For Gord, my exquisite match in this crucible called marriage!
And Kai: so many of these words echo with your gentle tone & insight. I am forever grateful for our spaces together.
My experience of overwhelm is that it overwhelms me so much that I forget the resources I carry within me, many of which I have carefully cultivated in more stable moments over long periods of time at quite some expense!
Hence this little book: my attempt to help myself remember. I offer these words very, very humbly, knowing well how much I can resist acting on them in the moment. But remembering is the first step: from this place of recalling, we have options.
I sincerely hope these tools are useful for you. Please add your own notes and truths. And disregard anything unhelpful, especially any unwitting tone of superiority or bossiness. In my heart is an invitation, imperfectly captured here, for you to join me in acting on these things which may afford us a skerrick more grace and trust in our darker moments.
Ah, Spirit, please help us on this fraught, rich journey!
Overwhelm is a flooding of our sense of self and our positive ground. The waters rise quickly, obliterating internal landmarks and resources. We feel unable to gain perspective on ourselves and our lives, unable to envision possibilities and solutions, unable to make positive decisions, unable to act helpfully for ourselves and others. We are often caught up in a maelstrom of pain, negativity and defensiveness.
We feel outraged to find ourselves in this position, perhaps feeling pushed here by another person. Or so hopeless, we can barely keep our heads above water, each wave threatening to push us under. Or so grieved to find ourselves adrift in this fearsome place, having lost a sense of anything familiar and stable within us.
Or perhaps these fears and wounds we face are all too familiar…
The tools in this book are like flotation devices which we throw to ourselves when we’re caught up in that ocean of emotion. We can cling to them as a drowning person might, and they can help us to ride out the storm while keeping our heads above water.
Actually, our positive, high ground is not so far away, but sometimes it feels like nothing short of a huge action will get us there. A huge action which probably feels impossible and, no doubt, overwhelming! In reality, it’s the tiny steps we can take for ourselves which facilitate a receding of the waters.
Here’s another way to put it:
too strong an emotion
too weak a sense of capacity to act positively
The tools in this book aim to attend to both contributing factors: some aim to shift the emotion, or lessen it, and others aim to bolster our sense of self, and therefore, our capacity and autonomy. Other tools encourage us to tend to our bodies, the vessel in which these internal storms take place.
Later, when we’re not awash and just trying to survive, we can work to strengthen our flood barriers, or build a solid boat for such situations! But for now, small, practical, loving actions are in order.
You can use this book in many ways. You could read it when you’re feeling fine, pre-emptively tooling up before the inevitable storms. Or you can grab it when you’re a mess, find a page that resonates and act on it.
If the thought of choosing is overwhelming, then use this book like an oracle. Open it up and do whatever it says on that page. If you don’t want to act on the suggestion, this process of veto might clarify a positive action for you. Or you might be encountering your own resistance to any proactive choice, encountering a part of you that is somehow invested in the chaos and pain. If so, you might choose to undertake the action anyway, even if part of you is screeching with indignation that you’re attempting to shift things…
Be gentle with yourself. As a child who has hurt themselves badly needs our loving attention, so does our young wounded self need to be met with the loving attention of our resourced, adult self.
And our resourced, adult self is not as far away as it can sometimes feel. Any small act of tending will lead us there. Here are some suggestions...
Emotion is amplified indoors, where we bounce around in such close proximity to others and our "stuff", physical and emotional. Allow the spacious sky and fresh air to soothe you.
Can you fit in a walk?
We lose our equilibrium and perspective when we’re overwhelmed. Allow a friend to hear your story and remind you of the goodness of who you are.
They may well be familiar with the paths you are travelling, and may be able to offer you the compassion and understanding you are struggling to muster within yourself.
Lack of rest is a form of torture, and surely, our thoughts can turn torturous without the healing power of sleep.
Enlist the help of your subconscious. Things may seem insurmountable now, but the morning may yield new possibilities and renewed capacity.
Tuck yourself into bed, and sleep, dear friend. Sleep.
Find a pen and paper and just start writing. Allow your inner voices to spill onto the page, uncensored and vivid.
Don’t worry if they seem like violent beasts, or an endless hopeless wave. There’s something magic about the page, how it can corral even the most fearsome of thoughts. From here, we can discern the shape of our feelings and perhaps what to do about them.
In short, we can begin to witness ourselves, and this is always the starting point of healing. Write and see…
(And if you want to, see if you can write for three pages, even if you feel you have nothing to say. Golden insights often emerge on the third page…)
Conflict and big emotions affect our body. You might find yourself shaky and cold. If so, cosy up with a blanket, sit by the heater, or even climb into bed for a little while. Let yourself shake - like animals, we tremor to release stress and restore equilibrium.
Or perhaps you are steaming, flushed with emotion. Some physical exertion or space outside may serve you well.
Take the time to feel your belly, your shoulders, your neck, your hands, your feet. What is your body needing?
Life can flow at a relentless pace, sometimes too fast for our natural balancing rhythms to assert themselves. At some level, we choose this pace. And if this is true, we can also choose to slow things down a bit.
What do you actually feel like doing today? How could your day, your environment, soften to accommodate your raw self a little better?
If you can’t abandon everything, what’s one small way you could create some space for stillness? Or some fun?
Your life may feel in chaos, but you have the power to create a tiny corner of order. One little spot with a flower, plant, crystal or candle. One little spot that is dust-free and simple and beautiful.
Otherwise known as Thought Field Therapy.
“Even though I’m feeling...., I deeply and completely accept myself.”
Repeating this statement three times while tapping on particular body
meridians can help us bear witness to some of what’s been stirred within us.
Feel into the statement each time you say it, and change it as you go so that it continues to feel relevant and resonant. (Follow your tears!)
And if there are no words, then just tap – even that will help.
Even if you don’t believe in any god.
Even if you have no words, just tears.
Even if all you can do is kneel.
At least that posture matches where you’re at.
Call out. You will be heard.
At the root of our pain, so often, is a feeling of disconnection. Yet in truth, we are connected to all things, as much a part of this ecosystem of relationships as anyone or anything else.
Remind yourself of this by communing with the elements.
Make and tend a fire, or light a candle - meditative and warm.
Immerse in a river, ocean or rain - cleansing and invigorating.
Lie face down on the earth - grounding and calming.
Go for a walk for some fresh air - clearing and clarifying.
You are a child of the Great Mother, deeply held.
Retreat to that place within you where you are always safe. The place which soothes and warms – a glowing hearth, glorious clouds seen through a window, a cosy bed with the plumpest quilt, a hammock on a verandah, a steaming cup of tea waiting on the table for you.
The place which is always the way you left it. The place which is always how you need it to be.
Soak in the sounds, the smells, the gentleness of this space. Breathe, and feel some of your tension unravel.
Aromatherapy can speak to us in subtle, sustaining ways. Mix some of your favourite scents with a carrier oil (sandalwood and lavender are very grounding) and smooth onto your forearms or wherever.
Anointing is an act that marks something as precious and sacred. You are precious and sacred.
The scents can hold you throughout the day, reminding you of your good ground – your ability to hold and tend to yourself.
"...I’m going to take a bath, go for a walk, brush my teeth, leave that pile of work and read a book..." – whatever it is.
What small act of tending, of self-love, would minister to you right now?
Or a little plate of cut-up fruit. Food and drink sustain us and bless us. Providing these small things for ourselves speaks greatly to our overwhelmed self, and can help balance our feeling of lack.
What small such gift would you like to receive from yourself ? What small such gift could you give yourself today?
Sage is an ancient herb used for emotional balancing and spiritual cleansing. Smudging is a subtle but powerful ritual that facilitates a reset. We are invited, via scent and gesture, to move into the present moment.
Light a smudge stick or leaf and wash in the smoke, casting off past and future and any negative energy, to the best of your ability. Make sure you do under your feet, your “ground”!
Or take a shower. Be soothed by the warmth. Allow the watery space to become a safe container, where you can be however you need to be.
Emerge cleansed and released into a new moment, complete with fresh possibilities, even if these possibilities feel tiny.
When we’re in close proximity to what we perceive is the source of our angst (say, our partner or family members!), it can be difficult to act positively.
Time changes everything. Give yourself some time and space away. Be gentle with yourself. Healing and renewed energy can arise within us, even if we haven’t sorted everything out, when we take time to feel ourselves, our edges, our truth.
Can you sleep on it?
Can you plan a little retreat?
Can you take yourself on a fun date?
Our minds are dexterous at spinning stories that pain us. It’s so hard to stop thinking about the “source” of our angst (usually someone else, surely not ourselves!). But this kind of thinking doesn’t often help us shift into a more resourced place.
So, give your mind something else to focus on. Try curling up with a book, or settle down with a podcast. Read an uplifting blog, put on some music, dance. Give yourself a mini-break from the angst. It’ll be there when you come back to it, but hopefully it will feel more proportional.
(Here are some happy distractions!)
Watch the smoke curling skywards. Watch as a form of meditation or prayer.
Allow your desire for the healing of those hurts which run so broad and deep to be held by an energy bigger than your own.
Your needs are valid, even when you feel unheard and stymied.
You have resources available to you, even when you feel empty and
This situation will change, even though right now everything feels terribly stuck.
Pain can transmute into valuable gifts of experience & empathy.
(insert your own tool here!)
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~ Rumi ~
Sending you love, dear friend...
and may you find all the grace you need to ride this wave...
My latest blogposts
My Lunar Journal
A way to map one’s life via the Moon & seasons, tracking and celebrating change over the course of a year.
© Rebecca Grace Funk, 2015