTH: aww, this sucks. This is a moment of suffering. Shit. I hate this. Sigh.

AND THENNNNNN, so now what do I do about it? OK, how do I deal effectively with this? I can take one step. What’s that next step?

Remember, things don't happen TO you. Things happen FOR you.

When you feel overwhelmed, studying or working or training and things get weird, hard, etc. Think: Why is this happening FOR me? It’s one of the most powerful questions you could ask.

Those things happen for you to realize:

  • You're not as fast or as strong as you need to be, so adjust your training.

  • It would help if you were more assertive, learn how to speak up.

  • Your commitment could be deeper, reassess and re-commit

  • Stronger boundaries are necessary, learn the steps to create and enforce them.

  • You don't know what you want, take a step back to prioritize

All of those things are GOOD things to know! It's GOOD to realize you’re not as fast as you need to be, then you know you get to work on speed. It’s good to learn you need better boundaries. Then you can learn how to both create and enforce them.


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