You know those days that leave you feeling completely powerless, fellow human? Those hard days when you just want to break stuff, but you don’t, because then you will have to clean it up, and that’s another thing you just CANNOT today?
Well, maybe next time, instead of fantasizing about breaking stuff, you can try to stop making it worse? And maybe, just maybe, this is the best thing you CAN do on these sucky days. Here’s how.
How your brain reacts to a hard day
As humans we tend to not treat our painful experiences very nicely – our first (and often only) mental response is to collect all of the sharp, spiky objects we can find and make a bed out of it, for our painful experience to lie on.
Those objects being: rejecting the experience, judging it, blaming yourself for it, or all of the above – which, of course, only makes things worse.
Why do we do this? Because it’s our brain’s way of taking back some control (aka power) in a situation that leaves us feeling incredibly powerless.
This is not a problem, it’s just how we human beings work. Remember, you are a soul in a body on earth with a brain – this stuff is unavoidable.
I went on vacation – yay!
The mattress in our Airbnb turned out to be … let’s just say it made me think of that mental bed I was just talking about – less yay.
Me being the proud owner of a back that has been destroyed by many surgeries many years ago, I was in heaps of pain, every second of every day of this vacation.
To say that this was not what I had hoped for, would be the understatement of the gigayear (yes, that’s a thing, look it up).
But because I’ve been practicing self-compassion and mindfulness for a while now, I know that the only thing I have any control over is my response, and so I enforced my ‘stop making it worse’ practice. And for the first time ever, I was able to experience this amount of pain AND enjoyment, all during one and the same vacation.
As Toni Bernhard writes about in her book How to be sick, your bodily response to pain is a caring one – usually your hand immediately reaches out to the part of your body that’s hurting. And the great news is, we can train our minds to respond just as compassionately to our pain and suffering as our hands do.
My ‘stop making it worse’ practice – what to do on a hard day
Step 1 – removing the experience from the torture bed
Instead of rejecting, ignoring, judging or blaming, I decided to repeat my own version of Sylvia Boorstein’s wise words – namely: ‘I choose to meet this moment fully. I choose to meet it as a friend.’ Saying these words, in your head or out loud, is a way to anchor yourself back into this moment with the intention of refraining from trying to change it in any way.
In other words: I did not abandon the moment, the experience, and therefore myself.
‘When the heart at last acknowledges how much pain there is in the mind, it turns like a mother toward a frightened child.’
– Stephen Levine
Step 2 – placing the experience on a ”bed of clouds”
This connectedness, to myself and to the present moment, created a space in which I was able to:
- tune in with what my body needed (which is really hard when it is screaming at the top of its lungs and you’re not able to give it the thing it needs the most);
- access my creative mind and come up with stuff that I could adjust, just to make things 1% better;
- and share my (emotional) experience with my boyfriend, which helped us to stay connected, too.
How? By asking myself what this ‘’bed of clouds’’ could be in this moment, and this moment, and this one. It turned out to be a pillow between my legs, deleting some activities from the wishlist and some extra big hugs from my boyfriend.
The pain and limitations did not go anywhere, but neither did I – and that’s a really big win on such hard and sucky days.
Having a hard day? Now you know how you can stop making it worse
My ‘stop making it worse’ practice kept me from turning passive. I was able to take compassionate action on behalf of myself, again and again, despite feeling like the remake of The Exorcist was being produced inside my spine.
My old ways would have made it all so much worse. The pain AND the experience. This new way made room for enjoyment to exist right beside the pain. Together.
You can learn to place your painful experiences on a bed of clouds, or flowers, or feathers, or anything else that feels soft and sweet to you, instead of all those sharp, pointy fuckers. And now you know where to start. (By, first, deciding to stop trying to change anything about your current experience, and, second, considering what thought or action could help create this ”bed of clouds” right now. 😉)
P.S. During my recovery I held onto this nugget of wisdom: I know it will get better again. Which also means it doesn’t have to be all great at this present moment. More on that here.
P.P.S. I hope you’re able to find pockets of light on all your hardest days.
Hi, it’s me, Shirley!
A few years ago I decided to stop making my life any harder than it already was. And since then my life has been perfect.
Okay, that’s a lie.
But thanks to my self-compassion practice I now know how I can, time and time again, find my way back to my authentic self. And that’s what makes my life so much more easeful & joyful these days.