Breaking  Cycles

man-walking-circlesby-HikingArtist

Do you ever feel like you are walking in circles: coming back to the same scenarios, same challenges, over and over again?  I spent so many years really struggling with this.  I found myself frequently wondering why I continued to battle with self-acceptance, my weight, binge eating, and not pursuing much of what I really wanted to do with my life.

Is there something you want to change in your life and it feels like time?

I cycled for years, wondering what lessons were to be gained and why I couldn’t figure out what seemed to have such a simple solution.  Slowly, I began to build new pathways, take little steps to gradually change -one thing at a time.  I stopped losing my temper on people and started breathing slowly and holding my tongue, allowing my thoughts of frustration to come out from time to time in more tactful and calm/productive ways.  After being called out about how defensive I am (that was a painful, and important pill to swallow from one boss), I started to reflect in the moments when I wanted to jump up defensively, and began to notice how and when my ego threatened to prevent a learning opportunity.  I started to prepare healthy and small snacks when I knew I was coming up on a stressful season in which I knew I was prone to binge on unhealthy foods.  And when the moments arose that I felt the anxiety bringing on urges to return to old habits I wanted to break, I literally just sat for a minute or a few, took slow, deep breaths, at times closed my eyes, and refused to let myself run away- I told myself: “You can do this, keep going.”  

running away is in your head

What makes you want to run away?

I took more and smaller steps to accomplish daunting tasks.  I focused on congratulating myself A LOT for working through those hard moments.  I still do at times.  I found new rewards to feed my brain, my soul, and I focused on the joy of learning a new coping mechanism, becoming ever more of the person I wanted to be.  My focus shifted more from the momentary cravings to who and what I want to be is.

What is the life you WANT to live?  How does it look, feel, handle real challenges?

I recently spent time with a friend going through a hard time.  We talked about how we handle pain, family cycles or patterns and her worry about the long term effects of turning to what I would describe as escapism.  Today I was reminded of our conversation as I listened to Rachel Brathen, a.k.a. Yoga Girl’s latest podcast The Guilt of a New Mom  in which she opened up about a struggle and experiences of turning to escapism (food, shopping, alcohol, even yoga) in moments of extreme stress.  What made the podcast so valuable to me was her follow up realization that only when we allow ourselves to actually experience rather than run from our pain can we heal (it’s a beautiful confession and lesson I recommend listening to if you are a parent or have a tendency toward escapism).  

break the cycle

What can your cycles teach you?

As one who tends to embrace each moment, I often feel like life is so wonderful.  At moments of intense challenge, it can seem almost overwhelming and unending- no matter the length or brevity.    I don’t know that I will ever fully understand all the pain anyone suffers, but I feel the healing and comfort we gain through sharing what we survive, overcome, and our lessons along the way.  So I just want to add my voice to that of Rachel Brathen’s: when you are hurting, especially when you are really hurting, I hope you will allow the moment to pass without running from it.  You don’t need to push it aside or take it on with an agenda.  The pain may or may not ever fully go away, but those seemingly overwhelming moments shorten and their frequency decreases as you stop running and instead listen to the lessons in them.  You begin to free yourself from cycles of pain trying to teach you the same lesson over again.  

How can you  respond to discomfort a little differently today?

 

 

Surrender Into the Flow

Recently, I sat down with a friend and her new baby to catch up.  She’s in the midst of asking some of the big career questions like: “Do I want to go back to my job?”  “Is it time to pursue the career I dream of?”  and “Do I want to stay home with my new baby?

As I sat with this thoughtful woman, wondering aloud what to do and how it will all work out, I could feel her anxiety building until she said, “And I realize I just need to surrender.”  It felt as though we both took this huge breath and exhaled out all her stress.  She wasn’t saying she would relinquish her efforts, but relax into trusting she will find the niche where her energy can propel her forward instead of fretting.

Lao Tzu calls this being ‘in the flow’ in the Tao te Ching.  You can think of it like the way a screw works.  When it is placed in a hole that is too small or comes at the wrong angle, you can push and turn for a long time without getting anywhere- which is not helpful.  On the other hand, if you place that same screw in a hole that is too big, it slides right in, but offers no real support.  When a screw catches the threads just right though, all your efforts move it forward into place.  With moderate effort, maximum progress and solid support are produced.  

screw-in-a-screw

Surrender- not giving up, is being present in the here and now.  Recognize the opportunities and options right in front of you.  Acknowledge when you feel you are “in the flow” and move with the current.  

I think life is rarely easy.  However, when we stop pushing painfully hard against our natural path and allow our process to unfold, it is in that unfolding we experience the sweet surrender to being in the flow.  Like swimming with the current, we can go so much farther than attempting to compete with the riptide.  So be present, take a breath, and work with the flow of your life’s current.

 

Plethora of Perspectives

Do you ever find yourself analyzing a situation, resolving it in your mind, and growing emotional about how someone’s choice that impacts you in the situation is clearly “wrong”?  Whether it’s with politics, work, your friends or family, we all run into moments of disliking the choices another makes that impact us in some way.

Why are we so convinced that our own perspective is right?

I recently read an adaptation of Rumi’s poem “Elephant in the Dark” and found it eye opening on this matter.  A group of people, curious about what creature has be placed in a dark room, decide they cannot wait, but must reveal the room’s contents.  One by one they enter, each eager to uncover the mystery, each sure of what she has found.  One feels the ear- like a large fan.  Another feels its long, curving trunk-it must be like a snake.  Someone else encounters one of its thick, strong legs-it is solid and wide like a tree trunk.  Each person  is sure he leaves the darkness with a firm understanding of what the creature is.  Yet with their limited perspectives, none grasp the full measure of the elephant.

This past weekend, I found myself in several situations in which the involved parties grew emotionally charged and all had their own perspectives: with colleagues reflecting on a workshop, my partner as we discussed communication styles, even my dog as we walked. 

A small illustration: Last night, Naya, my dear canine companion, was absolutely convinced that she needed to lick whatever was stuck to the street.  I had no idea what the substance was, but a) I was sure I didn’t want her tongue running along the foreign substance and we had somewhere else to go –right then– as I saw it.  I called.  She tried to hold her stance.  I started to walk away, she continued anxiously licking.  What was more important in that moment: moving on or embracing what I perceived as appalling and perhaps sickness inducing, or what Naya thought was an absolutely delectable road treat?  She licked and scraped.  I walked forward.  Eventually she followed and fortunately no sign of sickness has appeared- at least yet.  We certainly saw things differently.

I often present my  challenges to one or two people to hear their opinions when I’m upset about something, just to get some alternate views.  Like looking through a fly’s eye.  Consider how many different angles and slightly different views a fly perceives when looking at a given image. If we’re being “open minded,” we may consider more than one side of any situation, but how many opinions and perspectives are we actually willing to consider?

How often do we remember to consider and look through others’ lenses?

While perusing some of photographer Jon Sanwell’s recent work from Myanmar, I encountered a series of photographs of betel leaves in baskets, including the one below.  Just from my own lens, I initially thought about the beautiful shades of jade green, the eye-catching angle of the shot, the juxtaposed glossy leaves and natural matte finish of the wicker baskets.  I wondered why someone would so carefully stack all the leaves in spirals around the containers.  But perhaps some people look at these leaves as the means to fitting in (chewing betel is a popular social practice in the region), the destroyer of their loved one’s health (betel is carcinogenic), or maybe just a really unique way to capture a part of Southeast Asia.  That’s just some of what I considered.  What are your thoughts looking at this photograph?

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So the next time you find yourself frustrated, hurt, confused, or even elated, consider how others are impacted by the situation and your actions.  Perhaps you will listen and learn a thing or two from someone with a different take.  Remember, everyone’s lens is unique.