I can’t remember when I first heard this phrase as a clear directive to confront obstacle.
Maybe it was in a spinning class, when fatigue kicks in and the challenging resistance is at a peak.
“Lean in” suggests not only a way through constraint, but a way out.
When you get to that tough steep slope, you already know what the giant Goliath looks like. Sometimes, you can turn back. But as often, by the time you find yourself there, the only way out is to tackle and move through the very thing you fear.
This is when you dig deep, when the rubber hits the road, and when, instead of panicking, you get quiet, mark a pause and find that oasis of positive attitude.
Even if panic is the first response, it robs us of our good minds, it strips our vital organs of the blood flow they need to properly function, and it takes us to the white-knuckled, teeth-grinding neighborhood where you’ll get jumped.
I’ve talked to sailors who had to lean in to the wind in search of calm, or climbers who had to lean in to the mountain to find the next scrap of oxygen. In grief-centered therapies, this instruction has to do with the rogue waves of emotion that can loom up from nowhere and overwhelm the tenuous balance so newly, just barely struck.
Leaning in means accepting what is, and the tools we have at our disposal to face whatever arises. Good habits make the task both easier and safer. By practicing with our tools, learning how they work and what occasions are fitting for using them, we improve our chances for calling upon them through wise application in times of need.
Lately, many people I know are leaning into the discomfort of steep learning curves. Whether it’s becoming a new mother, salvaging a business, returning to work, losing a job, changing jobs, there are a few things that leaning in teaches us.
We don’t have to live on red alert. Our beautiful brains and our story of evolution teaches that we are coded for survival. If we can relax into life and trust that by remaining present and aware, we are actually in the best possible position to assess what must be done, then when the time comes, or the wave hits, the hours of preparation we’ve spent learning to breathe, learning to center, learning to mind become a real tool kit.
Next time you’re up against a wall, remember that you have been wired for solutions.
You can’t dodge the effort that will be required, but if you lean in, if you trust yourself as you step up to the plate, your chances for success will be so much better than what about-face retreat can offer.