Today I want to talk about the “How do I do that?“ place, where people sometimes get stuck.
“I understand that my fear of sleeplessness fuels my insomnia and I understand that to get past that I need to learn to be more okay with being awake at night. But how do I do that?”
“I recognize that I can’t simply force away my anxiety and panic. Instead, I should face them and see them as safe to experience. But how do I do this?“
“I see that I need to pay attention to the subtle efforts, but what do I need to do for that?”
First of all, there is nothing wrong with asking for guidance. In the beginning, this does help us clarify a few things. But as the journey goes on, we need to eventually switch from asking for a manual to every step we take and start learning right from our immediate experience.
There are no How-tos
The truth is, there is no “how to” in the realm of acceptance, letting go of control, self-compassion and courage.
Just as there is no description of apples that truly captures their taste, instructions to these experiences simply don’t exist – it is up to each person to discover it on their own.
I often imagine recovery journey as going through a thick jungle at night. There are no paved paths, street lamps or navigation signs. There is a night sky with the North Star that is the only guidance here – these are fundamental principles like acceptance, effortlessness, compassion, courage and honesty. And then there are objects in the jungle: boulders, creatures, swamps, rabbit holes, etc. The rest is on each and every one of us – to put one foot in front of the other and move a certain set of muscles.
“Okay, I see, but how do I do that??“
And as much as I would love to give you precise instructions on how to move your muscles and take steps, the best I can do—and, frankly, the best anyone can do—is to tell you where the north is, warn you about all the possible boulders, creatures, and rabbit holes you might encounter. So, when you come across them, you are more likely to be prepared. The “walking” is entirely up to you.
But we keep seeing people asking “Yeah, yeah, I know everything, I’ve read everything, but I still have no idea what I should do to get there…”
And that’s the place you must start seeing clearly, because…
Asking for How–to can be an attempt to control things
How-to often seems like a logical and reasonable inquiry. And maybe in the beginning it is, but at some point it may become a very subtle attempt to make things predictable and secure, to avoid mistakes, to be always right, to NOT experience things we don’t want to experience.
So the question “I know that I have to eventually experience X but how do I do that?“ basically means this:
“I know I can’t control the process, but how can I get it under control?”
The mere act of answering this question implies there is the way to make this process predictable and controlled.
Plus, do we really believe that by getting a set of instructions the brain will be satisfied once and for all and won’t come up with the new “How do I do that?“ of “What’s next?“
The brain will always keep looking for the next fresh and exciting idea to try, like an addiction, because there is one thing it can’t stand – uncertainty. So it’s going to urge us to keep searching for reassurance and foolproof instructions.
🧠: “Tell me more of what I haven’t heard before! I want to feel that pleasant feeling of control and certainty, again and again and again!”
Moreover, the brain desires immediate relief from these instructions. However, we know that’s not how recovery goes. The path to peace, effortlessness, and acceptance is a gradual one.
We will go through things despite learning everything about them
At some point, we have to dive into an independent exploration of what it means to let go, to see thoughts for what they are, to deploy self-care and compassion, etc. And we need to be prepared that we will make mistakes, we will feel very uncomfortable, we will feel lost, we will doubt ourselves. This is unavoidable on the path.
I see it all the time: no matter how in-depth I try to talk about every speedbump, mind trap, obstacle or rabbit hole – this doesn’t protect people from experiencing them. Education and sharing experiences are helpful, but they can’t eradicate ups and downs for people. If it happens, it is meant to happen.
As I share my insights and learnings, my best intent is to soften that landing for them when they hit a setback, help them feel more prepared and supported as they go through it. However even then, when things get tough, all those rational and supportive arguments go out the window. Until clarity is regained.
A clear example happens with some beginners. A person sees rapid improvements right from the start. They might even become somewhat overconfident in their ability to dodge upcoming speedbumps. It might lead them to think, “I’m not worried about setbacks anymore – I’m fully prepared! I’ve truly grasped it!”
Their excitement and hopefulness is understandable. On one hand, it warms my heart, and I genuinely cheer with them. Yet, on the other hand, I have this subtle intuition, almost like I can see the countdown to their first speedbump. More often than not, without much delay, it comes. And when it does, it tends to be a raw and sobering experience.
No matter what we say about speedbumps being a normal part of the journey and that they’ll pass, when one hits, it feels all too real. It shatters the brain’s illusion that there’s “no more work to be done”. While that initial glimpse offers a taste of freedom, the path to lasting change still lies ahead.
Watch your mind for How-to questions
It is absolutely okay to ask questions and clarify things, don’t try to suppress your natural curiosity! However, pay attention to the place from which those questions are asked.
Does it feel like you can’t take any further step without reassurance that it will work? Does it feel like you absolutely need an instruction to every step you take? Are you afraid to trust yourself? Are you afraid of making mistakes?
“How-to” questions can disguise the underlying desire for certainty. This is a craving for assurance that, by knowing exactly how to proceed, one can avoid mistakes, anxiety, frustration, panic, and other discomforts. But life, by its very nature, doesn’t grant such promises. Recognizing this sooner rather than later paves the way for inner peace.
A path to freedom lies in knowing that we can take the next step which we feel is right for us based on what we know now, and if it works – it works, if it doesn’t – we’ll learn from it and make another decision next time.
As I conclude this post, I’ll leave you with one final insight: All the “how-tos“ for acceptance, for being present with your emotions and thoughts, being kind to yourself, already reside within you.
Once I heard a great analogy. Imagine holding a big heavy stone in your hand. You don’t need a manual to tell you how to let it go. Instinctively, you know you simply need to open your palm to release it. Yet, our minds can be deceptive. They may convince us that the the stone we clutch is actually precious gold, vital for us to hold onto. This is precisely why letting go is so damn hard! The moment we truly realize that holding onto something costs us more than releasing it, we will release, and it will be effortless. But until then, we have some work to do.