Can Joy and Challenge Co-exist?

Can Joy and Challenge Co-exist?

Emily ColwellWords Have Power, Inner Dialogue 1 Comment

What if it turns out we don’t have to get everything in our life perfect in order to really start living and enjoying life?  What if it turns out our perpetual anxiety…or chronic illness…or cancer…or fatigue…or a miserable job…or an unhappy marriage…or hopelessness about the state of our country or world don’t have to hinder our ability to embrace the moment we are in and find joy? Well, peeps, I’ve got great news! It turns out we can have a perfectly imperfect life and STILL enjoy so much of it.  

For a long time, I believed that if I worked hard enough to get things just right in my life, I could REALLY start living and enjoying life more.  But guess what happens when we live this way? It requires that we constantly hunt for what’s wrong in our lives so that we can make the wrongs right.  It makes perfection a prerequisite to enjoying life. Uh oh! That sounds challenging and exhausting, right?!  

There’s a catch to living in the wrongness of our lives all the time.  Have you ever noticed that when we focus on what’s wrong, it automatically pulls us out of the present and into the past or future? We’re either reminiscing about how our lives were once better or we are focused on a particular goal in our future that will hold relief.  But where does that leave the present moment that we are experiencing? Does it actually make it go away? Does a focus on the past or the future make our current feelings any less present?  

I spent so many years of my life with anxiety as a routine visitor. She and I practically cohabitated together and yet I saw her as the enemy. I was convinced I needed to rid myself of her in order to love my life.  I tried to silence her by ignoring her, fuming at her, running from her, talking about her or fighting against her. And guess what? It rarely worked and when it did, it was very momentary. It wasn’t until I learned how to soften to her presence and discovered ways to make room for her at my table that my relationship with her began to transform. And suddenly my response to the anxiety that once owned me became, “Oh, it’s you again. Hi.” And shock of all shocks, it turns out that’s what she’d needed: to be seen and acknowledged rather than made wrong.   

Does that mean that I never make my anxiety wrong when she shows up now? Nah! My mind still spins its stories about how terrible it is when anxiety descends. And sometimes I initially fall for this story and kick into fix-it mode or solution searcher for a bit, hunting for how to get out of the present to a better moment. But the amazing thing that I’ve learned is that there are gems cloaked within the apparent wrongness of the present moment.  Sometimes the seeming wrongness is actually beckoning us back into the present, where it’s more possible for us to create a different relationship with the very thing we thought we needed to overcome.    

My post-thyroidectomy adventures also reminded me of this as I worked to find the right balance of thyroid medication that my body is now dependent upon. I didn’t plan to have such a tricky time with this.  In fact, I envisioned the opposite so you can imagine how wrong it felt to me! My mind thought about how much better it was when my thyroid was present and able to balance things for me. My focus was on how incorrect the current dose felt and how badly I wanted to reach a specific time when my dose would finally and forever be balanced.  Do you see how I was grounded in the past and the future? Yet where was there room for me to be present and living in the now if I was always waiting for that elusive, future day that would finally make the present right for me?

One day I was walking the dog and quietly stewing about my frustration with this whole thyroid dosing escapade.  I suddenly found myself saying, “Emily, you know what? Maybe you’re never going to find the perfect dose. Maybe this thyroid medication dance is going to be a part of your experience for the rest of your life.”  And guess what happened? My present moment suddenly felt less wrong. Why is this? Because these questions created space for the present moment to be here. They cracked the door for a new relationship to begin to form with the very experience I’d been so busy trying to get out of.  As surprising as it may sound, I felt relieved to realize that I might never reach a perfect thyroid medication dose! It unexpectedly took the pressure off me to have to work so hard to try and reach that elusive perfect dose. Suddenly there was room for this thyroid medication dance AND for me to be engaged with my life and it’s various joys.  

Can you see why I love teaching this stuff?!  It’s incredibly empowering to discover that joy and peace and relief are possible even WHILE we are going through challenging experiences. It offers a completely fresh definition of true freedom.  It makes room for new relationships to form with the very parts of ourselves and our lives that we were convinced needed to be fought against or downright resolved before we could really get to living our best lives. How cool is that?!

If this sounds intriguing or downright exciting to you, sign up for my upcoming webinar series, Expanding Possibilities, that begins on October 1st!  It’s always interesting to read or learn about concepts, but directly experiencing these concepts brings them to life in more practical, real life ways, which is exactly what happens in my classes and sessions with people.

So here’s to true freedom and the discovery that we don’t have to make everything in our lives perfect in order to really start living and feeling engaged with life!


Emily Colwell, MSSW, ND

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