May, the most beautiful month of the year, is around the corner. Millions of people have received the vaccine.
People are peeking out from hiding and making plans to get together with a few friends or family members that they haven’t seen in a year.
And Derek Chauvin was convicted on all counts.
Things are a bit better, right?
Why then are so many of us still in the doldrums?
The term “doldrums” was the name given to a low-pressure belt around the Earth near the equator where sailing ships were often trapped on windless waters. Sailors, stranded, would become frustrated and depressed.
The dictionary definition of doldrums is “a period of inactivity, stagnation or a slump.”
Is that how you’ve been feeling?
I know I have.
There was an article in the NY Times this week that talked about a similar sensation. The author wrote:“It wasn’t burnout.. It wasn’t depression.. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless.”
Many of us would describe what we are feeling as “languishing”.
The dictionary definition of languishing is “to lose or lack vitality; to fail to make progress; to suffer from being forced to remain in an unpleasant place or situation.” It’s one of those words whose meaning can be felt by saying it. Slowly and intentionally.. L-ang-uish-ing. Just saying the word feels like you are muddling through something, unfocused, with diminished motivation, stuck between depression and thriving.
I noticed some of the symptoms in myself this week, in particular a dullness.
After running a successful company for the past 20 years, my partners and I sold our business. It’s something that we’ve been trying to accomplish for the past four years and which I thought would bring immediate joy, relief and freedom when it happened. We sold on Monday and learned on Tuesday that the acquirer had merged with an enormous company within 24 hours of buying our company. Definitely not what we expected. But still, the goal of selling had been achieved and should have been cause for celebration. Instead, as I stood in the kitchen slicing zucchini, I felt indifferent, as if nothing had changed.
Since my brother’s death, I’ve recognized a sensation of stagnation, of languishing.
In a related article in the Wall Street Journal, the author acknowledged that the first quarter of 2021 was even harder than 2020.
He wrote: “The news is full of hopeful predictions about recovery. I would be thrilled to get there. Sign me up for all of it. Still: it’s not going to be instant. It’s not going to feel like flipping a switch. Hidden traumas abound. I presume we’re all a little different now. How can we not be? This past year has challenged everyone in unforeseen ways, and a lot of us are just coming to terms with it. There are probably changes that are imperceptible. Hopefully, some of the change is for good. The road my be opening up, but the road remains long”.
So whether you feel a bit stagnant, bored, unmotivated or unclear about how long the road back to life may be, one thing is for sure.
However you are is exactly where you should be. Resisting the way things are is the road to disaster. And more suffering.
Buddha talks about the “two arrows”. The first arrow comes from the challenging circumstance in our lives (the pandemic, a divorce, financial insecurity, being ignored by a friend) and the second arrow is what we decide about the event/circumstance, how we respond to it. Often it’s not enough for our conditioned minds that we are suffering from something that has happened. We add to that (the second arrow) by berating ourselves : how did I let that happen? What’s wrong with me? I must be stupid, wrong, thoughtless, unworthy and the list goes on..
I watched myself go there this week as I felt ache of dullness after experiencing a positive occurrence in my life. I began to become annoyed and disappointed with myself that I wasn’t elated enough, appreciative or celebratory enough. What’s wrong with me was the internal refrain.
That self-criticism is the second arrow. And it’s our choice whether to throw it. We can work on this by first noticing the first arrow, the situation, event or feeling that causes the discomfort. By acknowledging what’s happening we can get clearer about it and respond more thoughtfully. Then we can catch the impulse to shoot ourselves with the second arrow. We know that generally, that arrow is the desire to blame or lash out. For me, it’s the tendency to criticize or be hard on myself. What works is to pause and try to isolate the urge to blame by taking a few long slow deep breaths and focusing on noticing what’s happening in our bodies.
When the body is calm, ask yourself, “Do I need to shoot the second arrow?” You are already feeling the initial discomfort, pain sadness or fear so maybe you can hold off shooting the second arrow that adds judgment, doubt and criticism. That second arrow really is optional although it doesn’t always feel like it.
Over time, as you learn to be with whatever you are feeling by experiencing it fully and breathing through it, you will have more and more control over that second arrow.
As always, the lesson is to learn to be with whatever we are experiencing; whether it is the doldrums, annoyance, boredom, languishing, guilt, frustration of fear.
In the words of Eckhart Tolle, “life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.”
I get annoyed when people say “it is what it is” since I believe that we can, by shifting our perspective, change our experience of a situation. But, I have learned to trust a slightly different version of this: be with what is. This is what allows us to see more clearly, be more honest and then, make the adjustments necessary to alter our perception and thus our experience of a situation or event.
When you catch yourself and choose not to throw that second arrow, make sure to acknowledge yourself for learning a new pattern of response.
The poet Yung Pueblo teaches this in four words:
When I forget how to follow that advice, I think of the Henry David Thoreau quote: “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.” It reminds me to slow down, be with whatever is happening and connect more deeply with my experience of any given moment, even if it is a moment of dullness or boredom or frustration or disappointment.
Being with ourselves, dwelling as near as possible to the channel in which our life flows, starting with the sensations in our body, leads us to acceptance, which in turns opens us to a joy and freedom that is pure and expansive.
When we really get that it’s about accepting oneself as we are, we can heed the advice of Oscar Wilde and just:
“Be yourself. Everyone else’s taken.”
Look forward to seeing you on Sunday, April 25 at 4 PT/ 7 ET for an hour of calm! https://www.noraplesent.com/event-details/april-25-sunday-hour-of-calm There will be no Gathering on May 2 (my son is being ordained as a rabbi) or May 9 (Mother's Day) so I'd like to offer you and a friend, colleague, mother, daughter or sister $10 off this Sunday's Gathering, April 25!!! https://www.noraplesent.com/event-details/april-25-sunday-hour-of-calm Also, my coaching schedule is filling up so please reach out if you are interested in working with me privately. Would love to be there for you as you move towards more space and compassion for yourself and experience less overwhelm and exhaustion. https://www.noraplesent.com/private-sessions VERY EXCITING NEWS!! We will be having our first in-person Day-Long Gathering on August 21 from 10-3 pm!! It will be a warm, wonderful day filled with everything we've been missing! Fabulous food, meaningful activities, laughter and hugs. VERY LIMITED SPOTS. Attendees must be vaccinated. Email me if you'd like me to reserve a spot. email@example.com With love and light,
Nora Feel free to forward this email to someone who might enjoy it. And invite them to a Gathering!