Taking potshots at sage advice. Sorta.

In my online world, which is vast, mostly wonderful, and frequently edifying, I am connected to a lot of people who are either in the midst of major personal evolutions, or they make a living helping other people navigate theirs. And since these two things are not mutually exclusive, I’d venture a guess that many – maybe all – of these amazing people are doing both at the same time – evolving and assisting in the evolution of others.

It is common in this community of evolutionary souls to be told that, in times of crisis and/or doubt, we need to sit with our discomfort. Whether our discomfort stems from fear, or failure, or fear of failure, or a sense that we are not achieving what we believe we should, or anger, or grief, or anxiety, or whatever it is that is making us feel uncomfortable, we are told about the value of acceptance, of not trying to dodge the feelings that are harder to process.

That makes sense to me. I know from experience that all the shit I try to bury and avoid comes back to bite me in the end, over and over, until I either deal with it or make peace with what I can’t change. But (you knew there was a but, why else would I be writing this?) you can tell even in the way I wrote that last sentence, that what I value most, what I believe is the only thing that moves us forward, is action. Even acceptance of the things I can’t change is an action, conscious and deliberate and taken in an effort to keep moving forward, however slowly, however clumsily.

While I believe there is value in “sitting with it,” I also believe it’s really, really easy to get stuck there. I think what’s missing from the advice of many people touting the “sit with it” message is that “sitting with it” is just the beginning. Letting yourself feel what you feel without judgment, letting it be big and uncomfortable and scary is the first step toward growth, but to evolve, you will eventually have to take a second step, and a third, and a fourth. They may be the tiniest of baby steps, but they are necessary. That’s how movement works, one step after another.

I feel like I’m stating the obvious, but I keep witnessing people hopelessly stuck and unhappy. They can tell me in excruciating detail why they’re unhappy (which means they’ve sat with it long enough to know), but then they don’t act. I think it’s because action sometimes feels overwhelming. In the midst of our shit – breakups, bad relationships, soul-sucking jobs, no time to be creative or self-loving or present – we think that in order to take action, we need to have a plan and know our destination. But that’s not true. Sometimes, we just need to do something – anything! – even if it seems unrelated. I think sometimes it works the opposite of how we think it should. Instead of making a plan and then taking action, sometimes it works to take action first and let the plan unfold while we’re already in motion.

Let’s say, just hypothetically, that you’re a writer feeling disappointed and stymied by the less than meteoric trajectory of your writing career. What if – and, of course, I’m just making this up now – at the same time that you’re feeling frustrated by your lack of a writing career, your marriage has been stuck in the “worse” category of “for better, for worse,” and your financial situation is bad enough to keep a sane person awake at night. What if – again totally hypothetically – instead of sitting with all that (or after sitting with it and being overwhelmed and confused and sad for a long time) you decided to embark on a Year of Fearless Love. Not because you thought it would fix everything but because if you didn’t do something, you’d crawl right out of your skin.

That act could change your life, set you off in a completely different, zig-zaggy direction than you ever imagined. It wouldn’t be much of a plan really, certainly not an obvious solution to any of the major things wrong with your life, but it would be a step, leading to the next one, and the next one, and all the steps after those. Four and a half years later, you may find yourself bristling a little at the “sit with it” advice, writing a blog post that makes the case for action.

Lately it seems I keep getting into conversations where, ultimately, I don’t make this point because it seems almost subversive to suggest that maybe action, in some cases, is more effective than stillness. I’d love to hear what you think. I know it’s a nuanced topic. I know one answer doesn’t fit all situations or all people, but I’d love to hear about your experiences, when you’ve needed to just sit and be present with your discomfort or unhappiness, and when you’ve known, absolutely, that it was time to move.

~~~~~~~~~~

Quick note to let you know that I’ll be taking June off from my blog. It’ll be a month of planning and learning and working on some projects that I’ve been neglecting. I’ll be goofing off on Facebook though, posting art and silliness on Instagram, and fly-by tweeting on Twitter, so be sure and find me out there if we’re not already friends.

GoneFishing

xo

 

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29 Responses to Taking potshots at sage advice. Sorta.

  1. Leah May 22, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

    Hello beautiful, J. This post resonates with me a lot:) I’ve been stuck and unstuck many times over and I believe it’s good to sit with “it” for a season…listen awhile and then move on. There’s a big difference between sitting “with” it and sitting “in” it. You don’t want to sit in it:)

    • lunajune May 22, 2015 at 5:23 pm #

      well said Leah, you don’t want to ‘sit’ in it

      • Leah May 23, 2015 at 4:42 am #

        Lol! Nope:)

    • j May 23, 2015 at 6:33 am #

      Ha! I agree. Sitting “in it” is worse. : )

      And maybe it’s good sometimes to sit with it for a season. I certainly sat with my not-at-all-hypothetical shit for a season because I couldn’t think which way to step. I think a lot of people feel that way and so they don’t step, but they should. In any direction, toward joy, as June so aptly put it.

      And maybe it’s not the same for everyone. For me, “stuck” is the worse place… worse even than movement in the wrong direction.

  2. lunajune May 22, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

    having been through many life altering things, I have been graced with a job that for over 33 years has always been my solace.
    sitting with it, is what you do while you group ideas, wants, the hows and the whens but eventually you have to move on it, whatever it is. take a step
    and truly I love what you said, even when you are not sure what to do, best to
    do something that can at least give you joy .

    • j May 23, 2015 at 6:39 am #

      From afar, I love your job too. If you have to be momentarily stuck, be stuck where there are animals, right? And yes, exactly, do something that brings you joy, even if it’s unrelated to your big life problems. Sometimes it only seems unrelated to our limited human brains.

  3. dellamaureen May 22, 2015 at 6:45 pm #

    Brilliantly written, as usual. Thank-you.

    • j May 23, 2015 at 6:40 am #

      Thank YOU, Della.

  4. peggi May 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm #

    Now that i’m old and wise and the first to give “sage advice”, i “sit with it” for about 5 seconds then take action. Normally it is not an action that has anything to do with what i was sitting with but by taking action i’m moving on to see what comes next… running away? Perhaps. But i think not. Taking action seems to get me to a place where i come back to what i was sitting with and, usually, a plan of action to take care of, or move on from, that which was. And you, my darling, wonderful, beautiful lady have it all in hand and sorted – one of the things i love about you <3

    • j May 23, 2015 at 6:46 am #

      Yes, Peggi, on the scale of “sit with it” to “run away,” I guess I lean toward run too. Of course either extreme isn’t ideal – the person who is utterly stuck and the person who is so busy taking action, she never actually learns or heals. I totally agree with you that I’m much more likely to get to the place where I can fix what’s wrong (or accept what I can’t fix) if I’m moving. Amazing how many insights can come to someone who is exercising, or cleaning, or gardening, or making stuff… or loving fearlessly for a year. ; )
      xo

  5. Lucy Pollard-Gott May 22, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

    What you’ve written, J, makes absolute sense to me. And it is clearly genuine wisdom, hard won over time, from learning to balance reflection and action. Thank you for speaking up about this! I especially appreciated what you said about taking one step, and then another. There’s room for plenty of course correction as we go along.

    • j May 23, 2015 at 6:50 am #

      Excellent point, Lucy. I wish I’d written that in the post. I think sometimes we get confused and imagine that our decisions are carved in stone, or that our course, once started, is unalterable. I can say that lesson is one I’ve learned really, really well over the last four and a half years: course correction is king. : )

  6. Clare Flourish May 23, 2015 at 1:04 am #

    I am traumatised, repeatedly, and I have needed to retreat for two years to my living room, where I watch recorded TV, read a bit, walk a bit, occasionally see a friend in a coffee-shop…

    and have only just accepted this, from a state of half of me furiously kicking the other half in the kidneys shouting Get up Get up DO SOMETHING!!! to when the voice saying do something is merely a querulous irritant, though I fear my future

    and am in a state of slow unwinding, with glorious moments. On Monday 4 May (It was still 3 May in California) I had a sense of the love of God and the beauty of this creature, this process, and it seems now that this was a blessing I will never wholly lose

    and I was in London yesterday. I told my psychotherapist I want to fear less, and now it seems I want to fear More, to luxuriate in it, to let it effervesce in me

    at the back of my mind is the thought that I might then indeed “do something”

    I have no idea what, but that seems not to matter so much…

    so, yeah. Wisdom-bollocks. “Sit with it”? Really? How does anyone look in a one-size-for-all wedding dress?

    • j May 23, 2015 at 6:59 am #

      Beautifully said, Clare. Reading your comment made me think of Leah’s idea that sometimes you have to “sit with it” for a season (whatever “a season” means for you). Trauma, grief, illness… these are the big, tricky things that I think you are especially right about – we all have to fashion our own wedding dress. I love your point that sometimes sitting with it, in fear and more fear, is the very thing that leads to the action I’m talking about. And also, that shift in you, from “I want to fear less” to “I want to fear more,” kind of sounds like a step to me, in that way that decisions, clearly defined or nebulous and uncertain, so often are.

  7. Joy Montgomery May 23, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

    Always opt for action.

    • j May 24, 2015 at 8:30 am #

      Well, I hesitate to say what’s right for me is right for everyone, but I’m with you a thousand percent, Joy.

  8. Patti May 24, 2015 at 4:15 am #

    I try to sit with my feelings but I don’t see that meaning the same thing as inaction. I may not embrace painful feelings but I try not to push them away.

    • j May 24, 2015 at 8:50 am #

      Good point, Patti. I guess a conscious decision to sit with your feelings is an action. I just see so many people sitting with their feelings for so long, all the while expressing their unhappiness. It makes me think that “sitting with it” isn’t helping, so maybe a different course of action will, but I’m on the outside looking in in those cases, so maybe there’s more going on than I realize. Probably, in fact.

      In the same way that sitting with it isn’t the same thing as inaction, I think doing something isn’t necessarily the same thing as pushing uncomfortable feelings away. It can be (and sometimes, for me, it no doubt it is), but it can also stem from a genuine desire to change what can be changed.

      Here’s a very frivolous example (because they’re often universally applicable). Recently, I posted some art and didn’t get much feedback. I felt vulnerable and exposed, and did that thing where I doubt if I’m good enough to be on the path that I’m on. Then, after an hour or so of that, I went online and started interacting with the community, actively loving my friends and their work. It didn’t change the status of my own posting, but it did make me feel better, connected, loved. What I was upset about couldn’t be changed by me (damn Facebook and its preventing me from liking my own posts under assumed names one billion times), so I took unrelated action and I felt better, went on to make more art another day.

      For me, I think that worked better than sitting with my vulnerability, but I do think this is highly personal. Someone else might have been better sitting with it until they gained an understanding and maybe even moved past the tendency to put such stock in the opinions of others. (Which I think I’m doing too, one baby step at a time.) ; )

      • Patti May 24, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

        Sorry, perhaps I did not express myself very well. I am in favor of doing what feels like the best next step. I almost always feel vulnerable & exposed and want to hide in my closet but I know that won’t be helpful. When my job was eliminated, I could barely sleep because I was so anxious. I found a place I could walk indoors during the worst of winter & found a home church. Not really job hunting activities but feel like they are positive actions. I also think I do better if I try to allow the anxiety flow over me than to fight it. (I feel like we all could use a hug,)

        • j May 24, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

          Oh! I love that idea, that the two things aren’t even necessarily mutually exclusive. You can sit with the anxiety (or whatever), letting it flow, while at the same time taking action. I think that’s the healthiest thought so far!

          Also, HUG. Because, I think you’re right. We all could use a hug. Or two. Or a hundred.

          xo

          p.s. Loving this comment thread to pieces.

  9. Pam May 24, 2015 at 6:06 am #

    If the problem is at least partly that you’re stuck (not that I know this from experience–ahem–) sitting with it needs to be just a way station, or it might become a way of life.

    I firmly believe that we get obsessed with trying to figure out the thing (or things) that will solve all the problems that we see, when it’s mostly best to try something in one area. If it doesn’t work as planned, maybe that’s ok, or maybe you try something else. I think we have to restore our confidence in taking steps.

    Have a fun June!

    • j May 24, 2015 at 8:53 am #

      “I think we have to restore our confidence in taking steps.” Yes! I think so too. I think, right now, the emphasis is so much on being still and feeling the uncomfortable feelings that we forget the value of movement – baby steps out of the stuck place. (Or, you know, leaps if you’re inclined toward leaping.)

  10. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) May 26, 2015 at 5:11 am #

    Lovely and so thoughtful! Yes, I think I agree with you. I’m a big advocate of “being” — of fully feeling all of those negative, less-desirable things — but I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it as “sitting with it.” To me, I think it’s about comfort. If an emotion makes me uncomfortable, I seek it out, grab it by the tail, and (yeah, I guess) “sit with it.” But the key is that I only sit with it until I’m comfortable again, until I’ve accepted and embraced and allowed the emotion enough to not be running from it anymore… and then I move on to more, new, and often also uncomfortable things. Comfort is great, but discomfort is more often how we grow. So yes, I think I’m in the same camp as you. Face things, but don’t get mired by them. Wonderful post, j.

    • j May 28, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

      Yes, I think we agree too, Annie. “Face things, but don’t get mired” summarizes this whole post. I sometimes act before I’m comfortable again, because I think acting is what will make me stop feeling so uncomfortable, but I do sit with it long enough (usually) to understand where my discomfort comes from, and that’s essential. I think sometimes people get stuck in the “sitting with it phase” thinking they can’t move until they’ve figured out a solution, which leads to feeling stuck in my experience.

  11. Nina Badzin June 1, 2015 at 2:21 am #

    I’m an action girl. Not so much “fix” as “do” as you so aptly described.

    • j June 1, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

      Yes, absolutely. Me too, Nina. On this, I think it’s kind of hard to change your stripes (or to even want to).

  12. Diann June 29, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    I truly LOVE this post, and I swear it’s exactly what I needed to read right now.

    Meditating itself or analogous activities have their place or at least may hold an appeal at certain times for certain people, but as you say, it’s simply far too easy to sit in what ends up the ‘watching and analyzing’ place, which can quickly become the ‘stuck place.” The truth is there’s often not a global/replicable lesson per se from many events, small or big. A lot of times things just happen. Wrong place wrong time, people changed, whatever. And the whole concept of sitting with it/figuring it out doesn’t really apply as well as trying something different or trying again.

    I recently read two things that touch on this: One was that women are more prone to depression partly b/c they tend to get stuck in analysis paralysis, and another was an article about what women can learn from the way men submit (their fiction/poetry/etc). Basically, the author said that (generally speaking) men will get right back on it and re-submit if they hear a “that was great, but not quite right” and women will either wait like a year, or never re-submit. In other words, the people who submitted again and quickly basically hear “that was great,” while the let it go people heard the “not quite right”…and subsequently probably spent lots of time analyzing what they did wrong. Which of those groups has the better chance of being published??

    Anyway, I will have to go back visit your year of fearlessness!

    • j July 3, 2015 at 7:47 am #

      Holy cow, Diann, I love this reply. First, I totally agree with you that sometimes shit just happens and there is little benefit to be had from analyzing it. I suspect, even in those situations, there may be a benefit in taking time to understand one’s own reaction to said shit, but analysis paralysis is real. I even suspect that some people get stuck in the analyzing place because, as uncomfortable as it is, it’s more comfortable (or at least less scary) than movement. Makes me think of the quote that may or may not be Anais Nin’s about the risk of remaining tight in a bud being greater than the risk of blossoming. I definitely hit that point just before I launched the Fearless Love project.

      I hadn’t heard that statistic about men versus women submitting. I am guilty, big time. I spent four years writing a novel that I still believe in, submitted it to about 8 agents, received four rejections, and all of that happened five years ago. Perhaps my skin is thicker now and I should reconsider my decision to give up on that dream. : )

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