Stand Still in the Standstill
We sat facing each other in a not-so-busy salad spot. When it was my turn to share, self-professed external processor extraordinaire that I am, I blurted out all the questions and the doubts and the anxiety I'd been feeling. My friend, ever-patient and thoughtful, listened. When I finally took a long breath, she reminded me not to diminish the realities I have been facing, then shared how I'd just expressed what she was feeling in her own process. We laughed. She's as internal as I am external and I genuinely had no idea that her current experience was so closely relating to mine. I wasn't happy with the reality that she was struggling, too, but I sure felt thankful to know I wasn't alone.
We went on to talk about the challenge to stay the course when faced with the ongoing uncertainties existing within this life in the in-between. She shared how she had recently been wondering what it meant to keep going when she didn't know that she could. I nodded profusely. Who wants to go back, right? But, how does one go forward when you feel like you don't know that you can? Then she offered this powerful realization she had recently:
"What if you just stand still?"
We both teared up. Wow. What IF you just stand still?
Standing still might seem terrible. I mean, aren't we supposed to make progress? After all:
Fake it till you make it.
Don't give up.
At least these are the things I heard when I thought about making an intentional choice to simply stand still. And, there's merit to these thoughts. Sometimes, continuing to move forward through the challenges is the right course.
For instance, when she and I were standing in line to order lunch, I told her how I'm so not into eating salad or any green thing resembling salad right now. (And, I LOVE salad... I really do...) But, sometimes you eat the salad because you know your appetite will eventually catch up with what's good for you when you keep choosing it. When, like me, you're eating all of the sugar in sight (Jessica Bott Stress Behavior 101), there are times when you pull out a big leafy piece of kale from the fridge, wash it and eat it whole; or maybe you suggest that you and your friend meet to have lunch at the salad place, because that's what's good for you even though you don't want it. So, there's that...
But what if you're really at a standstill? What if you don't know that you can keep going, but you KNOW that you really don't want to go back from the place you've just left (or are leaving)? (...even if it would be so much easier just to go back and even if you really could go back.)
Standing still in the in-between place isn't a declaration of failure. It's like a little pause. From this vantage point, we can swivel our gaze back in the direction from whence we came to remind ourselves that we don't want to go back. We can also look at what's in immediate proximity to us—we can notice what's real right here. Plus, we can continue to look ahead and contemplate where we're going. It's possible that we may just need a little breather to regain our courage and strength to take the next little step.
It's like mountain climbing. One summer a friend and I took a couple R&R days up in Vail after a conference we attended. Vail Mountain has this beautiful trail called Berry Picker and we set out early enough to tackle the climb and enjoy the view from the top before the afternoon thunderstorms would roll in. My life wasn't super great during that season and the 20-25 extra pounds on my body didn't make the experience easy for me. I can't count the number of times I had to stop on an incline to catch my breath, drink water and refocus. There were so many times I wanted to quit. I sent my friend ahead of me so she could enjoy the experience more fully without all of the rest stops. I remember feeling so much shame along the way.
I felt ashamed that I'd let myself grow so unhealthy.
I felt ashamed that I'd held my friend up along the way.
I felt ashamed that I couldn't do something well that used to come so easily for me.
I felt ashamed for feeling ashamed.
Have we talked about what a nasty and terrible "friend" shame is? We'll come back to that in the future. Suffice it to say, it was a hard day.
What I remember now about that experience, though is how I finished the hike. I didn't give up. I was slow and I was exhausted. BUT, when I reached the summit and took in one of my favorite views (as I laid on the ground panting as though my life depended on it, mind you), I felt hope. I experienced beauty. I reconnected with my friend and heard about her experience on the trail. When we took the gondola back down into the Village, I saw what I'd accomplished with fresh perspective. I'd climbed THAT mountain. The one right over there! It just took me a bit longer to summit, is all.
Have you been there?
Are you there now?
Maybe like me, you've cut the tethering cord tying you to the consistent, safe place and you've already leaped from the cliff edge.
Maybe, like the friend I was having lunch with this week, you've lit the fuse and you're waiting for the big "boom" that's to come in the not so distant future.
In either case, maybe you just need to stand still in the standstill. The courage will come. The energy will return. You will regain your strength. You will move forward. When you can.
Instead of a list of questions this week, why not take a few minutes to be quiet. Listen to your heartbeat. Listen to your breath. Get in touch with your thoughts and your feelings. Remind yourself that it's really going to be okay. Somehow, some way, it will be. There is grace and there is mercy for you right here.