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Cate Laurier

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Navigating the Messy Muddled Magical Middle
By Cate Laurier

What do you do when you fall and find yourself in the muck? You felt triumphant yesterday. Today you feel like a worm. Yesterday you had a life plan. Today you can’t even find your keys. Self-doubt and confusion abound. You hear yourself say in exasperation, “What? Again???!!!! Arggghh!!!”, "This should be easier”, “I should know better by now!" Face it, we all do – no matter how many Tony Robbins seminars you've attended! I certainly do.
Brene Brown writes about this exact thing in her book, “Rising Strong”. She doesn’t candy-coat our human struggles with “uplifting”(?!) “pull yourself up by your spiritual bootstraps” slogans. She doesn’t tell us that we’re wrong or in need of remedial life coaching.  She dives right into the messy muddle and talks about what it’s really like. She also shows us that this place we all love to hate, is actually fertile soil, and is an inherent part of our creative life process.   

Brene is definitely not one of those teachers who promises instantaneous transcendence. Instead, she’s a powerful voice for the message that embracing our vulnerability IS the path to connection and compassion. Transformation happens by going through the muck. With her clear-sighted and compassionate voice, along with her irreverent kick-ass Texan humour [smile], she definitely ranks as one of my absolutely favourite writers and teachers.

I get so frustrated with the way so many “spiritual/inspirational” teachings and stories jump straight to the conclusion – the “triumphant enlightened outcome”. They give us the “moral of the story”, not the story itself. Or they give us the sanitized version – “the brave and fearless hero who never had any doubt…..“
They don’t take us through the mud and broken branches and excruciating self-doubt of the actual story. We get the dragon slayed. We don’t get the trembling fear and doubt as the hero faced the dragon’s fire-breathing nostrils and desperately wanted to flee.
We don’t get the part where the hero was absolutely despairing and doubtful and tangled in a pit of confusion as she struggled to write her book, or launch her business. We get the upbeat motivational/spiritual slogan. That’s fine as a bumper sticker or wall poster -- but it leaves out the inner journey that led to this hard won wisdom! I’m inspired by these mottos as much as anybody. They can be uplifting and inspiring reminders. However, they can’t substitute for our own journey.  
So I’m particularly drawn to teachers/leaders who talk about what it’s actually like in the trenches. You know – “real life stuff" – not just “made for TV.”  I get to see how they really are like me, warts, inner conflicts and all. I get to see what they navigated inside themselves to get from “here to there”. That’s what inspires me to believe it really IS possible for me too.
In “Rising Strong”, Brene uses her own stories and those of others to unpack the process from inside the mess and reflect on what’s involved in getting to the “other side”. She takes us on the journey with her, so we can see how transformation actually happens.
For example, she describes in detail how she navigated an argument with her husband. She lets us in on what the experience actually felt like and gives us a glimpse into how she was able to become a compassionate witness to examine what was really going on. She lays out the way she experienced and became aware of her messy feelings, negative self-talk, desire for revenge, and the triggering of old hurts and shame stories. She didn’t evade the “darkness”, she went through it. She calls this “rumbling” with our stories. It can be excruciatingly difficult, and she in no way implies that it’s easy.  
Which brings me to my next point. The messy middle place is maddeningly difficult. It sucks! I want to avoid it as much as anyone else. It’s also an important and inevitable part of creation and transformation. This is true, whether we’re life artists or big “A” artists. Brene explains why it’s so important, why we can’t afford to skip it, and how we often can’t skip it, no matter how desperately we’d like to.

She illustrates this by telling us about a 3-day training program she runs. Day 1 always starts off full of enthusiasm. Day 3 ends on a bang. However, Day 2 always has some “awfulness” to it. People’s energy flags, they feel dragged down by all the stuff that’s stirring up, and some even want to quit. She found that no matter how much she tried to reformat the training, there was simply no way to bypass the Day 2 doldrums. She finally concluded that Day 2 was necessary to get to Day 3. You can't skip the messy middle. "You can't skip day two!"
Brene also describes a very illuminating conversation she had with the creative team at Pixar. These incredibly gifted creators talk about how the creative process continues to confront them with doubt, uncertainty, vulnerably and discomfort. If these creative geniuses face this, then the rest of us can take heart and realize we’re not alone as we face it ourselves. There’s clearly nothing wrong with us. It is not our “private failure”. It is not a sign of our laziness, lack of commitment, or “proof” that we’re “not cut out for this” etc etc (fill in the blank with your favourite criticism [smile]).

The way she describes the messy middle, and the gifts this difficult passage holds, can give us comfort and help us see it (and ourselves!) in a more compassionate and hopeful light.
In the middle space, the shiny enthusiasm of a new beginning has worn off. You’re mired in a “dense fog of uncertainty”. You can't see the light. She explains, “You can't see the light because there is no light.”  At this point of the journey - you're in the dark. That’s where all creation springs from.
She goes on to say, “Experience and success don’t give you easy passage through the middle space of struggle. They only grant us a little grace that whispers, ‘This is part of the process. Stay the course.’

As we navigate the dark in our own journeys, she offers us this reminder: “The middle is messy but it’s also where the magic happens."

I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you deal with the messy middle? What challenges come up for you? What helps you navigate them? What helps you find faith?
~ Cate

butterfly monarch-butterfly-born stock photo.jpg 

Photo credit: Panithan Fakseemuang
Chrysalis Stock Photos and Images, Royalty Free

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