To live or not to live


  • ‘Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know’

    Pema Chödrön

A lovely reader inspired me this week to write about a topic close to his heart. The exact question was “Is my shyness in personal relationships a character trait or something I should work to overcome?” I see every dilemma as a great opportunity for growth, so I attempt here to make sense of the implications of this question and to provide some pointers that can support us when we are asking ourselves important questions.


I believe there is a lot to be gained from accepting reality as it is. Sometimes, seeing the bigger picture and making peace with certain aspects of ourselves can bring an enormous sense of relief, like we finally give ourselves the permission to stop fighting. This can be life changing. Although – and there is a huge caveat for me here – we have to be ready to say farewell to arms, and only our hearts will know when we are ready.


Other times, of course, seeing reality as it is can mean that we call forth (yet again) uncomfortable feelings, hidden pain that we normally don’t willingly bring to the surface, the ‘ugly’ parts of ourselves that we – consciously or unconsciously – aren’t willing to face. We can, of course, choose at that moment to resign ourselves to some things being a ‘given’ in our lives. Or we can distract ourselves and minimise our ‘problem’. That could be a perfectly appropriate solution. But I guarantee you: it will only be a provisional solution, as long as there are still unresolved feelings around the issue. And this pain will come back to ruin our day no matter how many times we think we accept it, no matter how much we believe we’ve dealt with it, if it has not been felt enough.


You may think I am just being gloomy. But I tell you, this is our golden opportunity, and life gifts it to us again and again! There is an empowering choice we can make every time we hit an impasse: we can inquire. We can always stop and ask ourselves, with honesty: If I accept this reality as it is, does it change anything for me? Does it get me closer to my dreams? Does it open new possibilities for my life? Or does the ‘acceptance’ come with a closed, constricting, limiting energy? Which option brings me closer to a sense of freedom? How are my needs being met? How does either option make me feel? Connect to the questions with all your senses, and listen. It is not complicated: if accepting your reality makes you feel liberated and joyful, then maybe you were ready to let go. If it doesn’t, then there is something there that you still need to look at. You will know.


I believe everything in life can be transformed. But only when the pain of our current reality is greater than the fear or uncertainty we might feel for the prospect of change. And we can only know this by being brave enough to stop and truly feel whatever we are feeling. Feel it until we have felt it enough. Feel it to its point of no return. Feel it until we have touched our deepest needs.


We can always benefit from having others help us navigate through all this feeling – truly feeling our feelings can be overwhelming if we do it alone – and coaching can be a safe space to explore them. Coaching can also help us understand the reasons behind what we do or not do: we all have a ‘beautiful reason’ for perpetuating our own suffering; we all have values that we are upholding with the choices we make. We all fear something; we are all trying to protect ourselves from something. We all have to take stock one day of our own self-worth.


There are multiple ways to explore any issue. But the main point here is that when we acknowledge our suffering, we are naming it, honouring its existence. Life is very patient with us: it gives us all the opportunities we need for us to step up and meet it with all our energy and power, for us to render it sacred, for us to honour ourselves. Life can wait forever for us to wake up. But how long can we afford to wait? What have we abandoned by distracting ourselves from our own longing? It all boils down to this: when we take the bold step of facing our vulnerabilities, we embrace life in all its richness. And when we do, we are truly living.


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