In talking with a dear friend, she was sharing something extremely challenging and brave she was about to take on. During our chat, she said that she was “weirdly” at Peace. Knowing her for several decades and what she has endured in her life, we both chuckled at the idea that something that took so much courage, could be Peaceful. It reminded me that I am not alone in finding real comfort, uncomfortable. Unbearable even.

Geneen Roth in her powerful book Women, Food and God, dives into the paradox of our assumption that we OVER eat (gamble, drink, hang on social media) when we are stressed, depressed or anxious. But the reality is that some of us have anxiety over “nothing” being wrong. Her work in this domain is transformational (see her most recent book This Messy Magnificent Life, a field guide) if you are so inspired.

Back to crisis as a default: On my path to heal from my own tragic losses, I have connected deeply with others who are grieving, or consistently experiencing immediate challenges in their environments. Some have suffered physical or mental abuse. When we are living in what many of us refer to as “crisis mode” there is very little Peace. We are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, fly, or hit us while we are driving. We are not encouraged when our lives are quiet, because our history tells us it won’t last.

And it won’t last. Nothing does. All of life is ephemeral. Yet there is this unique dynamic of living in crisis as a default that can make feeling great a foreign experience and one we may find ourselves running from without realizing it.

Many people self medicate to relieve stress (myself included.) Tough day at work. Financial woes. Family challenges. Health concerns. “How can I take the edge off?” There are so many options!

But not everyone knows that when a person’s default emotional state is to be on guard, having a productive day, earning a bonus, achieving a goal, having “fun” can feel worse than the regular “Same shit, different day” mentality. We have so much practice at making the best of things, being prepared, not reacting and ”rolling with it” that we are out of sorts when our hearts experience the overwhelmingly bizarre sense of Peace.

Brene’ Brown calls this “Forboding Joy” and describes it as a “dress rehearsal for tragedy” (see The Power of Vulnerability for more). It’s what we do when we stand over our beautiful child who is sleeping, and instead of receiving the gift of Joy, we fantasize about bad things that could happen.

I call it being out of practice. We have talked about habits, and the idea that we “are what we consistently do” and in this context, I see it as “crisis mode (not excellence see 3/12/21 post) is therefore not an act but a habit.” We have lived this way for so long that it is our default. Our habit is to move through life armored up (another Brene’ term) ready for anything.

While there may be a time and a place for armor, hopefully it is not in our every day lives. This awareness has helped me to challenge my mental state when everything is quiet:

“Did I bury my only Daughter? Yes. Am I doing that right now? No.“

“Did my son Emmanuel die at birth? Yes. Is that happening right now? No.”

May my Son Zach pre-decease me? Yes. Is that happening right now? No.”

I and others like me, may just need some practice at challenging our habit, and allowing Peace, Joy, Contentment a regular seat at the table. The more we allow ourselves to be in the current moment, rather than in the past or future, the more reasons we can find to feel good.

Practicing Peace does not mean an end to disappointment, crisis and tragedy. We know too much, and it would be naive to think the toughest days are behind us (although that would be nice!). Instead, it means being aware of what is real, right here, right now.

The next time something awesome happens and you find yourself reaching for a drink, a pizza or an online shopping experience, ask yourself if you are stuck in crisis as your default, and missing out on the kaleidoscope of positive emotions that, when not defaulting to old habits, are available to all of us.

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