“What do I need to do to feel better?”
Most of us know at least part of the answer to this question, although the answer might be different for each of us.
“I need to spend less money on things I don’t need and be more proactive in calling my friends,” you might say.
“I need to be more mindful with my child and learn how to set healthy boundaries.”
“I need to practice grounding.”
“I need to work up my hierarchy of exposure to things I’m afraid of so I feel less fear.”
“I need to remember to breathe.”
Okay. Yes. Your answer to this question constitutes the “what” of healing. There is probably immense truth and wisdom in your answer.
Over the course of the healing process, your answers will become more fine-tuned. You will learn more about mindful awareness. You will learn more about tools for setting healthy boundaries. You will learn more about sleep and working with difficult emotions and budgeting and prioritizing and values. You will learn about things that you could be doing that you might not have known were skills that existed that you could master in order to achieve more health and balance and fulfillment.
All of these skills and practices constitute the “what” of healing: they are goals for healing. Behaviors you want to change, do more of, less of, whatever.
So we set the goal. Maybe it sounds like, “I want to get more sleep.” We name the what.
And then what happens?
At the beginning, we often approach the process of healing with the same energy that we bring to the rest of our lives.
If we carry high expectations of ourselves, we may set unrealistic goals and excel at meeting them for a short amount of time before we grow exhausted and resentful and stop. If we carry low expectations for ourselves, we may dip a toe in and then withdraw, fearful of the outcome of change, preemptively disappointed in our limited capacity for novelty and risk. If we carry judgment, we may try a new skill and then lambast ourselves for all the ways in which we could have done it better, or more, or less, or more like how our friend’s sister does it, because she’s better, she’s better at healing, and we, well, we are failures. We have always already failed.
This is the “how” of healing. How do we hold ourselves when we try to approach the “what” of healing? How do we have compassion for our inevitable failures, lapses and confusions? How do we acknowledge and celebrate our progress? How do we have perseverance in the face of a task that is new and difficult?
Do we ask for help? Do we allow curiosity and humor in the face of setbacks? Do we learn to peer through the shame and disappointment in order to learn about what went wrong and try again? Do we allow time for the process of change?
Do we balance the work of change with the practice of accepting ourselves just the way we are: flawed, human, messy?
Or not yet?
And can that be okay?
I write this not with an answer or mandate, but with a call to curiosity. And the knowledge that like anything else, curiosity takes time to cultivate.
As we often say paradoxically in the practice of mindfulness, “try not to judge, and when you find yourself judging, try not to judge your judging.”
And on and on.
Posting with a deep breath and a shrug of the shoulders. Onwards.