I have a lot of conversations and get a lot of questions about what it is I feel should be a top priority or practice in our lives if we are wanting to be successful in a wholesome way. It’s a whopper of a question, but there is a simple answer.
Let me start with the opposite, break it down and then help you understand what this crucial practice is and how you can begin to embody it – starting now. Sound good? Let’s dive in.
If I could summarise the cause of repetitive distress within our lives in one word it would be this: closing.
Distress occurs when we don’t have the tools to cope with pressure and external challenges – be it mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually – and when that stress (internal or external) is greater than our capacity to cope, we enter distress. We each have a unique way of coping with this. Ranging from shutting down emotionally to using alcohol to suppress the stress, to detaching from emotions entirely, to entering into depression or anxiety (yes, these are coping mechanisms to pull away from the primary stress), to over working, over eating and over exercising. We are not taught to be open to stress and discomfort and therefore we merely cope (or attempt to poorly).
How terrible this is when life is waiting patiently, beckoning us to open.
And this is the key: learning to open to life exactly as it is, exactly how it feels, exactly how you feel, including during emotional distress and discomfort is what is going to expand your capacity to grow and accelerate in success in any area of your life.
Any area of my life, Amber, really? Yes. Really.
Because every moment we have the option to open or close to life. This is during a conversation with your children, making love to your partner, making a business deal, working out in the gym, eating your breakfast, shopping for groceries, falling asleep, doing your finances, walking the dog, writing a book, taking a photo, going on a first date, collecting the mail, strolling through the streets, making one of the thousands of decisions you make every single day.
During all of these you are either open or closed. You are either loving and fully embodying life or you are coping. You are either in flow or in friction with life.
If you can adjust your energy, refocus your mind, feel your emotions, let life flow through you in every moment and lean into the discomfort of surrendering to the rawness of your heart instead of closing and pulling back to protect yourself (protecting your image, self esteem, reputation, feelings, status, independence) you will discover just how often you were closing and simply coping. You will see and feel how much of life you were shutting down to distress instead of opening up to opportunity.
Think about it. We have been taught to expose none of ourselves and show up quite together, perfect, always exceeding, excelling, impressing, winning. And how much of life is it possible to do this all of the time? So many people value joy, love, freedom and growth but rarely when I ask someone how many times they experience, embody or spend time in that space on a daily basis they give me a blank look. In fact, when I dig a little, people are clueless about what freedom really is and misunderstand growth.
Freedom is a state of being within yourself, when you fully embrace and embody every moment exactly how it is and exactly how you are. Growth requires us to push to our edge of comfort and topple over regularly. As a human, our edge is always and forever going to be opening up when you fear that you are not good enough or won’t be loved or, more clearly stated, rejected. Think about it. It is impossible to live in the way we are being taught, with highlight reels, perfection and stoic togetherness and be able to feel fulfilled. The two states cannot coexist because one is shutting down and one is opening up. They’re opposing.
So we have to make a choice. Do we want to sit comfortably, coping with our distress and shutting down? Or, do we want to lean to our edge and get familiar, embrace and practiced in discomfort and experience freedom, love, joy and evolution?
When we open, we grow, we excel, we shine our light. It is certainly possible to be a little open in a part of your life and closed in the rest. A lot of people are open to pushing their edge in their vocation and career. Making big decisions, leading, pushing your comfort limits and grinding and yet, because they’re closed in heart and emotions, they’re driving from that fear of not being good enough and thus only tapping into a tiny percentage of their potential, because they’re still closed to life.
Each and every single moment we are either closing or opening to life.
How do you want to be? It is an important question to ask because it’s the difference between real, lasting fulfilment, and a life of incessant running.
Opening is something many claim to be but rarely ever do.
Openness is an exceptionally high state of mastery of mind and self. It’s a state of non reaction, centeredness, calm and surrender. Closing is what we do when we experience pain; physical, emotional or perceived. We live in our heads for such a large percentage of our days, living in the past or the future, worried about that conversation you had 10 minutes ago and if you made yourself sound like an idiot; too desperate, too insecure, too bossy, too dumb, too nervous; or projecting in the future; fear and anxiety running as an undercurrent that seems quite normal these days (too normal for my liking..).
Openness is precious, and fear – which is the trigger for us to close; the fear of pain and need for pleasure, the fear of emotional discomfort and desire for emotional pleasure – dissolves momentarily through our openness. Openness is achieved when we are present and our mind sits back in its place where it belongs, as second in charge instead of chief, and our heart comes forward and intuition speaks up (it’s actually always speaking, but we need to get quiet enough to hear its whispers).
Presence is a state of being as a result of opening, a disciplined mindfulness of your attention to focus on what’s right here and now not before or after. When you lack the discipline and don’t see the value in anchoring in the now your mind defaults back to thinking. You’re afraid that if you pause you’ll forget something. You’ll forget to hold your head high or straighten up and act how your mind perceives you to be and how you want to be seen. You’re afraid you’ll forget all the things you need to do and the pressure and expectations you place upon yourself and then they won’t get done and you’ll be a failure in (your eyes) everyone’s eyes and that means you’re not enough and that means you won’t be loved and so, you keep thinking, you keep doing and you stay closed. Phew, exhausting, right? No wonder you feel stressed.
After a while this feels normal. Hey, that’s life, it seems. Life seems to be just a little bit of suffering all the time. A little anxiety here, a little stress there – but you cope. You have you coffee and you cope. You have your money and you cope. You have Instagram followers and you cope. You have women and men who desire you and you cope. You have a sense of authority and you cope. You have your 30 minute meditation practice and your plant medicines and you cope.
But, if you sit for a moment, what do you really sense? Your gut is in knots. Your heart is closed. Your mind is in fear. You realize you are in a constant state of apprehension for the next thing to help you cope. But coping just feels normal so you don’t question the cycle you’re in.
Well, I’m telling you: question it.
Your life depends on it.