The great big fall

Fall is my favorite season!

There is something special about the smell of the earth after the first raindrops of the season. I am enamored by the way the foliage gets washed away by the rain to make space for new beginnings. The temperature drops, inviting us to make a fire and snuggle up to our favorite person while eating slow-cooker delicacies.

But I also love fall because it reminds me of an undeniable part of our human experience: the regular and never-ending points in our journey when things “fall” apart in our life, and we experience a significant amount of discomfort and suffering. Our automatic response is to think that “when such and such a thing happens, when we arrive to a certain outcome, when we realize a specific goal, then we will no longer suffer.”

However, the truth is: we cannot go through life unless we experience a significant amount of suffering. After all, there are many things in life that we cannot control that impact the fiber of our life and experience.

The question then becomes, what do we do when things fall apart?

  1. What if we temporarily make friends with pain and let it tell us its’ secrets?

One of the human choices that often leads to things falling apart in life is betrayal. In its simplest form, as our dear Brene Brown says, betrayal is “to choose to not connect with someone when the opportunity is there.” The secret the pain of betrayal opens us up to is that betrayal is the mutual choice between two people to feed a lie. We humans can only behave based on our level of consciousness at a given time. It’s nothing personal. But we too, play an active role in any betrayal in our lives. If we focus on what is within our control, we can use a betrayal as an opportunity to address and question what it is deep down that we were afraid of. We can look at what it is that we wanted that compelled us to play a part in this story. Although betrayal leads us to doubt ourselves and our choices, it is a great opportunity to identify illusions. When we use painful experiences of betrayal to uncover what it is that we were truly afraid of, we slowly but surely learn to neutralize our fear, harvest its pearls of wisdom, and open up to the possibility of learning to trust in ourselves again.

2. Challenge yourself to identify the little things that give you comfort during difficult times.

When things fall apart, we tend to hide our pain in ways that are not conducive to our wellbeing. We tend to withdraw, get down on ourselves, maybe drink an extra glass of wine, or lose sleep by mulling over the specifics of the disaster we encountered. It is important to keep an ongoing list of things, situations, and people that provide us with a sense of goodness for when difficult times show up in our lives.

This could be a walk in nature; listening to a positive Ted Talk; cooking your favorite, wholesome meal; creating a little piece of art; or committing to a daily, loving kindness meditation.

But most importantly, during difficult times, we need to resist the urge to stay isolated, and instead connect with people that make us feel cared for. Social connection is one of the most compelling antidotes to the toxicity of discomfort and one that is abundantly available to us, as long as we are willing to nurture it.

  1. Focus on taking just the very next step.

When things fall apart, our automatic response is to feel helpless and let our internal resources be used toward imagining a catastrophe! We don’t consciously realize the power of our mind to hi-jack our nervous system and shut down our ability to access the executive part of our brain. For example, studies show that rejection and toothache both activate the exact same region of our brain (anterior cingulate). If we focus on simply determining what is the very next step we can take to turn a situation around, we can slowly but surely disengage from operating from a threatened, defensive state and turn on our executive part of our brain, activating the reward centers through action (pre-frontal cortex). Mastery is the result of consistent small steps daily. Don’t worry about the imaginary disasters that could come, but focus on the very one thing you can do now to move you toward the direction that will bring you back to balance.

  1. Remember the impermanence of everything, and practice being comfortable in discomfort.

Whether you pay attention to the changes of colors in the trees around you, the challenges you have already overcome, or a memory from childhood, everything in life is a temporary perspective.

Nothing lasts forever. Regardless of how challenging an experience may be, simply remembering that nothing lasts forever can be just the ticket to calm our nervous system down and feel comfort at times of discomfort. A realistic outcome to shoot for to ensure that the trajectory of our life remains positive is looking for growth in discomfort. Breakdowns in life can be profound moments of breakthroughs, much like the seed that has to break through the earth to bring forth beautiful blossoms in spring.

  1. Accept that some days will be dreadful no matter what we do.

We can do all the right things, take all the right steps, incorporate powerful daily practices, and yet we will never be able to avoid experiencing moments of ultimate disappointment and dread. We could get laid off, lose someone we love, or experience an ultimate betrayal from someone who we thought was our number one confidant. Life is an incredible adventure of never-ending highs and lows. Embrace the fact that some days will be a complete disaster no matter what we do.

I can’t say that the series of victories and unfortunate events don’t leave a lasting mark on our life experience. Yet the miracle always happens.

Tomorrow morning, the sun will rise again, the school bus will show up in time to pick up the kids for school, and you will encounter your neighbor’s good morning wish as you take your dog for a walk.

Despite how bad a great fall may seem, every new day gives us the opportunity to start over and change our life—one decision, one choice, and one step at a time—bringing along fresh perspectives and ingredients: new leaves on the trees, new loves, new joys, new sensations.

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