What don’t you miss until it is gone?

Photo by Mega Caesaria on Unsplash

What is something you don’t miss, until it is gone?   One of my favorite lines from an old movie, The Paper, has Marissa Tomei sneezing as the very pregnant wife of the newspaper editor in the movie and say, “You don’t appreciate bladder control until it is gone”. 

Balance is like that – we know it most when we lose it.  Physical, emotional, life balance – we feel the lack of it as we lose it or when we end up on the literal or metaphorical floor.  

Balance is immediate – we know when we have it and we know when we don’t. 

Balance is intangible – what it actually is, how it is affected, what supports it is a little more elusive.   

What feels like balance within you?  In your life?  What do you do when unbalanced?

What restores your sense of balance?

How we experience balance and the loss of balance can show up in different forms.  I could feel more unsure, move in more tentative ways.  I can lose trust in myself and may shrink from some activities.  I can feel diminished, feeling the old in my aging process.  I can feel afraid, bracing against what might come.

I lost my balance once buying corn at a road side stand.  I stepped back from the counter, connecting my calf with the wooden brace extending out of the front of the stand.  In one moment, I was buying corn and in the next moment, I was falling backward.  I felt a sense of control, then felt out of control.  I was falling before I could think I was falling.

How we look at balance yields a view into what it is and how we can inhabit ourselves with a sense of balance.

Intention

Alan Questel says, “When we lose or regain our balance it is mostly recognized through how we move.  We move as a result of our intentions.  When we are unable to fulfill our intentions, it may show up as a loss of balance.”    We have an intimate, often unconscious relationship between our intentions and our actions. 

Have you had the experience of fumbling with your keys, to orient your key into the lock?   This small struggle moment is when intention and action are not relating well.  When I want to get through the door and I fumble with my keys, my intention does not include the process of lining up my key, of inserting it in the lock and turning the lock to release the door.

I am focused on the goal of getting into my house, getting on with it so I skip over my intention in the act of unlocking.  And depending on how many re-usable shopping bags or weapons bags I am holding, I swear a little!

So how do we find the way to fulfill our intention when we move? 

We use two personal resources, perception and manipulation, to fit intention to action.  We tend to focus on manipulation as the skill that needs improving. I find how we use our perception is more often the initiator of the problem.

How well, how accurately, how precisely am I perceiving what is in front of me?  Am I using an existing mental model of the lock in the door to guide my movement?  Or am I having a full, unfettered experience to perceive what is there – my key, the lock so I am set up to do the manipulation needed. 

What perceptual hygiene might be called for to clear away what is getting in the way? Am I absorbed with a rumination about a conversation?  Am I drunk?  Am I absorbed in thinking about what I will do next?   Am I sucked into the sensations of an exhausted body budget?

Try this out – put your key into your lock but see how it would be possible to slide the tip of the key precisely into the slot of the lock without tapping, without bumping the key tip on the outer rim of the lock?  What kind of attention would you need to bring to make a clean insertion? How slow or how quickly would you need to move?

So part of inhabiting a sense of balance can be expressed as a harmonious relationship between intention and action. 

To return to my unbalanced corn buying story, I intended to back away from the stall and encountered an obstacle.  My balance was broken.  I didn’t intend to back into the wooden brace so there is another piece to looking at balance – how we interact with our environment.

Environment

Why is unlocking the door important?  Our environment determines how we act in the world.  What about choice?  Free will?   I could leave my door unlocked, removing this need to unlock it.  But I don’t, because I live in a neighborhood with a steady stream of people in my back alley looking for bottles and sometimes the opportunity for something more.  So I engage in this ritual to lock my door that feeds my sense of feeling secure. Growing up on a farm, we never locked our door, because a neighbor might need something when we were not at home.  Different environments, different actions.

What creates balance walking up and down stairs?   Do you look down at each stair as you step?  Do you look straight ahead?  Going down stairs, we often look down, literally rounding down to cope with the felt sense of risk while descending.    Stepping down stairs feels less risky than walking down a muddy or icy slope. 

A friend shared her experience of slipping down a muddy slope in a haunted house, losing her balance on the dark and unpredictable surface.  How can we find balance when our environment gives us conditions that are not stable?  What does it mean to have balance when we don’t know what is going to happen next?  What if balance isn’t a state but a process, a response to each moment?

I admit I love watching parkour.  For anyone who hasn’t seen parkour, here is a short glimpse. 

https://youtu.be/1KnpCHYpSuQ

This example includes high levels of athleticism but in its most basic form parkour is the practice of moving in your environment.   

Playground environments are a familiar form of parkour – monkey bars, balance beams, climbing walls.  Watching a child navigate a climbing structure, I see the same close attention, the regard for precisely what is possible for the next handhold or foothold, all within the comfortable range of his own reach, his body’s dimensions within the space.

In navigating uncertain surfaces, we fare better staying open, responsive to our environment.  To brace, to become more rigid in reaction to fear of falling separates us from the information we could be receiving, the sense of the small ridge under your right foot, the slight slope down to the left.  What if balance was the process of an unspoken, felt conversation between the person who moves and the environment she moves through?   How well do we listen to our environment when we move? 

An odd thing happened a couple of weeks ago.  I spent a couple days checking my feet – it felt like something was stuck to the bottom of my feet – I could feel something there.  Then I realized, I was simply feeling more with my feet.  When I opened my awareness, I could feel the grain on the hardwood floor, feel the ridges on the linoleum, feel the texture of the welcome mat to a degree I was not conscious of before.   I don’t have a well-defined “why” for how this increase in sensitivity has come to be; I do know that I have come into a better sense of balance by feeling more.   

Structure

This leads me to focus on a third lens on balance – the question of our structure.

Back to the corn stand.  I am falling backward, tripped over the wooden brace at the corn stand. This story is memorable for me because of how I fell.  Somehow, maybe in some kind of early whisper of my aikido practice to come, I found a way to fold and roll gently onto my back. I was surprised.  The woman selling corn was surprised.  It just happened.  No time to think.   What happened?  Why didn’t I just fall backward, flat on the pavement?

The question for structure and balance is – can we regain our balance once we have lost it, once it is compromised?  And can we do something about our balance before it is a problem?

Clearly, we need to go beyond an understanding of structure as the form or the shape our feet, legs, hips that lets us be stable, to stand without toppling.   All of that is important, but in order to live, to function fully, we need a structure that can move and be balanced. 

Falling is different from movement in its reversibility.  When I step forward, I can choose to pause and step backward at any time during the movement.  When I fall, I can’t reverse it.  At the corn stand, I was going down.  I have an opportunity though, to alter the process and direction of my movement as I fall.  A stumble became a roll.  I was able to move in the direction I was already going and change my action.  Dynamic balance involves a responsiveness to the combination of intention, environment and manipulation of our structure, a kind of flow power to create moment by moment anew our intentions, our actions.  We shut this flow down when we contract, when we brace against what the moment brings.  When we inhabit ourselves with a sense of balance, we call out our capacity to adapt, adjust and find postures of support. 

Brace or Embrace? That is the Question.

Photo by Jennifer Bonauer on Unsplash

You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation…and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else. (Herman Hesse)

What was the last time you had something happen to you that you really didn’t want to happen?   That thing that created in you a kind of digging your heels in, push back on reality kind of bracing.  “That is not what I needed today!”    Like driving to a car preventative maintenance appointment and having your car break down on the way.   Or finding out someone you believed was a friend has been spreading untrue stories about you, behind your back.   Or getting a health diagnosis for a loved family member that leaves you feeling powerless and devastated.

Life happens – when we brace for it, we are saying with our bodies, with our whole selves – “This is not what I want to experience, not these emotions, not these sensations.”  This is my reality and I want it the way that I want it.   In this moment of bracing against the reality we are actually experiencing, this moment of tension soaks up considerable energy, considerable attention – a proverbial square peg in a round hole as we protest how what shows up does not fit in our template of what we feel should be showing up.

So we should just accept what comes, right?  I hear and feel the calling, the higher self that can express in the moment, like a cosmic voice over, “Everything is all right as it is.”   The call to step back, tune in, expand out and feel that this road block, this upset, this unexpected change in fortune is all alright.  Yes.  Yes and…..I acknowledge I am my highest self – right now and also the self who is balancing connection with the people in my life and the list of priorities that come with work, with school. With caregiving.  With self-care.

I visit my higher self and live daily the really real with the rest of me.  I find it is often the mundane moments that bring out my tendency to brace rather than embrace, the spilling of the coffee grounds, the aftermath of taking the wrong turn on an unfamiliar road, the gap between small expectations of how time shared with a loved one will be and what actually happens.  Even when not identified with the clash of expectations and experience, I can’t claim to occupy the kind of spaciousness to embrace fully.  Sometimes.  Sometimes not.  Maybe you can relate.  I can go with the flow, finding that easiest when I don’t have a plan, when I am not following purpose.   But bracing happens when something that matters is at risk, when we project our fear of what could happen onto the event unfolding in front of us. 

What does love have to do with it?  The core of embracing what “shouldn’t” be happening comes from love, from warm attention, from greeting the experience.  From acknowledging what I have here, including my reaction to the experience as part of my experience.  A reaction that can flow into a response.  No extra baggage, no sticky labelling of the happening, the start of a story that surrounds your experience.  Just naked experience.

Being naked might feel freeing.  Or make you shiver.  Bracing stops the flow of our experience.  Puts on the brakes.  Might feel more stable.  Much harder to move from there.  We might feel the freedom to flow from one experience to the next, having our reactions without stopping the flow of our experience.  The flow of unimpeded tears, the flow of frustration mingling with ongoing curiosity and attention to what can happen next.

When you notice yourself next in the posture of brace, is there space to pause? To soften?  To open up just enough to breathe into the moment?  I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about what happens, to let go of what matters to you. You will have so much more available to you from a posture of embrace, so much more than hunkering into a defended stance.   I feel this choice strongly, in the daily work as an entrepreneur, the daily invitation and the daily discipline to invite openness into my purpose, especially when the networking connection fizzles, the client cancels.  This is a form of personal leadership to receive, without relinquishing, to connect without being overwhelmed.  To embrace what is at stake for you when things are not working out.  To lean in, to discover again what is valuable and maybe in that space another way will become visible on the path to your purpose.  

This is a personal leadership that can be with what feels like chaos, the breakdown of our predictions – the familiar tool of projection we use to withstand not knowing what will happen next.  We brace because it feels too vulnerable to embrace the unknown, because it feels slippery and we are afraid of falling, of losing what we would hold close.   Compared to our habits of bracing, embracing can feel defenseless, weak.  So start with embracing the mundane unwanted things, the car breaking down, the spilled coffee grounds.  Find out what is on the other side of embracing your fear of what you don’t want to happen. 

Time for Integration

I live where it feels like, at this time of year, pretty far north.  This week I have watched leaves start to turn colors, weather forecasts start to hint at near frost temperatures, I daily contemplate the likelihood that my squashes will grow big enough to be harvested before a hard frost.  Do I need to cover them tonight, prolonging my hope for a harvest? 

Summer, typically, has been a time for integration for me.  A time to step away from the pace of doing I commit to the rest of the year.  A time to sit in utter stillness in my kayak in the middle of a lake with pelicans and gulls as my only companions.  A time to look into a fire in the cooling evening, letting everything be.  A time to pause, watch the sky under the guise of reading on the back deck.  A time to allow. To let come.

I had a different kind of integration experience this summer, a positive disruptive one.  As part of my May training with the Feldenkrais Training Academy, I had a one-on-one Functional Integration lesson with Jeff Haller, our educational director.   Functional Integration is a hands-on lesson, where the practitioner creates learning through touch.  The situation I presented him – I am feeling coordinated, well organized with good alignment – experiencing pleasurable movement….on my left side only.  My right side was fighting like hell to not be that.  My right knee, hip, shoulder ached regularly.  My right foot too.  In my aikido training, I regularly have a kind of Jekyll and Hyde experience – an aikido-like feeling on the left and an awkward, shoving strength experience on the right.   Jeff asked me to do a basic move from aikido (shio-nage for my aikido audience) to highlight for me how I was organizing myself differently on each side.  Then he asked me to lie on the table and explored through touch my body’s organization.  Ten minutes into the lesson I felt in some palpable way more like a whole person.  The how of this part of the lesson is still to be learned; the what of this part of the lesson is with me still.   Soon he easily had my right leg swinging as if I were a skeleton, with no history of sciatica, no muscular knots in my hip and buttock, no learned patterns to cope with pain, stiffness and numbness.  By the end of the hour, I felt connected, balanced, and structurally whole – we repeated the aikido move from the beginning of the lesson and Jeff told me, “When you are organized like this, there will never be any openings”.   Structural strength and ease.  Super cool.

What interests me even more than the lesson, is the process of integration that followed.  I left the training session in May with a new relationship with my right hip, with at least two viable options for how to move it while I walk, how to stand, how to shift my weight – my habitual way of moving and the more efficient way Jeff taught me that allowed for lighter weight transfer, for quicker walking with less effort, for greater stamina – walking uphill became almost easy, like I had a new power source within me to just glide up the hill.   But I was returned in a way to being like a toddler – either pattern could show up.  In the process of integration, I found that I was becoming stiff and sore almost every time I moved from sitting to standing.  I played with options, how to apply what I had learned so far to change my experience. (Because I am going to make this better!)   Some days I felt 20 years older each time I stood up.  A senior toddler – stiff, wobbly, a little confused about how to move from here. And frustrated – – why was this happening to me?  How was this better?   This integration process felt much more like disintegration.

I tried several things with limited success – morning exercises to stretch and open up the mobility in my hips – good for an hour or two.  I changed how I sat, focusing on lengthening my legs, letting go of tension I held while sitting – this worked better but it didn’t change the pattern from happening.   I found some ways to move that didn’t hurt; other parts continued to protest.  I felt the pressure from an internalized, societal idea – this is just what happens when you are over 50. 

What I hadn’t tried is a core part of applying awareness to my movement – slowing down to really sense what was happening in the movement from sitting to standing, in the shifting of weight into my feet.  I slowly came to study this moment in my movement. 

This August, my integration process was supported by another one-on-one lesson, this time with Chrish Kresge.  After presenting my current state, she observed me and asked, “What are you over-using?”  I didn’t know the answer until she asked.  “My knees.”  She led me through a lesson that I was familiar with about the movement from sitting to standing and brought together the ways I was not quite yet integrated.  And it did come together, I came together.   Wonderful.

What can I glean from this integration process to take into my life more broadly?   A key harvest is the role of attention in being with my movement.  I am fully conditioned to use my attention to determine my state of being – how does this feel? It hurts.  If it hurts, how do I make this movement better?  This kind of attention may be an expression of self-care, self-love, but expressed through a corrective kind of care.  There is a subtle kind of limit I place on myself here by pursuing attention anchored to the agenda: how do I make my movement better?   It’s the attachment I put on my curiosity – curiosity to know what is happening to “fix” myself compared to a free, unencumbered curiosity to know.  This attachment changes my attention, changes my relationship with myself. A small difference but the impact on how I treat myself is powerful.

Let’s compare the two.

Closed form of curiosity:  Why do my knees hurt?  What do I need to do differently to make it better?  I could work on strengthening my thigh muscles, on opening the flexibility of my ankle joints.  I could wear knee braces to keep my knees moving in good alignment.  

Open form: What is happening when I stand such that my knees hurt?  What do I notice?  I could notice the placement of my feet, the direction my knees move coming to standing.  I could notice where my head is in relationship to my feet and knees, what arc it makes.  I could notice where my eyes move, where the weight of my head is placed and the work needed to keep it upright.  I could keep going in this form of curiosity, in exploring possibilities.  I could also keep going in the closed form of curiosity but I can see an end to what seems worth exploring.  If my knee hurts – will I look further than the next set of joints for the cause?  What about how I am using my spine, how I organize the weight of my torso over my knees?  

A closed curiosity, an attention attached to a “fixer-upper” agenda is just more limited. I am formed by decades of corrective care – from myself and others. The pause to allow for open attention is to notice what I notice. To allow for repetitions of unproductive patterns.  To learn.  This is the habit of attention that is more important than exactly how I make my movement.  How can I relinquish the driver’s seat on the quality of my movement?  Because the body likes and embraces what works better.  I am my body. My attention determines the nature of our relationship together.

Real learning, doing something that is actually new and different than what I have done,  is situated in this kind of love – this attention in the form of open curiosity to my state from a stance of acceptance, an embrace rather than a bracing against what is present.   What kind of love is this, that attends to how I am?  

Power Traps

Let’s talk about power.  And powerlessness.    I found myself a wee bit triggered the other day, seeing another Woman Warrior offering land in my digitally enhanced attention stream.   The online course called on women to feel into your inner warrior, to stand in your truth, increase your confidence, find your voice and access deeper courage.   Warrior as a kind of soul stamina – to be your true self and have the clarity and strength to manifest your desire in the world.

This is attractive to many women.   I call this flirtation with the feeling of inner power.  There is a titillating quality, like pink fuzzy handcuffs in the bedroom.  This is an attractive story of power, the me that feels empowered on the inside, that feels she can face whatever she needs to face and keep that warm, clear inner feeling of big authentic self, a badass.  And I think the belief below this story line is that if I just feel this clearly enough, then others will feel this difference in me and respect me.  Maybe.  I have seen my share of women supporting each other for undergoing this kind of inner warrior journey.  There is something in my gut that always feels – something is off here. 

It’s a kind of Wishful thinking Warrior – a Warrior Princess whose first move is to go inside herself.  She busies herself, making all of the right alignments, attunements, all of the changes inside her heart that will make her the kind of precious, valuable and worthwhile woman in the eyes of others.   I am powerful because I am deeply connected, deeply conscious, deeply centered. This feel right. My personal gut niggle is that it also feels like only part of the story.

Where is the power located in that story?  This kind warrior may feel like a True Sourced Diamond but it still is a jewel that can be locked into a treasure chest.   This feels like a variation of the journey to become a Perfect Princess – if I just work on myself enough, I will be perfect and perfectly acceptable to others.   Smells like a power trap. 

I hate feeling powerless – a lot of my life has been developing my resources to avoid the moment when I feel like there is nothing I can do. I recently went to pick up a friend from the airport – I love my friend but he doesn’t believe in cell phones as a valuable tool for communication. I waited for an hour – no friend. The flight number he gave me didn’t match any of the incoming flights. I checked in with the partner airline and wasn’t able to get any information. I had to come to the place of powerlessness – there was nothing I could do. As I was leaving a message on his home phone (because I was committed to doing something even though it was not in any way helpful), my friend walked through the gate – held up in the line at customs. I had a disproportionate emotional reaction – a kind of upset usually reserved for lost puppies. I hate feeling powerless.

I am all for inner courage – I fully uphold the inner battle to find my way to feel confident, to stand up for my ideas, my rights, my values.   The courage to represent myself clearly and effectively.   To take credit for my contribution and the difference I make as a woman, as a worker, as a loved/loving one.   I am also in for soul-sourced, Spirit-connected integrity.  The path that increasingly surrenders my ego-conditioned self to my self as a part of the Whole.

This inner feeling of courage, of inner resiliency and strength is important, necessary.  But it is not enough to actually be powerful.  Or to avoid feeling powerless here in the world. Volunteering at a children’s aikido class, I worked with a group of some of the smallest girls in the class in an activity called, The Whirling Towel of Death.  Basically after teaching principles to maintaining a calm sense of self inside, the test was to walk through a rope with a towel tied to the end, keeping calm and timing their walk to avoid being hit by the rope.  For many, trying to avoid getting hit tends to increase the changes of contact.  A rubber meeting the road, or the rope moment. A very sweet girl, breathed in a big breath, screwed her blue eyes shut and started to walk blindly through the rope.  I stopped her and said, “Open your eyes.   You need to deal with the danger.”

The power trap of this inner work-only approach to cultivate your warrior self is that it only engages the dangers on the inside.   This feeling of security is fragile when confronted by conditions outside of ourselves that trigger our body systems.  The thinking/feeling story of strength and security is usurped by our sensory systems.  This warrior can flee or become frozen when she feels overwhelmed.   She can become traumatized or re-live trauma when she becomes immobilized by a threat, even the prospect of a threat.  This experience can be held as feedback, learning what will stop me and learning how that edge can change over time.  But more often, someone doing an internal approach to warrior-ship will take this feedback as failure, and may keep repeating the process to come back inside, to criticize herself for not doing it well enough, long enough to be a real bad-ass.

It is poor preparation for real life outside challenges – asking for a promotion, standing up to a difficult family member, defending a personal boundary.  Starting a project, starting a family, starting a movement.  There is something to be said for learning how to be in a challenging interaction, a difficult situation and stay functional.  It is not comfortable.  And important, initially to find places and communities that are safe enough to experience the discomfort.   To stay in the emotionally charged conversation with a co-worker and stay present – to your feelings, your reactions and what they are saying, doing.  How you respond and how that feels.  To take your place, your space at a meeting, at the dinner table.  To take on a challenge that stretches you.  And to stumble, to be flawed, to feel what is flabby, what is shaky, where you don’t feel solid.   To fall and get up again.  Real strength, real power comes from coming through challenges, from dealing with the difficulty. 

Using personal power takes practice.  Practice failing.  Practice missing the goal in a way you feel good about.  Practice in using power poorly.  The equivalent of kids wrestling – not every move is going to work.  Sometimes you end up pinned and have to tap out.   Without the work to gain a thicker skin, to learn how far you can go, the limits of your power and how you feel about the moments of powerlessness, you do not know how powerful you can be.  Let me repeat that.  You do not know how powerful you can be. 

When you have some inner and outer power practice behind you – things change.  You can accept the experience of someone prevailing with more focused, more practiced power over you as just that – a difference in power that does not immediately transport you to identify with your inner victim.  You know your own resourcefulness in a different way – finding the ways you can work with your limits.  Shifting the ways that you can’t to how it is that you can.  I talked recently with a friend from school who exclaimed her feeling of helplessness over how to effectively take the notes in a program that engages in hours of body-based study.  She appealed for help.  I didn’t know what would help her but shared one way I took notes – to write some version of a log after teaching a practice session before going to sleep. 

My strategy comes directly from my personal limit. I struggle to retain some details of body-based exercises so find my richest retention is supported by capturing some kind of account within the day that it happened.  In reflecting on that tactic, I realized how helpful it was to accept the limit of what I can’t do, stay curious about how that capacity changes in the process of learning and mobilize an approach that works well enough.  Refine it from there.  Other people in my class have far superior abilities to retain sequence of movements in their memory and knowledge of the body and how it functions.  Compared to them, I am relatively weak in this cluster of competencies.  Doing nothing and feeling badly about it doesn’t support progress. 

There is no shame in seeking support.  I am blessed to learn in a community of people who model curiosity, resilience, care and honesty in the process of learning.  One thing that can happen when you internally put attention to your inner sense of limits and externally seek out support is you keep your self limited.  Your self-image, your sense of your self, your story of who you are is re-published, re-posted in the light of this limit.  This story of Weak Woman will not be replaced by a story of Warrior Woman, however you work to renovate it within yourself.  Your story needs to be acted out in real time, real places, with real characters.  A Warrior Woman comes into being when you bring real attention to the you who is coming to this moment.  No projections, no story – just you doing what needs doing.

So do the inner Warrior work if it calls to you, if deepening your alignment and accessing deeper courage feels essential to your growth.  Can you also find some way to work your inner Warrior into your everyday self?  To find some small front line, some edge to test your limit?  I am coming to learn that it really does not matter if that edge is speaking up when part of your lunch order is forgotten or public speaking in front of 200 people.  If it is your edge, it matters for your growth.  Then it is not the idea or the story of courage – it is the practice of courage.   That is a practice that leads to real power.

How do you orient to difficulty?

Photo by Jukan Tateisi.

What is difficult for you?  What happens when you face something difficult?  A conversation? A strong,  emotion emerging out of nowhere.   A task you don’t know how to do.  Or a job you’ve been working on for a while without getting anywhere.   Or does the thought of how difficult something might be stop you cold?

We are creative geniuses when it comes to confronting difficulties in our lives.  In a moment we can project a full color, surround sound movie of how hard it will be, what the other person will say or do in response, how badly we will do, with exquisite details tracking out our most villainous traits.  Or the dramatic pathos of ourselves as a victim of this circumstance.  Against the backdrop of these kinds of personal projected movies, what is most likely to happen when we encounter a challenge, an unpredicted bounce of Fate’s ball?  Stop, quit and roll.  We take the emergency exit off of difficult highway.

I’d like to say that I meet difficulties now with grace and grit where needed.  After 2 years of what I call my f**!!king equanimity practice,  I can say I am more conscious when drawn into my swear-a-thon protests when I can’t get something done – usually trouble-shooting something on my computer or on fix-it projects at home.   We can get so creative in our catastrophizing natures, preparing the script for how our life goes when we know, deep in ourselves just this.  “I can’t do this!”

So if our creative intelligence knows how to play the life game of difficulty with moves like “This is too hard!” or “Why is this happening to me?”  –  Can we learn how to adapt our game?  Or create a new one?

There is a really handy concept coming out of Feldenkrais work.  It’s called making a first approximation.  Moshe Feldenkrais, the creator of the approach, used to say, “Learning is what we do when we don’t know what to do.”   One of the by-products of the approach to learning we are familiar with (e.g. learning from teachers and other sources of authorized knowledge) is that we come to understand learning as applying what we know to the situation we are facing.  If what we already know runs out without solving the problem, we are conditioned to look to an authority outside of ourselves to resolve the problem.  I can’t do this!

Self-taught people and entrepreneurs already know this – learning is what you do when you don’t know what to do.  Try something and learn from there. 

How can you allow your first approximation to learning how to do what you don’t know how to do?  One of my teachers tells it this way, “Gather information, make the plan, work the plan, adapt the plan.”  Repeat as needed.

This is a process of learning, trying and learning that relies on a felt sense of our own resourcefulness, our ability to find some way to complete the task.   I dearly love the people in my life that come with their own perfectionist programming.  But it can be a pretty tall stakes to require new tasks to be easy, simple, to require ourselves to do them with a high level of skill.  We all have some part of ourselves that is ready to criticize when we fail, when our efforts do not yield the results we want.   We want to stay within our circle of competence, our comfort zone where trying and succeeding come together.   As I see the world from the other side of 50, I watch that circle get smaller for some, one way we can contract with age.  For others, their circle widens, as they invest in new skills, new possibilities.  New ways I know how I can.

The first approximation leads to the second approximation.  And the third.  We can refine and improve our effort through this process of learning when we do not already know what to do.   We can shift our little engine that feels it can’t to a little engine that knows it can find a way up the mountain.   Increasing our sense of resourcefulness is the journey of several mountains that started as impossible, impassable obstacles and become possible.  And maybe even easy.   We all faced these mountains of can’t when we learned to sit, to crawl, to stand, to walk, to run.  This resourcefulness is within us. 

So I leave you with a possibility challenge – do you have the courage, the curiosity to explore what is possible for you?  Can you re-examine the edge of the limits you know?  Can you include in your image of yourself, the you who doesn’t know the answer, the you who can discover it?    If you dare, please share on my Kind Power page https://www.facebook.com/yourkindofpower/ .

The Process of Emotional Processing

Let me process this

One of the challenges of stepping into body-based practices like massage, yoga and Feldenkrais, is what can get unleashed.  I can be absorbed in the practice and then whoa – I am back in a visceral physical memory as a young child.  Did I sign up for this? 

Our past history, the conditioning of emotional experiences and the energy underneath what we feel – they are hidden in how we move, what we could call our muscular habit.  When we open up to less familiar, freer patterns of moving, when we find more efficient movement or a longer posture, our past history and the emotions that come with it are no longer held in place.  Emotional emergence.  I have explored this for myself during Awareness through Movement classes and seen this emerge for my students. 

Being naturally curious about how this process works, I found part of an answer from Lisa Feldman Barrett in her book How Emotions are Made.   Lisa explores current information about how our brain works with the process of emotional experiences.   Explaining a complex phenomenon as simply as needed, she describes our brain is kind of a scientist.   Our brain is on the job to keep us functioning and keep us safe.   In doing this, our brain makes predictions, based on past experiences and compares them to the flow of incoming sensory information.   When your brain is functioning well, it is a good scientist – its predictions match the information brought from our senses.  But our brain can be a biased scientist too – ignoring sensory inputs to keep its predictions intact.   From your brain’s point of view, your body is another part of the world that it must explain.   And your brain gives your body’s sensations meaning.  Have you ever felt sensations in your belly and decided you were hungry? A legitimate feedback loop for a body/brain that functions well.  A biased brain could interpret a sensation of gurgling in the gut as hunger if it is working from a history of using food to soothe difficult emotional feelings.    

The interoceptive network is the network inside you that issues predictions about your body, testing your brain generated simulations against the sensory input of your body as a way to update your brain’s model of your body in the world.  We process our interoceptive sensations in this predictive, testing against sensation way.   So given that a large part of our behavior is driven by instinctive and early learned patterns, we can see that our brain can operate like a biased scientist, taking information from internal sensations and making our experience to fit what it predicts.  Ok – so I don’t know about you but this is helping me make sense of my evening habit of emotional eating – when I am alone and feel lonely a 9 pm snack always feels like I need it before I can get to sleep.  To counter my brain as biased scientist, I need to get a little more curious about what is going on here if I want to interrupt this pattern of feeling emotion and eating.

Another concept to weave into this exploration of how we process emotions – body budget.  Our brain is a master controller of how we use energy, predicting when we will need more energy and when we need to restore our energy levels.   Someone walks towards you who looks angry – your body budget is spent on increasing cortisol, upping your heart rate and blood pressure, and on many other body adjustments so you have the energy you need for the situation.  The situation can be real (Bear!) or can be imagined (my sense of my Boss’ approval) – the real and the simulation both impact how your body budget is spent.

Barrett notes that most people spend at least half of their waking hours simulating the world rather than paying attention to the world around them.  Our internal simulated reality, designed and maintained by our body/brain, drives our emotions, our feelings and our feelings about our feelings.  I feel lonely, I sense what I interpret as gnawing hunger pangs, I feel guilty about feeling lonely and hungry – hello bag of chips!  I eat the chips, feeling momentary relief from loneliness and hunger pangs so I can comfortable settle into feelings of guilt and shame before going to sleep. 

This one is a kicker for me.  When you experience feelings without knowing the cause, you are more likely to treat those feelings as information about the world, rather than your experience of the world.   It’s a difference that matters.

Our feelings are valid, a legitimate experience we are having.  But are they true?   While I have written about other strategies to check on the accuracy of your experience (check out by my blog on truth and accuracy in experience at: http://www.kindpower.ca/this-is-the-third-post/), a key one I want to emphasize here is staying with your experience when it happens.  What can you learn about your internal sensations, your feelings physically, emotionally of your experience?  What happens when you leave off rushing to label it, to act on it, to change it or make it go away?  What happens when you allow your experience to express, to be part of you, to be within you?   Investigate yourself.

We typically are conditioned to constrict ourselves when this kind of experience emerges.  We literally become shorter in our spine, in our limbs when we protectively react to strong emotion emerging.  Can we stay with what emerges, expanding our curiosity, our presence, our physical self to be with our experience.  Try it out and let me know how it goes. 

What is it? Kind Power…

Photo credit: Kahuna from Hui Ho’olana Retreat Centre, Molokai

When starting a full time business, time flies by – the daily work in the business and on the business keeps my dance card pretty full – always hopping.

So this blog takes a self-indulgent and necessary pause to reflect on what Kind Power means to me after working on this vision for 2 years.  What I most want is for kind people to be more powerful.  It feels needed.

Kind Power is so much more than being nice.  Or being loudly nice.   In my work with clients, Kind Power begins most often as cultivating a grounded sensitivity – a grounding to provide support, safety, security within so we can open to our own pain, and the sufferings of others.  I support developing kindness, not to reinforce a self-image of woundness but to open up the possibility of healing and the capacity to connect to the injustices in the world without shutting down through a sense of overwhelm.  I support developing a sense of power, not to add more scar tissue to an already established defensive callousness, sometimes paired with a rationalized impotence that says, “What can I do?”     “What can I do?” asks from a place of helplessness, from a settled despair that the world is just that way.   From a place of kind power, “What can I do?” can be asked from an intent of contribution, from a sense of connection to my world, not distanced from the world.  “What can I do?”  Here, now.

We tend to want to make a hero or heroine out of people we see as powerful – powerful survivors, powerful leaders who exercise control over others, powerful skills – a larger than life characterization of a potent person.   Inspiring yes.  But useful – maybe? 

Heros, Super-heroines keep power our there – a symbol of what we want and what we don’t have. 

And we miss, maybe even criticize the kind of power from a person that stays in relationship even after receiving hurts and harms from another for love’s sake.   Who holds off his exercise of power to see if there is another way to create a positive outcome.  We can leap to talking about setting up strong boundaries and miss the subtler lesson of the kind of power it takes to love someone whose acts bring us harm.  Ask anyone who has loved an addict to death.  A parent how loves a young person who harms others while discovering their own power.   This kind of power comes from integrity, a structural, character strength that is often dismissed as weakness.  From this kind of power, there are battles more important than winning, more important than looking good in the eyes of others.

Before my own skillful means were developed (still in that life classroom), I was often called Pollyanna – a naïve optimist who believed in the good, true and beautiful I could see in people.  My first husband was a card-carrying black sheep so received this feedback a lot.  What I know from a more grounded, more sensitive and discerning awareness now is the courage to risk cultivating kindness in the middle of a control drama, in response to manipulation, to meet defensiveness with my own spacious sense of what is happening.  

What I know now is the discipline of cultivating power without a drive to use it for power’s sake.   The yin and yang of cultivating power so I can receive softly, without needing to be right or better or to win in some imagined way when interacting with someone else who consciously or often unconsciously is working hard to have this moment conform to the reality they need to feel secure.

In this election time, I talked with someone who I respect and their desire for the kind of strength that is needed in political leadership.  And I wondered about and debated the strength of leadership that uses fear and simplistic ideas to justify exercising power over others – that the need to feel secure in a strong leader who is taking care of things is more important than their ethics, their moral courage to do the right, difficult thing, is more important than their insensitivity to everyone who they decide is not like them.    It is just not enough for me – this kind of power.  Literally not good enough – the willingness to exercise power over others without any sense of care for the other.  Or a highly conditional kindness that insists that you conform to what I expect you to be before I can extend even basic kindness.    I always feel that below the surface is a twisted meritocracy of belonging that says, “You have to earn the right to receive my benevolence, my approval, my protection.  Because I hold the power, you have to contort yourself until I feel comfortable.”     Power exercised as privilege.

This is not a rant at one side of the political spectrum – it applies across the spectrum when people come from a defended, brittle worldview.   I know it feels like power but it is the kind of power that relies on finding security among the “us” that I can identify with, it relies on winning through the volume of the message without much listening, except to refute, except to argue with, except to look for ways to win an opinion battle.   Power that rests upon a de-humanizing of the other, whether the other holds a conservative worldview or a liberal one or, more likely some kind of cluster of ideas that span a spectrum of perspectives.

I wanted to share some examples of kind power in the world – and I would love to hear about others (please share by contacting me at Cheryl@kindpower.ca).

Martyn and Justine Joseph: Let Yourself Trust Foundation

https://letyourself.net/

Reaching out with grassroots projects and small scale funding, Martyn uses his hard-working role as a musician for the people to bring light to people doing good work that makes a differences.   He has connected with people and projects around the world and uses his power to create heart-breaking and heart-filling connections to kind people who care about supporting people around the world.

Greg Kemp and Heather Knox, Project Somos https://projectsomos.org

Greg and Heather every day are creating a wholistic response to support children to escape the cycle of poverty in Guatemala. Through an eco-sustainable community and innovative programs, they educate and empower children and provide capacity building to the children’s mamas.

Malikah https://www.malikah.org/

Rana Abdelhamid offers a kind power story – starting a self-defense movement that starts with what you know, starts with who you know and works from joy.  She started reacting to her experience of hate-based harassment and found joy in building community so women could find and define their sense of safety and security.

Each day, as I work away on this Kind Power vision and the business activity that supports it, I ask myself, “What can I do?”    A daily challenge, a path and a passion.  If you choose to take up a personal Kind Power challenge, what can you do to show up in kinder, more powerful ways? 

What can you do to connect with someone you meet from the power of joy?  The power of care and compassion?  Can you find a way to share your own vulnerability (does anyone even read these blogs?) to create a more powerful connection?  Do you do any practice that supports you to feel aware and awake in yourself, to feel the power you have within your body?  What can you do?  Dare to discover what you can do.

Peace out with Martyn Joseph’s Let Yourself – “I want you brave, I need you brave, I want you strong, sing along….you are so beautiful and I’m not wrong.”

Freedom through Wholeness

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

I recently returned from a week long meditation retreat with Jon Bernie, described as a nondual spiritual teacher who is also a delightfully authentic human being.  My experience, nested on my ongoing learning processes through the Feldenkrais method with the Feldenkrais Training Academy, turns my reflection to the question of how can we find freedom through our sense of wholeness?

As a coach, one of the ways I work with clients is to support them to see, feel and know more clearly how their habitual way of operating might be locked into a pattern of behavior that takes them away from what they want.   Bringing this habitual (unconscious) pattern into clearer view is like a key to freedom from living with the constraint of this pattern.  Our habitual patterns can be supportive – we need our habits to be able to operate through routine tasks.  Imagine if you had to brush your teeth each day as if it were the first time?

Our habits can also be self-made prisons.  The key to unlocking our prison door is through awareness – catching ourselves in the act of the habit so we can stop and choose something else.   Philip Shepherd in his book Radical Wholeness says it this way, “You find yourself stuck in a pattern that thwarts, stunts and denies the energies of your life…one of the foremost challenges of moving towards wholeness is learning what freedom means to us, learning to notice what diminishes it, and learning the freedom of expressing our true selves through how we live.”

Habits give us a sense of security.  Our habits are like a little software program that we can run that takes care of this moment – we enter into a pre-programmed way of operating and we feel secure – this moment is predictable.  Taken care of. 

How do we find security in freedom?  What happens when you bring your whole self to a task like brushing your teeth?  Is it possible to brush them in a habitual way when you bring a whole awareness to each moment?  Where do you find more possibility, more creative ways to clean your teeth – through a habitual procedure or through a whole engagement of yourself? 

So why does this matter anyway?  You might be feeling – I’ve got way more important things to do than to fuss with how much attention I bring or don’t bring to something like brushing my teeth. 


Except for this.  How many of your habits are a kind of a contraction, a kind of compromise that you are not aware you have made – swapping efficiency or familiarity – doing something the way it feels right that leaves you without access to the freedom to choose something else?

Sleepwalking with our habits, we get increasing locked into a constrained life, repeating a process that works for a secure outcome.  Sounds good – predictable.  Except life has a way of disrupting our patterns.  Philip Shepherd insightfully comments, “The most difficult thing in the world is to question an assumption you’ve never consciously made…how do you even begin to question something that is so normal it is invisible?”  

Cultivating your awareness can open up your adaptability – this is a kind of power that can bring security in freedom.  It’s just part of being whole and acting from there.

Allowing Innocent Failures

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay 

When was the last time you tried something new, something you didn’t quite know how to do?   I want to hone in on one form of self-limiting belief – not inner doubts, not anxieties about the unknown, not your inner critic.  I am focused on the way we use the story of ourselves to set conditions for what we imagine to be possible.

I am currently in what feels like a mega-learning cycle – learning the Feldenkrais method, learning about myself in becoming a Feldenkrais practitioner, learning about developing my business to support my practice, learning, learning, learning.  I am grateful for the company I am privileged to keep in these processes of learning, the friends I have met to share our experiences, questions, the heartaches of life happening when what is falls apart and the joy of who and what we connect with along the way.  So in a recent conversation, I heard someone say, “I feel I need to have a good sense of what is underlying the lesson in order to be able to teach it.”    On the surface that makes a certain kind of sense – you need to understand what you are teaching.   It is tempting to follow the question, “How do you come to understand what you are teaching” to solve the problem.   This is a good question of competence – you might need to take the lesson several times yourself from other teachers, to study the lesson for yourself, to talk to others, to read what the author of the lesson wrote (the teacher’s notes). 

Press pause. 

Let’s restate the question, “What do I need so I feel I can teach the lesson?” This is also a question of confidence – what do I need to feel confident enough to teach the lesson for the first time.  Or the second time.   Or the third. Good question.   A question of confidence brings us to our inner sense of capability, our relationship with our fears, how much we feel we can rely on ourselves in an unfamiliar situation.   How our sense of ourselves is marked by the historic experience of trying and failing.   What is your inner name, the name you call yourself after making a mistake?

We don’t have innocent failures as adults.  Like the first time a child tips the milk over when trying to grab it, not knowing how to hold it, how much strength to use in her grip – it just happens – spilt milk.  

(Bless those sippy cups.)

As adults, many of us have learned how to listen to the voices inside, the ones that keep us from doing something reckless, that keep us protected.  We can lose our intimate relationship with risk – to dare to try, not blindly but facing the risk of the new.  Being with our initial, innocent failures with kindness, even friendliness.  We succumb to a pressure from within, the voice that tells us to set conditions and then, only then when you have met those conditions can you even think about trying.   How are you framing the attempt? I am reminded of the Thomas Edison quote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

What do I need so I feel I can…..start something new?

Allow for innocent failures.  Invent mistakes. Learn from there.  Grow confidence in your resilience to learn.

Aikido Handshake: Being Visible and Vulnerable

In a recent Feldenkrais training segment at the Feldenkrais Training Academy, I was grabbing a quick snack, having spent the break chatting with people.  Across the room I heard Jeff Haller (our lead instructor) calling my name.  I felt a little embarrassed, chewing my granola bar as I joined him on a table in the center of the room.  He wanted me for a demo, what he called the Aikido Handshake.

It took me a few moments to settle into being in the spotlight of everyone’s attention.  Not my happy place.  A classmate who caught the expression on my face (mostly me chewing without trying to look like I was chewing) called out, “Does she want to?”  Kind of funny that she saw my chewing face and read it pretty accurately that on the inside I didn’t really want to be center stage.

Jeff said, “I invited Cheryl because she has long experience playing with aikido.”  He called everyone closer to see distinctions in self-organization, how we can prepare ourselves for an activity, anchored in our sit bones.   The content of the demo – we clasped each other’s hands, sitting across from each other and he asked me to push through his arm.  His job – to listen.  What was he listening to?  He said he is listening to the schema of how I created the activity in myself.  Said another way, “We’re listening to how the person generates the force.”  He taught the demo – asked me to push through his arm and he would listen.  I found 5 different ways to generate the movement to push through his hand and arm (from my hand, from my elbow, from the top of my hip, from my shoulder blade, from my sit bone/pelvis); he sat and listened to the movement.  

I have this reaction so often – when the moment comes to be more visible, to step into the spotlight, whatever that means, I just flinch a little on the inside. In this case, I felt no room to stay in the shadows.  I was nervous inside at the beginning of the demo and this re-emerged when I was called up for a second time. 

Like my experience when my aikido teacher calls me up to demo something in front of the class, it is a lesson I really learn because I get to hands-on feel what is happening.  My body learns. After the demo with Jeff, when we partnered up to practice, I could relay that body-based lesson easily and clearly to my partner.  So if I know that I learn well this way, why am I so shy to volunteer for this kind of opportunity?

I see from this experience that at the moment of shrinking, when I feel torn between wanting to play and wanting to hide, that I can support myself to ride that moment out, to step forward, to let my competence show.  I have spent lots of time involved in the stories of why I stay in the background, self-esteem, confidence, feeling like what I bring isn`t relevant, fear of being judged, criticized.  With this experience of feeling deeply supported within my own body, these stories become thin, like a light tissue paper that dissolves on the surface of a bright, hot light. Just me shining through.

So I see it as a choice going forward – knowing this sense of myself, this image of myself that can solidly shine, that I can feel is easily, deeply supported – I can associate and identify with this self.  And bring this Cheryl out into the world.  Or I can collapse back into my familiar stories, the self who peeks out from behind the curtain, who takes the chair at back of the room.   I could just let this new experience go.  The familiar is so, well, familiar.  Except for one thing.  I know what is possible now. And I really liked that me – connected, strong, resilient. Powerfully present. 

In the second demo, when Jeff guided me into solidly sitting, feeling the structural support in my own body, he said, “Can you see the beauty of her organization?”  I reluctantly, many weeks after the training, re-watched the video to see what I looked like.  I looked beautifully present.  And that’s how I felt.

Do you find sometimes you are reluctant to step forward and be seen?  How do you support yourself when you want to withdraw? I would love to hear your stories – contact me at cheryl@kindpower.ca or join my Living beyond Limits group.