Episode 20: Release, Acceptance, Guidance
Sometimes we hold on so tight to what we think should be that we lose the magic in accepting things as they are. When we release into and accept what is, we can find it easier to move through the world with ease and grace. We also have the opportunity to see that the Universe is sending us information, guiding us along our path, and opening our way before us, before we even realize what is happening. This episode explores the gift of ceding our "shoulds" to something greater than ourselves.
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
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Today I am going to share one of the most powerful techniques I have learned to move through (most of) my days and my life with more ease, grace and gratitude. It is the practice of RELEASING what we expect, ALLOWING what is, and LOOKING FOR GUIDANCE from something greater than ourselves.
You will not find me talking about specific religious traditions in my work. But you will sometimes find me talking about spirituality. For my purposes and for the purposes of my work around well-being, spirituality is defined as recognizing that there is an energy and wisdom at work in our lives that is greater than us that also connects us with each other. You will hear me commonly reference this energy (in whatever form resonates for you) as the Universe. Many of the writings and research around well-being include spirituality as an integral part of a foundation of well-being. And this is how I find my relationship with the Universe playing out in my everyday life to my benefit and to the benefit of others.
So let’s dive in . . .
We set our expectations for how a day, week, project or meeting will go. Expectations for how much we will accomplish. But things do not go in accordance with our expectations. LIFE interferes.
A kid gets sick. Someone is in a car accident. We have a medical test done that causes physical trauma or fear while we wait for the results. The list of potential stress-inducing variables is endless really.
We don’t get the thing(s) done we thought we were going to get done. We stare at our computer screen and cannot seem to find the will to be productive. We click around aimlessly or escape into social media. Then we start beating ourselves up for the things we aren’t getting done. What kind of loser are we anyway? If we were more self-disciplined and had better willpower, we would push through and “perform.” Man, we suck!
What about when we have our schedule set for the day and someone cancels. Or something comes up that we weren’t expecting? Or things just don’t go the way we planned. We can get bent out of shape at the other people, at the annoyance and inconvenience of the thing that won’t get done in the prescribed window. Sometimes the person we are bent out of shape towards is ourselves.
But guess what? We have another option.
WE CAN RELEASE. We can release the expectations, self-judgment and the self-flagellation. We can release our frustration and perhaps anger at that person who cancelled the meeting or the things that took our time that we weren’t expecting or even release our frustration at ourselves when we are the ones who made the mistake. We can ACCEPT what is. And we can look for the GUIDANCE that is coming our way to help us along our path.
This is one of the GREATEST GIFTS I have found on my own journey. The experience of releasing what I thought would be and allowing what is.
[I want to acknowledge here that there was a time in my burnout path that I also lost all sense of connection to a greater energy. I know the sense of hopelessness that this disconnection can cause. And I want to assure you that if you are feeling separate from the greater power at work in the world, that this connection doesn’t have to be lost forever.]
The Serenity Prayer was written around 1932 as part of a longer prayer. The most famous portion of this prayer is as follows: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.
Sounds simple, right, and yet, this is also probably one of the greatest challenges in my life and probably for many of you too . . . we hold on so very tight to what we think should be, how we think things should go, how we desperately want them or believe we need them to go, the pain or irritation that others have caused . . . and in doing so, we actually hold on to our stress and our fear and our pain. And from a functional and performance perspective, we actually THWART our own ability to bounce back from setbacks and to keep on trucking.
Let’s explore some of the simple ways where I have seen the BENEFIT of releasing in my own life.
Do you ever block time on your calendar because you think there is something you are going to get done during that block of time? Never? Kidding, I am going to guess that many of you have. And, I am also going to guess that you have experienced that block of time being taken over by something or someone else?
It happens to me all the time. But here is what I have observed . . . Say I block 8am-10am on my calendar for a project. I schedule my other meetings and obligations around that blocked time. So far so good, right? Until I get a call from one of my kids at 8:15 that they aren’t feeling well, or I get a flat tire, or something else unexpected, but important comes up.
It turns out that I am not going to use 8-10am the way I thought I would, but I definitely use it the way I NEED to use it at that moment based on what is important to me. And it also often turns out that I am still able to honor my other commitments, and don’t have to play fruit basket turnover with my entire calendar. I blocked the time correctly. I just didn’t really know how I was going to use it.
What is even better about this is that I find, if I just breathe into things, that project that I thought needed to get done from 8-10am on Tuesday??? Well, it actually didn’t need to get done then, because something changed, the due date changed, the scope changes, or I have an ah-ha later about how to approach the project or problem that I hadn’t had yet. And if I had dug in and tried to do it ANYWAY, I would have lost the benefit of knowing now what I didn’t know then.
How about when someone cancels a meeting or appointment? Maybe you’ve been looking forward to it. Maybe you haven’t, and almost as soon as that space opens up? Something important fills it. More than once I have noticed something move off of my calendar only to be replaced with something else I would consider very important (that I would not have been able to do otherwise)--maybe it’s a business development opportunity or an important client meeting or again, one my little people needing my presence and my time. Has this ever happened to you? If you say, “no,” Are you sure? Perhaps start to watch and see . . . you might start to experience these “interruptions and inconveniences” in your schedule differently.
This happened just last week. I recently had my youngest tested for allergies. He was supposed to get his first allergy shots on Monday afternoon. His allergies are reactive enough that the doctor has prescribed an epi pen that he is supposed to have with him when he gets his shots. Well, we got to our appointment, waited for about 15 minutes and then a nurse came out and said that his serum had not made it out to their office yet. So he couldn’t get his shots.
Was this an inconvenience, yes? It took at least an hour out of my day just to get him to the allergist’s office. And, he had complained of a sore throat that morning, so I was kind of hoping the allergist would take a look and let me know if there was anything to be addressed (since it was his first shot appt, I knew they would do an examination before they gave him the shots). So yes, I was a little frustrated. But honestly, not too much. Because I have learned to trust that sometimes things don’t work out because they don’t NEED to work out . . . or at least not on the timeline or in the way we would choose.
Well, guess what happened then . . . at 3:00 am on Wednesday morning (just 36 hours after he would have had his first allergy shots) he came down to my room with a croup-y cough. If you haven’t heard a croup-y cough, it sounds terrible. It is most often described as sounding like a barking seal. And after he tossed and turned for a few minutes in my bed, he told me he was having trouble breathing. I looked at his throat and it was so swollen I could see that there was very little space (about the size of my pinky finger) for air to go through. So, off to the emergency room we went.
Now, I don’t know for sure whether having the allergy shot on Monday would have exacerbated what happened on early Wednesday morning, but I have to think that if he had had an injection of things that have the potential to cause his throat to swell (hence needing the epi pen) that it was a really good idea that he didn’t have allergy shots with croup already in his body.
One of my personal favorite experiences of ceding my time to something bigger than me is when I wake up in the morning, look at my calendar and realize I have over-booked. Or maybe I am looking at the week ahead and starting to wonder if my energy will hold out. And in that moment, sometimes I actually knowingly (and sometimes more subconsciously) cede my calendar and my obligations to the Universe. And wouldn’t you know it, people start to cancel or reschedule things?!?!
And here is another personal favorite. Do you ever forget to put things on your calendar? No? I do. Just recently, I was talking to a client and friend about my experience with time . . . with noticing that things tend to open up when I need them to. And literally within a couple of minutes I got a text from a client cancelling a meeting for that afternoon that I had forgotten to put on my calendar. I totally would have no-showed her!?!?! And I would have been mortified!
So here is an example of release that isn’t “time” based so to speak. I have continued to have trouble with one of my knees for the last few months. One weekend I was supposed to go hiking with a friend. But my knee had been getting more swollen. And I wasn’t sure what to do. You might say, DUH, don’t go hiking with a swollen knee. But I am also aware that toxins and other stuff can build up in our cells, and I thought, maybe the walk and time in nature would actually be GOOD for my knee. So, as I went to bed that night, I released to the Universe--should I or shouldn’t I go hiking? I would allow the answer to come, and would easily and perhaps gratefully accept either one. Well, around 6ish the next morning I got a text from my hiking buddy. She had vertigo and wouldn’t be able to hike. And, while I was totally bummed for my friend because vertigo is NO FUN, I knew the answer to whether I was supposed to go hiking. So I spent my day on the couch, keeping my knee elevated and icing it every few hours.
And here is an example of listening for information that comes our way that maybe we weren’t expecting or looking for. In our daily lives we can become so focused on what we are doing in the moment or what we need to do, that we forget to be present and listen to what is happening or to cues about what needs to happen. Not too long ago, my oldest was bitten on the face by a dog. It happened when I wasn’t home. When I got home later than night, SHE wasn’t home. By the time I saw her, the bite looked clean and not nearly as bad as it could have been. She said she had cleaned it out with peroxide. And everything seemed to be fine. But, she also mentioned that her boyfriend’s mother, a nurse, had mentioned giving her antibiotics. The next morning, I texted a family friend to let her know what had happened. She asked if I was going to get antibiotics. Well, frankly, it hadn’t really occurred to me to get antibiotics. The bite looked fine. But TWO people with medical knowledge asked the question. And, I was “aware” enough to notice.
Please believe me when I say it would have been just as easy to let that information come and go out of my brain without another thought. But, I am able to be much more present and aware of my life and the goings on than I used to be when I was either a workaholic or going through a mental health crisis. And I continue to try to practice listening and paying attention when information comes my way . . . particularly if it comes to me more than once. And so, I called the doctor. And talked to the nurse. And she said well, you could just wait and see if it gets red, hot, swollen, etc. and call back then. But we were going into a weekend. And something about the information I had received while not even looking for it . . . are you going to get antibiotics? . . . stayed with me. So, I called the doctor back and scheduled an appointment. And yes, I had to step away from another commitment to make that happen.
The doctor said that when an animal bite occurs, the fat in the skin closes back in around the puncture wound and the bacteria from the animal’s mouth can get trapped inside. And he prescribed antibiotics. This was Thursday afternoon. By Saturday evening, there was pus coming out of the wound on my daughter’s face. By Saturday evening, the doctor’s office was closed. By Saturday evening, the infection, in her face and near her brain and her eyes, could have been much, much worse. But we already had the antibiotics. We watched it carefully and it started to get better before the weekend was over. And I was incredibly grateful that I had listened to the input from the Universe when I did. As I said, I totally could have missed it. Or I could have dismissed it. But I didn’t.
I could make a joke here about all of the physical health issues we are experiencing as a family this summer. Like put us in a bubble already!!! I haven’t even talked about the walking pneumonia and falling out of moving golf carts and me trying to fall down the stairs. But I digress . . .
But that is life, isn’t it? It rarely goes as programmed. It is not seamless, efficient, convenient, logical or formulaic. It is often the opposite of all of those things!!!
I was supposed to record this podcast last week. But after the physical and emotional stress of last week, I found myself with no creative energy. None. Even after I spent most of the July 4th holiday relaxing on the couch, icing my knee and napping. And so, I didn’t record. And this podcast was born. Not only because my brain has been percolating around this idea of time and allowing something bigger than ourselves to intercede on our behalf as needed, but also because I had to change my recording schedule to accommodate the fact that the events of the prior few days had temporarily zapped my creative energy. My producer also suggested that there might be some stories I could share based on all that had transpired. And so I have.
The gift of release is breathing through and knowing that there is more at work than what we can see. To allow the flow of things to be a gift instead of something we get frustrated with and carry around with us like a burden; zapping our already taxed energy. Just when we want to hold on tight(er) and try to force things to be a certain way, we can accept the invitation to let go, and to allow things to fall into place more easily, naturally, and with less effort. I find that things unfold, not necessarily on my schedule or pace or as I would prefer, but at the pace they need to happen.
Now I am not suggesting that we just give up and throw up our hands because things are out of our control. There are in fact, many things that are IN our control. And one of the things that is in our control is how we respond to the things that our OUT of our control. See what I did there?
So here is the last anecdote of the day. I have shared more deeply about my own mental health journey on Instagram as part of a series I wrote for #mentalhealthawarenessmonth. And for the purpose of this podcast, I will revisit the moment in time when my longest recognized PTSD episode--the one that ran my neurological and physiological systems for 6 months--released. It released when I stopped trying to fight it. When I surrendered completely and released every preconceived notion I had about how my life was supposed to be or what I was supposed to be able to do on any given day. Now, as I already said once, I am not suggesting that the answer for everyone struggling with mental illness is to “release” but it was a profound moment in my own life--to stop trying to control what I couldn’t control and to focus on the things that I could--I could focus on getting enough sleep. I could focus second on drinking water. I could focus third on eating. And so one. And I could RELEASE the expectations I held of myself or of how each day would go and just be fully present to what was, using the energy I had, when I had it, to invest in caring for myself through each day.
Now I want to be careful here to point out what I am NOT saying. I am NOT saying that you can eradicate your pain and suffering by simply releasing your wishes, desires, heartbreak, and preconceived notions. I am not saying we can eradicate our mental illness by simply choosing to release it instead of fighting it. I don’t think there is any magic pill that will prevent or soothe the pain of illness, injury, heartbreak and disappointment. But what I am saying is that the more we dig in on what we think “should” be instead of releasing into what “is,” we actually provide or pour more fuel onto our own fire; when left to its own devices, that fire would burn out on its own time and at its own pace. And if we are looking for them, we will often find little gifts in the things that didn’t work out the way we wanted them to . . . just like Garth Brook’s 1998 song, “Unanswered Prayers.”
I encourage you to explore releasing the things that don’t go the way you think they should, to breathe into and embrace what is, and to be on the lookout for the signs along the way that there is something greater at work in your life, a greater wisdom that perhaps you wouldn’t find if left to your own devices. I think you will find more ease, peace, grace, presence and gratitude in this way of being in the world.
For more information about the work that I do with individuals, groups and organizations go to boothandrews.com. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @theboothandrews.
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I look forward to being back with you next time!