March 22, 2017

Emotional Cardio: Being Present is Exhausting & I am Out of Shape.

I spent the day wandering around Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is arguably my favorite city in the entire country.

It’s got it all: art, history, culture, good food, churches, hot springs, great hiking spots, beautiful vistas, and a certain flow and vibe to it that made me instantly fall in love.

This trip was scheduled for the sole purpose of pure joy.

I flew here on my birthday for five full days of wandering, and dreaming, and relaxing, and exploring, and fully sinking into my love for this city and for life, by myself; the ultimate vacation for a busy single mom on the go.

So why the hell I am sitting in my car on the side of the road, playing Candy Crush?

This was the question I had to seriously ask, as I found myself mid-day stopping to grab a sweater from my car, and being inexplicably drawn to just sitting down, in the passenger seat of my own car, to take a break from life. Mind you, my life today involved the following: sleeping in, reading a book in bed, drinking coffee until noon, taking a bath, and walking around in my favorite city in America with nothing to do besides window shop, look at art, and breathe.

And apparently, it was seriously just too much for me to handle. It was time to check out with some good Facebook scrolling and obsessive and ridiculously pointless video gaming, and take a break from…what? Things being wonderful?

If I’m being completely honest, the answer to that question is yes.

I needed to take a break from things being wonderful.

Being fully present and open and led by divine inspiration, able to fully engage in and enjoy my life, on vacation and by myself, has been much more difficult to fully drop into than I thought it would be. It’s just so different than the life that I’m used to. When I’m sleeping in, I feel guilty that I’m not out doing things. When I’m out doing things, I wonder if I should be doing different things.

When I’m fully in the moment and enjoying exactly what I am doing when I am doing it, I feel amazing…for a split second. And then I feel like maybe I need to run and hide from how good that feels, because God knows I can’t get used to the way that feels. It’s just not “reality.” And at the end of the day, I look back at myself and realize: Damn. I am an emotional sh*t show. So I have another drink, and go to sleep, and hope it’s better tomorrow.

What I am fully realizing on this trip is that I need do some serious emotional cardio.

Apparently I’m pretty out of shape. I have been working out my emotional muscles for the last several years, with therapy, transformational retreats, and piles of personal development books, but just like in physical fitness, the ability to lift heavy weights and do short sprints does not translate to the ability to run a marathon. That requires a lot more endurance and training.

When it comes to physical fitness, we know this. We expect to have to train. We expect change to take time. We expect that it’s going to be hard work. It is the exact same process with emotional presence, but when it comes to personal growth, sometimes we forget this.

I forgot that sometimes just five full minutes of pure presence feels exhausting. I forgot that giving myself permission to be happy sometimes feels like more than I deserve, and impossible to do. I forgot that I keep myself endlessly busy with to-do lists and tasks and television and Facebook and yes, even Candy Crush, so that I never have time to settle deeply into my wants and desires and hopes and dreams…because with them come my fears, insecurities, disappointments, and heartbreaks.

And to hold all of those things, together, at once, is oftentimes just more than I’m able to carry. I don’t yet have the emotional stamina for it. I get tired, and I have to put it all down, even when I really want to carry it all. I just…can’t. And so I surf Facebook. Or I play a game. Or I have a drink. Because I really just need a break.

Emotional growth is incredibly similar to physical capability, we just don’t see it like that because it’s internal. So we do some crazy thing, like jump into a relationship after being single and avoidant for years, or quit our jobs and go to travel the world expecting to actually enjoy every minute. Or we even just make a goal to get through a weekend, or even a single meal, with no technology, when we are used to constantly using our phones to distract and distant ourselves from others, and from our lives. And then we fail. And then we berate ourselves because really, who doesn’t want to be happy?

And that should be easy…right?

But what if the idea of exercising your emotional capacity was viewed the same as the ability to exercise your physical capacity? If you’re used to numbing out, avoiding your life’s passion, your goals, your dreams, even avoiding connection with others, is it really wise to expect that you can change that overnight, and you’ll be able to show up perfectly in your life the minute you decide to?

No, of course not.

Running that marathon takes a lot of training beforehand, and showing up fully present for life does as well.

So instead of beating myself up about not enjoying every minute of my vacation, today I allowed myself to sleep.

Yesterday was a heavy cardio day. Today is a day of rest. I didn’t even leave my Airbnb. Tomorrow, my training continues, with more presence, and more dreaming…more emotional cardio.

But instead of expecting to run a marathon, I’ll shoot for a long hike, and remember that if I ever want to get to a point where I don’t feel like I need to check out from even the great things happening in my life, I’m going to have to create a consistent training schedule and practice being present on a daily basis.

Stamina doesn’t happen overnight, whether it’s physical or emotional.


Author: Jennifer Underwood 

Image: Jörg Schubert/Flickr 

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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