Sitting in Limbo
Hello Dear Ones,
As humans, one of our least favorite places to be, is limbo. We seem to be innately uncomfortable with the unknown, the unmanageable, the unpredictable: that which we cannot move by physical force. Besides making apparent to us that being able to know, predict, move or manage things might be an illusion anyway, limbo implies being with self. Even more challengingly, being still and silent with oneself. Most would say that is a formula for disaster. Or, as social media would put it, at this time of shelter in place, a formula for making babies or dramatically increasing the divorce rate.
Since we are accustomed to interacting with ourselves, with all of life’s distractions swirling around us, it can surprise us that we are so uncomfortable in this place of silence and stillness. Most are used to evaluating (and likely judging) ourselves based on our actions, our achievements, our contributions. We value ourselves based on what we do. Often, we are able to identify redeeming and worthy qualities in ourselves, and often (even in the best of circumstances) we are brutally unkind to ourselves. It isn’t ideal, what happens when we are faced with ourselves, even when we are completely distracted by life. It can be downright startling when we eliminate all of the distractions.
The liminal space, that is limbo, takes all of life’s trappings away. It deposits us into an unknown realm, where we are naked (so to speak) and unable to hide aspects of ourselves, or look away from, our wholeness. Typically, when we do look, most of us will only see our shadows. We will have difficulty seeing the well-lighted parts of our wholeness. As humans are patterned to do, we will focus on the ‘negative.’ Focusing on our shadows keeps us stuck, limited, small, and ultimately, in a place of self-loathing (aka depression).
I feel oddly blessed that this is not my first encounter with limbo. That I have sat within this specific space before in my life. Several times, actually. The most dramatic experience of it, was what I would call my ‘dark night of the soul.’ Many would call it a major depressive episode, and I did exhibit all of those signs and symptoms, but I could somehow tell (at the time) that this was different. That I was being given an opportunity to really get to know myself. And that, even if I didn’t know it, I actually had the tools I needed to get through it safely.
What can we do when we find ourselves here: in limbo (which I’m extrapolating implies self-judgement)? How can we find the prana, the life-nectar present in limbo? Believe it or not, the solution is to walk in deeper. Allow yourself to look around and really see/ feel what is there inside of you. There are a couple of important ground rules for doing this. So that it is a healing process instead of a harmful one. First and foremost, you have to face your inner critic and definitively tell it that it is not allowed to be part of this process. (Follow this link for specifics on how to do that). Secondly, you have to discover, nurture and grow your self-compassion. Yes, you deserve love. We all do. Always and without question.
Here is an exercise for moving deeper: Draw your attention away from the judgement (shadow) you are currently tormenting yourself with, and turn it toward that which lies just beneath it. Your intention. Your wound. Your dream. Your desire to be free. Your desire to feel whole. Draw your attention away from your criticism and allow yourself to see you. The fragmented, confused, self-doubting, good intentioned and light-filled you that exists within, next to and beyond the shadows.
It may initially be difficult to see this part of ourselves. And it will definitely be difficult to meet this part of ourselves with compassion. The inner critic truly believes that when it berates us, it is helping us. Fortunately, it is wrong. I know, most of you don’t believe me. “This is the part of me that makes life happen. It’s what gets me up in the morning. It’s the me that got that promotion.” That is what you are telling yourselves right now. And it feels so true. But it’s not.
The inner critic is actually the part of use that makes us feel burdened and overwhelmed. It is the part of us that kills creativity and motivation. If you still don’t believe me, work through the above worksheet with some of your common inner criticisms. Believe it or not, we get up in the morning because we actually want to get up in the morning. We do the work that we do because there is a part of us that believes that work has value. I know this because I have meet the moment in life when my inner critic could no longer make anything happen for me. It was like beating a dead horse. Unfortunately, I was the dead horse I was beating. I was the one who could no longer get up. And I discovered, the more I beat myself, the more paralyzed I became. Beating myself up for my failings, could no longer get me up and moving.
At the time, I was slogging through the worst shame storm I had ever experienced. I had taken medical leave from teaching and eventually gone on short term disability. The problem was, I hadn’t broken my back and I wasn’t battling cancer. Those would have been acceptable things to have gone on disability for. According to my inner critic, “I was just having severe anxiety, panic attacks and migraines. I should surely be able to get my shit together and go back to work. If I wasn’t so flawed and weak, I would definitely be able to not let the anxiety take over. If I weren’t so lazy, I’m sure I would be able to get up off the couch and make dinner.” It wasn’t pretty. Or self-compassionate.
I did a terrific experiment during that time. Unintentionally. One morning I woke up at 10am (this was already a ridiculously late wake up time, in my opinion), and I couldn’t get out of bed. I simply couldn’t get myself to get out of bed. I berated myself mercilessly for how worthless and lazy I was, and I still couldn’t get out of bed. Even though I hated myself for it, I didn’t manage to get out of bed until well into the afternoon that day. Several days later, I woke up at approximately the same time, and again, I couldn’t get out of bed. Having learned a little from my previous experience, I decided to hit myself with some compassion this time. Don’t get me wrong, I had to gag and tie my inner critic first. But then, I was able to tell myself that maybe I needed a little more rest. After all, I was processing a lot and I had had a lot of anxiety and I knew how much that fatigued my adrenals. I feel back to sleep for a bit. Miraculously, when I awoke, about an hour late, I was able to get up and start my day. And I didn’t even have a shame hangover.
Coming to understand that forcing and belittling myself no longer worked as a way to motivate myself; I surrendered to self-love. Even though I didn’t feel worthy of it, it felt like the only viable option. I decided to meet myself with compassion and I learned how to quiet and discredit my inner critic. This particular experience taught me a lot. Of course, it’s only one example of many such experiments that I conducted during that time in limbo. Obviously, the shift didn’t happen overnight, it took a good while “Sitting in Limbo” (one of my all time favorite songs), to learn these things.
I hope this helps all of us to expedite the process, and come to a place of self-compassion, more quickly than I did before. It is so incredibly scary to really look at ourselves and get to know who we truly are; underneath all the doing. I can promise one thing: If we really do this, we will learn to be at peace with ourselves. We will even find that we like ourselves most of the time. And, we will come to accept ourselves more. Inner peace, liking are selves most of the time, and accepting ourselves are terrific tools to combat self-judgement (and depression). I believe we can avoid a mental health crisis (in this time of isolation), if we take the opportunity to meet our true selves (without judgement), in this limbo.
Of course, don’t discontinue your current (successful) practices for maintaining mental health. I continually remind myself to employ all of the self-care tools I know to be effective for me: Keep a regular sleep/ wake cycle, eat healthy food, move my body regularly, talk to my loved ones regularly, and give myself alone time (yes, really, even now).
I have come to believe that self-love and self-acceptance are powerful acts of rebellion and liberation. They bring with them, the miraculous gift of accessing our personal power. Let yourselves taste this gift. Dip your toes into your inner being and invite yourself in for a tour. The powers that be (definitely the patriarchy), do not want you to discover your own power. The inner critic is a valuable social construct for maintaining the status quo. For creating docile masses. They think your inner critic is doing a splendid job of keeping you small, and manageable. Now doesn’t that seem like something worthy of rebellion?
I love you,
Tawa Ranes has a very curious mind and has always been interested in the nature of consciousness and the workings of the Universe. Since healing has been a big part of her own personal journey, much of her curiosity focuses on understanding how and why healing occurs or fails to take place.