For most of my life, I was a pusher. Whatever the challenge, I could push my way through. Emotional, physical, professional. It didn’t matter. The name of my game was “just get it done.” Worry about the consequences later. Sound familiar?
And then, four years ago, in less than the time it takes you to read this post, everything changed. Driving on the freeway. Construction zone. Traffic stopped. The guy behind me didn’t. The damage to my car was easily fixed. The damage to my brain, not so much.
In that instant my life turned inside out and upside down. Nothing remained the same. Well, almost nothing. Thankfully, the accident didn’t affect my heart, my soul, and my commitment to grow through, and beyond, whatever curveballs life throws my way.
But I’d never seen this pitch before. It didn’t respond to my pushing. In fact, pushing was the very worst thing I could do. Brains are tricky that way. First, they take way, way longer to heal than any other organ. Second, every brain is unique in how it responds to injury and how, when or even if, it heals. What works for one person, doesn’t’ necessarily work for another. In this sense medical advice has something in common with microwave instructions: your experience may vary.
My challenge was learning how to live within my new limits, rather than in spite of them. And, as anyone living with chronic pain or illness knows all too well, this is a hard lesson to learn.
In the beginning, I was a very reluctant student. I fell back on my default mode. I kept pushing, kept doing, kept paying the price – more and more days in quiet isolation. It felt like prison.
Before my accident, I knew when I was overdoing it and could make a conscious choice to stop or keep going. Not any more. Now I never knew if I’d done too much, until I’d done too much. It drove me crazy.
Complaining to my sister one day about this sorry state of affairs, she spoke the words that prompted my life-saving AHA. “Maybe you need to stop doing and just be.”
Now there’s a novel concept! Be a human being rather than a human doing. Right. Hard as it was to admit, in my heart I knew she was right. I also knew that something had to give, something had to change. How could I ask others to help me cope, if I didn’t start helping myself?
It was time to practice what I teach – to figure out what wasn’t working and start the change process by changing my thinking. And if I was going to change my thinking, I certainly had to change how I talked about my life.
Physical limitations suck. Over the years, I’d learned to live with quite a few. None of them stopped me in my tracks the way this head injury did. While there wasn’t anything I could do to fix my head, I knew I could change my relationship with it. Accept the inevitable pain but not the optional suffering. As I sat with this realization, I began to understand that if I wanted to limit my suffering, I had to start respecting my brain’s limits. I had to learn how to honor the slowest part.
Sometimes our slowest part is a physical limitation, other times it’s an emotional or spiritual one. Whatever it is, Karen Druker and Robyn Posin remind us in Karen’s song Gentle with Myself that: “I can only go as fast as the slowest part of me feels safe to go.”
My brain was my slowest part and it had only one safe speed. Slow. Deliberate. Single-focused. It needed me to stop complaining and slow down. To hold my self with compassion as I learned to live my life in first gear. And guess what? It worked! As I slowed down, I started discovering new ways to live with my limits. I started to create the life I wanted with the life I had. And look where that choice has led me! SO COOL!
Honoring our slowest part is really about setting – and respecting! –our own limits. It’s about creating personal boundaries. Boundaries that honor who we are and what we can honestly manage. In a culture that seems to worship busy-ness, respecting our own boundaries is a radical act of self-love. Yes, there are times when life demands that we empty our tank and use up all our reserves. The trick is to make this a CHOICE rather than a default. And if we choose to push (which of course we will have to do), then to also choose to take extra special care of ourselves until our tanks and reserves are once again full.
Believe me, I understand that this is much easier said than done. I also know from experience that it’s often easier to act like I don’t have a choice. To blame other people or the demands of my “calendar” rather than assume responsibility for my own choices.
Here’s what I know for sure: we always have a choice about how we respond to life. Always. Doing nothing is as much a choice as doing something. So my goal is to stay as conscious as I can of the choices I am making. And when I mess up, which I know I will do, to be as compassionate with myself as I would be with my best friend.
Remember, life is about PRACTICE NOT PERFECTION. The invitation to honor your slowest part is not an invitation to beat yourself up when you over-extend. It is an invitation to become intimately familiar with the often subtle messages your heart and body send when you are at risk of overdoing. An invitation to cut yourself some slack and accept that you cannot do everything you want to do without paying a price. An invitation TO CHOOSE to give yourself the same kind of care and attention that you give to others. To become your own best friend.
Ahhhhh, imagine that…being your own best friend. Just for a moment, allow yourself the luxury of sinking into what that would FEEL like. What would it be like to take care of your self the way you take care of everyone else? If this feels like too much, just lean into the possibility of honoring your needs a little bit more tomorrow than you do today.
And then, breathe, center yourself and ask:
“What is MY slowest part?”
When the answer arises, resist the temptation to judge it or explain it or blame someone or something for it. Instead, just hold your answer gently in your heart. And then ask:
What one thing can I do to honor my slowest part?
This is not a test or a competition. It is an inquiry. Maybe all you can do right now is ACCEPT that you have a slowest part. Maybe you’ve known for awhile that something needs to change. Wherever you are, start there. The journey of 10,000 miles begins with just one step. Know that you are not alone. All of us have slow parts. All of us are learning how to live with them. One step at a time.
Community sharing and support help everyone. They help us step out of the shame and into the light of self-love. They help us fall down AND get up again. This is what we can do for each other. It’s why I say that healing one helps heal all. So please, start where you are and share your stories with us here.