We so often talk about “doing the work” but what does that mean? And is it a one-size-fits-all approach?
To do the work is to create a mental, emotional, and spiritual shift from bystander to an active participant in one’s own life. It is not measured in motivational quotes and uplifting posters —it is a verb, and it requires a great deal of vulnerability. It is found not in the words, but in the action. The work allows us to become intimately aware of and prioritize our needs. It is homework, and take-home assignments. It is showing up for ourselves when no one is watching. Healing and working through therapy requires that we become self-aware, that we clear the blockages within, and that we begin to heal the wounds that are not always visible.
When Your Glass Is Empty, You Cannot Give to Others.
Being kind to yourself is a radical notion, at least for me. Doing the work is a holistic approach, and it is deeply rooted in self-care. While self-care looks incredibly different for everyone, it is an iterative, unquantifiable, and inherently valuable practice. It requires trial and error, dedication and intention to invest time, energy, and resources into yourself —your greatest vessel. Self-care is not a gift, a selfish act, or an overindulgence, it is all a part of the process. The therapeutic work necessary for healing takes persistence and commitment, but it also helps us to fill our glass, drop by drop. Doing the work means asking yourself how full your glass is, and turning inward so that it may once again overflow for others. It is so easy to acknowledge the work that those around us have to do. The hard part is doing our own. Therapeutic dialogue teaches us to focus only on our own work, as we cannot control the actions or reactions of others.
Self-care practices — when paired with a mindful therapeutic approach — become multidimensional. Self-care looks like therapy, and yoga, meditation, reiki, salt cave sessions, and more time spent outdoors. It is infusing wellness into various aspects of your life, so that the work stays with you. For a multitude of reasons, doing your own work is the only work worth doing. That is to say, you cannot pour from an empty glass.
No Mud, No Lotus
Before therapy, I held the firm belief that there was no growth without struggle — that the two were inextricably linked. I believed that the road to success was paved with hardships and blocks, one after the other. With this deeply embedded feeling of needing to struggle, I found myself facing emotions I wasn’t equipped to handle on my own. I had known depression and anxiety for as long as I could remember, but anger, frustration, these were new emotions for me.
Our story is much like that of the lotus flower. The lotus flower blossoms and grows in mucky, muddy waters. Though flexible, its stem does not break. As it emerges from the mud, it rises completely unscathed by the dirt of the waters beneath. The expression goes, “The lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the thickest mud.”
Like the lotus flower, we must dig deep to unearth our inner transformation.
But the work is not to struggle. That is where the misconception lies. The work is to navigate the murky waters of our past; to face our deep roots so that we may grow through the mud.
It’s a Journey, Not a Destination
Like so many aspects of life, my journey to therapy has not been linear. As a child of divorce, I was put in therapy at a very early age. Week after week I attended sessions and spoke in depth about my troubles and my pain, but did I grow from it? Did I understand the gravity of each session? As I got older I found myself falling into a pattern of lack of self-awareness. With antidepressants, I would feel stable, going some time without retreating to sadness and solitude — and that meant I was better. So much better, in fact, that I no longer needed medication or therapy. Like clockwork, I would take myself off of medication or stop going to therapy, and then fall deeper into my sadness. It became a cyclical pattern for years. I wasn’t better, I was only stabilizing myself. And then destabilizing myself. This is the opposite of self awareness, and the terribly misguided mindset that I was fine without doing the work.
Several years later, facing overwhelming emotions, I found that going it alone was becoming increasingly difficult. I sensed that it was time to try a different kind of therapy. I was ready to do the work.
Meet Yourself Where You Are
My most recent experience in therapy has taught me the value of trusting myself. Rather than seeking gratification and responses from the external world, I learned the value of accessing wisdom from within. Through therapy, I have learned the intrinsic importance of meeting yourself where you are. For the first few months, my energy blocks would not clear. This furthered my frustration of the self and of the body. But this frustration was not what unblocked me. Through a unique combination of talk therapy, EFT, Tapping, EMDR, Ask and Receive, and Applied Kinesiology, I slowly began to clear the energetic blocks that had been stifling me in so many ways. This energetic approach to therapy has helped me to recognize and grow past blocks by facing my unresolved traumas, anxieties, and limiting beliefs. This time around, I learned to trust my body — a wildly unfamiliar feeling.
In navigating the wild unconscious, we can begin to understand the landscape of not only the self, but the greater world around us. Traumatic memories or experiences embed and internalize certain negative associations that cement neuropathways for us. The good news is that the brain is capable of creating new pathways. Due to neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to rewire itself — effective therapy and energy healing allows us to forge new neural pathways that remove deeply held blocks within. It is doing the work that enables and encourages these pathways to be rewired, allowing us to move through and beyond our traumas. This ability to change grants us a new perspective, sheds us of seemingly immovable habits or thoughts, and sets us in control of our lives.
Where to Begin
So much of doing the work is knowing that there is work to be done. Therapy has introduced me to so many applicable coping mechanisms, healing exercises, and tools for mindful living.
Doing the work necessary gives new meaning to our experiences — past, present, and future. It can teach us to handle situations and circumstances with patience and nuanced views.
Becoming the catalyst for our well-being, it grounds us tremendously in navigating our goals, our external and internal relationships, and trusting ourselves. It is only by understanding and healing our past selves that we can look toward the future. And while a community of others may be there to support you on your journey, no one can truly do the work but you. In short, the work is never over. But after a while, doing the work becomes less of a chore, and more of a drive from within.