Illustration by Holly Lindem
When things fall apart, your urge is to do something—anything—to put them back together. But what if you can't do that right now? Martha Beck on the hidden blessings of life's little low points.
"I don't know why this is happening!" Rachel wrung her hands like a pioneer laundress. "I'm a good person. I work hard. I'm kind. But lately everything's going to hell. My boyfriend broke up with me, my job was downsized—now I've got mono. What did I do to deserve this?"
The answer? Rachel was born. Her very existence is the occasion for multitudinous peaks and troughs—lungs inflating and deflating, muscles contracting and relaxing. We live in an up-and-down, ebb-and-flow universe, yet we'd much rather flow than ebb. When we find ourselves in the troughs between the peaks of life, some of us (like Rachel) become resistant. The rest of us (like me) panic.
Right now, with the global economy in a trough and social institutions toppling like bowling pins on beer night, it's quite likely you're either experiencing a downturn like Rachel's or worrying that one is on the way. As much as I wish I could offer strategies to sidestep a low point, what I can offer are a few tips on the gentle art of surviving what I call the in-between place.
Step One: Relax into the Valley
I'm writing this in a dark airport hotel in Africa, after being stranded in a freak five-hour traffic gridlock that blocked all access to the airport. Dozens of planes took off empty, leaving hapless passengers haggling for seats on later flights. A thunderstorm struck as I waited in line outside for seats that were ultimately unavailable. It knocked out the electrical power just as the Bank Gods back in America decided I couldn't possibly be where I am and barred my access to cash.
Now, compared with a life trough like Rachel's, my travel snafu is trivial. But it still gave me that vertiginous, unsupported feeling of everything going wrong at once. Ruined plans and unfulfilled expectations remind us that we have little control over most situations, and that our very lives are—I'm sorry, but it's true—temporary. This scares us so much we resist every downturn, from a demotion to a breakup, as if it were death itself. We clutch at straws, passionately embrace denial, or pretend things won't go wrong (even when they already have).
These options—trust me, I've tried them all—don't work.
If you're going into a valley, do what you did as a small kid on the big shiny playground slide: Let go and ride it down. Accept that what's happening is happening. Then immediately implement step two.
Step Two: Fear No Evil
Get expert tips on Dan Howard's Web site, IntentionalResting.com
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