Stay With Yourself

Years ago I was going through a particularly challenging situation with someone in my life who I loved dearly. It was one of those interpersonal situations that was confronting and deeply uncomfortable. The kind that makes you want to say, “Screw this—I’m outta’ here!” and consider bailing on the relationship entirely.

And that is exactly how I reacted. It was as if an internal panic button had been hit. Every part of me wanted out. My body felt rigid and numb. I had frequent thoughts about the high bullshit factor of the situation, how there was no working with the other person and how the only thing I could do was get out. Now. 

Luckily, I was working with a mentor at the time who, before I could burn any bridges, encouraged me to get quiet and to ask myself what I needed to do in the face of this situation. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and let my weight feel supported by the chair under me. 

“Stay,” said an inner voice.

The voice was so calm and so firm that I believed it. For as much as I wanted to extricate myself from the situation, this knowing in me believed the best thing to do was to stay.

So I did. And over the following weeks, on the days where the discomfort in the relationship would be nearly unbearable, I would take a moment again to look for that inner voice to see if it had a different suggestion. I prayed it would just as calmly and firmly say, “Get the hell outta' there, honey.”

But it never did. Over and over again all I heard was one word: stay. But each time I heard it I would feel oddly soothed. Even though nothing external was any easier, when I heard the word “stay” I felt resourced again. I could find the part of me who believed I was capable of being in the discomfort and seeing it through to a peaceful resolution.

A few months in to this practice of staying, I had one particular exchange with this other person that was so emotionally excruciating that I addressed the inner voice with rage. “Why would you want me to stay in this situation with this person when it feels this awful?!”

Remarkably, even in my fit of rage, the calm, firm voice had an answer.

“All along I’ve not cared whether you stay in this situation with this person or not. I’ve simply been advising you to stay with yourself. That’s the only way you won’t feel so overwhelmed, and you’ll know what is truest action to take.”

I was dumbstruck. And moved. Yes, of course. All along it had simply been about learning how to stay with myself. Every time I heard stay, though my mind had interpreted it as “stay in this situation,” what had actually happened was that I had found a few moments of being totally present to myself. No internal panic button, just the still feeling of being sad. Or scared. Or angry. Or whatever it was in that moment.

When I realized this, I almost immediately also knew that the best thing to do was to leave the situation. Which I did. Calmly and firmly with not an ounce of panic.

And so this has been my work, both personally and with my clients, ever since then. To simply stay with myself, and to encourage them to stay with themselves, no matter the external situation.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we had been trained in staying when we were kids? Like puppies are,” laughed a client the other day after she had told me her latest adventure in trying to out run herself in a moment of emotional discomfort.

That would, indeed, be great. Sadly, most of us didn’t get that training. But it’s not too late. It just takes some practice in recognizing when we’re running or resisting or outside of ourselves in some way.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share with you more stories and practices for learning how to stay with yourself. In the meantime, I encourage you to begin simply by seeing what part of you shows up when you say to yourself, “Stay.” What does it feel like in your body? No matter what's happening around you, or even in you, can you find a layer of yourself that feels still? 

You don’t have to tattoo it on your arm like one of my badass clients did, but you might consider writing staysomewhere where you will see it on a regular basis as a reminder to be with yourself. The willingness to remember to stay with yourself is the first step to getting to be yourself and to act from your truth. It's worth practicing.

Jay Fields