Like a Shovel Hitting Stone

photo 1 (7)There are times when, by habit or determination, nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel (pick your back-breaking metaphor!), we are plugging along in our lives, and then, with a sudden thwack, we hit upon a truth we wish we’d never seen. Or maybe (if we are being honest) we’d been trying to avoid all along.

The first time this happened to me I remember the exact feeling: Like I had put my shovel down in the dirt and hit a giant stone. Gardeners out there know this particular kind of bodily reverberation – you’re moving with the momentum of the swing and then, with a clang and a jarring stop, you can’t go further. The stone is there, perhaps movable, perhaps not, staring you back with its own simple truth: This won’t work for you.

What had actually happened was this: I had taken a job in a southern state and – it wasn’t working. My schedule had me on the clock sometimes 80 hours a week, my boss undermined our team’s efforts, I felt cut off from my creative self. And my body had begun to mutiny, leaving me weaker and more desperate by the day.

But it didn’t occur to me that it could be otherwise. The job was coveted and at a prestigious institution, and furthermore, I had committed. When I beat out all those other applicants I had said yes, I certainly did anticipate being there at least 3-5 years.

Until one day, when I realized I could leave. And the truth hit my body with that jarring clang. Oh no! I thought. I cannot do this. It can’t be true! I promised! I’m not a quitter!

But of course, what I had been quitting was myself. The sine qua non of my life. And there was that big rock in the garden, just not budging. A clear, solid stop.

photo 2 (7)Those rocks can be different sizes, of course. Sometimes, they can be unearthed to make space for us to go deeper. Sometimes, they are just the right size to make the struggle meaningful. But they don’t steer us wrong. And when we honor those stopping places, we include more of ourselves in our lives.

Not that this feels like a party.

This summer I’ve come across another frustrating stone. Many of my clients know that issues in my hands have led me to take a pause in my practice. I tried working through these for some time until I realized the folly in the incongruence – I can’t ask clients to take care of themselves if I’m clearly not! And I can’t insist that the body’s pace demands respect if I don’t stop to actually listen to what my body is saying.

I miss my wonderful clients, but know that this rest imbues my practice with new energy and direction, and allows me to go deeper, to consider what tools to bring forward and what kinds of work strengthen me (and, of course, you!).

I’m looking forward to returning, and in the meanwhile have been leaning into this bit of wisdom from Anne Lamott:

“Peace is joy at rest. Joy is peace on its feet.” 
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Increments of Change: Trying Something Different

photo 5There are days – particularly when the thermometer in the kitchen says three degrees, as it does today – when the idea of movement and change feels like just too much. Take your yoga class, we think, your trips, your enlightenment – I’ll be here under the ugly red blanket watching The Bachelor.

It isn’t only that the effort feels demanding, but the stakes feel high. What if, we wonder, change jeopardizes all this? What if the battleship of the small manageable now gets sunk by opening, by unwinding? No, thank you. Pass the popcorn.

The thing is, there may be something between the small curled up ball on the couch and the running-through-the-field fantasy of freedom. The increments of change we invite can fan out over time – that tiny angle of difference becoming (in hindsight) a wide ray of change.photo 2

One of the reasons this work is endlessly interesting to me is that I get to witness this kind of change at the level of tissue. As muscles release I see how my clients’ shoulders open, how they breathe more deeply. It takes courage to allow movement back in, but the return is bountiful: They get more information from their own bodies.  That is, they get more of themselves and their own aliveness.

A question I often hear from clients at the end of the session is, “How do I stay open when I’m off the table? How do I stop from tightening up all over again?” And my usual answer is, try something a little different. Stretching is good. Water too. But small things that move us out of habit and into attention – that’s movement too. You can still watch bad shows and eat popcorn, but becoming aware of patterns – places where we’ve forgotten choice – is a lovely way to stay open.

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Here are 5 Ways to Step Out Of Habit – but I bet you could come up with 11 more:

1. Do you habitually cross one leg over the other? Switch it up.

2. Take a different route home.

3. Eat / make / order  a food that surprises you – one that you normally overlook

4. Introduce pauses in your day. A few minutes in your car before you head into the grocery store? Totally okay.

5. Slow your gait. Just a little. Notice how your arms swing, your feet fall, where your eyes are.

Habit can take so many forms – movement, talking (to ourselves and others), silence, belief. And it can become so much like that old crack in the ceiling: We stop seeing it. Friends, you are so brave with your selves – why not change things up a bit, just to notice how far you’ve come?