“In an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. And in an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still.”

Pico Iyer

Living in Yesterday’s Emotions

Most of us know when we are about to react emotionally. We can feel it. Often there is a brief warning before the amygdala hijack. For some of us, it is butterflies in the stomach; for some, it is an increased heart rate, and for others, it is a feeling of agitation.

Elizabeth Thornton

This past Saturday, I woke up highly agitated and I didn’t really know why.

I did know this negative emotion was going to require some work.

Was it the confrontation I had experienced with Rob the night before?

Was it the fear and anxiety of my home state moving into Phase I of “re-opening”?

Was it emotional exhaustion from a heavier counseling schedule?

Was it the visit to see my mom at her assisted living facility…once again through the barrier of a screened-in sun room?

Was it the deep struggle of knowing my son and daughter-in-law were possibly miscarrying their first child? My first grandchild.

Or, was it the fact that I was about to spend the next 7 hours of my day in a virtual silent retreat? One I had willingly signed up for when I began an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course through Brown University? My older daughter, Candace, had invited me and who can refuse any invitation to spend MORE time with their adult child(ren)?

I woke up with one foot in and one foot out of the commitment. I’ll do the retreat until lunch and then I’m done.

It didn’t help that the weather outside was absolutely PERFECT. As I sat at my desk, preparing myself and my surroundings for the day, all I wanted to do was go outside and take a walk. I wanted to plant the flowers that were waiting patiently for me to give them love and attention. I wanted to be free of any and every responsibility. I wanted to do what I wanted to do WHEN I wanted to do it.

Note how many times “I” showed up in the last paragraph.

“We know that people are happiest when they’re appropriately challenged–when they’re trying to achieve goals that are difficult but not out of reach. Challenge and threat are not the same thing. People blossom when challenged and wither when threatened.”

Jon Kabat-Zin, Full Catastrophe Living

Sit With Your Emotions

Just minutes into the introduction of the retreat, my instructor says, “Some of you might be highly agitated right now. That’s understandable. You are venturing outside your comfort zones and as we’ve learned this causes stress and anxiety. Consider if you are in the Challenge Zone or maybe even in the Panic Zone.”

Her next three words changed the course of the day: Sit with it.

She was so right. Sometimes we just have to sit with the tougher emotions. Give them space to breathe instead of rushing or repressing them. Allow them time to find their way through the confusion and pain. Guide them into a safe space, sometimes with a safe person, so they can calm down long enough to relax their tight grip on things.

So, I sat really, really close to my agitation. Got up close and personal with it. Looked at it from many different angles. I saw a million and one reasons why it was inside me and patiently, with the guidance of God, my instructor(s) and several highly strategic “emotional health” essential oils, let each agitated thought, memory, and feeling move through my neural pathways, i.e., amygdala, until each one found their resting place in my hippocampus.

Midday, the agitation released its’ grip a bit.

By the end of the retreat, only a hint was still hanging around.

Facing Our Personal Reality is Never Easy

“It’s possible to distract ourselves to such a degree that we avoid dealing with anything difficult—even when our lives would be improved by facing reality and doing something about it.”

Marc Brackett, Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive

I’m still processing my agitation, but I believe I know one reason it was causing such a stir in my soul: I need to give more time, energy, and space to the contemplative practices of silence, stillness, and solitude so that I can be a better human being. One who breathes a little slower and softer, hears herself think and therefore does the deeper work she feels called to do, enlarges her capacity to discover and experience authentic spiritual growth (even if that is “uncomfortable” and “out of her traditional faith framework, and, maybe the most important reason of all, gives herself the gift of enjoying life more.

I also believe this global invitation, in the form of a severe global pandemic, is calling us to “face our reality and do something about it.”

What Does the Mirror of Your Reality Reveal?

My reality probably mirrors your reality: Life is always busy. Filled to the rim with lots and lots of things. Good things, but WAY TOO FULL, nevertheless.

Sadly, my FAITH LIFE is even busier. This pandemic “sheltering in place,” has brought this to my attention. It seemed the minute churches “closed,” and went “virtual,” it got even busier. Social media platforms were on fire with so much activity. The American Church is a busy church. I bought into this system for decades, thinking busyness equated with godliness. Thom S. Rainer of LifeWay writes:

Many churches have become too busy for their own good. They have so many activities, programs, events, and services that they are wearing out their congregations. Here is the irony. Most of the activities in these churches were started with a noble cause to make a difference in the congregation and the community. But the members became so busy they don’t have time to connect with people in a meaningful way. The over committed church has become the ineffective church.

7 Reasons Your Church is Overcommitted

Agitation Can Be A Really Good Thing

My agitation led to deep resistance which led to personal struggle and ultimately, freedom wrapped in beautiful revelation.

This seems to be my typical growth path. I’ve lived long enough to see it as a golden thread woven throughout my life.

What about you? What happens inside of you when you step outside your comfort zones? Can you trace a golden thread in your typical growth plan?

Maybe anger or fear or apathy or depression?

Maybe dismissal or refusal or denial?

Wherever you are and whatever you are feeling today, I invite you to give these very big emotions room to breathe.

Sit with them.

Give them space to breathe instead of rushing or repressing them. Allow them time to find their way through the confusion and pain. Guide them into a safe space, sometimes with a safe person, so they can calm down long enough to relax their tight grip on things.

Maybe by the end of today, only a hint will be hanging around.

If you need a little more help, here are a few great resources:

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