5 Days in Switzerland punctuated a shift for everyone on the retreat. The culmination of experiences- getting lost in Zermatt, a silent hike, riding in the pouring rain, taking pictures, standing barefoot in the bone-cold, milky-blue glacier lake, story-making and story-telling…changed how we see ourselves and who we are capable of being.
For me, the shift began before I even landed.
I haven’t traveled alone internationally since 2006. While I know I can navigate all the details of foreign travel alone, I do consider myself a somewhat (very) disorganized person. And that’s not the perimenopause. That’s just me.
I’ve managed to make a pretty good life for myself, in spite of being incredibly scattered, overwhelmed and forgetful at times. I do my best to mindfully place important items in special places so I won’t forget them. Then I forget the special place. I very often cannot find my keys. So I got an apple airtag. Then I somehow forget that I can track them. Why? Why? I tear out my hair weekly looking for keys. And earbuds. I have three pairs and still… — You may note my self-deprecating self-talk here.
As I prepared for Switzerland, I gathered my important items: Passport, computers, keys, sunscreen, contact numbers and chargers (all the chargers). I was very aware of just how much I’ve come to lean on Brian. During my stretches as a single parent, I handled it ALL. There was no choice. And as our relationship evolved he gradually took charge of traveling things. He is very, very good at being an organized traveler. I was so relieved to finally not have to be in charge and to let someone else handle the logistics- especially someone whose temperament is so steady and even and unwavering. How lovely to walk up to the baggage drop as he pulls both our passports out while I stand by and sip my coffee. I could allow myself to be cared for. That was a huge adjustment for me. And this, I have learned, is his love language: logistics and chargers. I think it also reduces his stress to know that everything is taken care of because he himself took care of it. It works for me. It works for us.
But this time it was all me, and I was extra mindful and I was perfectly fine- until I was falling asleep and heard my phone hit the floor of the plane. It was late and the plane was dark. Most everyone was sleeping. For several minutes I awkwardly attempted to maneuver myself in the window seat and not wake my neighbor. Reaching into the under seat crevices on the plane, touching various things I could not see that were either damp, crunchy, sticky or possibly previously chewed on…and none of which were my phone. I twisted myself around to sit my knees on the seat and put the top of my head on the floor to see if I could reach further. It seemed to have literally evaporated.
And my self-talk was- “this figures. OF COURSE I’ve lost my phone. No matter how hard I try, I still screw things up. I should have been more responsible. I should have put my phone away. I told the attendant and she rolled her eyes saying ‘it happens every. single. time.’ The heat of embarrassment began to rise in my face. If Brian was here he would have seen me falling asleep with my phone on my chest and he would have put it away for me”
…..and on and on I went…mad at myself and mad I didn’t have him with me to lean on… for a minute…(or two).
And here is where the turn happened. (and psst…here is where the work happens).
Stop. I said to myself.
I am fine. I said to myself.
I can find a solution. I said to myself.
I will take this one step at a time. I said to myself.
But I know my phone is on this plane! It did not dissolve!
But it is also possible that it slipped through some slot and is lodged in some improbable spot …and what if it actually is not retrievable?
OK. Ok. Breathe. It really is ok. Annoying- but ok. And I am very fortunate to be able to handle replacing it. Now, what can you do? You can wait. Can you find a store to buy a temporary phone? Yes. Can you show up when you show up? Yes. Can you acknowledge you showed up a day early to leave room for yourself to make adjustments? Yes. Ok now.
It’s not lost on me that on my way to facilitate a week of workshops in self-talk for others, I myself was working very, very hard to shift my own.
And this is a very important point. I don’t think we ever ‘fix’ our self-talk, nor should we think that is the aim. I do believe we can become more skilled at navigating and managing the conversation- and by focusing here, we get the most out of this work, and ourselves.
It also occurred to me at this moment that part of what makes the key that turns the chatter from negative to productive- could be in the questions. Often our self-talk consists of a lot of condemning statements. When we mindfully turn those condemning statements into questions, we disrupt the conversation in the best way possible. I started to ask myself lots of questions, like, what if it was my computer? What if my whole curriculum was lost?
What if I lost my suitcases- and all the journals I brought for the participants were gone? What if the picture postcards I so carefully chose and printed and brought for them to write about, were lost? What if I only had the clothes on my back to get through the week?
And I thought- it could be annoying, frustrating…maddening… But I would, in all honesty, be fine.
And the questions started to shift from ‘What if it was a worst case scenario’ to ‘What if it actually could be an amazing experience? What if the best possible things come out of this?’
And that is exactly what happened.
While I have given hundreds of Wordshops, I am deeply attached to the idea that I need to prepare every single word I say and that I need to say it the way I wrote it or else it won’t come out ‘correctly’- and won’t land with the weight I want it to land with. And every Wordshop, I start with my stapled stack of paper…like a security blanket, and at some point, I put it down on the podium and walk away- and tell my stories… Here is my heart-naked question: When am I going to trust myself completely? Well, this week brought me another step closer.
In Switzerland, with each day that passed, I used my stapled paper packet less and less. And that was a tremendous liberation. The last two days I made some notes and barely touched the words I’d written. I realized I was actually doing what I have been teaching all this time- and that is to BE PRESENT.
To trust myself. To trust that even if I lost a lot of important things, I would be ok. I have been carrying this idea with me, around me, like a bubble, everywhere I go. And the bubble is made of an idea, which is made of words, and the words are, “I am present. I can handle whatever happens. I will connect to my breath when I feel stress. I do trust myself.”
Words are so powerful. Our words can protect us, like a shield, a bubble. When we make a practice of how we use these tools, we can truly change what is possible.