Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Rising Above

“You don't have to stop working --- you just have to work differently.”

This is the advice I gave a client whose painful, chronic health condition had forced her to cut back on her work, derailing her dreams, and fueling feelings of sadness and anger.

More and more people who come to me to help them deal with pain and stress are struggling with the same situation. With histories often highlighted by high-stress careers or as self-sacrificing caretakers of the needs of others, the ability to maintain these activities, which they had taken for granted for years, has been compromised by a decline in physical health. Gradually for some, suddenly for others, their world has unraveled, and their sense of personal identity and purpose are challenged. Unable to do what they have always done, to work in the way they have always worked, to be seemingly out of control of their bodies, breeds questions like, “If I am not this high-powered executive, then who am I?”, or “Who will take care of my mother/father/spouse/child if I can't?” Big questions, whose answers usually cause fear, despair and suffering.

And yet. No matter the cause of the condition, being forced to stop brings bittersweet gifts. I am not suggesting that physical pain and illness feels like the best present you ever opened on your birthday. But in the shutting down of an old way of being, there is a slice in time where you can look deeply into the crevasses of the past to discover silenced sobs, oozing emotional wounds buried in your core, situations where paths leading to self-care and self-esteem were not chosen. Sometimes it is necessary to go back into the darker corners of your history in order to move out of suffering, and sometimes, for some people, it is not. What is required is relinquishing old patterns,and surrendering to what is happening now, which creates the shift to a different perspective, a different way of framing one's life, and new opportunities. This inner work can be guided and facilitated by a friend, coach, pastor, and of course, by your own inner guide star, provided you are willing to look and listen to the truth of your life.

Existing across many cultures, the archetype of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, speaks to those of us whose lives have been altered or seemingly destroyed by health catastrophes. I believe this story is meant to inspire by showing us that re-creation is inevitable. We will fly again, perhaps in a different guise, with a different self-concept, but with strong wings and a braver heart.

As for my client, she is working again, having transformed her life and her work into something that uses her prior experience in a new and different way, a way that honors her body and enriches her spirit like never before in her life.

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