Being in a funk and just not being able to get out of it is a very familiar state to me. It doesn’t happen any more, but it did for a long time. This is a challenging topic to write about, because one of the attributes of being in a funk is that it can be really hard to take in any help, but I see this amongst my loved ones so I am compelled to try and write about it.
I write from a place of love, as well as a lot of experience with this place. I write this as what I’ve learned from my own experience, which may or may not be useful to you. It is not a prescription of what anyone should do, but a description of how I see it from having gone through it myself, and from having found my own path through, that I share with the aspiration that it may be of some benefit.
I’ve put several links in to other pieces that I’ve written that directly relate to this topic because it is my passion to be of any benefit to those suffering, because that was my dark and dangerous home for a long time. I suggest you read this piece through first though before going back to any of the links if they seem of benefit.
There are many types of funk. The one I’m talking about here is the deeply entrenched one. We may look happy on the outside, we may go to dinner with friends and laugh and smile, but that smile fades as soon as we leave the restaurant. Mostly we might want to be alone, and when we are, there are long periods of nothingness. A nothingness that can be intensely full, but also immensely deadened.
I think that part of what is happening when we are in a funk is a digestive process gone awry. Instead of digesting food, we are digesting emotional and mental energy, which is a critical part of being human. But we have not yet developed the capacity to handle the digestion of what’s flowing. And unknowingly we have blocked up all the avenues through which the energy could flow out. And so we end up with a giant pile of undigested energy with nowhere to go – it’s not flowing out and it’s not getting digested.
Like the butter mountains and wine lakes of the European Union where food is overproduced and can’t be consumed because of pricing laws, it sits there and goes rancid.
In my story, this built up to a crippling and life-threatening degree. You can read more about this here. But in this post is what I’ve tried to put together about how to shift this. I think there are three big aspects, each of which is a lifetime path of practice, but looking back from some distance now it’s how I would describe the path I took.
I also call this Emotional Authenticity.
I believe that it is common amongst those of us that experience this funk that there is an aspect of ourselves that we are hiding. We may be hiding this from ourselves, because we fear it. Or we may be hiding it from others – our loved ones, our family, or our work colleagues, our communities. And we may not have created the space, the relationships, and developed the skills to speak what needs to be spoken in order to move the energy through the wall we constructed around ourselves for safety.
I learned from a wonderful coach and teacher I did a lot of work with the following view of ourselves that I think is very powerful:
We build a thick shell that is our view of who we are to the outside world. We think we need this to be this way, because this shell covers over the layer below that, that is everything that we hate about ourselves. This is who we fear that we really are. We can believe that this is the complete picture incredibly strongly. I wrote about this here, how words of appreciation, or praise, or “you’re cute”, “I love you” etc. just cannot penetrate this wall. And here, where we consciously construct this external view and truly believe it is real.
And for us in this deep funk space it is our reality. Yet it is a twisted version, one that has got its claws deep into us that can be very hard to shake. This is who we are being when we go out to the restaurant and smile, then come home and cry, lie in dead numbness, or hurt ourselves.
What we can’t see is that both of these are lies if we take them to be everything. They are constructs, they are parts of a much larger whole. What lies below both of these is who and what we really are. Which is an incredibly beautiful being of energy and light and love, who is fully of and in this world, with a uniqueness and wonderfulness to share that we must not deprive the world of experiencing.
The inner layer, who we really are, is completely invisible to us.
We are in a funk because we are living with and being just the outer two layers.
From inside the funk, which is the space where we are presenting the outer shell (who we want to be seen as) to the world, the only other – secret – experience that we know is the middle shell, who we fear we are. We only see one layer deeper than the one we’re presenting, so we only see the middle layer.
The middle layer is full of our fears. Here there be monsters. This is where our shame lives. It lives there because it is a fertile ground for shame – shame loves to take root in craggy mountains, it is best friends with all our monsters. It grows into a thicket so massive and impenetrable that love cannot enter. It is not a pretty view of ourselves and so we escape outwards, to the outer layer. Makes sense, right? Why would we want to subject our friends and loved ones, our work colleagues to the disaster of a person that is the middle layer, the one populated only by our monsters.
I did a deeply healing session with a woman where we journeyed far into this interior land. I held her and stared deep into her eyes while she shared with me all her deepest and darkest fears about herself. She shook and shuddered while she named all the monsters. She described the whole landscape. She went deeper and deeper into this landscape of who she feared she was at her core, and that if she really went there she might destroy the world. She told me everything and she wept.
And yet, she found that the world did not get destroyed. And that the love in my eyes for her only deepened. There was nothing she could say, no monster from that interior land she could name that could make me not see her for her inner being, who she really is – an incredibly powerful and beautiful woman, a goddess.
When I work with people as a coach, a guide to help people navigate through these lands, we do an exercise where we travel into this land and go in search of our deepest shame, the fear that dare not speak its name. And we name it. We speak it out loud, for perhaps the very first time ever. And then we say it again. And again and again and again. Over and over we speak this fear about who we really are. What inevitably happens is that after some time, not only does this start to lose its grip on us, we actually start to laugh out loud. I first did this exercise many years ago myself in a group and the experience was breathtakingly powerful. And so with this we begin to get a glimpse that this dark and terrifyingly true landscape of monsters may not be quite as real as we believe it to be.
And so we come back to Speak. What I found in my journey through these shells and out of funkland was that I had to speak. Speak my truth. Speak what is truly, really going on for me. Which is not the various stories and things we concoct, that we are incredibly skilled at concocting that keep our outer shell in existence. But it is the journey into this middle land and sharing this with another human being that we must do.
For me this really began when I went to AA. There I found a group of people that were, no offense my friends, just as fucked up as I was. There was no need for me to explain myself and I could feel that. So often when we are trying to talk with someone, there is just so much landscape to cover that it doesn’t even seem possible or worth it to try. Being with the people there I didn’t have to explain to everyone about the inner world of monsters and shame thickets, and it became so much easier. And I saw that everyone else also had this going on. Their version had differently shaped monsters, and I could see that they all had various different ways of constructing their outer layer, but I could also see that they all understood that we were kind of fucked up. So then it became completely normal to be completely fucked up. And starting from that place, it became easier to speak. And in speaking – the right kind of speaking – I began to melt the layers.
What is the right kind of speaking? In speaking there are two processes going on – the speaking and the listening. Both are incredibly important to give and receive. The right kind of speaking is speaking from below the outer layer. We must get below our stories, and into our feelings. And we must be speaking into a committed listening. The listening must be of presence and non-fixing. At the right time it can move into solutioning when that is useful, but it must start with pure listening, where the listener is empty of themself, and allows themself to be filled for a while with the speaker’s thoughts and feelings, to recreate their experience inside them as best they can.
So we must find ourselves the right listener. This is a job in itself. There are many places we can find this, and there are also many places we might try where our listener does not live. Often when we speak to others they may try to fix us, or even turn it around and need to be soothed by us, which defeats the purpose – this was a common experience for me. So find the right listener. The right coach can be one, a therapist, a loved one, support & accountability training groups, 12 step programs or other groups based on this principle.
And we must train and practice in speaking. This may take some time, for me it took years, but we must do it.
The second aspect to what I’ve learned about exiting the funk that seems to have no exit is that we have to become willing. Intensely willing. This is actually part of being intensely gentle and kind towards ourselves. In the same way that it is kind for a parent to reach out and pull a child away from a car headed towards them, it is kind to ourselves to bring ourselves to reach out to our committed listener. And if right now we just can’t do it, we must be willing to try again in 5 minutes. And if we can’t do it then, try again 5 minutes after that. It is the ultimate kindness to ourselves to cultivate this key of willingness – gently, gently, gently but insistently and consistently. When we get knocked down, breathe for as long as we need to, and come back. If a second car came towards a child, the parent would not give up on them. They would keep reaching out to help each and every time no matter what happened. In the same way we must be willing to help ourselves no matter what.
The development of willingness is one of the most massive secret benefits to meditation in my experience. When we meditate, we are exactly training in this practice. We practice sitting no matter what comes up. And when what comes up is too much and we leave, we train in coming back.
We must become willing to face into the headwind.
We must become willing to venture into the landscape of monsters.
We must become willing to put our head in the mouth of dragons.
We must become willing to tell other human beings who we fear we are.
We must become willing to let go of our stories, of our carefully constructed identities that once did their job of protecting us but now form a thick wall through which love cannot penetrate to melt shame.
We must be willing to share ourselves because in doing so we discover who we really are, as who we are afraid we are fades, and as we deconstruct who we want the world to see.
And when we stop being willing, as we will, we must be willing to pick back up the key of willingness.
From the book “12 Steps & 12 Traditions” – I’ve clipped the spiritual context of these words for this article since I think they beautifully describe willingness as-is:
“Practicing … is like the opening of a door which to all appearances is still closed and locked. All we need is a key, and the decision to swing the door open. There is only one key, and it is called willingness.
A beginning, even the smallest, is all that is needed. Once we have placed the key of willingness in the lock and have the door ever so slightly open, we find that we can always open it some more. Though self-will may slam it shut again, as it frequently does, it will always respond the moment we again pick up the key of willingness.”
And then the third aspect of exiting exitless funk – “Move”.
We have to move. We have to, we have to, we have to. I say this with all the gentleness and love in the world, but we have to move our feet, one in front of the other. We have to develop smart feet, that will move even when we don’t want to, when the energy in our heads is so scary that we think we will explode. We have to rely on our feet to brush our teeth, eat healthy food, take a shower, go for a gentle walk, pick up the phone and call one of our committed listeners and share what is going on. We have to show up for our practice, we need to turn the shower to cold at the end to wake us up, we need to allow ourselves to receive affectionate touch. We need to go to therapy, invest in a coach, show up to the group practice, say hello to a friend, or do whatever is healthy, helpful and relevant for us. And if what we do doesn’t work, after practicing wholeheartedly, then we move on and do another thing. We need to practice practice practice love and gentleness for ourselves, which must include applying our willingness to taking physical actions in the world, in other words to move.
One of the qualities of funk is that it descends upon us like a shroud and we become disconnected from the world around us. Physically and emotionally. And we stop moving. By moving I definitely mean physical movement like walking or exercising, but mostly I mean using our willingness to move us through this funkland rather than setting up home in it. If we chose to meditate, which I cannot recommend enough, then we must actually move ourselves onto the cushion and do it. We must move ourselves into a class, or to a 1:1 lesson (available free in so many places). We must try and cultivate our heart signal and then actually take steps in that direction, using it as our GPS to get out of funkland. We must really truly deeply actually care how we feel.
And if we do really care how we feel, then by definition we will cultivate our willingness to move, and not make our home in this funk. We don’t reject our experience of funk and use our pushing it away to create more, but we also don’t fall into learned helplessness that it is unshiftable and stop moving. And if we do, come back to willingness.
7 years ago I wrote these two words “Speak” and “Move” on rocks in a deep workshop. I have them still to this day right on my desk. Because I know that on the other side of Speak is isolation and desolation, which is what my landscape of monsters was like, and on the other side of Move is pain and suffering. Those are the words (“Desolation” and “Pain & Suffering”) that I wrote on the opposite side of the rocks.
And so that is what I have learned about getting out of a funk that you cannot get out of. We must cultivate our willingness, which is also another word for daring and bravery, and we must use that to speak our truth, and to keep moving so that we can dive under who we present to the world, through the world of monsters, into the real truth of what we really are.
No matter what your landscape of monsters looks like, all I can tell you is that it is ok. Because it’s not you.
You are beautiful my friend, and I love you deeply.