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


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.

Navigating Feedback from an Invisor

I have the pleasure of working with a coach around evolving my business.  He gave me a juicy new word – “Invisor” – the people in my life who invasively offer advice at times when I don’t want it, don’t feel I need it or when I feel just unable to receive it.

So this is a story from my recent Feldenkrais practitioner training about learning a different way to engage with an Invisor.  In the training we have lots of practice time and structured ways to provide feedback such as asking open questions, asking for permission to offer feedback.  I often had between 5 and 10 practice partners in a day so received feedback from several people over the two week training.  I had a few interactions with another learner that nearly always put me on the defensive and into a reactive state that I didn’t like.   

Over several days, I realized that I was reacting to a way she had of

  1. Telling me what my experience was (rather than asking an open question) and
  2. Telling me what I needed to do better. 

The first put me into a defensive posture which usually for me means fighting back.  The second I received with some resentment and a reaction to set up a boundary – I tried to stop her from giving feedback, changed the topic.   I even confronted her when she came over to call me to account for a comment I made in a group that she found hurtful and dismissive.  (As a context note: In the group, she described something I said in a way that really didn’t sit well with me and it seemed like she really needed her assessment of my experience validated.  I felt defensive so the best I could do was make a neutral statement like, “I can’t resonate with that description.” So just not great communication on both sides.)  After that I changed groups when I found we might be in the same group together.

I had a talk with myself, walking into the training session – challenging myself to find another way to be with this, to explore my options.  I couldn’t change her so what could I change?  What could I explore to make this easier, to still get what I valued from the training?

Before long, I was in a group with this person again and another person I hadn’t worked with before.  We each took turns on a task to practice self-organization.  And sure enough, she started in on a now familiar pattern.  This time, I chose to focus on my inner quiet, the supportive spaciousness I cultivated for the task and just received what she had to say – it was clear she had to say it.  Then I asked for what I needed, which was more time without talking just to explore the task which included touching and lifting our partner’s leg. 

This was really powerful for me.  I created a lovely connection with my third training partner and learned from her feedback ways to improve for the next time.  (One tip I learned, ask someone if they want feedback and ask them when they want it.  They may need some space or time before they can really receive it).  So in the absence of this move by my learning partner, I was able to request the space for learning I needed.  A good lesson for me in what a little self-care can create in the moment when conflict can arise.

The remarks which I found so triggering in prior days had much less impact.  I saw what was possible when I stayed open, connected and well-supported in my posture.  It was a small, but really visceral example of how the ways I organize myself, how I stay open to the support in my environment, literally my pelvis’ contact with the stool, my feet on the floor, my breath, the space in my chest and the light in my heart creates this kind of power to just be in the face of what could rile me up. 

I can have a pretty quick trigger to get riled up.  I have had a long term promise to myself to think before I speak, sleep on the angry email before I sent it.  I can be impulsive but impulsive anger has always gotten me into trouble that I don’t want.  

What this experience showed me was how much easier, how much less work, much less getting worked up it was to practice this open, resilient self-organization.  So my personal invitation and challenge is – I know it is possible – now practice, practice, practice.  I really liked that version of me and I would love to support my clients when I am a certified Feldenkrais practitioner to have that version of themselves more available for the people and things that trigger them.

Have you had “difficult people” in your life that had you feel like you needed to shore up boundaries or avoid them altogether? 

Were you able to find a way past the way you managed your reaction to them?  I would love to hear from you – cheryl@kindpower.ca

New Year – New Habit – New Environment

Every day and in every way, I am becoming better and better.

In setting an intention for the New Year, whether you call it a resolution or not, one of the biggest mistakes we make in striving towards a new normal, a new habit, a goal we have not achieved before is that we make it a performance game.  Did I make it?  Am I doing it?  And how often?  If I make it to the gym 5 times out of the 10 times I planned to go, do I get a fail or a pass on my resolution to work out more? 

Creating this performance game is a poor use of attention and feeds right into the polarity struggle of will power over resistance.  (See my blog New Year New Normal? http://www.kindpower.ca/new-year-new-normal/ for a discussion on what is beyond will power).

You probably have read advice that comes around each year to set up your environment for success – so to get to the gym regularly, it is helpful to pack your gym bag so it is ready to go, buying the right equipment/clothing, a gym membership, getting your partner to agree to take the kids, whatever you need to reduce the excuses not to go.  This is helpful – but it isn’t quite what I want to focus on. 

Beyond setting up a supportive environment, in setting up a new activity, for that to become a new normal, you need to set up a learning environment.  What does that look like?

We so often interfere with the tender new beginnings of things when we orient to a fledgling practice from our concept of what we should look like as a mature practitioner.   First of all, keeping our attention on our performance alone is a difficult way to get started, because we surely will have a day, a week when we fail to perform.   Remember learning to ride a bicycle or any new skill – how many spills, wobbles, un-graceful stops did you experience before your balance,  skill and confidence aligned so you could just ride. 

We need to intentionally learn our way into a new habit.  It is good to make a plan for our new intended, activity.  Rather than beating myself up for choosing to go out with a friend at a time when I planned to workout, what can I learn about how I get de-railed when a friend calls? What options can I devise to honor my commitment to my goal so I am less likely to be de-railed again?   For the planners of the world, you may be tempted to try to account for every possibility up front to minimize the risk that you will slip up.   What is messier and ultimately more likely to build an integrated set of the skills and knowledge you need to succeed is to learn from your experience.  So rather than the ultimate plan that covers all bases, make a plan, work the plan, learn from what happens, make a new plan, work the new plan, learn from what happens…

Moshe Feldenkrais wrote, “Starting from things that are easy to do….from them we will learn…to be able to confront bigger and more important goals.”

In acquiring a new habit, a new way of being, how do you know that you have it, that you have reached it?  Esther Thelen, an expert in developmental psychology, wrote that the “hallmark of skill is reliability and adaptive flexibility.”  Setting up a learning environment supports you to attend to what helps you act in the new way more reliably and how to enact it within different situations, with different conditions.  Approaching new goals through a learning environment builds your ability to recover the golden chain linking your intention to your actions in service of this new goal when life happens and knocks you off of your center.   It is this process of learning that becomes an engine to improve your experience. 

What would need to happen to organize yourself so that your new activity for 2019 can develop easily and clearly?  Can you be curious about how you can start and what you might find by exploring your own experience of setting up a new habit? 

In service of my resolution this year to be more visible, especially in my business, I will share my own new activity challenge.  Over the holidays, a friend challenged me to participate in the MS Bike Ride this year – almost 200 kilometers over two days.  On the day he challenged me, I took stock – I am not a bicycle rider although I have a 10 year old mountain bike I ride occasionally, I have no established training routine at the gym (I train aikido at the dojo and movement at home), I have a long term issue with sciatica on one hip that has kept me from prolonged sitting on uncomfortable perches like bicycle seats.  I have a fear of failing to complete such an intense ride over two days and a dread of the discomfort of the experience.   I am in school so don’t have much disposable income to buy a road bike.  The obstacles feel real.  So my commitment in January – train on an indoor bike 2x a week and learn what my body can do, what I need to do to get a training routine going and how this fits with running a business, going to school and my existing training.  The truth is – I don’t know what is possible, so in the spirit of adventure I will find out what I can do and where I can find support to reach my goal.   

Here’s to learning your way forward.

New Year, New Normal?

I have not had a solid history with making (or keeping) new year resolutions.  Living in a cold, dark winter climate, I definitely feel the pull towards the back half of winter, when it slowly starts to be lighter (sunset moves from 4:30 pm towards 5 pm in early January).   In North America, we are surrounded by a media-driven culture to resolve to be or do something better in the New Year.  New Year= New Person.   It’s just a matter of willpower, right?

My personal problem with that premise is that I have lots of different wills – my early morning will is pretty good at getting up, meditating and having breakfast before getting down to work.  My 11:30 am will really wants lunch.  My 3 pm will sincerely wants to nap under a blanket, preferably with a cat.  My 8 pm will really, really wants salty, crispy carbs – so much so that I have to schedule activities during that time to ride out the impulse.   My Monday will wants to get down to work and get stuff done.  My Wednesday will gets distracted, feeling slightly weary of chasing after goals.  My Friday will wants to kick back and relax.  

Moshe Feldenkrais in his book, Thinking and Doing, described willpower as a form of self-coercion.  He wrote, “Willpower is the force we apply to coerce this or that thought to linger in our brain, but this is not the force that rules. Control resides in imagination and in correct thinking. Thoughts such as “I must,” or “I want very much” contain within them the disturbing element of “I can’t” or “This is very difficult.”  Were it not for these thoughts, you would have been able to fulfill your intention without feeling the internal resistance you are struggling to overcome.” 

I want to start a new routine to go to the gym.  The first week or two goes great – I feel good about my workout, feeling changes in my body, mostly in the region of my body where my self-approval lives – above my heart and below my forehead. Until one day, my resolution slides into “I must go to the gym today.” Blammo – I have set up an internal resistance that I have to overcome.  It’s like willpower is a kind of drug dealer – setting up challenge after challenge that we have to break through and overcome.  When willpower fails, then the next destructive drug is inner criticism and shaming.  Inner voice: “You can’t even keep your resolution for a whole month, you are never going to get fit.”  Harsh inner barriers to get over.

I have maintained a meditation practice for the last 8 years.  But before that, I really, really, really, really, really tried to establish a meditation practice – for like 10 years.  I wish I was kidding. I would clock along, meditating daily for 3 months, for 6 months and then one day I would just stop.  A week would go by, a month, sometimes a year and then I would muster my will power to start again, inspired by a new book, a new recording, by joining a new community.  This time it would be different.  And finally, after 10 years it was.  I just needed to persist. 

So what if there is another way? A way to set an intention for new activity, to make new habits without experiencing the conflict, without wading through resistance and the largely unconscious thoughts that keep that elusive new normal from taking hold?

Give this experience a try before reading on.  Get a pencil and paper.  Say out loud, in a casual, easy manner, “I will make precisely 7 dots.”  Say it two or three times.  Now visually create an image of yourself making 7 dots without saying anything. (Shut your eyes if you feel you need to).  Now say the word “seven” without thinking about anything else and make 7 dots on your paper.

Try it 2 or 3 times.  When it is clear you will succeed, change the number.  Make 11 dots.  You might find that this time it is easier for you and you can do it while muttering “eleven” under your breath. 

When you reduce the number of unnecessary actions and thoughts and your thinking approaches the simple, direct situation in which you intended to make seven dots, the number of your errors will decrease.  Your confidence will increase.

Repeat this one more time, except before you start tapping say out loud, “I want very much to tap 7 times”. Or “I’ll try to tap 7 times.”  Or “I must not make any mistakes tapping 7 times.”  You may find your performance on this task erodes.

We use will and effort when confidence and skill are not present.  Keeping your New Year’s resolution and transforming that resolution into a new normal – requires focused intention – a clear, uncomplicated, positive voice (this is the one your body listens to) – this is the gateway to a new habit, the new reality.  The voice of will power “This is going to be hard, and you are likely to fail, so you have to work hard to make sure that won’t happen.”  The body hears – “This is hard, you will fail.”

Success Formula

Clear intent + Action (minus unnecessary thoughts and actions) = Success.

So let’s apply this to setting up a habit to go to the gym. 

Clear Intention – I am at the gym Monday by 7 pm.

Action – I organize myself to leave home so I can arrive by 7 pm.

Self-Support – I notice, acknowledge and let go of thoughts that distract or disrupt my intention coming to action.  (Yes I feel too tired to go tonight.  I can go and pick something like a recumbent exercise bike so I can well supported while I work out). 

Self-Support – I find myself starting a task that will prevent me from getting to the gym by 7 pm.  I stop, assess how I can get this crucial task done and shift to departing for the gym.

This is a crucial part of shifting intention to action and doing it in a way that you will want to repeat it.   In my next blog, I would focus on how you interact with your environment and the ways that can support or interfere with your follow-through on a New Year’s resolution.