Who really wants to hit rock bottom? To find yourself curled into the fetal position on a floor somewhere, sobbing uncontrollably from pain, heartache, and distress so deep that you’re willing to do something radical to heal from it? Praying to whomever it is that might be listening, pleading for assistance to help you recover. This is the scene I’ve heard described over and over by wise mentors, teachers, and students alike. And, while I’ve certainly had low points and found myself crippled over, sobbing uncontrollably, I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced this tremendous breaking point as others describe. While I could be relieved that I’ve not experienced a rock bottom, it’s actually left me quite fearful that it could be just around the corner.
However, that doesn’t mean I’ve been immune to great heartache and pain. Rather, I’ve experienced many small breaks. Tiny fissures, which seem harmless enough. Hairline cracks, which may be even more complicated than one large break. You see, with one large break, you can’t ignore it - it’s there, a shake-you-to-your-core type of pain that can’t be covered. As with a broken bone, you tend to it, quite aware of when and where it happened. But, tiny breaks can be easier to overlook. Some of us become experts at the art of patching and mending these tiny cracks; tending to them momentarily before pushing them to the foreground of our minds.
Many of us will be able to operate like this for most, if not all of our lives; always mending and attempting to forget what caused these cracks in the first place. I believe that those who choose this path will struggle to find joy, meaning, and happiness in their lives as they will always be carrying the weight of these wounds, tiptoeing delicately to avoid the horrific break which will inevitably cause all of the tiny cracks to shatter at once. Others will go right for the big break, cracking open fully in order to rebuild from a new, solid foundation. So where does that leave the rest of us? Those like me, who have endured tough, trying times and are willing to look at our wounds, but haven’t hit one big bottom? Did that mean then, the bottom was looming, ready to hit at any time?
This morning, in the shower, I had my moment of relief (FYI: Some of my most profound moments of learning and self-actualization happen to occur in the shower as I listen to audiobooks or podcasts while getting ready) as I heard my teacher Rebecca Campbell say in her soft, Australian accent, “We don’t have to hit our rock bottom. Our rock bottom happens when we’re ignoring.” I froze for a moment, letting my shoulders relax and my eyes close, releasing an audible breath of relief. I hadn’t been ignoring. I’d been listening intently, exploring curiously and courageously; slowly endeavoring to untrain myself from the patterns and beliefs that had become second nature, but were ultimately quite unproductive and often destructive. I listened closely to the advice she gave next; two habits which we could use to help us avoid the dreaded rock bottom:
Spend time with your soul; listen to the whisper.
You can achieve this “soul practice” in many ways, the most common of which include meditation, prayer, and journaling. While it sounds simple enough, this practice is something we tend to avoid; I know I did for quite some time. Honestly, I still struggle with it at times. We’ve conditioned ourselves to keep busy, to hustle, and plan. Spending time with your soul often creates discomfort at first as we are not accustomed to fully, truly, processing our own thoughts and emotions. Furthermore, because we are used to constant stimulation, training our minds to be still and listen often feels a lot like extreme boredom at first. For me, it was my soul’s whisper that actually convinced me it was time to listen. The whispering turned into a nag and then into a full on roar, which is probably what kept me from reaching the rock bottom I had been dreading. It was as if my soul was dropping not-so-subtle hints that I needed to tune in and listen. The hints often came as intense inner knowings that something just wasn’t right. Other times, they would come as synchronicities; as messages I needed to hear were delivered in perfect timing.
Do what lights you up.
For years, I thought this was equivalent to living a fun and fancy-free lifestyle: spending weekends partying at the lake, being known on the social scene, and having a career where you got tons of glory. While these things can be results of following your light, they are not your true north. What lights you up will be inspiring and effortless. It will flow to you naturally, it will not require you to work out every step along the way, but only that you keep moving your feet. It will make you feel joyful. And not because of the reward and praise you get, because that will only bring you temporary joy. What truly lights you up will make you feel good while you are doing it; regardless of the praises or criticisms you receive. What lights me up is writing and speaking. I’m not able to access these outlets during my 9-5, and this is not a call to leave behind a stable career to do what lights you up 24/7 (although some have traveled that path successfully). No, being a “writer” to me means taking a little time to write each and every day. That may mean anything from jotting a few ideas down in my journal quickly to spending a length of typing passionately about something (which may or may not be published on my blog or elsewhere).
Listening to the whispers of your soul and doing what lights you up will look very different for each of us. The trouble is, many of us have become so far detached from who we are and what we enjoy because we’ve been rewarded for what we do in other areas of our lives for so long. This starts as children and, of course, travels with us into adulthood. We find praise from hard work or success in a specific area. We are applauded for how much we can take on, do, and accomplish. We feel obligation to commit our time socially in a specific way. All the while we slowly forget to make time for ourselves and for doing that which brings us true joy. Following these distractions eventually wear on us, drain us, and drive us towards our rock bottom.
I encourage you, carve out time to listen to the whispers of your soul; and also to explore, learn about, and actually do the things which bring you the most joy and excitement. Every tiny baby step you take brings you closer to your heart’s calling (and further from rock bottom). I, for one, am relieved to know that rock bottom doesn’t have to be inevitable, should we just take the time to be aware.