Welcome to February, dear Sirens and Scoundrels! Around this time, you might be revisiting the goals and intentions that you set for yourself at the beginning of the year. You might be congratulating yourself for all the progress that you’ve already made or you might be berating yourself for not having done more or for already falling off the wagon. Or if you’re like me and many of my clients right now, you might see so many things that you want to change, both in your life and the world at large, that you feel paralyzed with fear and indecision and don’t know where to start.
There is a very real, biological reason for this. In times of stress or panic, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in, sending our body into fight or flight mode. This response doesn’t require being chased by a bear. It can be triggered by a daily pile-up of stress at work or in your personal life. We’re even seeing this play out in the current political landscape.
In the wake of the election, some people took immediate action by organizing protests, attending marches, calling their elected officials and rallying around the causes that they believe in. Their natural instinct was to stand and fight. On the other hand, you may have heard others say they want to move to Canada or England or anywhere but here. Their natural instinct was to flee. Now let me make this clear: neither response is better than the other, so please don’t judge yourself for not reacting the same way as someone else. Both of these biological instincts are completely natural and appropriate.
Yet another common (and much less talked about) instinct is to feel totally immobilized and unsure of how to act. This is known as the freeze response. You’ve probably heard the phrase “like a deer caught in headlights.” In this instance, we feel so scared or overwhelmed that we can’t seem to think or react clearly. We physically, emotionally and/or psychologically shut down in order to cope. Remember, we’re not just talking about lions, tigers and bears here. This same thing can happen when we find ourselves faced with a goal or challenge that feels insurmountable—like wanting to solve all the world’s problems but not knowing how.
They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But when your line looks like an Everest-size peak, it’s easy to feel frozen. So how do we make that massive mountain of change feel more like a molehill? We break it up into a series of steps. We choose small, manageable, sustainable actions that we can take on a daily basis. In time, these actions add up to our larger goal. In yoga, we call this process Vinyasa Krama.
You want to write a novel? Congratulations! Instead of worrying about finishing the entire book, start with writing for 10 minutes a day. Then gradually move up to 20 minutes, then 30, then maybe a full hour. You want to start a new fitness regime? Instead of feeling like you have to go to the gym every single day or else you’re a failure, start by committing to even just a day or two a week, then gradually increase the number or length of your visits over time if that feels appropriate. You want to take that big trip you’ve always dreamed of but don’t have the cash? Start by setting aside a few cents or dollars at a time. It doesn’t have to be a whole paycheck or last night’s lottery winnings.
We have a tendency to want to change everything overnight: our job, our relationship status, our body, our habits, our world. Just remember, whatever your goal, you don’t have to do it all in one day. As an intuitive healer and life coach, I’ve seen time and time again the synchronicities and absolute miracles that can occur when you begin to take even the smallest steps toward your dreams and the callings of your spirit. With every action that you take, the energy and momentum builds. Before you know it, your tiny snowball of steps has turned into an avalanche of action that completely changes the landscape of your life.
On the evening of the Women’s March, a friend asked me to do a tarot reading for our country—to look at where we are collectively and what we can be doing as individuals to make an impact right now. So I pulled a card from my favorite tarot deck and flipped it over to reveal the 10 of Wands. The image on the card is a woman climbing up a steep mountain, carrying a heavy burden on her back (the ten wands). Although the mountaintop is within sight, she is not looking at her final destination. She is focused on the next stone step that she is about to climb and reaches one hand out to steady herself on it. To me, this card doesn’t signify rapid movement but, rather, a slow and steady progression. It reminds us that even the tallest mountain can only be climbed one step at a time.
Therefore, it is important to be mindful of the step that you are currently on and to meet yourself WHERE YOU ARE AT and not where you think you should be. What can you do, right now, with what you already have and who you already are? What talents and resources are available for you to use in this very moment? (For help with this, try the exercise below.)
To continue with our climbing metaphor, maybe you’re the Eagle Scout who knows how to light fires out of twigs when the sun goes down and the temperature drops. Or the baker who filled her backpack with homemade granola bars to hand out when hunger strikes. Or the cheerleader who encourages everyone else to keep climbing when they feel tired or discouraged. Or the navigator who can help steer the group up the safest and most direct path.
Remember, you don’t have to be an expert at everything or take on every cause. As you focus on sharing your unique talents and passions with the world, you leave room for others to fill in the gaps with their unique talents and passions. This is how we all come together as a community, as vital pieces of a whole, finding ways to work together towards our individual and collective goals.
EXERCISE: Take Inventory of Your Time, Talents and Treasures
In your journal or on a blank sheet of paper, free write your answers to the following questions. Don’t censor yourself or overthink your answers. Just put pen to paper and see what comes out. The answers may surprise you.
Time: Where can I make time in my schedule or space in my life for my goals, passions and the causes that are important to me?
Talents: What am I good at? What skills, trades or training do I have? What do others compliment or praise me for? What do I enjoy doing? What lights me up? When do I feel fulfilled?
Treasures: What physical and financial resources do I currently have access to that I can use in service of my goals? (This might be money, locations or equipment.) What relationships do I have and what communities am I a part of? What are my hobbies and passions? What do I value in life? What causes are meaningful to me? What issues are close to my heart?
Every morning, you can then ask yourself this simple question: how can I best use my time, talents and treasures today? What one small action can I take toward my goals and the life I want to create for myself?
As you then move through your day, if you find yourself getting caught up in that fight or flight response or feeling frozen in fear, pause and take a few deep breaths to re-center yourself and calm your nervous system. Come back to the present moment—to the step that you are on—by simply noticing how you’re feeling and what is happening around you.
With daily focused action from your soul, you’ll find yourself up on that mountain peak in no time!
Alicia Lipinski is a gifted intuitive healer and spiritual counselor based in Los Angeles. She is also a certified Holy Fire Reiki practitioner, RYT 200 Yoga Instructor and herbalist who brews her own tonics and tinctures. She has studied a wide range of healing modalities, including Ayurveda, nutrition, life and wellness coaching, tarot, aromatherapy, crystal therapy and various forms of energy work and incorporates elements of each into her healing work. Yet her real medicine is her ability to see others for who they truly are and reflect that truth back to them.
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