What if we're just too depleted or unmotivated to do our "self-development" work? In this episode, we take a step back from talking about the deep inner work itself to reflecting on how we want to approach this self-work in the first place so that it's sustainable over the long-term.
In this episode, Janice takes a step back from talking about the self-work she's been engaging in to reflect on how she wants to approach doing self-work as a whole in the first place. This is coming after months of what has felt like non-stop self-work (the self-work is always a choice, but the challenging events that precipitate it are not always in one's control) and finding it hard to access moments of joy. If you’ve also been feeling overwhelmed, stuck, or in shutdown while wanting to navigate the self-work, this episode might resonate with you!
(You might also refer to self-work as inner work, soul work, self-development work, spiritual work, light/shadow work, etc.)
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Hey everyone, how is it going? It’s been over 3 weeks since I last recorded, so I just wanted to do almost like a check-in episode. This one is called “Doing the Self-Work” because I am taking a step back to pause from talking about the self-work itself, so the different types of self-work that I’m engaged in, to just look at how I approach self-work as a whole in the first place.
And this is coming about because while I have been engaged in a lot of self-work, of many different types, in the past while, I also started noticing that I really hadn’t been experiencing many moments of joy more recently.
Now, I don’t mean to say that doing self-work means no joy. Let me get to that more in a bit. The point is that there’s been a noticeable imbalance in my life in terms of what I do with my time, as well as how I feel.
So, there’s been a lot of time spent on doing self-work, and a lot of time spent feeling like I’m either in the fight or freeze response – and it’s not that the self-work is causing that response, but more that whatever has been necessitating the self-work to be done has also been keeping me in that response. And conversely, there’s been less time spent on me really nourishing myself and doing things that bring me joy, and less time feeling hopeful and at ease.
Now, all of this started long before these past three weeks. And it was actually my birthday a few days ago, and I was posting about this on my social media as part of an annual birthday reflection I do. And I wrote about how this past year was one of the most challenging years for me, ever.
And it’s not like I haven’t had some incredibly tough years – if you've listened to my other episodes, particularly in Season 1, I've talked about some of those experiences – but this has been a different kind of hard, because I feel like I’ve had to confront my most raw, vulnerable, and wounded self through doing self-work. But as I said, engaging in that self-work because it was precipitated by a number of very challenging things that transpired this past year.
So, it was a year of continuing to uncover and address my traumas, and doing the healing work around that. It was a year of really having to confront the ways that I show up in relationships, which are very much related to my developmental traumas and attachment wounds. And it was a year filled with months and months of grieving, a lot of that due to going through a very painful break-up.
I was uprooted again home-wise, as I have been many times in my life – so, more upheaval and change. And then, of course, COVID – enough said. But yeah, dealing with the grief that came along with that too, from the loss of social connection and witnessing the devastating events happening in the world. You know, we've all had to grieve something from the COVID experience.
And then, starting to explore my relationship with alcohol. And, by the way, I am 82 days alcohol free as of today. And that's been positive in so many ways, but also very disarming, right? It’s like I’ve been very raw and exposed almost from no longer numbing my feelings with alcohol when things have felt too much to bear – and there have been many, many of those moments just in the past couple of months alone.
And part of that has been witnessing all of the events that have happened more recently regarding violence against Black lives, and I’ve been doing what I can to participate in this more recent surge of the Black Lives Matter movement, which includes doing both the self-work and the external work that is required of all of us to dismantle the culture of white supremacy in which we live.
So, yeah, for much of the last few weeks, I have felt like I've been in the fight survival response. I was definitely very much immersed in BLM social media posts and reading and watching things to get educated, signing petitions, checking in on the news. And while all of that is important, the pace at which I was going was not sustainable. So, of course, there were periods of collapse interspersed in there.
And it’s hard, because even though I knew I was going at an unsustainable pace, there was such a sense of urgency – which is very real, because there are Black folks dying every day at the hands of white supremacy. And also, I’m trying hard to keep in mind what many Black educators are saying – that this is a marathon, this is lifelong work.
So, year 37 – or, I guess, technically it was year 38 of my life – was full of continuously heavy emotions and full of continuous self-work of the shadow work variety. Really diving deep into some of the darkest, most wounded parts of myself and sitting in a whole shit ton of grief.
And I think part of what’s been so challenging is that it’s literally been one thing after the next. And, ultimately, none of those things have ended – all of that self-work continues, and is now continuing simultaneously.
And I was chatting with my therapist recently, and she’s seen me go through that whole journey this past year, and she was commenting on the fact that there has been no pause. And so, at this point, I feel really emotionally drained. And when I look back, I can see how it’s been an accumulation of dealing with some of the hardest things I’ve had to face.
Now, all of that being said, no matter how challenging it’s all been, I know without a doubt that that self-work has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Because this is where I have gained the kind of freedom and self-love that I feel I’ve been searching for my whole life – and that has vastly outweighed any discomfort and pain that I’ve had to experience during the process.
Because what’s more painful to me is the thought of living another at least 38 years trapped in my harmful patterns and cycles. Like, the first 38 years already feels long as fuck. So if I have to do that again, I want to be moving through that second half of my life with way more freedom and self-love paving the way.
What feels more painful to me is the opposite – going through life unaware of the subconscious conditioning that ultimately influences how I show up in this world, often in ways that don’t serve me or others. Like, that’s been running most of the show so far. And to me, that’s like sleepwalking through life – and I honestly do not see the point of wasting my time here on Earth sleepwalking.
And here’s the thing: I think it’s easy to look at self-work itself as the culprit, so to speak – that when we engage in the self-work and all of these challenging feelings come up, and we feel overwhelmed, and now we’re shutting down, that the blame is put on self-work. It’s because we’ve opening ourselves up to this self-work, that now we feel like shit.
And yes, doing the self-work can bring up certain uncomfortable, painful feelings just in and of itself, because maybe the act of even being honest with yourself is hard. And that’s okay and understandable.
But I think, as I reflect on the self-work I’ve been engaged in, that, again, as I said earlier, it’s really the things that have precipitated or necessitated the self-work to be engaged in that are what have caused pain – whether that’s being in conflict with a loved one, or being in the cycle of alcohol dependency, or having experienced trauma.
And if I really want to move into a healthier space, a healthier way of dealing with the issues underlying of all that, then ... self-work, right? Just because you don’t confront the thing, it doesn’t mean it’s still not dictating how you experience life.
So yes, doing the self-work is important. I think if you’re here listening to this podcast, you already know or sense that. Even though it can absolutely feel scary and challenging, it opens the door to, I think, such a richer more intentional life.
And second, I think it’s really important to remember – as I’m reminding myself right now – that there is a way to approach the self-work so that it’s manageable, it’s gradual. It’s a bit here, a bit there, a break here, and then come back, you know? So that it’s not an intense dive into it, and then just total shut down and now we’re no longer touching it because that just felt like a big shock to the system.
And then, third, as we are literally doing the self-work, how are we being supported? Like, this stuff is not meant to be done alone. It really isn’t. And I had felt like I was going at it mostly alone. It was really hard for me to open up to even the people closest to me. It was hard for me to feel safe and truly heard.
So I finally talked with my therapist after not speaking with her for two months, and I was really reminded of how necessary it is to just be able to let go, and to rest in that safe space that is being held for you by someone you trust.
I wish I could do therapy every week, but it costs money, obviously. I did join a BIPOC Support Group on Facebook, it’s just a few of us on there who are in a similar position of doing the anti-racism/anti-bias work but needing that safe space to do it in connection with others.
And then, fourth, how do we ground ourselves as we engage in the self-work? Like, if I’m doing an hour, or half a day, of self-work – whether that’s reading and learning about something, or watching a video or a film, or taking part in an online course, or being in conversation with someone about it – what’s my grounding practice after I’m finished with that piece of self-work so that I can come back to neutral so to speak, and kind of reintegrate back into my day?
I think I’ve been missing this piece lately, so I’ve been contemplating whether that could be something like a short meditation before I even go into, say, watching a show.
And lastly, when we’re not immediately engaged in the self-work, how do we access and give ourselves those moments of joy? Both to feel really present in the here and now, and also to instill that really deep sense of hope that, while the world feels like it’s going to shit most days, there’s still a lot of beauty in existing within it?
So, the past few days, I’ve been pushing myself with this, that even when I feel like I want to spend more of my time doing self-work, like, no, I’m going to commit to seeing some friends. Which I did recently – we had such a wonderful social-distancing backyard hangout, and as one of my friends said, it was like soul food. And then I finally got up to the farm for a day and got to reconnect with my farm friends, and the dogs, and of course, nature.
And coming back and being in the city again, I’m pushing myself to get prepared for my 10-day solo hiking trip in mid-August. It’s a little ways away, but just buying some gear that I need, planning my meals, even just reading about other people’s trip reports – that all gets me really excited. And with that, I got inspired to restart my Nature Immersed blog, and I’m spending time writing about my past camping adventures on there.
And, so really, as I’m taking a step back to think about how I want to approach my self-work, that is so important to me, I’m considering that balance.
So I ended off my birthday reflection by saying that: in thinking about my path ahead as I prepare for my next go around the Sun, I am committing to doing that continued work of self-examination, of unlearning, of healing. And I am committing to greater humility as well, and understanding how I can show up as a better fellow human to others – which includes becoming a better listener and a good ancestor for the generations to come.
And that’s all I wanted to share today. Well, there’s a lot more I want to share actually, but that’s what I have the capacity for today. So thanks for listening. I hope you have a great weekend ahead of you. I hope that you’re finding your moments of joy. And I hope if you’re doing the self-work, or wanting to engage more in it - that you have or find the support you need.
Alright, until next time, you can follow me on Instagram @janicheoimages and @natureimmersed. I’m on Facebook @thesoulsworkpodcast. And you can find all of the podcast episodes and shownotes at https://www.thesoulsworkpodcast.com/.
See you on the next episode. Lots of love and self-love. Peace