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Over the past 18 months, I've had a few procedures on my knee. Arthritis has set up camp, and after years of tolerating it, I decided to see if anything could be done about it. After each procedure, my doctor would say something to the effect of, 'it will take about 6 - 8 weeks to recover. The word recover felt sticky. I began to wonder what exactly it means to recover. Logically it's a simple instruction and makes sense. Be patient, go easy, and my knee will be returned to some previous state. However, I could not break free of my inquiry into what does recovery really means, and do I actually want it?
Words matter. I liken them as seeds planted in our psyche and take root, building the foundation for our thoughts and belief systems. Thoughts become things. When I'm feeling particularly reflective, I have a tendency to dig into what words mean to me.
Flash forward to COVID, massive loss of life, social distancing, self-quarantine, economy on hold, job loss, etc. History books may define this as the age of the pivot—massive disruption on every level that has caused many to pause and reflect on what is really important. Again, I keep hearing the word recover tossed around paired with the magical thinking of getting 'back to normal' one day.
I sat in an inquiry of what is it to recover? What is the destination of 'back to normal?' I realized when I connected this whole getting 'back to normal' magical thinking with the word recover, I realized neither was in my best interest!
To recovery, I say 'no thanks.' Why would I want to go back and re-cover the problem I was trying to eliminate?! Recover to me means to re-cover something so I can't see it anymore, to hide it. 'Successful' recovery for my knee would mean returning to how it was, which got me into the doctor's office in the first place.
Intellectually, on the surface, I knew my doctor meant. AND words matter. Our words form the stories we tell about how the world works; they shape our beliefs and enable mutual understanding and misunderstanding. The stories we tell may no longer serve our current reality. The impact of our words can be subtle, yet must be examined if there is a desire to learn from our past as we navigate a new future.
Let's unpack 'back to normal.' It's simply impossible; it's like setting the target of impossibility for the arrow of magical thinking.
We are the architects of our future, and language is the key to shaping our possibilities. I don't want to re-cover, nor do I want to 'go back to normal.'
My good friend Alex Tolken said to me, 'All times are good, as long as we know what the times are good for.'
What are these times good for? On the surface, it may seem to be a stretch to find the good amongst so much pain, anger and loss. What I know to be true is just on the other side of all of the pain, anger, and loss are healing, love and abundance, the birthright of all sentient beings.
We all have a dark side, and when it surfaces, we have a choice point. We can stay in the darkness or use the insight and awareness to lean into new possibilities.
This is the inconvenience of transformation. We are called to examine belief systems and push to the edges of our comfort zone. Right now, we are called to let go of how it was to embrace what is possible.
For me, to think only of recovery is a waste of the imagination. Recovery, upon reflection, means to re-cover things, to put them back under the rug. Our current conditions and circumstances have painfully revealed gaps in our system, failure to plan and the corrupt nature of power structures.
These times have also revealed the goodness of humanity, our kindness, compassion, innovation and our collective capacity for action.
I say we lean into those good things about us and address what has been revealed as the worst of us. Rather than recover and 'go back to normal' let us discover new ways forward and lean into our collective possibility.
The magical thinking of back to normal keeps us in denial. It's more comfortable in a way to just deny the past should remain just that. We've all heard of the comfort zone; I prefer to call it the zone of familiarity because it may not necessarily be comfortable, only familiar.
Please don't love your familiar zone so much that you forget the truth about it.
Don't get stuck in 'good old days' thinking. If you don't understand what I mean, remember a time when you ended a toxic relationship. As time passed, you may have felt lonely or missed the connection to that person; there can be a tendency to remember the juicy parts and minimize the bad. I'm not suggesting you ignore the good parts. If you forget the negative, you are likely to repeat the pattern. If we listen to our inner voice, we can learn, if we stay in what's familiar, we get stuck.
The magical thinking of 'back to normal' keeps us in denial of what is true. We should only look back to remind ourselves of what will not work going forward, not to repeat the past. Back to normal is merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, it's a losing proposition.
We are called to transform, individually and collectively, and transformation is inconvenient. It calls us to question our beliefs and recalibrate our thinking and actions to meet this moment.
Easier said than done! How can we push the edge of our comfort zone into new uncharted possibilities? It starts with our willingness to stop ourselves in our own tracks and question the uncomfortable emotions that show up when faced with challenges and change. To actually feel our feelings and rather than stuff them down, we let them flow through and inquire into their potential for insight and change.
If we learn what to do with these feelings as they arise, if we sit in the heat and allow for new learning and insight, we won't snap back like a rubber band into 'the way we have always done things.'
How do we do this? It's really quite simple, not easy but simple. The key is to notice. Notice when you are triggered and then watch it, inquire and ask yourself what you are believing in the moment that is causing such tension. If you can name it, you can transform it. Be it anxiety, frustration, stress, boredom or overwhelm; whatever stops you in your tracks, all are opportunities to stop, inquire, allow and evolve.
If you are feeling anxious, sit in the anxiety and look around you. Anxiety surfaces because something in your life isn't working. Don't try to recover from your anxiety; lean in, be curious and discover. Let it in and let it flow through leverage and learn. Welcome anxiety as a signal for you to examine what you are doing, go into it, be fearless. Your anxiety serves you, it is a tell somethings not working. Ask yourself: what in your life isn't working? Are you willing to do something about it?
If you feel frustrated, it's not because you are incapable of accomplishing whatever it is that contributes to your frustration. Reframe frustration as a sign that the way you are doing something isn't working, try a new way.
If you feel stress, it means you are trying to do too much. Take some time to prioritize, give yourself some breathing room, it's not a race; you are exactly enough right now. What unrealistic expectation are you putting on yourself? Take a beat, re-prioritize and find your own pace.
I've had many people tell me they are bored. Boredom is a sign you are not living into your potential. Challenge yourself, up your game, learn something or take a risk. Find a way to make what you are doing interesting again, push yourself to your limit, and go a little further.
If you feel overwhelmed, it just might be because you lack clarity. Overwhelm is a sign that you might want to take stock, recalibrate, get clarity of what you want, and go about getting it.
Disturbance, confusion and a sense of chaos are not signs we are about to be destroyed. These are, in fact, the conditions that awaken us to our own possibility.
So what is it for you? Are you willing to allow your disturbances to awaken you to your possibilities? Will you endeavor to recover, or will you discover?