Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How to Prepare for the Worst Day of Your Life: Winter is Coming


As a beekeeper I watch my bees work themselves to death, literally, all summer. They are preparing for winter. They don't know how long it will last or how harsh it will be so they work tirelessly to be ready for it when it gets here.

There are bad days ahead. I'm not talking about the next political upheaval, natural disaster, or economic depression, I'm talking about your personal life. No matter how much love we send out into the universe or how much love and compassion we show to others, some bad things are going to happen. At some point you may be betrayed by a spouse or abandoned by friends. You may be forced to file bankruptcy or lose a business. A beloved pet will die. You will  lose someone close to you and suffer times of grief. We don't want to live in fear by focusing on these possibilities, we just want to recognize that life is long and loss and pain are part of it.  There are pitfalls and setbacks along the way so it is wise to begin to prepare to handle them in small sustainable ways.

A few years ago I sat in a therapist's office and poured out my heart, which was broken. When I finished she looked up from her notes and said " You are remarkably psychologically and emotionally strong."

I can assure you that I was feeling weak, tearful, and undone. I was struggling to get through each day.

But she was perceiving something else, an inner strength I'd built over the years without even realizing it. By this time in life I had read at least a hundred self help/personal development books. Countless others on leadership and stacks of biographies of survivors of terrible situations. I'd been keeping journals for two decades. I'd made and maintained strong friendships with wise, thoughtful, and rational people who I could trust to give sage advice.  I did regular exercise and spent time outside. I'd avoided using things like food or alcohol to numb emotional pain. I'd devoted countless hours to prayer.

I thought about all this in an instant and replied "I've developed a deep well to draw from."

Now, don't think that I had this wise plan in mind all along. As Steve Jobs said "You can't connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back." But now I can clearly see that many of the choices I'd made over two decades had created and nurtured an inner strength that was enough to carry me through dark days. While the process was no less painful and I struggled to get through each day, I felt like my preparation kept me from getting stuck in a dark place. My comeback was quickened. I also immediately began to imagine a future time when what I was going through might be useful to others.

The wound is the place where the light enters you. ~ Rumi

Here are some sustainable things you can do now to prepare for the bad days:

Read books by successful people, leaders, and spiritual teachers. Filling your mind with maps for success and strategies for handling setbacks will serve you well when it all falls apart. Read biographies and autobiographies of people who have endured the worst circumstances imaginable. It can also give your own situation a little perspective. Are you a prisoner of war, in a concentration camp, or have your arm trapped under a boulder? Hooray! As bad as it is you probably can get a meal and won't have to cut off your own arm.

Journal for perspective but also to keep a record of other hardships you've survived and how you coped with them. Being able to look back and see what happened in other situations and how you coped and what strategies you used to recover will make the next time easier. You'll build a kind of recovery muscle.

Find your tribe. Create strong friendships with people who are positive and wise. Your vibe attracts your tribe. That means being the kind of person you hope to attract in any relationship. Long before you need them, establish friendships with people who are strong and resilient. When times are good find fun friends! Seek out the company of those who are uplifting to be around. Avoid the toxic complainers like the plague. They will drain the last ounce of life out of you when you are down.

Keep your body fighting ready. Will Smith said "If you stay ready, you ain't gotta get ready."Keeping your body healthy and fit means that if you get a bad diagnosis you are already out in front of it. And if your heart is broken you'll know you need yoga or meditation and not a half gallon of ice cream. Okay, maybe one half gallon, but being in great shape will make the results negligible.

Develop healthy relationships with food and alcohol. Don't let food become your drug of choice for numbing your pain. Save alcohol for when you are having a good time out with friends. Don't let it be a crutch for avoiding your feelings.

Fortify your spirit on a daily basis. Keep yourself centered and calm. Having a regular spiritual practice will carry you far when you don't know what to do next. It's important to know even if you don't understand why events happen, that there is a plan.

Forge a rational and realistic mindset.When you don't know what to do, do the next right thing. It isn't the end of the world even if it feels like it. You will not believe this because you will feel with every fiber of your being that you will never recover. If you have done the other things on this list then you can think of stories of people enduring more than you. You may know people in your life who have gone through something similar. Pain does subside over time though it never feels like it will when you are in the throes of it.

If all is well, then implement this plan. You'll be solidifying the strength and resilience you'll need when the tide of life turns.

Cheer up! Tomorrow I'll be covering preparing for the good times, because summer is coming!


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