When all your “stuff” is up and you need to keep going anyway

Feel like you’re being tested? Maybe you’re backtracking in something you thought you had healed or grown from. Or perhaps you’re moving forward, but trudging through deep mud to get there. When all your “stuff” is up, and you have responsibilities you can’t just drop, well… first thing I want to say is you’re in good company. Sometimes those in helping or leadership roles feel a pressure to have it together super consistently, in pretty much all areas of life. Let’s throw that trash into the recycling bin and start with the premise that:

It’s OK to be in the middle of a process and not at the end of it.

Last fall, my daughter and I stumbled into a huge gathering of turkey vultures, but one of those birds was not like the others. A ranger later told us it was called the crested caracara, otherwise known as the Mexican eagle. This fascinating winged one looks like a hawk, flies like an eagle, and acts and eats much like a vulture. This kind of versatility is certainly called for these days.

From the Hawk

It’s good to keep a keen eye on one’s prey, focusing only on the priority of this particular moment. Tuning in acutely to what is needed here and now brings the relief of one-pointed attention. Over time, it also becomes the perseverance we need in action.

From the Eagle

Sometimes soaring above it all provides a better view. A little mental distance brings much needed perspective. We are just bitty things on this vast earth after all. The bigger pattern can’t be seen from our little corners of it. Also, let’s be real about our world context here. Is it not hubris to think we should be able to surf every rushing wave while watching others be pulled under the current? Like Krishnamurti said, “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” 

Now wait, hold up! Isn’t it paradoxical, saying we need to keep a wide view and also a narrow one? Yes. I can’t think of a better time to embrace complexity, adapting as we go.

And from the Vulture

It’s important to digest the losses we’ve incurred, and find some kind of nourishment in doing so together. These losses continue to accumulate relentlessly, yet the soul food of grief is assimilated slowly, piece by piece, moment by moment. With our wingmates nearer, we may find more resources in sharing. 

I learned that the crested caracara, though a falcon, often walks on the ground and even collects material to build a nest. Bringing this all down to earth, it’s easy to spout wise words, not as easy to live them on a daily basis. This is especially true if you’re used to being the one supporting others, not needing support yourself. Yet all beings have something to offer, and all have blindspots and vulnerabilities too. If you’re faltering, please tell the truth to yourself about this, ask out loud for help, and be willing to receive it. Support may or may not come from the sources you expect it from, but a nest can be made from all sorts of material that shows up. May we make good use of what we find and create safe spaces to care for all the young, dear parts of ourselves that still need some holding. 

With love and respect for the unique creature you are,

Julia Aziz

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**Crested caracara image by Denis Doukhan at Pixabay

When you’re giving out more than is coming in

Have you ever heard a fox cry? A week or so ago, I was in the hill country and heard what sounded like a child screaming, “Help!” in the night. It was a little disconcerting until we realized it was a fox. My friend and I responded by sounding out a similar cry. The more we called back, the closer the fox seemed to approach us. She came near but never all the way to where we stood. We continued to stay in conversation for a while though, until she moved on.

If this fox actually was crying for help, the help she needed was not for someone to go and rescue her. She seemed to find her own way eventually. Maybe she just needed to be heard, to know someone else was out there crying too. I feel a similar dynamic evolving in this next phase of the pandemic together. In the old paradigm, there were damsels in distress and rescuers. There were people in need and people who helped. This dichotomy was always false though. We carry both of these archetypes within us; we are each vulnerable and strong. Pretending there are some who have it all together and others who only fall apart has led to situations like the current mental health crisis for therapists and real burnout for healthcare professionals in general. 

These are intense times, so if you’re not always doing so well, that seems about right to me. We’re not meant to feel always cozy and well in a sick and troubled society. We are meant to be uncomfortable as much as we are meant to be brave. Who says we have to be stoic about any of it? One of my favorite memories of last year was when I stepped outside one morning in Colorado and heard my dear friend and neighbor screaming at the top of her lungs on her front porch. I immediately responded with a loud roar of my own. We laughed about it when we saw each other later, but in the moment it just felt good to be in our own messiness and know we were not alone.

Being heard feels risky, I know. As a therapist, I’ve been well-trained to not show too much of myself, good or bad. Helping professionals are taught to be clear mirrors for others. We’re not supposed to fog up those mirrors with our own personhood. We hold space for other people, not take up space ourselves. I don’t buy it as a way to live a whole life though. I can express what’s within me in contexts I feel safe in, and also show up with presence, compassion, and my full attention for someone else. We all have gifts, and we all have burdens. There is room in this world for the humanity in us all. I’d like to shed all pretenses of “helpers” and “helped” and instead sing out loud with you the music that arises from our dashed dreams, our triumphs, our sorrows, and most of all, our love.  

When we cry out like the fox and hear another’s cry too, it’s not just about venting. It’s about remembering: this life on earth didn’t come with a promise of feeling happy most of the time or everything working out a certain way. You’re not failing at that game. This life is an adventure of growth and change, an opportunity to feel and experience everything. Our stories are heroic tales of resilience. You’re here, and you’re doing it. We all are! 

Please share your voice, and know I am rooting for you. 

With love,

Julia Aziz

PS: If you are helping other beings through this pandemic, and you feel like more is going out than coming in for you, please check out the women’s Release & Empower Group. We have a few spaces open this month, with either month-to-month subscriptions or a nice discount if you make a three-month commitment to yourself. Also new, 10% of the group’s profits are being donated to grassroots community healing work led by BIPOC women. Current recipients include SanArte Healing & Cultura Clinic and Black Women’s Health Imperative. Help others and help yourself too. 

“I feel so much permission to just be however I am in this group. The journaling, the movement, the breathing, the sharing–it’s all what I’ve been needing to do more of for myself and now I feel like I’m making room for it again. I feel so thankful for the women here, and know that as I am going through some changes in my life, this is just where I need to be.”