We’ve all heard some version of this over and over again. From biblical proverbs, to football coaches and fortune 500 executives: Fall down seven times, get up eight. (That one happens to be a Japanese Proverb.)
While we can’t avoid falling down, here are 8 tools that can not only help you get up but also assist in collecting the hidden treasures of those down places.
1. Basic Wealth
No matter how down you are, nothing can take away your basic wealth.
Basic wealth is your inherent worth that is not dependent on your productivity, your appearance, your net worth, your possessions, other people’s opinions of you, or anything else!
I think Pema Chodron says it best in her book, Start Where You Are:
“You can feel as wretched as you like, and you’re still a good candidate for enlightenment … All these trips that we lay on ourselves— the heavy-duty fearing that we are bad and hoping that we are good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds—never touch our Basic Wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are.”
Yes, it can definitely feel like your brightness is covered with muck, but underneath that muck, you are still shining.
2. Don’t take the Spiritual Bypass (make space for hard feelings)
Imagine that you’re driving and you have the choice between two roads. One is bumpy but there are majestic views while the other is smooth as can be but there are walls around either side so you can’t see anything. That first road is making space for hard feelings and the second is the spiritual bypass.
John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, coined the term spiritual bypassing to describe our “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks”.
We can’t selectively numb the hard feelings without numbing our capacity for connection, intimacy, joy and all of the other feelings that we want to have.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in bringing mindfulness to mainstream society, says it this way: “We must be willing to encounter darkness and despair when they come up and face them, over and over again if need be, without running away or numbing ourselves in the thousands of ways we conjure up to avoid the unavoidable.”
It’s essential to find a safe place where you can regularly feel and express hard feelings. This could be journaling, prayer, therapy, talking with a friend or just crying in the bathtub.
3. No double dipping!
While it’s very important to make space for hard feelings, you want to avoid getting stuck there and spiraling downward.
When I was a frazzled mom with three little ones (who are now three big ones!) I lost my wallet with my license, credit cards – everything -. and was having a bit of a meltdown (read: existential crisis) about it. It restimulated a ton of feelings around not being responsible enough, organized enough, mindful enough… not anything enough!
Luckily I discovered that my wallet was missing on my way to a session with Hakomi therapist and teacher of mine, Jaci Hull.
Jaci taught me how to have an oh sh*& moment. An oh sh*& moment is taking the time to acknowledge that something crappy has happened, but then leaving it there and not moving onto attacking yourself or others.
Another way to put this is: Let losing your wallet (or job or house or whatever) be enough suffering. Don’t take another helping of suffering!
Remember that though you are flawed or you struggle, you are still worthy. Just like me.
4. Identify gravity problems
This is counter-intuitive but the first step in changing reality is accepting reality.
Bill Burnett, co-author with David Evans of Designing Your Life defines a gravity problem this way: A gravity problem, like gravity, is an issue that cannot be solved.
He continues, “In life design, if it’s not actionable, then it’s just not a useful problem. Like a black hole, it’s a trap. Here’s a piece of advice that will save you a lot of time: People fight reality, and anytime you are fighting with reality, reality will win. You can’t outsmart it. Your only authentic response to one of these ‘gravity problems’ is acceptance. Be very scrupulous when identifying your ‘gravity’ issues and working on acceptance. The sooner you are out of the black hole, the better.”
Take the things that can not be changed completely off the table so you can focus on the things that can be changed. Being stuck in “I shouldn’t have lost my wallet” keeps me from cancelling my credit cards and ordering new ones.
5. Start with the things you know
My first pregnancy was one of the lowest points in my life. I was throwing up constantly, living in overheated trailer and deeply depressed. Every afternoon I’d find a shady patch next to my neighbor’s trailer and lay there hoping for a breeze. That was the highlight of my day.
It was also the start of a list I have called “Things I Know.”
It’s a simple list of things that I absolutely know to be true that I can look at when I’m feeling confused. On the very top of the list is: I like a cool breeze on a hot day.
While so much of my life was in doubt, I knew, with every fiber of my being, that I liked a cool breeze on a hot day.
Here are some other things on my list:
Don’t waste time thinking about time wasted.
Do one thing at a time.
Kitchen dance parties always make me happy.
I need 8-10 hours of sleep
Sugar is not my friend.
When your life is turned upside down and everything is in doubt, start by reconnecting with the things you absolutely know.
How much sleep do you need? What kind of food is good for your body? What song always cheer you up? Who is the friends that you can always rely on? What are the teachings that you keep coming back to over and over again?
Often it’s the simple things that get us moving again.
For me, down times tend to be confusing times. My best tool for dealing with this is a cheap Melissa and Doug whiteboard that I bought as a Chanukah present for one of my kids well over a decade ago.
Each morning (or more honestly, whenever I remember) I write single-tasking on top corner of the whiteboard and right below that I put the ONE task that I’m meant to be doing at that moment. I box that area off and the rest of the board I use to write down all of the things that pop into my head. So, while I’m single tasking my laundry it might pop into my head that I need to write an email, make a phone call or defrost chicken for dinner, etc.
I pause, write it down, and go back to my single task.
Sometimes if I’m feeling particularly distracted I’ll even say my single task out loud – “I’m folding laundry, folding laundry, folding laundry.”
Not only do I get more done when I’m single tasking, each experience feels richer for having been done with mindful intention.
7. Celebrate the tiny things
In my house during the summer things move very slowly. Kids relish in the opportunity to sleep late. My work slows during the summer and I enjoy not having to keep up will all of the school reminders and events.
But sometimes it can be really hard to get anyone motivated to do anything.
Everytime I get out of the house with at least one of my teenagers before noon we let out some whoots and high five each other. Someone made an omelet that turned out well? Dance party in the kitchen to Kool and the Gang’s Celebration! I managed to get some work done with all the kids home? Yay me!
Sometimes you need to just lower the bar of what success looks like.
There’s a lot of room between perfection and giving up. Live there.
8. Schedule down time
If my iPhone is not working well and I call the Apple Genius bar the first thing they will ask me is this: Did you try shutting it down, letting it rest and turning it back on again?
We humans are the same way. Here’s a radical idea: If you’re starting to feel down, you might need some down time.
Some downs blindside us. However, most downs are pretty predictable.
Start to track your down times and notice patterns.
Do they come at certain times during your menstrual cycle? After traveling? After a big success? After a lot of socializing? When you don’t get enough exercise or enough sleep? Are they seasonal?
Sometimes If you schedule* down time it won’t have to force itself into your schedule. Take the long, short road of self-care.
*Note – this will not prevent life from continuing to be unpredictable, so if you are using this tool as a way to rig the system and avoid any unexpected downs you are going to be deeply disappointed.
9. Just like me
I know I said 8 ways, but I wanted to leave you with one more. Most of us have a tendency to isolate during down times. I found that I when I having down times I used to think things like – why is this happening to me? Why do things seem to be harder for me? Then I learned a practice called, Just Like Me from Pema Chodron.
I put my hand on my heart and say, “Just like me there are other humans who are struggling with their health right now.” Or, “Just like me, there are other humans feeling challenged by their relationships.” I then send my compassion out to all the other humans who are feeling down, just like me.
While quiet, alone time might be an healthy way to recharge (I know it is for me!) know that down time can also be a time to compassionately connect with other humans – even if it’s just in your own heart, because in so many ways I know that you are just like me.