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Too Hot to Handle? 3 Steps to Buddha Like Calm

In the fuzzy light of sometime past midnight, my daughter crept through the gloom to the kitchen. Fumbling open the fridge door she reached for the jar of cherries tucked away on the top shelf. Slowly slowly she unscrewed the lid….Trying so hard not to make a sound, she took a BIG gulp of the sweet, sweet liquid inside. Except she was in for a big surprise… In her sleepy mission, she’d miscalculated. Instead of the delicious nectar of her dreams, her mouth was on fire with the hot hot taste of chilli jalapeño brine.

Sometimes you don’t get what you expect

It seems obvious that sometimes your best laid plans go awry. We all experience it at some point. But there’s something about that awful moment of realisation that feels doubly painful. It’s not just that things went wrong. It’s the gap between what we were expecting and what we got. In my daughter's case that meant frantically gulping milk and covering her mouth to try and stop herself from cursing (and being busted for fridge raiding!).

But what can you do to reduce the suffering?

I reckon we all know a thing or two about dashed expectations over our lives. When you hit peri-menopause this can ramp up a gear. You can do all of the same things to keep yourself feeling ok - eating the same food, doing the same exercise. But all of a sudden things just don't seem to be having an impact.

Things that didn't used to bother you or you could handle with a bit of push are inexplicably difficult. Anxiety, which may never have consciously featured in your life, is suddenly stalking you and ready to pounce when you least expect it.

When I work with women to manage the turbulent emotions and experiences of peri-menopause and midlife in general, often one of the most distressing things is the expectation gap. This is the gap between how they "should" be coping and how they're actually coping. It creates a sense of urgency and even panic. "This needs to stop, I can't have it be this way" is the underlying feeling.

What is it that means some people suffer more acutely than others from the expectation gap? And why is it that the more we struggle and fight to regain control of our lives the more enmeshed and overwhelming it seems?

Some of the challenges are directly driven by the changing hormone landscape and our body's responses to the fluctuations. You can't think your way out of a body that's experiencing challenges. However, you can definitely use your thoughts to manage how you experience it and reduce the suffering.

Letting go of Judgement is HARD

Sometimes it’s really not easy to allow that gap to be experienced. That space between what we want and what happens is tricky. We don’t want a mouthful of spicy brine, we want sweet juicy sugar syrup! We need acceptance and non-judgement but they sometimes need conscious effort to cultivate. It also goes against what feels intuitive: I most definitely DON'T want to feel the way I do, so why would I want to accept it? Surely that's just giving in and a fast track to things getting worse.

Baby Steps to Buddha-like calm

So when the sh*t hits the fan (or the chilli juice hits your tongue), what can you do to smooth the ride? Here's a 3 step process you can apply to specific situation or more generally as principles to manage your menopause transition: Step 1: PAUSE To Be. It sounds so simple! It’s hard to be ok with things if we don’t stay present. Racing into doing (and distraction) is often our default when things are hard and we come into contact with an expectation gap. But that doesn’t let us process what we feel so we can use it to move on.

So the first step is: can you let yourself be with what’s happening just as it is? When you can be with your experience without judgement (which is what creates the demand that it should be different) you can let go of the "shoulds" and "musts". This creates space to take action.

You need to allow a pause so you can become aware of the thoughts you have about the situation without trying to change them, squash them or shame them: “This is so unfair”, “this shouldn’t be happening”, “this sucks” “what should I do?” "I want things to go back to how they were" The good news is, they’re just thoughts….and you can learn to watch them rise up and also see that they fall away again.

Now is the time to notice that there’s the situation and then there’s your thoughts about the situation. They’re two separate things. Often it’s the thoughts that make the situation painful or uncomfortable - or they make it worse!

Beginning to separate the two is the start of dismantling that suffering.

Step 2: Acknowledge So now we’ve seen that a bunch of thoughts have shown up. (Hello there judging mind, I see you! 👋🏻).  It may feel overwhelming to stop and be with the feelings that come along for the ride.

Imagine a classroom full of children and the teacher has left the room. What happens? Well, it's likely things will get noisy and chaotic. That's what happens when we don't acknowledge our inner experience and try to distract ourselves or avoid it.

When the teacher steps back into the room and acknowledges all the different children, even the unruly ones, things start to calm down. She wouldn't lock them in a cupboard or ignore them and she also wouldn't let them run the class! It's the same with our emotions. Most of the time, when we step back and acknowledge them, they've done what they needed and things can begin to settle.

Step 3: Be Kind!

This last step is essential but it might feel a little awkward.

Sometimes the things we're struggling with are tricky and challenging. It would be self-defeating and ineffective to try and just tell yourself to think positive thoughts about it. At best that's just another form of avoidance and distraction and at worst it's deeply shaming of your truth: in this moment, it's hard. Being compassionate and kind to yourself means speaking to yourself the way you would to a friend who was suffering. Your tone of voice and the words you use would likely be gentle and encouraging to a friend. For ourselves though, most of us are more used to berating and being cruel in our inner dialogue. “I’m an idiot! I should have been more careful. I’m so useless. I’m always messing things up. Other people manage this fine, I need to just get on with it and stop being so pathetic”

The final layer of suffering comes from this self-directed judgement. It triggers a physiological response that's the same as the stress response. So when you talk to yourself this way, you add more stress and pressure to your already struggling nervous system. If we can change the language and tone we use to talk to ourselves it makes all the difference: “This is hard. I’m so sorry it feels this way. Other people mess up too. What do you need to help you?”

How about you?

How do you reduce the pain when things go wrong or life doesn't seem to be working for you? Do you find yourself tangled up in your thoughts and struggling to keep perspective? Or maybe rushing to keep busy so you don't have to feel it all?

In the Be. membership, building the knowledge and skills to handle whatever life throws at us is one part of what we do. It's hard to go about creating the life you DO want if you constantly get derailed.

Here's a practice for you to try from the membership library that's designed to help you get space from your thoughts:

If you'd like my support to help you transform your menopause and midlife experience, just get in touch and book a FREE discovery call here. I can let you know how I might be able to help and point you in the right direction for resources to support you. Talk soon

Laura @ Be. x

“In practicing meditation, we’re not trying to live up to some kind of ideal – quite the opposite. We’re just being with our experience, whatever it is.” - Pema Chödrön


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