Before my accident, I hadn’t been still in years. Maybe ever. Busyness had always been my comfort zone. I knew I was an overachiever; that was pretty obvious. What I didn’t know was why. Honestly, I can’t recall having wondered about it at all before the accident. Keeping myself busy meant that I had no time to dwell on the deep hurts and trauma of my childhood; work was the most acceptable way to numb myself. However, coming to stillness after my accident helped me realize that, by keeping myself busy all the time, I wasn’t just avoiding uncomfortable feelings, I was also avoiding joyful ones.
When I was forced to slow down, I discovered, perhaps for the first time, the simple pleasures in life. Those walks with Angus, long talks with friends, afternoon naps, and leisurely evenings just being still were nourishing and wonderful. I began to connect more deeply with myself and what I wanted in life. I noticed that what I really wanted―connection, healing, joy― was often at odds with the way I had set up my life. When my calendar was booked solid every single day, I didn’t have time for joy. I didn’t have time for inner connection. I didn’t have time for healing―at least, not until the Universe stepped in.
My accident was the catalyst for my return to stillness. What was at first uncomfortable became delightful. What I used to run from, I began to cherish.
The other piece of learning that came as a result of my accident was how much I relied on my knowledge and intellect as my source of self-worth. In those moments after the accident when I was pacing my living room, I was afraid my brain was empty, and it was one of the most terrifying things I have ever experienced. I’d lived through many traumas, but even when things were falling apart, I’d always been able to rely on my own intelligence and resourcefulness; through them, I could create opportunities, find solutions, and move forward. In those initial hours, when I could access only fragmented memories of my life, I felt as though I had lost my whole self. Upon reflection, I realized how strongly I identified with my intellect and the knowledge I had gathered―and how little I valued those parts of me that were not my thinking mind.
We all have an inner critic―a voice inside us that tells us that we are not enough, that we’re not good enough, that we can’t pursue our dreams or become the person we know we’re capable of being. The inner critic has a comfort zone, and it’s narrow enough that it often feels like we’re walking a tightrope. What we don’t realize when we’re letting the inner critic run the show is that, to the left and right of that tightrope, there is a vast universe of “us” to be explored. Sometimes, our true nature and inner wisdom are miles away from our comfort zones; sometimes, they’re only a few steps. But until we leave the tightrope, we’ll never know.
Comfort zones are funny things, and they look different for everyone. My comfort zone was working hard and racking up accomplishments by living from my head, when in fact, deep down, I longed to slow down and connect from my heart. For some of my clients, comfort zones have looked like inertia, procrastination, fear, worry, doubt, victimhood, or self-sabotage. But while their outward expressions are different, all of these comfort zones have one thing in common: they are designed by our inner critics and built out of limiting beliefs. They are never where our inherent power and strength lives.
We can tell when we are being pushed out of our comfort zone by observing sensations in the body. Most of us are very out of practice when it comes to this type of feeling state―but simply paying attention is often enough to renew the connection and make space for it to deepen.
When we are present in our bodies, we inhabit the present moment; we are not lamenting the past, or worrying about the future. We can become more present through simple exercises like the one to follow, which I often use with my coaching clients. The shift created by this short practice helps to quiet the mind and enliven the body so we can sense the flow of energy.
Give yourself ten to fifteen minutes to complete this exercise.
To become more present, put your feet firmly on the floor and bring your entire focus to your feet. Take deep breaths in through your feet; then, with each subsequent inhale, bring the breath up from the feet and further into the body. Once you have raised the breath through the entire body, sit quietly for a few moments, allowing the new enlivenment to integrate.
Then, focus on your belly center, specifically the spot just below your belly button (often referred to as the Hara, the Lower Dantian, or Kath). This is our body’s power center. When you feed your breath into it, you will connect to your inherent strength and inner power, which is always waiting for you. Next, check in with your body. Notice if there is any area in your body that is holding tension, or that feels “different” from other parts. Focus on that area, and ask it, “What are you holding?” Often this simple question opens up a rich inquiry into something that your inner wisdom wants to bring forth for you to see and pay attention to.
Now, imagine an invisible thread connecting your belly center to your heart center. Focus your breath into the heart center, and allow it to open more with every inhale. Then, ask your heart, “What do you hold for me? What desires, hopes, and dreams?” You will be moved by what is buried in your heart, just waiting to be revealed!
For the final part of the exercise, move to your head center (which by now has quieted down). Connect the thread from your belly to your heart to your head. Notice how your awareness flows freely throughout your whole body. Again, check in with yourself, asking, “What needs to be shared in this moment?” Don’t judge what comes up with your mind; instead, let your feeling body tell you if it is true and real for you. With all three energy centers grounded and open, the wisdom that will flow to you is precious beyond words.
Published with permission. EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY! From the Projects to Harvard to Freedom by Dr. Catherine Hayes, CPCC.