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Free Play


I have been screwing up. Royally. And I've been feeling it. Scared. Confused. Wrestling with doubt and lack. Spinning in circles, taking futile action, if I'm taking any action at all. Asking too many questions, keeping my focus on the problems. And making myself quite miserable in the process.


Last weekend it all hit me, like a ton of bricks. I had high hopes for Saturday, which fell apart inch by inch. Figures, I groused. This is just another day, like all of my days these days. Here's what's wrong. Here's what sucks. Here's what's not working. Here's what I don't like, what I don't want, what I'm sick of. I quickly slipped into depression (an admittedly short trip in February).


I woke up Sunday morning and cried. I felt filled beyond capacity with sadness. My marriage, my friendships, my work, my finances, my home, my health; it all felt bundled in sadness, like priceless antiques wrapped in layer upon layer of dirty cotton batting. I let the sadness roll down my cheeks, taking deep breaths. When I was ready to get out of bed, I committed to using one of my hardest-won skills, the ability to be uncomfortable.


I cleared my schedule for the day, considered what might feel good to do (the immediate answer was nothing), and made lots of space for my sadness. I let the sadness expand, get heavier. I felt myself being weighted by the enormity of this emotion, pushed down, settling low. Instead of forcing my feelings away with busyness (a skill I have worked enormously hard to un-learn), I got still. I allowed sadness to take me.


We laid on the couch together, sadness and I. We napped. We read fluffy fiction. We skipped meals. We chose not to exercise, or go outside. Sadness filled all of the room I opened for it, like molten lead sinking into the most miniscule spaces of a mold. I allowed this with no expectation, no pressure, no guilt...and very little curiosity. I didn't feel sadness asking me to understand it. I just felt it needing to be there.


So I didn't ask sadness many questions. I didn't assign it any meanings. I just allowed it, saving my questions for myself. Every few hours, I asked myself again, what would feel good? For most of the day, nothing was the answer I received and so I stayed on the couch with sadness. In the evening hours, cooking dinner felt good, so I did it. Later, honoring my long-standing commitment to taking care of onerous chores 15 minutes at a time felt good, so I cleaned the bay window in the kitchen.


And a curious thing happened throughout this heavy, sad day. I began to realize that I'd been screwing up. I had unwittingly abdicated my throne, stepped out of my personal responsibility. The things I was sad about? They weren't foisted upon me by outside forces. I was no victim. Or rather, I was no one else's victim. I was a victim of my own neglect, my own failure to stand in my power and take care of my needs.


The frustration I was feeling with my husband over our lack of quality time? The dearth of close friendships with women living in my community? Those both stemmed from my own inaction. I had developed a habit of sitting around, waiting to hear what my husband had planned before making any plans of my own. As my husband is deathly allergic to planning, this resulted in months (years??) of me making zero effort to ensure my needs for quality time, with him or with friends, were met.


The stagnancy in my business? Partially made up. At the time of this gloomy introspection, I had already completed the first collaborative project of the year, had the second coming up in days, and had the third on the books. My new coffee with a coach offering was booking weekly, and I had two upcoming appointments with new professional contacts. What stagnation did exist was, once again, due to my inaction. I was unwittingly practicing the definition of insanity in my business, doing the same thing time and again and wondering why I kept getting the same result.


And my focus? Somewhere along the way I stepped in something slippery, and I slid right into problem focus. I'd been spending the majority of my time thinking about what wasn't working, what I didn't want. I was tromping around in my life pointing out the problems--here, there, here, there. I'd been bludgeoning myself with the most basic aspect of the Law of Attraction--where focus goes, energy flows. Nearly all of my energy was going into observing, and reviling, what I didn't want.


The actions I wasn't taking, the conversations I wasn't having, the requests I wasn't making, the curiosity I wasn't expressing, the focus I wasn't choosing; I was at the root of this sadness. Me, and the ways that I wasn't taking responsibility for my outcomes. Me, and my focus on what was broken. Me, the life coach! The one who hangs her professional shingle on personal responsibility (there are more links to the vitality of my business in there, but that's another blog post).


This is a pivotal moment, friend. The dawn of this realization contains an opportunity. The magic in this moment could have turned black, the molten lead of sadness alchemizing into the scorching white hot slurry of shame. So many shame spirals were open to me in this understanding:


It's all my fault

I'm so stupid

Who am I, to call myself a coach?

I can't even take care of my own shit!

I have no right to say I can help others

I've made a mess, of everything

I wasted so much time


And on, and on, and on. Shame is a gluttonous emotion, taking everything offered it, ever hungry for more.


In this moment of alchemy, I thankfully recalled my truth. I lead others not because I am flawless, but because I do have the skills to manage the sticky moments. Because I have been the vessel for the sadness and the shame, because I have been here (and there, and here, and there) and I've come back with deep understanding. That understanding allowed me to side-step the black magic and open myself to the white. Yes, I am the one who created these misalignments in my life. Yes, this is "all my fault." And fixing it is all my job. And that's just fine, because I am the one holding the best and most powerful wand, the incantation that simply erases the mistakes, clears the playing field for a new game. I can call a mulligan.


A do-over. A free game. Because, as a coach, I understand that in the arcade of life, we're on Free Play forever. There's no need to get the new high score, try tying a string to a quarter, or hope for a random reward. There are no end to the chances to try again. A new game isn't "earned" by spending time in a shame spiral, judging oneself or another. A fresh start isn't earned at all. It's just there, a natural part of life.


Did I screw up? Sure enough. Does it matter? Not a bit. If life is a pinball game, in every moment there are three shiny new balls waiting to be loosed on the field. It's useful to understand that those balls are all heading into the drain, sooner or later. Being human means being fallible. And that's the whole point. Life is Free Play. The game goes on.


There's no need for shame here, for self-ridicule or -judgment. None of that serves me (or you). Some gentle evaluation is in order. How did I get here? What can I do differently next time, to avoid making the same mistake? But what's most important is the recognition that something is out of alignment, and the plan to realign. Time spent mourning the lost balls is time wasted. Those plays are over. I need few moments to decide how to play the next balls better, and then I need to hit the Start button.


Done. I will be asking for the specific kinds of quality time I want to spend with my husband. I will be pursuing friendships by making plans that fit into my schedule, regardless of what my mate may be doing. I will be seeking funds to bring new members to my business team, with expertise that I am lacking. I will be focusing on what I do want, and I will be grateful for the ways that what I do not desire helps to illuminate those wishes.


And I will be continuing to create room for my emotions. Let's not forget that the mulligan magic, the grace of Free Play, was revealed to me in my sadness. In my past, this enchanting discovery would have been inaccessible, hidden by my refusal to spend time with uncomfortable emotions. To earn my Free Play, I had to stay at the table. I had to watch what was going on in my game, acknowledge how my game was making my feel. It was only in the sadness that I was able to find my replay.


This week feels much better. I'm focused on what I want, and taking decisive action to create it for myself. It's still February, but now that sadness has been allowed to move on, it's easy for me to remain engaged with the practices that help me manage my seasonal lows. Lights are flashing, bells are ringing, and I'm keeping the ball in play. Until I don't. And when--not if, but when--I fall from my throne again, when I screw up and the fractal light of humanity spills from my experience into the world around me, I invite sadness (or one of its friends) to return, to remind me that the arcade is always open, and Free Play prevails.

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