The Gift of Curiosity in Difficult Times

by Roberta Ryan

Lee Gibson, Ph.D., one of my first therapists, believed that handling an intense life situation begins when you find the blessing within the difficulty. He guided me to do this by describing whatever was upsetting me multiple times. As my story changed each time, so did my perception. With that shift came an increased awareness, curiosity, and the glimmer of the blessing—sometimes referred to as the opportunity.

I worked quite a lot with Lee throughout my twenties. I knew his approach worked because during that time I noticed positive changes in my life. Most notably I began to make healthier choices regarding relationships, my career, and self-care.

Fast forward to my forties when I was introduced to the philosophies and spiritual teachings of George Gurdjieff and John Bennett. I am not sure which of these great men coined the term, but within their combined methodology is a practice referred to as “transforming negative emotions.”

Remarkably, that practice has similarities to what I’d learned earlier. In simple terms, it is to internally stay with your emotional discomfort while simultaneously observing the situation with as much curiosity and non-judgment as possible. Instead of the therapist serving as the witness, you become the observer of your own process.

In time, the same results occur: the discomfort shifts and an increased understanding about the situation emerges, along with new insights about what opportunities might be present. Healthier life choices happen consistently and spontaneously.

One morning recently, my practice of self-witnessing supported me through some very difficult moments. It was thirty-six hours after Donald Trump had been elected president when I awoke with considerable anxiety. My breath was shallow, my chest felt tight, and I felt panic about the future of our nation and the world. Would all of the environmental progress that had been achieved be reversed? Would many of us again be without health care? Would hatred and distrust spread?

I clearly needed to transform my negative emotions and find some blessings in this situation.

Once I recognized what was happening, I began to calmly breathe and focus my energy on the tightness within my chest. When my mind would wander, I brought myself back to my breath and to the discipline of sensing my discomfort. After about ten minutes, the feelings in my chest shifted and I noticed a growing enthusiasm—not for our new president, but for my capacity to contribute. I felt hope and enthusiasm as I focused on actions I could take.

I am not yet sure what shape my activism will take. I do know that it is important that I stay mindful of my self-witnessing process and up to date on the evolving political situation. That way I will know that, when I do step up, it will not be from anger or fear but as an opportunity to contribute fully.
Roberta Ryan is a Santa Rosa-area business coach and owner of Ryan Business Design. She supports business owners who are passionate about their work but unsure how to maneuver the complexities of business. With compassion, practicality, and decades of experience, Roberta helps her clients reduce overwhelm and uncertainty while increasing their income, impact, and enjoyment.


Roberta Ryan

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