You put in the work. You practice. You engage in the daily rituals of showing up to life, creating space to learn, to grow, to be, to create. You see your progress.
And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, it seems to evaporate.
Our body clenches. We react to the trigger with an old habitual response. It’s as if we haven’t done any of the work.
Like a stock market crash for our life skills and spirituality, one event, one trigger can resurfaces an old pain, fear, or doubt.
All of that progress, seemingly gone in a moment.
How We Run From Our Experience
We may lash out, or seek to numb the pain and doubts, or escape through any of our escape mechanisms: food, alcohol, drugs, work, books, television, hibernation, busy-ness, social media.
At some point, we go off in search of solutions and answers from experts and healers and anyone who can tell us how to fix the problem, heal the pain, or get “back on track.” Maybe we even find those experts in our escape.
Scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, it’s easy, in those moments of doubt, to feel that everyone else has their shit together.
You may start to wonder:
What’s the secret that they know that I don’t know? How is this so easy for everyone else? Maybe I’m not spiritual enough. Maybe I don’t have that capacity for growth that I see in others.
That leads to the inevitable: What’s wrong with me?
We can be so quick to turn on ourselves. That’s the second arrow. Self-judgment. Self-shaming. Self-blaming.
Hold your fire. This is part of being human.
No matter how evolved, awakened, or full of expertise we think we are, sometimes (if we’re honest) we still find ourselves trying not to have the experience we’re actually having, racing toward a different moment, a better moment, a more “spiritual” moment.
Regression and Progress
This is part of the process of growth, creativity, personal development, and spiritual enlightenment. It is endemic to the pursuit of any endeavor, whether building a business or relationship or mastering a skill. In the process of progress in any realm of life, it is inevitable that we will have moments where we feel that we have regressed.
If we had only one moment of regression, we would be lucky. More likely, we feel these moments of regression often. Perhaps daily. Maybe more than once a day.
Sometimes, in the midst of trying to find the solution, I remember a higher truth:
Maybe this is just part of the path. Maybe this stretch of the journey is supposed to look this way.
The feeling of regression is part of progress, not a detour from the path.
What We Accept in Nature
Somehow, we seem content to accept this as the path in nature. When the leaves fall off the trees each fall, we don’t think that nature has regressed. We view it as part of the process. When the clouds obscure the sun for days at a time, we don’t go looking for a way to move them. We trust that, in their own time, they will clear away and we will once again feel the warmth of the sun.
If only we were so accepting of these moments in our own lives. Clouds come and obscure our light. Our leaves scatter on the ground.
And we are human. I feel so wise when I remember this basic fact.
The Habit of Escape
We spend a life time being conditioned to hear the voice of fear and doubt. It takes a lot of consistent effort to rewire the circuits of our internal operating system. Is it really reasonable to expect that a particular sticking point will resolve after we tackle an issue once, or twice, or even five times?
Fear and doubt are forms of pain. The desire to escape pain is natural. We have well-conditioned habits that enable us to escape, and a cultural system that supports and encourages our escape.
It’s hard to break the habit of escape. Especially when the deck is stacked in favor of escaping.
Seeking the Spiritual Moment
As I read Foster’s essay, and the line about seeking the “spiritual moment,” I had a thought: what if this pain is the “spiritual moment”?
What if the fear and doubt were not regression, but a portal to the next stage of progress?
What if the scramble for the external solution always precedes the remembrance that the answers lie within?
And what if this were all by design?
Pain is simply a message that something needs attention, care, and love. What if we viewed it through that lens, as an invitation to investigate, with curiosity?
The option to escape is always available. So is the option to stay.
- Foster, Jeff. “Held, Not Healed. The Joy of Beginning Again,” as published in The Self-Acceptance Project: How to Be Kind and Compassionate to Yourself in Any Situation, Edited by Tami Simon, 2016, Sounds True. ↩