Finding The Gift In Your Experience

I consider myself a Spiritual Career Coach.  What that means to me is constantly evolving but if I were asked to describe it today, I would say that my coaching is based on these beliefs: 

  1. My work is part of my spiritual practice.  Being in deep presence with my clients is healing for them and me and we are constantly learning from each other. 
  2. No one needs fixing.  Truly transformative personal work is not about changing who you are; it is a process of loosening the grip of beliefs and habits that have obscured the real you.
  3. Each one of us has access to the intuition we need to expand and grow.  The paradox is that this highly personal work can often only take place when witnessed and supported by someone else. 
  4. Holding space for people to be seen in their wholeness - the aspects they love about themselves and those they don’t yet - is the privilege of my work.
  5. I see the world as an ally.  I believe that the people and experiences that come into our lives are invitations to become more conscious.

The last belief - that there is a beneficial lesson in everything that happens to us - has been a significant focus for me this month.  It’s easy to feel grateful for a table full of food on a November holiday.  After celebrating our abundance, we quickly fall back into the habits of resenting our commute and feeling like the victim of a conflict at work.  One way to extend the feeling of thankfulness and open ourselves to more growth and heart-opening is to look for the gifts in less obvious places.

Do you ever notice the same patterns popping up again and again?  When I notice that I have gotten stuck on the same issue in my friendships or keep working with the same kind of triggering people, there is usually a lesson I have yet to learn.  Once I understand the belief or habit that gets me stuck, the pattern stops happening or it changes and pulls me in for a deeper lesson.  When this happens, my friends and I like to joke, "I thought I learned this already!"  For most people, there is some core work - a theme that they learn from their entire lives.

It’s often uncomfortable to look for the gift in the moments that challenge us.  There is a pattern that I have been struggling with most of my life that feels like a clear example.  I detest getting sick.  I don't know many people who enjoy feeling unwell but I do know that I make it much worse for myself by taking it personally.  I go into full victim mode.  "Why does this always happen TO ME?  This is so inconvenient!  I have so many things to do this week!  I don't want to feel like this!"  Obnoxious, right?  

My training in mindfulness guides me to notice and name my sensations without judgment. "My head feels hot.  That is uncomfortable.”  I notice how the sensations change from moment to moment and that my emotions are sending me different information.  “I’m experiencing frustration and resistance.”  I remind myself that pain is inevitable and suffering is optional.  While these tools help me stay more grounded and remind me that I won’t be sick indefinitely, I still feel stuck.  My Inner Critic (that pest again!) jumps in to blame me for being stuck in the same loop.  It assures me that other people don’t do this and so it’s absurd that I do.  That’s not helpful, IC.

What helps me shift is getting curious.  “I wonder what the gift is here.”  If I ask myself enough times or dig deeper by asking why something is beneficial, I often have insights like these:

  • Being sick as often as I am helps me sit with discomfort.  It has taught me to hold space for others in their pain.  Without realizing it, I used this experience when I volunteered at a hospice, when I gave birth to my children, when a friend or client suffered.  Being sick has made me resilient and compassionate.
  • Being sick is always a message from my body.  I have a pattern of working too hard and burning out.  One of my earliest memories of this was in third grade.  When I’m more attuned to my body and what she needs, I can respond earlier by resting and focusing on self-care.  The gift is that I’m learning a new way to work and relate to my body and my needs.
  • Being sick has helped me recognize the victim voice in me and ask what she really wants.  When that persona - the Poor Little Sick Girl - is activated, I know that she wants attention and care and affection.  When I recognize her, I now ask for more touch or a deeper conversation about what is stressing me out.  

After appreciating these insights, I can easily get hooked back in my pattern by judging them.  If the lessons are so simple, why do I need to get sick in the first place?  I shift by trusting the gift.  I can know something rationally and still not make a change.  However, when my full focus is pulled to an experience, like feeling unwell and needing to cancel appointments, I know there is something valuable to be discovered.  When I think about the intelligence of the ways these lessons unfold, I am flooded with gratitude.