Slow Times are Grow Times


Many of us will hit fear season, the winter of our work. It’s when things go inky, evaporate, slow down to a crawl, or simply collapse on the side of the road. It’s when insecurity whips up like candy wrappers in a tornado. Most of us see the slack times as the pink slip of self-employment or some bad plague from which we will never recover.

But every creative success story seems to require a plunge into pain. It’s the emotional jalapeno that wakes up the creative grit to succeed. It’s when you call up your will power, leave chance behind, and summon the immensity of your own unspeakable strength. Nothing is happening on the surface. But know this: there’s a surge of growth mounting within you.

When I’ve hit dry skids in my speaking and coaching business, I have often gone on wild red alert. You would think the aliens had finally arrived, closed Starbucks, and brought the end of civilization with them. Friends say comforting things like “The land needs to be fallow before it yields new crops. It’s all a period of gestation.” But I am gestating demons, bankruptcy, and new strains of anxiety attacks. I am growing crops of hallucinations. I’m not so good with this passive little time out for spa days and redirection.

For weeks, I felt all these doors slamming on me. No one wanted to hire me for a speaking engagement, not even the scrappiest organizations where the honorarium was three slices of bread and an apple.  No one wanted to publish any of my writing. They had budget cuts or they’d just done that subject in their last issue, or the editor had just shot her husband or a hundred other bad bounces of the ball. “It doesn’t mean anything about my future,” I’d tell myself. Even so, I felt the termites nibbling away at the beams of my faith. I’d compulsively check voicemail to see if something new had come in. “Everything happens for a reason,” chirps a friend of a friend, naturally, someone with money, not to mention that good looking husband with bright blue eyes, who just got another promotion. Deep down, I know she is right. Still, enlightened wonder that I am, I imagine giving her a tiny little kick in her shins, for a reason.

I tried more marketing and focus. I tried brainstorming with colleagues and friends about how I might do things differently. I try hanging onto my client’s arms as they leave, casually cajoling them to do more business with me, because they have issues. But nothing sticks or works.

Finally, I realize I have done what I can to change the situation. Now, just as in bad dreams, I have to turn and face the monster.

I know it’s no longer about changing my circumstances. It’s about healing this terror inside me.

There are times when we must feel our pain so that we can also know the relief that comes from just being honest and not resisting the mysterious healing powers of the truth. Buddhists call this “leaning into the sharp edge of the sword.” It sounds bloody, but trust me, you will bleed diamonds and pearls. So I close the door of my meditation room and I imagine a beautiful kind woman who sits down with me and listens. “I am really, really afraid,” I tell her. She nods and I continue. “I’m scared that nothing good is ever going to happen again.” She nods. Now the tears come. The feeling of helplessness spews out of me. I am as fragile as a petal, no warrior here.

Finally, I am sobbing with the intensity of an island downpour. It feels right and freeing. Because underneath this hot broth of emotion I’ve been pushing away for weeks, if not lifetimes, I feel this presence of neutral strength. It’s just there. “But I’m supposed to do this. This is my work to do,” says a quiet voice within me. I am surprised by this even intelligence. It’s not posturing. It just feels as true as wool. This is faith. It’s a bedrock power that has nothing to do with external reality. 

Remember, we are fortified by a miraculous force. We are not playing the lottery. As in many spiritual paths, there is a lesson in A Course in Miracles that says, “God is the strength in which I trust.” It’s about letting go of what we can’t control and trusting in the powers of a Presence that loves us with a panoramic intelligence and takes us through necessary terrain and consciousness-changing turnstiles. The lesson goes on to say, “If you are trusting in your own strength, you have every reason to be apprehensive, anxious and fearful. What can you predict or control?” 

In times when everything feels out of our control, it’s comforting to remember that our small fear-brained self doesn’t need to make something happen. We can allow this dynamic transformation to play out. We trust in the Playwright, the consistent character of a loving universe, and the shifts and wonders we’ve already experienced. This journey isn’t about getting lucky here and there. It’s about walking through anything knowing that Perfect Love walks beside us.

In my office, I have a picture of a Native American Indian canoeing by himself through a mist in the dawn. He is creating the current of the stream with his oars and his will. He is not a twig on a river, bouncing on this current, floundering on that one. He knows his path. He rows his path. He finds medicine in silence, strength inside the core of his being. He remembers where creation comes from. He is not a victim of powers beyond him. He calls up powers within him and his movements create swift passage across the water.

During one of the dead winter times in my career, I begged anything divine or other for immediate assistance. As usual, I sought understanding in my journal. My wise Inner Teacher wrote back that day, “Dearest I have no interest in making you a superstar so that your small self can sigh with relief. I am interested in your personal healing. I need you to know your true power. Then you will walk in this world in safety and as a beacon.”

I knew that I still lived portions of my life like a shiny barking seal, doing flips and tricks for external validation. If people called me or paid me, I believed in my work and slept like a baby.

If they didn’t, I doubted my worth and every choice I had ever made, right down to the fact that I’d always chosen magenta from the crayon box in kindergarten, and clearly that didn’t bode well for a future in business.  I was at the mercy of circumstance. I wavered at every shadow. But I knew in my heart there would come a day when I wouldn’t ride the rollercoaster anymore. I knew there would be a time when I understood and trusted the infinite power of my calling. Sometime later I found this quote from the sage Sun Tzu and I knew it described this path. “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war and seek to win.”

Face your winter times with compassion for yourself and conviction in your strength. Silence is not abandonment. It’s a catalyst. In facing the void, you increase your potency and capacity. It’s a version of the Native American sun ceremony. Warriors endure the fierce ritual to give birth to their true identity and solidity. Likewise, on this path, you will go into these dry times, deep into the desert or dark woods, and emerge with a new authority, vision, or pair of wings and, finally you will write less desperately and spasmodically in your journal, your dog will sigh with relief, your therapist can fire her therapist, and all will continue to be well.

What do you know about yourself and your path in the silence? This is the only question that matters. Where does your power come from? Will you listen to the command of an authority that speaks from the depths of the earth and the ascension of galaxies or will you listen to the scratching terror of a thousand small and disempowering thoughts? What you believe will prevail. 

When we can’t change things externally, then it’s time to stir the cauldron of our governing magic. It’s time to go to church, hire a coach or therapist, or pray like monks and meditate until we see stars. We have to find our way back to the stars. There are no guide posts in ordinary reality. Inspired lives depend on staying connected to the higher love and power that weaves our threads together, the dissolver of limitations, the force and knowing of our own irrevocable will.

Finally, we will emerge from the bowels of these times resolved and whole. I love that word resolved. It's like we face the same mystery and challenge again and we re-solve it. That's exactly how this works. We remember that we are not alone. We feel empowered and determined. We no longer fear the world, and the phone starts ringing, the work starts coming, the ideas return, the doors open and the void time ends. It has served its purpose. We are ready to handle more than we ever have before

(this an adapted excerpt of Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work! (Tarcher/Penguin)

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