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Processing My 2020 - A Good Tough Year

We love bodysurfing! Photo by my son - Jan 2021.
2020 fulfilled its promise of being the year of perfect vision. Just not how I expected.
At the beginning of the year I considered creating a marketing campaign using the connection between 2020 and vision. I mean, my business IS called VysionQuest.

Fortunately that inspiration never hit.

For one, it was too cheesy, obvious, and popular.

For another, holy sh*t, 2020 erased all our plans anyway.

But in hindsight I see how 2020 fulfilled its promise of being the year of vision.

Life is mostly a mystery
I thought that usually in life you need to change your inner world first and then your outer world changes.

What I experienced in 2020 was that my outer world changed in all these good unexpected ways and then it took some time for my inner world to catch up!

That gap hurt.

How strange. It's cool to see I don't know as much as I thought I did. And to remember that life is mostly a mystery.
The bigger the curse the bigger the blessing

I believe that every curse is a blessing in disguise. The truth of this happens in my life every time, eventually.

2020 brought some substantial curses into my life including leaving my sweet life on Bali, the overnight cancellation of all of my Bali retreats, intense relationship struggles, financial struggles, and the most surprising - depression.

After a bit of time and space, plus forward steps, each of these areas turned into good things.

I'm pretty sure none of them would have happened without COVID.

2020 exposed the unsustainable

Turns out I had a lot of unsustainability in my life that had been building up for years and would have continued.

Other people could probably see these things much more clearly than I could.

Work habits, lifestyle habits. And the most unsustainable - thinking habits that led to chronic mental stress.

Something about the heightened external challenges and changes and uncertainty of 2021 made it so that I couldn't keep sweeping my unsustainable choices under the rug anymore.

Trying to grow up before my kids do
I was a 44 years old pretending he was a 34 year old. Pretending HE was a 24 year old.

I had mastered avoiding responsibility. I prided myself on not being trapped by adult duties.

Here is where I should write about my insights around living a normal, boring, routine life... but it's too boring. Guess I've still got a ways to go.

Moving on.
Stability... What's that?
Upon reflection I saw that the main priority in my life was adventure and has been for a long time. Probably since I went on my first surf trip in Baja, Mexico when I was 15 years old.

Almost 30 years later and adventure was still my top priority and I was sacrificing other priorities, like family and business, to keep it that way.

For example, for the last 8 years I've been flying between Bali and Australia every couple months. Plus doing a trip to the states (Hawaii + NYC/Virginia) every year or two.

In 2012 this was my dream. To have the freedom and finances and to pull off this jet-setting lifestyle. I love travel and airplanes!

In 2020 I was tired of travel and airplanes. Tired of spending so much time and money and energy pinballing between my two different lives — the Bali adventure VysionQuest guy and the Dad.

I've been in Australia 9 months now. It's the longest I've been in one country in about 10 years.

Being stationary has allowed me - or forced me - to start building some important dreams that I've been thinking about for years. I'll probably write another post about this.
2020 carried me back to my kids
This is the single biggest blessing of 2020 for me.

For about 8 years I'd been based mostly on Bali, Indonesia. Not just a different city but a different COUNTRY than my kids.

It's painful to acknowledge this. It's embarrassing to share it here.

This was most unsustainable, out-of-integrity aspect of my life. Fortunately that got corrected in March when I moved back to Australia where my two amazing kids live with their Mum, Pia.

It turned out to be a more timely move than I could have imagined because in a couple weeks our little girl is leaving home! Jaya is 16 now and she's moving to Brisbane, 1.5 hours away, to attend Year 11 at the Music Industry College.

For the last 6 months she's been living at my house during most of the school week since I live closer to her school than her Mum.

This move isn't really a surprise — she's independent and adventurous — but whoa we thought we'd have a couple more years with her at home!

I'm so grateful I got that time with her.
Midway through the year I was not feeling well.

Frozen in overwhelm. I couldn't concentrate on work or make decisions. I felt really uncomfortable around people and needed tons of time by myself. My best friends were Netflix and Domino's.

Let me back up... over the last couple years I'd had two primary stresses in my life which seemed to always be with me.

One stress was my relationship. It was an important relationship and in hindsight we held each other's hands through massive life transitions. But on a day to day basis, over two years, I didn't feel peaceful or right about it. It got to the point where we'd done so much to try to make it work and it still wasn't working so the only thing we could do was to let it go.

The other stress was money. Since I started my retreats money has come in waves. Actually, it's come in waves my whole life. The longer I've run retreats the bigger the waves have gotten fortunately. But there are still lulls when things get tight.

And then almost overnight - poof - my two biggest stresses disappeared.

My girlfriend and I broke up.

And my first Australia retreat sold out, putting more money in my bank account than I've ever had in my life.

Yay... I could get back to feeling inspired and happy.

But what happened was that I started feeling even worse.

What the f*ck?

Now THAT was stressful... to have my biggest stresses gone and STILL feel a stressed.

On top of that I had my first Australia VysionQuest coming up! How was I going to have the energy to guide a group of people through a life-changing experience when I could hardly get off the couch? How was I going to manage just being around 14 people for 6 days when all I wanted to do was hide?

Plus, what a hypocrite I was... talking about living an inspired fulfilling life while pretty much hating myself and struggling with the most basic functions in life.
It was a heavy time.

At some point, somehow, I landed on a web page entitled "symptoms of depression" and I was shocked to see that I had almost all of them!

So that's what this is... Depression!

Wait, what!? Depression? Me? The purpose and vision guy?

But it felt true. It sank in. And strangely I felt some relief.
The Path to Healing
Almost as soon as I admitted to myself that I had depression I started to seek out resources, get help, and take better care of myself.

One of the first key things I did was to call Pia, my ex-wife and co-parent and friend, to explain how I've been feeling, how I've been struggling. I was sobbing as the words came out and she just listened with care. I felt like it was okay and that I had support and that things would be okay.

Here are some other things I did:

- Listening to podcasts on mental health

- Watching YouTube videos on personal growth and relationships and mental health

- Taking meditative walks on the beach

- Speaking openly with family and friends about what I was experiencing

- Seeing a therapist

- Seeing a hypnotherapist

- Seeing a spiritual counselor

- Getting cranio-sacral therapy

- Joining an exercise boot camp

- Getting massages regularly

- Thought Field Therapy (tapping)

- Experimenting with my diet for periods, eg. cutting out gluten, caffeine and alcohol

- Communicate my thoughts, feelings and needs with my family

- Acknowledging that I'd been through some big life changes (moving countries, breaking up, new retreat venue, more full-time fathering) so a transition time when things feel hard is natural.

- And probably the best thing I've done is to run two VysionQuests. Even when I wasn't feeling great. Even when I doubted my worthiness. I stepped up and fulfilled my purpose and had absolute magical experiences and changed lives! I don't know what I would do without this work.

I'm still on the path to healing. Feels like I always will be now. When I feel "off" I remind myself to look after my mental and emotional health.
How much do you trust?
One day I opened up to my friend Daya about how I'd been struggling.

After explaining that I feel concerned that my second Australia retreat wouldn't fill up, he asks me, "How much do you trust?"

I consider. I THINK that I trust a lot. Deep down I know that everything works out.

But hmmm... maybe I don't trust as much as I thought I did. Because I feel pretty f*cking worried.

This question has stuck with me.

Maybe you can use it too.
Take the pressure off
I don't realize I'm doing it. Putting mental pressure on myself. Almost constantly. Do more, be more, focus better.

We are making ourselves crazy.

I've started to catch it and tell myself, "take the pressure off."

This helps.
Is it okay to show and share my human faults and struggles?
In the past I'd been concerned that if people knew more about this struggly human side of me that the VysionQuest process would become less potent for them.

Or maybe they would be repelled, thinking, "well, if the creator of it is struggling then it can't be very effective."

I'm pretty open about my life when I'm face to face with people on retreats.

But the real Rick never fully came out in between the retreats, on my website, in my writing, in my videos.

All those other non-retreat aspects of my business felt stressful and inauthentic.

In a way, no wonder I felt depressed. I was hiding half of me from the world.

On my retreats I witnessed over and over the transformation that happens when people share their deepest fears and struggles.

They face the fear "if I show my humanity, people will reject me or leave me."

And how they get to experience that the opposite is true — when you fully share yourself, you fall in love with yourself, and others fall in love with you too.

Hmm I'm getting more insight about why my time in between retreats feels hard.

I'm ready for the full-time love now!
Feel your dissatisfaction
Another helpful perspective has been to stop avoiding pain - mental, emotional and physical.

Don't distract myself. Don't numb myself.

Become aware of my addictions and how I use them to avoid pain and tolerate things that aren't what I want.

Some of my pain-killers, for example, are Netflix, coffee, and beer.

I've been able to replace some Netflix time with book time, replace some coffee time with stretching time, replace beer time with, well, whatever... the easiest way for me to drink less beer is to not buy it.

(And by the way, a lot of coffee and beer for me is 1-2 per day. I'm a light weight.)

My cranio dude gave me some counseling: "feel your dissatisfaction".

Whoa. Yes!

I often feel SO dissatisfied with myself!

And when I admit that and feel that, I also start to feel charged and powerful.
Not all the suffering I feel is mine
I experienced an interesting phenomenon regularly during 2020.

I would be suffering from some kind of mental or emotional or physical pain. It would feel really uncomfortable.

Then a day or two later I'd be in a conversation with someone like my daughter or a friend or a client and they would explain what they'd been suffering from and put into words exactly what I had been feeling.

This happened about a dozen times.

I don't know what this is all about, if it's related to my nature or my work.

But it's helped me take my suffering less seriously. Because maybe it's not even mine.

Maybe somehow I'm helping others process their suffering more quickly?

I don't know.
I deleted the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone
I watched The Social Dilemma. What a badass documentary. If you spend more time on social media than you want to, watch it.

It convinced me to delete the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone.

But two days later, with the belief that I needed to regularly share posts for my business, and frustrated about how inconvenient it was to share photos on Instagram on my laptop, I reinstalled the apps!

Then I read a blog post by one of my VysionQuest participants Kali Gray and she did it!

She convinced me to delete the apps.

And they've stayed deleted!

This has been so good for me, for my creativity, for my productivity.

I was sabotaging my happiness under the guise of "staying connected" and "promoting my business".

But always thinking about what I'm going to post feels like a drain on my precious creative energy.

And the funny thing is that I already employ an awesome woman and pay her well to manage my social media!

Delete the apps and see if you've got more energy for building your dreams and your real relationships.
Thanks for reading
This is a different kind of blog post than I've ever written before and it's taken me a few days to get the guts up to finish it and share it.

I hope it helps you process your 2020 struggles and clear the way for a powerful 2021.

I'm going surfing now!

Lots of love,

Rick Cowley

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Rick Cowley - Creator of VysionQuest
The VysionQuest is a spiritual adventure to help achievers at a crossroads find purpose, direction and inspiration for their next chapter.
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© 2021 Rick Cowley