What are you feeling right now? Name it. Name them all–there are probably more than one or two.
A feeling is any word or phrase that can come after the words “I feel” without needing the words “like” or “that” to make it fit. I feel scared, I feel horrified, I feel jealous, I feel hopeful, I feel alone.
Imagine yourself sitting comfortably in a cozy room. Picture whatever makes a space feel safe and accessible to you. Maybe you’re on a beanbag chair, up against the back wall, and on the other side of the room from you is a door.
Imagine that each of the emotions you’re naming is walking through that door and sitting down in the room with you. They’re not coming to fight you, debate you, or do anything other than sit with you, but they all have something to say.
In comes fear. He sits at the edge of a chair, twitchy, looking around.
Now sadness enters. They find a pillow on the floor, off to the side of the room, and curl up on it, their gaze inward.
Anger bursts in and slams the door, startling herself and everyone else. She flops onto the couch and crosses her arms.
Then hope walks in, the youngest and smallest of anyone in the room thus far. They pause, unsure of their place, and take stock of the others. They start to walk over to sadness, but turn and sit on the couch with anger instead.
You might think that’s everyone, but then grief shows up, old and wizened. Unlike hope, he knows exactly where to go. He sits with sadness and wraps his arms around them with an unexpected strength.
What do yours look like? Where do they sit, and how do they show up here? Does anyone else join them?
If you’d like, you can ask any of them why they’ve come to sit with you. What do they tell you?
Imagine things go to shit. Really, really go to shit. Let your mind go there. What would you miss most? What do you see yourself one day telling the young people in your life about, wishing they could experience it for themselves?
When you let sadness, fear, grief, and anger speak, what do they have to tell you about this?
I always imagine I would miss trees. I think about trying to explain trees to someone who’s never seen them.
Once you’ve named some of the things you would miss most, ask yourself how you might connect with those things more than you currently do. Maybe some of those things are actually people, or experiences. You might notice an urge to cut yourself off from these life-giving things to “prepare” yourself for life without them, or to avoid the anticipatory grief that might come up if you engage with them. But the way to prepare for a famine is to store nourishing food now, and the way to face loss is to move through it, not away from it.
Now imagine things turn out okay. Maybe good, maybe just okay. If that happens, what would you regret about how you spent this time? Would you wish you spent more time outdoors, off your phone, writing to loved ones, saving whatever money you could, or maybe spending more of it to let yourself enjoy things a little more? Would you be kicking yourself for not at least trying to find a new job or find a way to go back to school?
Of course, “things turn out okay” is not an event clearly marked in a calendar. It could be a series of slow realizations, too. Things could turn out okay tonight or this week, early next year, in four years, in ten.
What would “okay” or “good” look like for you? What would you want to start putting in place now in case it happens?
You don’t have to strongly believe that things will turn out okay in order to accept the possibility that they might, and to make a gift to that possible future you right now.
Take a moment to think about acceptance. I don’t mean, “Accept that this is how it is and always will be,” or “Accept the things you cannot change.” Acceptance means seeing things as they are right now instead of struggling to see them as something else.
If things are shit, then acceptance means acknowledging that they’re shit rather than immediately trying to reframe them positively. But also, if there are some truly positive things going on at the same time, acceptance means seeing those things for what they are rather than trying to lump them in with all the shit.
What is true right now about how you feel and about how the world is? See if you can make a list of true things without immediately putting them in either the “shit” column or the “not-shit” column. What are you doing in your life right now that doesn’t fit with this reality? Those actions probably aren’t serving you.
Imagine that thousands or millions of years pass, and an archeologist of the future–maybe human, maybe not–finds the relics you left behind. Maybe they find a way to read your Twitter or Facebook posts, or the content in your journaling or mood tracker app, or your actual paper journal if you have one. Or maybe your smart speaker really is recording all the conversations you have with your partner, your roommates, your children, yourself (creepy, I know) and someone eventually finds those recordings.
What would you want that archeologist of the future to conclude about you? How would you want them to think that you lived, what would you want them to think that you believed? I don’t mean to say that you should care about seeming shallow or foolish–you and everyone you’ve ever known and will ever know will be long gone, so social status won’t exactly matter. But what might matter to you now is the legacy you leave behind.
When you think about what you say and write and do today, does it reflect how you see yourself? If future anthropology students read the words you left behind, what will they learn about you, and how accurate will it be?
That was entirely hypothetical, but this isn’t:
How do you want to show up in this moment? You didn’t choose these circumstances; you didn’t choose much of what’s happened in your life thus far. Whatever you did get to choose, well, you already chose, and here you are. How does the type of person you are meet the type of situation this is?
If you see yourself as a healer, how–and whom–can you heal right now? If you’re a leader, how will you lead? If empathy is your strength, how do you practice it, and how do you keep that gift from getting twisted into something that hurts you? If you’re the type of person who makes things with your hands, what will you make? If your role as a parent is central to you right now, how are you parenting?
These values are actions that are available to you in any moment, no matter how shitty that moment is. In fact, many of them become even more significant during shitty times. That’s when people tend to need healing, leadership, empathy, resources.
You’ve worked on accepting that you are in the moment you’re in. Given that this is the case, for now, what will you do?
You don’t have everything you need to be able to fully show up in those ways.
No matter who you are, that’s almost certainly true, unfortunately. But what do you have? What are the ingredients for the recipe that only you can craft right now? Take stock of what you have and what’s still missing.
Maybe you have way more time than you need, but not enough physical energy. Maybe you have enough social support, but absolutely no money to spare. Maybe you have a bit of everything, but not quite enough of anything.
What can you do with what you have? What can you substitute?
One time I baked cookies but realized I had no baking powder. I did have baking soda, as well as something I thought I had no use for and was about to throw away–milk that had gone sour. As it turned out, the sour milk and the baking soda together replaced the baking powder. The acidity of the milk combined with the baking soda produced the same effect. Sometimes it works that way in other realms of our lives, too.
Maybe if you have too much time and not enough energy, you can do what you want to do, but slower. Maybe your social support system can help get you the things you would’ve otherwise had to pay money for, money you don’t have. Maybe you can use your bit of everything to complete your recipe on a smaller scale than you intended, and that can be okay.
Or maybe there are still ways to find some of what’s missing. Make a list of the missing ingredients, and for each one, think of as many silly, weird, or inventive ways to obtain it as you can. You’re probably not going to realistically do those specific things, but the brainstorm is just flexibility training for your mind. A more doable strategy might come to you if you stretch your brain regularly.
By the way, which emotions are sitting in the room with you now? Let yourself wonder what they have to say.