Bizarre as it is, I still remember the first time I had the wind knocked out of me. It was during that nightmare event called gym class, and we were playing dodgeball.  For the record, I was pretty good at dodgeball because I was very good at running!  Being the victim of bullying for several years, I became a pro at being aware of my surroundings, eyeing up a potential threat, and watching for easy escape routes.  Basketball or football? Oh, I pulled EVERY excuse I could come up with to get out of those!  But dodgeball? Bring it! 

To my recollection, the ball came zooming in from my far right. Even though I saw it coming, instead of dodging the ball, I turned right into it!  Drilling me right in the chest so hard, I went down for the count. I couldn’t catch my breath, my eyes went blurry, and I fell to the ground in a LOT of pain.  Although it only took a few minutes to regain normal breathing pressure, it felt like hours!  Why didn’t I DODGE the BALL?  It came out of somewhere totally unexpected.  

Throughout life, we learn that there are many other ways of being punched in the gut and I had one occur this past week.  A very dear friend of mine lost her daughter, tragically and suddenly.  I did not ask how because I believe the how doesn’t matter – it’s a loss, not a situation.  It wasn’t my business or place to ask how, it was my place to care, to love, to support, and to listen.  About a week went by and she randomly shared with me the how and it was like a punch in the gut. I literally had difficulty breathing for a few minutes, and when I realized that MY pain at that moment was so tiny compared to her pain, that made it hurt even more.  

There are also punches to the gut in business.  A client you had high hopes for, that showed tremendous potential suddenly, and without notice, quits.  An online system fails and wreaks havoc across the board, disrupting your entire operation.  A damaging industry news story hits the airways and your business takes a collateral hit.  You expected to finish a large project but a sudden and separate issue erupts and you spend the rest of the day trying to put out the flames and restore things back to their natural state. 

Whether a business loss, work loss, or personal loss, a punch in the gut is tough to take.  We become temporarily paralyzed and we need time to recover.  There is no other option – we need to recover.  A team of researchers at Columbia University, led by psychologist Edward Smith, determined that emotional pain can activate many of the same neural pathways as physical pain.  How we react to the blow is important.  I knew full well when I got hit by the ball that I couldn’t just curl up and start crying.  First, I physically couldn’t cry because I had no air in my lungs to initiate the waterworks, but I also couldn’t start crying because -exposed to the cruelty that is high school gym class- that would take me even further from beginning my recovery.  

When we take a hit to the gut, we have to allow ourselves some recovery time.  It’s what happens DURING that recovery time that is critical. 

  • Take care of your body (don’t stop eating or start eating poorly)
  • Intentionally incorporate physical activity like going for a walk
  • Sleep whenever possible
  • Be ok with not being ok for a short period of time

There is within each of us, the ability to move from paralysis, rage, hurt, and anger into creative compassion.  Compassion for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for the ones who hurt us.  Whether the person intentionally threw the ball at us, or they subconsciously responded to a situation according to their experiential legacy and what happened to them has suddenly and unexpectedly caused us pain.

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”— Pema Chödrön

Melt it down and try it again.  That’s my philosophy when it comes to things not working out exactly like I wanted or expected them to.  I treasure the time and energy it took to create it but it didn’t turn out, so I threw it back into the fire, melted it down, then pulled it out and tried again.  

When you experience sudden punches to the gut, remember to take time to recover.  Healing is a personal process for which there is only one steadfast rule: create a safe space.  Care for yourself by granting yourself permission to mourn, to be angry, to be outraged, to cry, and to roll up into the fetal position and block out the world. It is during THOSE moments that you’re being thrown back into the fire to be melted down a bit.  The good news is that you’ll soon be pulled OUT of that fire and a new, stronger creation will emerge.  Your family, friends, and community will still be here, gathering around you to make sure you are ok.  They will coach you through it by reminding you that, “You got this!” and “You’ll be ok, the pain is temporary”.  You’ll find offerings of creative compassion all around you for the taking.  Through that compassion, you will grow.  I promise you that.  The pain won’t necessarily get better but it will get DIFFERENT.  Throw it in the fire, melt it down, and then just marvel at the transformation you will witness during the rebuilding process!