When a dark night of the soul strikes, what do we do? Do we resist it and yearn for the “good old days”? Or do we allow ourselves to surrender, moving into a new depth of wisdom?
Today my lovely friend and collaborator Lisa Stearns, offers us some empowering guidance. In her life’s work of helping heart-centered women create successful businesses, she’s cultivated quite a toolbox for healing stress and overwhelm during challenging circumstances. In this interview, she speaks to those who are feeling anxiety due to being out of work or confined to the home. She also addresses creatives, coaches and healers who are wondering how to consciously align our business with the changing times. How do we continue to share our gifts with the world during shutdown? How do we love and support others in an era of social distancing?
I left this conversation with Lisa feeling renewed in what my gut has been saying all along. This dark night is not so dark after all.
Anya: I love looking for hidden blessings. I’ve noticed that seemingly terrible events actually have profound gifts to bear—if only we are open to receiving them. I am curious if you could speak to that, Lisa. Are there any gifts that the Coronavirus situation is delivering to us?
Lisa: I LOVE the forced pause we have had to take. Some will choose to fight it all the way, in everything they think and do. Others, more accepting of the situation, will be experiencing an ability to view their lives in a new way, and take stock. What should stay; what should go? Who and what is of service, or not? This is truly one of the rarest gifts one can receive. Time for reflection.
For me personally, I have finally been able to put an end to my unhealthy drive to help. I began this confinement like so many: feeling everyone’s pain, confusion, anxiety and fear. I reached out every day in one way or another, sometimes several times a day, wanting to soothe. Living in that heightened state for 2 weeks or more I naturally became depleted. For the first time in my life I was forced to let it go. There was no choice in the matter.
I decided I can be supportive to those who ask. I can always love. I can listen. I can deeply care. I don’t have to bleed compassion. I don’t have to remain on heightened alert as though I am the only one on this planet that can be of support. When I exist in a place of balance I am the best, strongest version of myself, for those I am close to, as well as the community I cherish and the world at large.
Anya: In your beautiful book, A List is Not Enough, you explore how to be more mindful in the face of being busy. Now that the world has slowed down during this pandemic, what mindfulness lessons are there for us to learn? How can lockdown help us on our spiritual path?
Lisa: In my most recent newsletter I talked about acknowledging what is: whether it is fear, anxiety, frustration, anger… whatever it is you are experiencing. Acknowledge it fully. Cry, shout, stamp your feet, feel terrified.
Next, notice that all of those negative emotions tend to revolve around dwelling on the things you can’t do…
- I can’t run my business the way I always have
- I can’t leave my house
- I can’t make money
- I can’t pay my rent
As you can see, the I Can’t List is fraught with fear and anxiety.
After some reflection, move on to your next list: The I Can List.
The I Can List is filled with hope, opportunity, positivity and forward movement.
- I can call each of my clients and ask how they are doing
- I can focus on a re-launch once the world gets up and running
- I can CHOOSE to enjoy this day and leave all the I can’t statements behind
- I can devote joy-filled time to my family, loved ones, and friends
If it is possible to be open to a new reality, then all doors open. Forward progress is possible even while in the maelstrom of a seeming disaster. Is it hard? Yes! Are you unhappy, afraid, anxious sometimes? Yes, again. But, the rest of the time you can feel a sense of power over what you can control.
Anya: How can people bring a sense of calm into their lives right now?
Lisa: I wish there was a magic answer. But, having faced overwhelming anxiety in the form of PTSD, the best I can offer is that it starts with believing you can ultimately create a space of calm. Here are 2 tips:
1. Turn that Sh** off. Seriously, step away from the news, social media and especially any nay-sayers in your circle. Decide on a certain amount of time per day, preferably at the same time per day, to check-in. (Please limit this to no more than 10-15 minutes.) Then, turn it off. When the gremlin appears in your head that says, I need to find out if anything new is happening, you can say: “Thank you for that reminder. I will check again at my prescribed time.” Then, (this is important) choose something very diverting to engage your brain.
2 Find a quiet space and allow for a PAUSE. Sit comfortably and observe your breathing. You can’t do this wrong. It is not a competitive sport. You don’t need exercise clothes or candles. It is just breathing.
Notice where you feel the breath entering and exiting your body. That’s it. Just notice. (For some, observing breath might raise anxiety levels. If this is the case for you, choose to instead observe where your body is coming into contact with a solid surface. Simply notice all the points of contact.)
If your mind wanders, and it most likely will, guide your mind gently back to your breath or points of contact. Notice your anchors.
Practicing this for as little as 30 seconds will dramatically improve your ability to lower anxiety and fear, even anger, levels. Do it more than once a day and you will be amazed!
Anya: Is being calm a necessary foundation for self-love?
Lisa: WOAH! That’s a powerful question.
In my life, the answer is absolutely YES. Before I found my calm I couldn’t get out of the tornado of my negative thoughts, old ugly stories and doubt. It was all just really bad noise. Once I learned to cultivate calm, the old stories and negative thoughts became independent threads, yarns I could unravel, hold up for inspection, see the fallacies and put them behind me.
Calm allowed me to create new truths and new stories that cultivate self-love.
Anya: Having fun seems to be a repeated theme throughout your work, both as a business coach and author. Any suggestions for having fun during lockdown and social distancing?
Lisa: I believe that having fun helps you experience your authentic self. For this confined time, I created a Break the Routine Jar filled with slips of paper. They include things like:
- Play music really loudly and dance with wild abandon
- Jump on the trampoline and fall down a lot
- Bake cookies in funny shapes and decorate them to look like something funny… or not.
This jar can also hold things that bring you joy and peace. It doesn’t have to always be laugh-out-loud activities. For example, I love to use meditative drawing to put me in a peaceful frame of mind. So, I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.
Anya: What advice would you give to self-employed healers, coaches, and entrepreneurs who are in the midst of drastically re-thinking how to share their gifts with the world?
Lisa: Be open to something new. During the early stages of shutdown, I had a session with a client who is a massage therapist and energy healer. She has a couple of big corporate clients. Obviously, when they were forced to shut down, she couldn’t serve their workers.
Here’s what I explained to her. People who regularly see their massage therapist, hairdresser, chiropractor or acupuncturist (or any of the various helping professions), look forward to their typical established response. They think: “When I see Suzi, (my massage therapist), it’s my time. No distractions, no interruptions. It’s my opportunity to shut the world off.” That response happens automatically as they walk through the door and hear you say “Hi, what’s going on today?”
I explained to my client that she can still offer that gift. She can offer a 15-minute Calming Session. This can include leading them through breathing, helping them create a retreat at home, or if nothing else, allowing them 15 minutes to close the door to their bedroom and tell everyone Please Do Not Disturb.
My client quickly created a package that included calming breathwork and Reiki to de-stress in troubled times. About 10 days later she emailed me, her joy and excitement absolutely jumping off the screen. Both companies loved and accepted the idea and some of her clients took advantage of the offering.
Think of what you give to your clients in conjunction with your regular service. Do you reduce stress, encourage and inspire, provide quiet? Whatever it is, create an offering.
Finally, now is the perfect time to learn a companion skill. For example, if you are a massage therapist, you could study the basics of mindfulness and breathing. When we go back to work, you can then include tiny pieces of your new skill in your sessions. As always, if you think of your Can Do List, new opportunities will present themselves.