Thanks so much for your honest sharing about going through “Spark Valley” and for posting such generative questions.
You wrote: “I’m so discouraged because I KNOW how capable I am of being a kick ass steward of my spark. How do *YOU* cope with these valleys? How do you “reset” your boundaries with yourself to maintain balance? How do you forgive yourself for this? It’s adversely affecting my family life, my health, my sleep. Lately, as new story material finds it’s way in, I’m struggling to find balance … having more difficulty than usual in “shutting off” the noise, stress, and letting go of some of the challenges to make more room for ease and flow.”
You added “I’m feeling that familiar “funk” (low energy, fatigue, indecisiveness, inability to bust-out of a fog). It’s not depression, so much as it is a “spark valley.” I recognize that they are partially there to remind me of what it feels like when things are awesomesauce…. but I can’t stand it and need to bust out. I’m so pissed off at myself that my ability to “shut off” the stress and noise is somehow compromised in recent weeks.”
I would like to start there and remind you of the importance of being gentle towards yourself and trying to focus on the times you hit the mark and not on the ways you might be missing the mark. Gentleness to yourself is of great value in and of itself AND we do not relate to others in a way that is fundamentally different than the way we relate to ourselves, so it is especially important to build a healthy, respectful relationship with yourself. With that foundation you can then make more possible with and for others as well. You would not say to someone else “you idiot!” or “what is wrong with you?!” so you should watch saying such things to yourself.
Since what we are exploring together is –at least in part –an integrated practice to help us steward our energy, one of the first principles is: “try to avoid taking any actions that directly drain you.” Of course this is much easier said than done but note that “being pissed off at yourself” is an action (not just a feeling), and that this action comes from a decision – a decision about how to speak to yourself. Of course the paradox here is that you should not be making a decision in a low state of spark. Decisions that involve making sweeping statements to oneself are especially problematic. These might include “my life sucks so much right now,” or “I am so mad at myself for not being able to stay at a higher spark level.” Really, one wants to avoid introspection of any kind, when one is well below an 8. In that state, you just need to figure out what the most readily available options are for “reaching for the next highest available ING.” This is, in part, why I recommend actually writing out your “These Are A Few of My Favorite INGs” doc (when you are between an 8 and 10) and keeping copies around where you will be able to find them easily when you need might need to!
Even, if you can find your INGs chart, and you can create the space in your day to choose an activity that might give you immediate (if temporary) Sparklift — even if it might not have seemed like that item was not on the top of your to do list, that is not the whole enchilada. It is just the beginning. Once you are back at an eight, the key is to not then just cruise along going “well I am glad that black cloud lifted” but instead use the opportunity of being back at the 8 to do some reflection and consider the following:
What is the duration of your “Spark Valley?” I have said for some time that I don’t expect to stay above an 8 all the time but that the real key is whether I have developed the capacity to be able to pause when below an 8 and be able to come back to an 8 (or higher) relatively quickly. When you write of “Spark Valley” do you mean that you are seeing a 2 or 3 most days but also getting to an 8 or 9 for part of each day, albeit not for long, or do you mean that you have gone for more than several days in a row without seeing an 8 at all? If you are going up and down daily, but want to be more “uppy” more regularly, there are some sparking tips to consider.
Are you really clear about your Good Life Index at this point? Is it real for you? Are you looking at it every morning and aiming at creating GLEE out of whatever comes?
Are you keeping your expectations clear and modest? That is, are you looking for your “Three Sparks a Day” and do you believe that this is “enough” (for a day)?
Have you clarified (when you were at an 8 or higher) the Best Self attribute you are aiming at and are you remembering to practice that out of whatever comes?
Are you taking the notion of “Story Material” seriously and crafting stories of the week (or of each day) out of whatever comes, so that you can create meaning for yourself and at the end of each week you can really “celebrate the best and let go of the rest?”
Have you been disciplined about answering open ended questions you are asked (such “what’s going on?” “How are you?”) with a story of the most recent moment of GLEE you have not yet told anyone about?
Have you built your own “Book of Sparks” —a collection of your own Aha Moments, tips and practices for feeding your spark when you were in a better place? Have you been checking that daily – ideally soon after you complete your First Thing? As a placeholder until you build your own Book of Sparks (that should include tips and insights from others that really work for you as well as tips from me) you might want to use my list of the Twelve Integrated Practices of Sparking (“The T.I.P.S) as your interim “Book of Sparks.”
You can’t expect to just “Be Sparky” without engaging in the twelve elements of the sparking practice. It is not (just) a philosophy, it is a practice. I don’t know about you but whenever I have found a practice that works for me, I tend to suffer when I then neglect the practice. The yoga folks reading this will understand what I mean. You have to get back on the mat, whether or not you feel like it and then do that again. Once you start doing so, things start to shift. The same is true with meditation.
I recognize that there are different “Spark-etypes.” Some of us see (or, more accurately, “create”) 10s every day but also see 2’s most days. Others live most of the time at a 6 or a 7 with some 8’s and 9’s, perhaps not many “10s” but very few 2’s. Nonetheless, if you have been practicing the T.I.P.S but have not (by your own scale) been at an 8 or more at all for a week or more – which is to say your spark has gone missing non-stop for 7 days or longer, or if you cannot even bring yourself to practice the tips and have been steadily below an 8 for a week or more, I would not suggest doubling down on sparky practice. I would recommend instead taking a (hopefully short) break from your sparking explorations and talk with a therapist and/or see a health professional in whom you have confidence to consider if there might well be something else going on that needs attention.
Might there be a physiological dimension contributing to your recent state of funk? Sometimes people have a very real blood sugar issue and/or a thyroid problem, for example. One wants to pay proper attention to those and not just think “if only I could discipline my mind to ‘stay sparky’ everything would be fine.”
Similarly, there can be underlying unresolved emotional issues or deep struggles such as the loss of a parent, challenges in getting pregnant, difficulties in a relationship, a particularly challenging work situation. These can create a very difficult situation where investing time and money in a good therapist should be part of the path.
Sometimes, there is so much on our plate, that it is hard to motivate to do regular exercise but doing so can also shape our inner state dramatically.
A real meditation practice can be helpful in enabling you to come to understand your monkey mind better to help you “shut off the noise.”
I am not saying this just with some notion of offering a disclaimer but because I really believe this. If you are not seeing the 8 at all, something is amiss. Even if you can get to an 8 to 10 while not attending to the above, there is such inefficiency in that approach that I always recommend building the strongest possible personal foundation.
All this to say that I never want to suggest that the Sparking Approach is somehow a panacea and if only you were “better” at staying on the sparking path, all would be well and that is the only thing in life that matters or the only approach to building a good life that works.
My own experience is that while making sure to deal with underlying struggles and recurring patterns through therapy, watching my sugar intake, prioritizing exercise, finding (or creating) a regular meditation practice that can work for me, the sparking approach can be a great help in creating a life of joy, meaning and impact.
I’d love to hear comments from others about this and/or practical questions relating to actually doing what I am describing here.