Sitting in the Messy Middle

Written by Maggie Gentry

Can we all just admit that change is scary AF? We often want it to be over with so that we can share our lessons learned and head back into our busy lives—prioritizing ourselves as a human doing rather than a human being. We’ve become accustomed to seeing personal transformation stories happening in tidy, 60-minute packages, and we think that our process must be similarly linear and pristinely presented.

But our lives are not another episode of Queer Eye. Taking that step outside of our comfort zone towards real transformative change can feel like we’ve stepped right into a chaotic free-fall rather than a gentle expansion.

This year I went through an intense period of change that had me questioning this urge, this impulse, to rush out of the messy middle. I was curious about what might happen if I allowed myself to befriend my own despair. To sit with my worry. To courageously and lovingly look in the face of my own doubt.

During this period, I kept visualizing this process of change as me standing in the center of a burning building—and I was the one who lit the match. I watched as the walls caught fire. I observed the roof cave in. I felt the heat of the blaze all around me, and yet, I did not move.

On a few occasions the flames got close, and I was tempted to move away, but just when I felt I couldn’t take it any longer, I opened up a little more to uncertainty and curiosity of what might come next, and before I knew it, the fire started to die down and then dissipate completely. The more I struggled and tried to control, the more the fire raged. The more I surrendered and trusted the process, the more a stillness would begin to quiet the flames.

Eventually the fire extinguished itself, and then I saw myself standing in that smoldering building as the ashes swirled about. It was only then that I was able to sort through the remnants to see what had been destroyed and what remained intact. I took my time sweeping, cleaning, and sorting, until finally a solid, clear foundation was visible.

Only then did I understand why I had the impulse to stay—because I needed something catastrophic to clear out the residue from my life and from my psyche of beliefs that are no longer true.

I used to equate my worth with how much I could accomplish in a day. Now, I see my inherent worthiness for simply being.

I used to place too much weight on what others might think of me. Now, I’m reclaiming my truth by getting really clear about what my soul desires.

I used to fear the chaos of the unknown. Now, I see how much wisdom and truth can be revealed when I no longer put up a fight.

The fire ravaged everything that was no longer in my best interest, and left behind a solid foundation on which I am able to rebuild. That is the gift of being in process, of allowing change to happen to me, of being with and sitting in the messy middle.

Here are my greatest lessons from this time in my life:

When you are standing in the fire, acknowledge how truly difficult is it to stand there, and be as gentle with yourself as possible.

During this time, everything felt difficult. Whole days would pass by, and I could hardly recollect how time had even lapsed. I slept a lot. I read a lot. I did my best to get through each day without judging myself for what didn’t get done. It’s not an Instagram-worthy process, so I had relinquish any ideas that it had to look a certain way. I asked myself constantly, “What is the gentlest thing I can do for myself right now?”, and I honored that request.

This is an intensely internal process, and it’s OK to give yourself the space to unplug while you do so. When I was in this existential crisis, some of the best medicine was focusing on the physical things I could do to nourish my body: remembering to eat regularly, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, taking a bath, encouraging my body to move, etc.

In each moment, recommit to staying.

We’re wired to always seek homeostasis. When we’re standing in the middle of a time of deep change, every fiber of our being will scream at us to move, get out, and seek shelter. And this is precisely the moment when we must stay. Just like a piece of steel that enters a fire to be forged into a sturdy sword, when we allow ourselves to be changed by staying instead of running, we emerge alchemically stronger than we ever thought possible.

The fire burns at its own rate.

This was the hardest lesson for me to embrace. As someone who likes to plan everything, it was difficult to let go of any expectation of how long this process might take or what it was “supposed” to look like. And remember, there is no roadmap for this. Even though our fires may look similar, we are two completely unique individuals, and our processes will be entirely different. Here again I had to practice a deep surrender to not try and control the change, but simply be witness to it, and also to hone my skills in being acutely present. Looking back on it now, I can see how this practice of presence has helped curb some of my anxious tendencies.

Now that the structure has burned down, I cannot go back to how things once were.

If relinquishing control was the hardest lesson, this one has been the most powerful for me. Even though I previously went through periods of change, I can retrospectively see how in times past I rushed out of the burning building towards comfort before anything structurally was able to be altered. Which meant that some of those old, self-sabotaging behaviors and beliefs came back again.

However this time, specifically because I allowed old structures to burn away completely, I am irrevocably changed. Being able to see my inherent worthiness and allowing my soul’s desires to call the shots rather than the perceived opinions of others are massive shifts on a cellular level. I am not the same person I was at the start of this year, and that feels really freaking good. It’s a total Khaleesi moment. Do we have any Game of Thrones fans here?

Despite the destruction, a solid foundation remains.

Yes, a lot was destroyed, but I’m not rebuilding from scratch. A solid foundation of who I am at the core remains, and it’s from that truth that I begin again. No matter which way you slice it, this destructive force is scary. But it will only decimate what is not in your best interest. Those remnants become fertilizer so that we can grow and rebuild from a place of even deeper knowing and greater alignment.

If you find yourself in the middle of your burning building, and would like some support, encouragement, and reassurance to stay, I’ve created a few journal prompts that helped me get through some of the toughest days. Click here to download the PDF.

Or, you can always sign up for a free, 30-minute session with me during Virtual Office Hours.

Photo credit:  Creating Light Studio

Photo credit: Creating Light Studio

Maggie Gentry Miller is the owner of and founder of the Own Your Why® program. She helps business owners who are standing at a pivotal moment in their business and who are ready to make that meaningful shift with their eyes, mind, and heart open. Her unique approach blends business coaching, marketing consulting, and loads of compassion so that you walk away with a framework to grow your business in a way that feels perfectly tailored to you. She is also the co-founder of Mindful Moments ATX, a self-care event series for women and non-binary folks working to establish their own wellness rituals. Maggie's a South Austin gal who recently completed her 200-hour yoga teacher certification, always has a few books from the Austin Public Library on her bookstand, and takes way too many Instagram Stories of her cat Waffles.

Chelsea Francis