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What Do Setbacks Teach Us?


I was struggling with an article idea this week and realized that I have an excellent topic to discuss. I am a living example of it right now. I have an injury that is keeping me from running and I had my world rocked to the core at around the same time. I decided I would share some of my ideas with respect to loss, injury, disease and setbacks.  But I have a few questions to pose first: When these incidents occur in our lives how do we handle them?  With anger, with grace, with introspection? Do we search for the lessons and the deeper meaning? Do we shrink away and hide? Do we throw up our hands in despair? Or do we decide to use it as an experience to learn, to deepen our personal growth, and to perhaps look at our lives differently?

The idea for this article came to me while having lunch with a dear friend. She is a hero to me. She has had several very tough years since her partner was diagnosed with cancer. We have all witnessed what a strong loving woman she has been for her family. Through all of this she has become a powerful advocate for patient care within the hospital setting; trying to make big changes to create a gentler, healing environment for the people recuperating or undergoing treatment. And also being incredibly aware of how the families are experiencing this situation with their loved ones as well.

She gave me the example of entering the ICU and seeing huge signs with block letters that said: DO NOT ENTER. She felt this was an assault on the senses of the people coming in to see their loved ones. She called her assistant immediately and said: add this to the next meeting agenda as #1.

Gifts Are Hidden Within Challenges

To help make positive changes she has also spent her time seeking out ways to cope, to eat better and holistic/integrative approaches to help everyone stay well during this stressful time. She volunteers tirelessly, counsels, takes care of a big family, and sits on numerous committees and the list goes on. She did not hide away or shrink from the challenge. She met it head on with strength and determination. The world is richer for her being here… the experiences that could have devastated her made her that much more determined to learn and grow. She inspires me. I walked away from our time together pondering all of these things.

So we see in her case how her challenge has created the space for her to help others in ways that perhaps no one else could see or had the guts to do something about. But she had to BE in it to learn that and move in this direction. That is just one of the gifts from all of this. When we take this approach in our lives, we may begin to see the how’s and the why’s of it occurring for us.

We can look at challenges differently when we fall, get injured, get sick, etc. It is ALWAYS an opportunity to look beneath the surface. However, it might take some time to do so. We might need to lick our wounds for awhile and go through the appropriate stages of grief, but eventually we have to pull up our socks and move forward. We make the decision to live fully again. How many people do you know that have been sick or injured and a friend gave them a book that changed their life? Or maybe during their recovery they had an epiphany. The disease might have been the wake-up call they needed to change the way they were living their life.  As a result, they made the decision to be healthy, to changes jobs, to retire, to leave a relationship. I have always felt that if we continue along without doing “our work” during these times of wake-up calls the universe “ups that ante” – in other words… be prepared for another wake-up call.

The Mind-Body Connection

Here is one way to look at the setbacks that occur. It is with a book I adore: You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. It is one I picked up in my 20’s and has been instrumental in my spiritual growth and wellness since then. Contained within her book is a list of physical problems that has a 3 part chart. It works like this: you look up the ailment, disease or physical symptom. The next column contains what the probable cause is and in the final column a new thought pattern one can incorporate into their life to help heal it. I opened the book for an example: Adrenals. The probable cause is listed as: DefeatismNo longer caring for the self. Anxiety. The new thought pattern is: I love and approve of myself. It is safe for me to care for myself.

When something shows up in my body or that of one of my clients, I always refer to this list and am continually amazed at how accurate it is. I use this list for my own self-care and awareness. When we are aware then we can make positive changes in our lives. If we move along without stopping to examine our lives when we have a setback we lose the opportunity for tremendous growth.

The Wisdom of Our Bodies

Remember from some of my past articles: when a physical symptom shows up in the body it is a red flag. Our body in its wisdom is waving for you; pay attention. Symptoms disease injury and setback always have an underlying emotion or thought pattern that has now shown up as a physical symptom in your body.

Why do we have setbacks in our lives? I feel that it occurs when something in our life is out of balance, when things are awry, when we need to slow down, make changes or pay attention. I see so many people avoiding taking care of themselves or avoiding issues or grief or pain and so they keep busy all the time. Avoiding setbacks by running around, watching TV, listening to the radio, on the computer, texting, reading, cooking, working out, never being alone. We fill the hole inside with busyness and the acquisition of more and more material goods. They are all excellent ways to avoid being still, because being still feels scary. When we stop and get quiet or are alone, feelings can come up. Whatever we have pushed away, or stuffed down or avoided shows up. And that is a good thing, by the way! Think of a pressure cooker. We need to take the lid off and allow the steam to escape. It takes a lot of energy to hold things in.

Releasing the Pressure

Although a meditation practice is an excellent tool to allow the lid to come off to release the pressure, you can simply allow yourself some quiet time to reflect. With the busyness we are often in the fight or flight response which is running on adrenalin. This stresses out the central nervous system which in turn creates anxiety, affects our immune system and can create a host of other problems. We are taught to chin, up, suck it up, that we cannot cry and to avoid our feelings. And that is exactly why I feel we have our setbacks… to get us out of that toxic loop and help us get back on track.

And so with my current setbacks I am spending some much needed time with friends, writing a shorter article this week and doing some things for my own self care. I am slowing down and letting go of a few responsibilities that were creating a schedule that was simply too much. I am doing more Yoga! I think of the image of a wrinkled shirt…Yoga irons out all of my wrinkles, releases pent up emotion, brings me into my body and I always feel richer for the experience.

Let Setbacks Be Your Guide to Growth

Take some time for yourself and look at your list of ailments, symptoms and setbacks. Are there changes you have been avoiding? Are you taking good care of yourself in the way you deserve? Do you keep promising yourself that you will do certain things? Take the time to honour and treasure yourself and your personal growth. Perhaps you can allow your setbacks be a guide to a greater awareness and to help create deeper meaning in your life.

My own current setbacks have created this article for you this week. My intent is that it inspires you to take a closer look at your own life. Look at the glorious opportunities that are there for you. Try changing the way you look at ailments and see the wisdom behind each one.

And know that I am here for you along the way to help you discover the wondrous you that IS there! I send each of you much love today.

Photo by janineomg


About The Author

Cheryl Hiebert

Cheryl Hiebert is a Personal Wellness Coach with a mind body spirit approach to wellness. Her goal is to help you feel empowered on your individual path and help you jump out of bed every day loving your life. To help you create a life where you feel happy, full of energy and first on your list. You are worth it! To see how you can get more support from Cheryl, make sure to visit her website or her Holistic United profile.

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