Ask Abdi: What To Do With Feelings Of Helplessness In Times Of Radical Change?
Question: I wanted to thank you for a podcast I found on your website “Help with helplessness”.
Your words resonated deeply with how I have been feeling since I left my very conformable corporate job and my long time relationship to take a step back on my life. Shortly after that I went on a Vipassana ten day retreat and came out in a weird state of depression, feeling completely helpless, asking myself so many questions about what is the use of anything. There are so many unknowns in the equation, that it feels paralyzing.
Answer: Good on you for having the courage to leave behind what was not serving you. Anxiety and feelings of helplessness are a natural process in times of radical change. They arise when we stop filling our lives with movement that is not coming from our center. More accurately, what is always present but is hidden by constant distraction comes into our awareness. There is a reason why we are all in a state of constant movement within and without.
When in deep transition, there is always a period where the old does not serve us and the new has not yet been revealed. You have to remember that your inner compass is working. You were made aware of what needed to be released. Now keep your attention on that same feeling and voice as it is your guide to what needs to happen next. It is similar to walking into a dimly lit room from a bright one. At first we feel blind but in short order our eyes adjust and we can move around comfortably.
The meditation retreat is exactly that: you went from hyperactivity to a slow pace. On one level it is a shock to the system as everything we have been repressing comes up. On another, it allows it all to be processed much faster. So again, thumbs up for facing yourself. Learning to live and be comfortable with uncertainty is powerful medicine. All you had before was the illusion of certainty. Even though it was not feeding you, you unconsciously were choosing that illusion over vitality. We all do that on some level until having the courage to do otherwise. There is no such thing as certainty in this realm. Truly constant flux is all there is. The mastery is to make peace with that and learn to be in it without reservation.
Do understand what the constant thinking and “asking so many questions” is about. It is the mind trying to find its footing in a space where there is no footing. If you keep staying present, the way will continue to be shown. In times of radical departure from what was the norm, we are shown things one step at a time. This is not some random thing: we have to be ready for the next step. The “you” that was in the corporate world a year ago would be in full terror if it was shown what the “you” is doing now. But by this moment in time you were ready to make the changes that needed to be made.
The approach towards helplessness (and its twin anxiety) is the same. We need to learn to tolerate these feelings. It is always there, right behind the surface. We have all learned to mask it. Incessant thinking is on top of the list of self medicating and numbing behavior. It is how we attempt to defend ourselves against the overwhelm of life.
Have compassion with yourself. Celebrate how far you have come already. The depression and paralysis are part and parcel of deep transitions. The paralysis can actually be helpful for a spell as it can stop us from jumping back in with both feet before we are ready or feel guided. No need to isolate or go through this by yourself. If the feelings are overwhelming get expert help as you cross this bridge into a life that truly feeds you.