Dealing with burnout
A few years ago I suffered a severe case of career burnout. I forced myself to take a break to sort through the emotional mess I was in. I meditated and journaled extensively to work through my feelings. One thing I noticed was my thoughts were filled with extremes. I loved what I did, but I hated the business that went along with it. I was terribly envious of other peoples’ success but I also loved being part of that same community. Love, hate, love, hate. It was an endless mess of intertwined emotions. I was so overcome, I could hardly tell where I stood on anything, let alone shift these feelings into more positive territory.
In my reflections, I began to understand that my heart was like a see-saw, tipping back and forth on this scale of joy or pain, all relative to where my success lay in the mix. As I pondered this idea, I realized that all around us the world is framed in extremes. We’re constantly assessing whether events are good or bad, and once we attach a “good” or “bad” to any given situation, it can be very difficult to change that opinion without conscious effort.
Drawing inspiration from meditation
In the Buddhist tradition, attaining nirvana is a state of non-attachment to emotions or impermanent things. This sounded great to me, but I began to wonder how I could ever feel neutral about things that meant so much to me. In some way, I felt like I needed to push that concept even further. Before I could feel neutral, I needed to go beyond and see if I could feel immense joy and love for something I hated (or vice versa).
The emotional spectrum
I began to imagine a spectrum – a long emotional line stretching from the amazing to the downright morose. I chose a situation that really triggered me and would ponder it, first letting my body be filled with those familiar emotions and take over my sense of rationality. Then came the hard work! I would have to force myself to imagine feeling the complete opposite emotion in that situation. What would it take for me to feel that? I would ask myself. And just for a few seconds, I would let my body be flooded with that opposing sensation. This was really challenging! It would feel so foreign and strange in my body, like an invasion. But I would sit there and feel it pulsing through me until I could stop squirming. Doing this in a safe and private environment allowed me to “try on” this new feeling temporarily. Then I would go back to the old familiar association. Then back to its opposite. And back and forth a few times until I felt really comfortable with either emotional attachment. In this way, I began to get a much bigger perspective on what was ailing me. I gained what I call a sense of “emotional flexibility”. I began to understand that I could choose how I felt about something, and start realigning my emotions with my values. Once I had a handle on this, I would find a middle ground, a place of neutrality, and examine what the characteristics of that feeling were. Sometimes I would create a mantra to embody the revelations or the new sense of perspective I gained from the exercise. I would write it down and carry it with me, repeating it to myself whenever I would fall back into the old association.
This might sound kooky if you’ve never tried anything like this, but I have had amazing results with this technique in shifting many tough patterns and bad habits. Consider it one more tool for your arsenal in dealing with tough life situations. Feel free to repeat it many times for a more lasting effect. The only side effect is that you will know your own mind better than before. Give it a try and tell me how it works for you.
PS. This exercise usually takes about 10-20 minutes and works best seated in a calm, quiet, and private place. Have your journal ready beside you to make notes as needed.
“The Spectrum” emotion-balancing exercise
1. Find a quiet place to sit uninterrupted for 10-20 minutes
2. Have a journal ready beside you to make note of any revelations or epiphanies you might have! 🙂
3. Ponder a situation that emotional triggers you
4. Feel the familiar emotions in your body and observe how they feel
5. Conjure up the opposite feeling. Ask yourself what it would take to feel that? What details of the situation would need to change for you to embody those feelings for even 1 second?
6. Allow yourself to feel those opposite feelings just for 1 second, then 5 seconds, then 30 seconds. Keep building on that until you can sit with them for several minutes at a time.
7. Go back and forth between these two extremes until you feel entirely comfortable with both ends of the spectrum. What perspectives have you gained from this experience? What can you take with you back into the present? ***This is the crux of the exercise. Spend some good time here going back and forth as it will allow you to gain strong and fluid emotional flexibility.***
8. Find a place of neutrality in the middle. How does that feel? Let your body memorize that feeling. What phrase could you create to embody that feeling so you can remember it as you go about your day-to-day?
9. Come out of your meditation and smile. You just did some good soul work! The world will thank you for it. 🙂