I used to have this nightmare several times a year. I’d be standing on the shore, and then a huge tidal wave would form, growing taller and taller, looming over me, turning the sky black and the surroundings gray. Sheer terror would fill me. I’d see it start to arc over me, and instead of waking up just before it crashed on me, it WOULD crash over me and I would be pummeled by it and suffocating. Then I’d wake up.
I kept having this dream, and analyzed over and over why I might be having it. Was it the near-drowning I experienced when I was young, when some ocean spirit eventually deposited me onto the beach without me knowing even how I made it back? Was it sexual repression? (ha! not likely with me…) Water means so many things in “dream analysis…”
Well, this is what I love about coaching. Taking a different approach than most therapy models, in the end I didn’t so much care why I had the dream. I just wanted it to stop. Or – more accurately – for the terror to stop.
When I had almost finished completing my coach training in 2009, the dream took a different turn (hang with me…this is where it gets juicy).
One night, I had the dream again. I stood at the edge of the ocean, and the wave grew taller and taller…perhaps the tallest one I’d seen yet. The same terror filled me and I tried to run away. I turned around, but then the futility of what I trying to do hit me. I could never outrun a tidal wave. So, I turned around, and surrendered.
I faced the looming wall, accepted it was going to crash over me, and hellz yes it did. I was tossed around under the water for several minutes, limbs flailing and darkness enveloping me. I found it…interesting. In my state of surrender, I was in awe of the power of this wave. I’d been tossed in the washing machine surfing before, but this was a freakin’ tidal wave.
Then, something totally different happened.
I got spit out the top of the water. The surface was calm and clear. The sky was blue. And there were colorful bathtub toys and beach toys floating all around me. It was…epic and beautiful and relaxing.
I never had the nightmare again.
In hindsight, I think I kept having this dream because I was focusing on wanting to avoid the fear, make the tidal wave stop, or escape the problem altogether. But did you ever entertain the idea that parts of life are supposed to be hard? Well, of course you know that parts of life can be hard…but do you believe it’s supposed to be hard sometimes?
I don’t buy the whole “everything can be easy and effortless all the time if you just think it will be” shizzle that some people spout out (although self-sabotage is real and a whole other blogpost). What I do believe is that we would not be able to achieve states of bliss and joy if it were not for the existence of the contrasting hard feelings. It’s emotional physics. And the irony is, once you embrace that we don’t need to run from the hard feelings, they actually pass more quickly. In the end, we suffer less than we would trying to fight them.
Life is indeed hard at times. When we try to avoid it being hard, or avoid feeling our hard feelings, the problem grows and grows. Like my tidal wave.
You also lose confidence in yourself, because you don’t trust that you can handle it and test your shit out.
A few years later, I heard one of my teachers, Pema Chodron, say that true inner confidence wasn’t about never being afraid. She said it was about knowing that when you got knocked down, you could get up, again and again. Then she gave the example of standing on the ocean’s edge (not kidding!), and then how if we fight getting knocked down by the waves, or try to escape them, we get exhausted and worn down. However, if we allow ourselves to get knocked down, and then get back up – now that is unshakeable confidence. She also said the Tibetans called this radiant inner confidence ziji…which is what I named my confidence course!
Essentially, once you’ve learned that you can get knocked down – and that you will always get back up – you can turn to the world and say, “Bring it!”
True confidence is not built from avoiding getting knocked down. True confidence is built from knowing you will always get back up.
There’s a reason you got this in the mail today – maybe you’re feeling crushed and you needed to hear it. Maybe a friend or a loved one or a stranger on the street needs to hear it, and you need to muster the courage to tell them.