Sabbatical Lesson: Know Thyself

Upon taking my sabbatical leave last June, I left you and myself with this question: What do you want in the next phase of your life? (Blog: Taking a Pause to Reflect, Redirect, and Reinvent)

After posting my sabbatical blog, a wise reader from the Pain Free Athlete community wrote to me with a very insightful and thoughtful observation. She said, “Focusing on what you want at this point may be premature because if you are sensing the need for deep reflecting, reinvention, and a redirection, then what you want now may not pertain to who you may become through the process you are undertaking.” Who I may become? This was the part that stuck with me. It reminded me of the quote, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” which may be attributed to Einstein or Ram Dass, or . . . the source is not clear. Regardless, the wisdom endures. 

This warmhearted reader was challenging me to actually pause and forge a deeper relationship with, and understanding of, myself before answering the “what I want” question. This was imperative because I would not obtain an authentic and accurate answer with my current mindset, perceptions, beliefs, or expectations. She wrote, “Perhaps other questions may be more useful for the kind of inner exploration you describe as the focus of your pause; questions that can orient you to listening, wondering, sensing and connecting to the deeper part of your being, the part that is telling you that a way of knowing and relating to yourself other than your current inner status quo is arising from within.” She gave me such sage advice! I am so grateful to have received it that I now share it with you.

However, I wasn’t able to absorb this wisdom immediately. I wasn’t ready to hear it in June. I had too much going on . . . Living in CA for most of the remaining months of 2023, I was busy closing my dad’s estate, supporting my sister, traveling, landscaping, etc. Although I was enjoying myself and loved being near my sister and the beach, there was no slow, quiet time for reflection. Upon returning to Moab, there was more frenzied activity as we quickly packed up and moved to our empty house in Hailey, Idaho for the winter less than a week before the holidays.

Then it was January 2024. This was supposed to be the end of my sabbatical and the beginning of my reinvention, despite not having any time to contemplate a new direction. But I tried anyway. I frequently sat at my computer, writing and pushing myself to come up with the answer to the “what I want” question. I hoped that somehow the words would stumble out onto the page. But they didn’t. 

At a loss and not making any progress despite continuous effort, I decided to take the Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT) certification training that I have written about in a previous blog, Unlearn Chronic Pain with PRT. This training was recommended to me by my mind-body syndrome mentor/therapist. The material presented during week three of the course was difficult for me. It covered psychological threats that can contribute to pain, such as anxiety, repressed emotions, childhood trauma, personality characteristics, and more–all of which I related to. I had to take the information in small doses because it was upsetting. Perhaps I was taking this course for more than just professional knowledge . . . This was the catalyst I needed to start a deeper conversation with myself. 

 

Know Thy (Dysfunctional) Family

In my mind, I had declared February to be my self-care month. This has spilled over into March, April, and continues into May . . . On February 1, I began a 21-day meditation challenge on childhood core wounds (such as, “I’m not good enough”) from the Mel Robbins Podcast. My life had settled down enough for the reflection, true pause, and inward look that I needed to embrace. Now I could contemplate other questions such as the ones my devoted reader posed: “Can I whole-heartedly accept and be the closest, dearest, most intimate friend with that ‘me’ who has, all these years, been treading water in the sea of life and is now searching for some solid ground, a home that is myself, that is beautiful? Can I relax and feel a sense of fluidity and openness, without defining myself according to the outer metrics, trusting that the more essential and authentic self now ‘speaking’ (not in words but in feelings, intuitions, urgings) within is guiding me the more I listen and tune in.” 

The meditation challenge sparked my journey to explore further inside myself and contemplate why I had developed these wounds and how I was still acting them out. For the first time, I was willing to stay with the uncomfortable feelings, stay with the sadness, and stay with the unpleasant truths of my upbringing. It is hard to “be” with yourself when you are always running away because you are afraid of what you may discover, especially when you learned early on that negative emotions are dangerous and can lead to abandonment.

Although I have known the importance of “being,” have taught this to clients, and have written about it (Blog: Human Being vs Human Doing), I have not been able to embody it for myself. That is one of the skills I am working on now. It will likely be a life-long pursuit.

During my sabbatical, I reflected on the unsettled and distressed state of my father in his final days. I phoned and visited with family to discover more about them, heard stories about my parents, and observed the generational patterns of behavior and trauma that existed in those closest to me. I came to accept something enlightening: that my parents were emotionally immature. At that point, I learned to recognize the consequent messages (wounds) I absorbed as a child and realized that these messages are lodged into my subconscious mind. They have been playing in the background, influencing all that I am and do (Blog: Tap Into Your Subconscious Mind to Heal). 

I’ve also shown compassion to myself as I realize that the behaviors I adopted as a child were survival strategies that kept me safe. However, these strategies (people pleasing, not expressing myself, lacking boundaries, striving to always be in control, and on and on) are not working for me anymore, and as an adult I can choose to change. But it is hard and scary. The idea of familiarity=safety applies to many areas of life beyond pain. (Blog: How to End Your Preoccupation with Pain). 

 

What’s Next

I am still figuring that out. One practice that I was advised to do when making a decision was to ask myself yes/no questions. This has worked quite well for me. Something I have incorporated into this technique is tuning into my body for the answer. For instance, when asking yes/no questions, I need to figure out, is it a yes on a cellular level that resonates with my physiology and not just at an intellectual level? I want to tap into the knowledge in my body through my senses, including my emotions since emotions are sensations, too. Does my stomach go into knots when I contemplate this idea, or do my muscles soften at this new prospect? How am I feeling about this possibility–dread or excitement? And, what do my actions show? Do I wake up in the morning buzzing with energy to take on this new project? Or do I linger in comfort, lacking the motivation to start?

Every idea I have, I submit to the yes/no question. And then I wait and ask again, just to make sure. Many ideas have come and gone, and the ones that keep circling back are the ones I pay attention to. The only strong professional yeses I’ve received so far are to continue writing, learning, and sharing my knowledge. Oh, and one more super cool adventure that combines a couple of my passions. I will tell you about it soon and hope you will support me.

Although difficult, I am being mindful to avoid pressuring myself into acting too quickly. I often remind myself that I am just where I need to be right now. I am trusting that the answer will come, and that I will recognize it when it does.

 

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About the Author

Jessica

Jessica uses an integrative approach to help you overcome chronic pain. She believes in treating the whole person utilizing the biopsychosocial approach to healing. Her offerings include posture therapy, online exercise classes, pain science education, and individual or group wellness coaching. She is certified by the Postural Restoration Institute® (PRI), Egoscue University®, National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Council on Exercise (ACE) and Wellcoaches.