February 10, 2017 · 2:10 pm
Lately I have been feeling as if I have a label tattooed on my forehead that says: “Fragile: Handle with Care.” Perhaps it’s actually that I feel the need to alert others to my fragility.
When I walk down the street, the process has been “one step at a time” for months. I cannot be focused on my destination because I have to summon the energy to take the next step. I can’t worry about whether I will get to where I am going; my whole being is taken up with moving my foot forward. It could be that the label seems an extra layer of protection since it wouldn’t be obvious to anyone looking that my self-experience is the way it is.
I have been slowly gaining strength over the past few weeks. But still the layer of vulnerability remains strong. That may sound like an oxymoron, yet vulnerability can be a powerful force. It can affect the interface between taking in experience and engaging in action. It feels like a cloak that I have been wearing without ever consciously having put it on. Now I can’t take it off, though as I write this, I am aware that it won’t come off until I am ready to move forward without it.
Such a way of being seems particularly at odds with the need for resistance in the face of current political and world events. Every day I feel called to act to help counter the actions that are feeding social injustice, isolationism and climate change denial. I feel diminished in myself as I see what others are actively doing. I am called to meet energies fueled by fear and anger, but meet them how?
How do you take a stand when standing in itself is sometimes more than you can manage? I remember past experiences where I was recovering from some trauma and impatient for wholeness. Always there was the issue of how much to push; how many steps forward can you take before being caught by as many steps backwards? It comes down to how to be with vulnerability in a way that holds the intention of standing up and being strong.
I recall some years ago being in warrior postures during my yoga practice and noticing how vulnerable I felt. This sense showed itself in an energetic backing off from a full expression of the poses as if the attitude and the physical postures were incompatible. At some point my awareness shifted to where I could see that vulnerability and strength were like two sides of the same coin. They can exist simultaneously in a person – in me! It doesn’t have to be just one or the other. I realize that insights can often appear to be simple as this one does but still represent a deep shift in attitude.
Going forward, I am hopeful that I can bring this insight to bear in meeting the events that are happening now. If I can remember the experience of being both vulnerable and strong then I can show up in a way that appreciates the soft underbelly of those who appear strong in opposition to the values I hold dear. This may help in preventing me from responding purely out of anger or frustration. Perhaps it will allow for some deeper listening on my part so that my response will be not be intentionally antagonistic. Maybe coming forward with this attitude will invite an openness that leads to dialogue instead of intransigent positions. I don’t know for sure, of course, but I am willing to see this as a next big step.
February 21, 2013 · 5:41 pm
Most of the time we go through our days following a schedule or routine that is more or less familiar. Even when it’s a day without a schedule or one that contains some new adventure, there are enough elements within it to provide us with the continuity of what’s familiar. I wonder if we realize just how much we rely on our day to day lives to always have this kind of consistency. We certainly experience a level of comfort in expecting that the sun will rise every morning, the earth will stay solid under our feet and other aspects of our lives will remain stable.
Consider the times you encounter a new experience – an event that’s happened to you, a situation where you are asked to do something you’ve never done before or maybe you’re involved in learning new skills. In each case, you find yourself evaluating and categorizing what’s before you. We all do this – checking out our experience to identify elements that are known or maybe similar to what we already know. Of course, this process keeps us from becoming overwhelmed by having to take in so much that’s new that we cannot move forward. We even follow this pattern every time when we meet a stranger, comparing his appearance, voice or mannerisms to others we already know.
As we go from one day to the next, the elements in our lives that are familiar become expectations for our future. Say I meet someone who bears a strong resemblance to my sister. It would not be unusual for me to allow my feelings about and attitude towards my sister to influence my interactions with this new person. At some point, however, as the new relationship develops, the bearing of my familiar sense will give way to create space for the “newly” familiar. This is the way we operate, though often it’s not as smooth a process as it might seem.
There can be clinging and aversion that get in the way of actually seeing or appreciating the new experience as it is, or, in the case above, the person as she is. We become attached to the way things are, to what we know, to who we are or to what we have. The attitudes and feelings we bring can mask what we otherwise might see or hear or feel. It requires conscious awareness to determine how open and unencumbered we can be in greeting what is new. Even with the intention to remain open, “new” doesn’t stay that way for long.
The drive to be comfortable, surrounded by the familiar, is very strong. It is part of what helps us survive and negotiate our environment. Often we sort of slide right into reframing a new experience into one that is familiar. But when a life changing event occurs, it’s not so easy. Transforming upheaval into familiar or comfortable takes some effort though it can happen nonetheless. Consider Stockholm syndrome, or attitudes/behaviors of victims of abuse or violence or natural disasters. Not to reduce the effects of such events to a simplistic level, but certainly some element of the drive to incorporate familiarity is present. In particular, when a situation is not an isolated occurrence but continues over a period of time, a person habituates himself to what is happening around him. This process itself does not indicate an attitude of acceptance or approval; instead it carries with it the intention of supporting the individual in moving ahead with his life. As with so many other aspects of our lives, this changing face of familiar is a process that serves us better when we can bring awareness to it. The practice of mindfulness, which can be supported through meditation and yoga, has been found to assist in providing clearer intention for times when we are in this process. Being mindful in the moment can help us understand when expectations based on our familiar lives are getting in the way of clear seeing. It can also create the potential for an opening toward newness or change or whatever is different from what we’ve known before, leading us hopefully to a more authentic, less automatic, way of living.
October 7, 2011 · 7:23 pm
Suppose you are at an edge, standing at a point where moving forward feels like stepping off into the unknown yet staying where you are is increasingly uncomfortable, and, of course, moving backward isn’t even a choice. What happens now?
Sounds like a big deal – yet we do this over and over again every day. Mostly, however, moving forward happens within the context of what we know and what is familiar. Driving the car, making a call, walking down the street – all these actions happen without us knowing exactly what will happen next. We do, for the most part, have expectations based on past experiences that allow us to take up these activities with confidence or ease. But if enough about the activity is outside our familiar set of past experiences, then the sense of the unknown surfaces. How we meet this can range from anxious resistance to enthusiastic excitement.
Think of children for whom almost all experiences are unknown. Would any of us have learned to walk or run if we chose staying with what is familiar? Or if we had a lengthy internal conversation about what was about to happen next? Unlikely! So we all have the capacity to choose moving forward, taking the next step, even in the face of not knowing.
Consider how we meet these edges in our life situations – right now, today. Could it be that what seems edgy to us does so because some aspect of it strikes us at our core? How do we choose moving forward or staying when our perception of what is at stake is the sense of who we are or what our truth is? It isn’t simply about “not knowing.” What stirs us is the dissonance of the potential before us compared with what we think of ourselves, our idea of who we are, our self image. Perhaps this is actually the edge of awareness. And our choice is to explore and take the next step or hunker down and stay put.
So, what might make the difference in how we choose? If you go back to the childhood reference, moving forward was possible then because we felt safe, accepted and had a sense that someone had our back if things didn’t go well. Or else the motivation was that consequences of failing weren’t clear and/or the risk seemed worth it. Or simply being curious.
How to bring some more of that curiosity into how we make choices to explore edges and step out into the unknown as who we are right now? Can we use the tools we have and the gifts we’ve been offered? Meditation, mindfulness techniques and yoga can support the sense of who we are and strengthen the ability to take the next step. They can provide a safe home and make it easier to move forward. Yoga therapy, in particular Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, offers a unique structure for supporting this kind of exploration of the edge – one in which you can explore with safety and acceptance, with the sense of someone having your back. What matters most in the way you meet your edges is that you get to choose – how far, how fast, even whether to go at all…