I have been dealing with minor but fairly uncomfortable and frustrating digestive issues since last summer. If I’m being honest I would say that I have been dealing with minor digestive issues throughout my life. My initial approach to addressing my digestive issues was to struggle against them, to figure out how to fix the problem so that I could move on with my life. I worked with an integrative health coach/nutritionist (who was very helpful), I restricted my diet (no grains, no gluten, no dairy, no alcohol), which in turn restricted my social life. I started to feel like I couldn’t fully live my life until this issue was resolved. I love cooking and trying new restaurants and felt like I wasn’t able to engage in activities that brought me joy. I was doing everything that I could to get rid of the problem (natural methods, western medicine, etc) and it just wasn’t working.
Then around early May I began to accept that my digestive system is working very hard but struggling to digest food in the way I wanted it to. I stopped thinking about my body as a problem and started appreciating it for what it was trying to do. I reflected on the fact that I have had a sensitive stomach since childhood and accepted that I will likely always have a sensitive stomach. I transitioned away from trying to find the solution to my digestive issues and began to move towards figuring out lifestyle habits and types of food that my body prefers. This is my life, this is my body, and I can struggle against it and treat it as a problem or I can continue to practice accepting it and treating it well. I moved away from seeking to arrive at a place where I would not have digestive issues and could eat whatever I want, to accepting that there will be no such arrival. Since making this shift I have felt much more at peace. I have stopped complaining as much about my symptoms or telling people about all of the foods that trigger my symptoms. I have stopped searching for a magic cure. I have accepted that sometimes I’m not going to feel great physically and I know how to take care of my body during those times. I have gotten back to focusing on living my life instead of waiting to live my life once I’ve arrived at a solution to my problems. I still have days when my digestion feels better and days when it feels worse, the biggest change is how at peace I feel with it all; this peace has come through applying the wisdom of no arrival to my life.
I recently went to a training for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which is a type of therapy that I practice and one of the things the woman leading the training shared with us is the wisdom of no arrival. She encouraged us to help our clients get out of the trap of thinking that therapy is a strategy for fixing themselves or preventing difficult things from happening in their lives. The wisdom of no arrival encourages us to engage in our lives fully today, letting go of the hope that tomorrow will be different. In other words we accept the joys and sorrows of life as they are without fantasizing that there is some strategy or skill that will help us to arrive at a place that is free from difficulty. The reality is that when we are caught up in chasing an elusive arrival we often miss the richness that life has to offer: the excruciating pain we feel for a lost loved one mixed with the deep love and gratitude for having known the person who passed away; the excitement about a new opportunity accompanied by the anxiety about whether or not we are up for the task; the joy we feel about a new promising relationship along with the fear that it won’t work out. Our lives are rich and full and the fantasy of arrival is often accompanied by a wish that things would just be stable, that everything would work out, that we would not experience pain. In these fantasies we miss the fact that the painful and difficult times in our lives add depth and meaning to our experiences.
So how do we apply the wisdom of no arrival to our lives? Below are my recommendations
- Use strategies as ongoing practices not pathways to arrival
There are thousands of books and articles proclaiming that if you just follow their simple steps your life will be significantly better. For example, there are fitness health experts who tell us that if we just follow their diet or workout plan we will have the body we always wanted. So we engage in the strategies long enough to arrive at our new body only to go back to treating our body poorly instead of embracing healthy practices as a lifestyle. I encourage you to take the wisdom that you find useful from self-help and personal growth books, blogs, and talks and know that there is no way to avoid having pain and difficulty in your life. I encourage you to treat this wisdom as a guide for ongoing practices that you can continue to use throughout your life, instead of something that will transport you to another place.
- Embrace the fullness of your life now
Many of us focus on the future because we are not happy with our lives now and focusing on the future is a way of avoiding the present. When we are focused on achieving our goals or fixing ourselves it can be easy to miss the richness of life in the present. Embracing our lives in the present allows us to more fully enjoy the positive things that are happening in our life right now. For example, when we are dating someone new we can get caught up in planning out the relationship and thinking about what’s next instead of enjoying the joy and excitement that comes during the early part of a relationship. I encourage you to engage in a gratitude practice before you got to bed at night as a way to connect to the fullness of your life. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that our life is happening right now; not tomorrow, not after we get a promotion, not after we have kids etc. Our life is happening right now and if we don’t pay attention we will miss it.
- Live like you already have what you want
Sometimes we can get so caught up in our goals that we put our life on hold until we achieve them. We tell ourselves that we will start living the life we want after we achieve our goals. We’ll start going out and exploring the city we live in after we are in a relationship, we’ll start prioritizing our friendships after we get the promotion, we’ll start eating healthy and exercising well after we make more money. I challenge you to begin living like you have already achieved your goals right now (caveat: I do not advise spending money that you don’t have). Imagine you went to bed tonight and when you woke up in the morning your biggest life goal had already been achieved. What would you start doing after accomplishing that goal? Would you start exercising? Spend more time with loved ones? Take better care of yourself? The wisdom of no arrival means letting go of the belief that things will magically change or become easier if you reach a goal. The wisdom of no arrival encourages us to begin engaging in our lives with intention now.