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The Upside Down-Ness of Beginnings

Photo of a person looking down through long hair at their feet on a yoga mat with the words: The UpsideDown-ness of Beginnings

Starting a new spiritual practice can feel upside down.

These are practices that are supposed to ground you, focus you, center you. Ironically, the beginning of a new practice (or starting anything, really) does not feel that way. Starting meditation, yoga, or prayer practice feels like doing 1,000-pound squats with no weightlifting experience or jumping off the couch to run a marathon.

Unpleasant emotions arise constantly, most of them the feelings of shame associated with being kinda bad at something — frustration and anger with yourself for repeated “failed” attempts, the awkward embarrassment of not knowing what to do, the hesitancy of reaching out to ask for help.

It’s no wonder why we’d want to binge watch Netflix’s Tiger King or sleep in a while longer rather than engage in a spiritual practice — those activities don’t demand that we move through so much unpleasantness. Unless you sleep on a bed of nails or the path to the couch is covered by glass or a minefield of those tiny toy cars.

I noticed this dynamic as I led my recent online retreat. Most participants were relative beginners to breath, meditation and other spiritual practices. I offered this retreat for people just getting started with their own practices. We got off on a relatively good start. Then, pandemic and social distancing came.

Everyone’s situation was really upside down — kids were home from school, work was suddenly happening from home, travel was completely curtailed. Even trips to the grocery store were limited. A lot of mental, emotional and spiritual energy was being diverted to re-creating all of life — who would have the additional energy to get through the aforementioned unpleasantness in order to start yet another new thing? In a pandemic?

Unless — the topsy turvy situation actually pushed us to the point that we had to add new spiritual practices or lose our sanity and health. Perhaps, too many sleepless nights later, we learned we needed to find new ways to care for self, even while stuck at home. There’s nothing like a good, old fashioned crisis to push us to do the things we know we should have been doing anyway.

Yes, it is unpleasant for a while, you may have to get up before your family to do some yoga or meditation. You may have to pry yourself away from your comfy spot on the couch to go for a walk. Or you may have to suffer the eye-rolling of the teenagers in the house when you mention that you are taking self-care time.

You begin to realize something else — that the practices make a difference. Taking this time somehow makes you more human — or at least the better version of your human self. Perhaps you have a higher frustration tolerance (one of the first things I noticed when I started), are less irritable, less given to flying off the handle at small things. You notice these changes so you start doing the practices a for a little longer or a little more often. Soon the practices just become part of the routine, like brushing your teeth.

You may still binge watch a television show, but you no longer see this really as a self-care practice. You may miss your daily walk once in a while, but you don’t beat yourself up about it. You may notice that your mind can still interrupt you with streaming to do lists during meditation, but you just let it go and move on.

The upside down feels a lot more like right side up.

Want to learn more about how to start these practices in your life? Sign up for a free consultation with Nicole Havelka.

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