Sometimes life is like a difficult yoga move and you just have to breathe your way through the pose.
Twisting. Wrapping. Forcing.
Freaking out while trying to get somewhere stupid, like touching your nose to your shin, never made anything better. The idea of yoga, as I’ve experienced it, is to simply breathe deeply and be aware of what’s going on. Having anxiety that I will tumble over while balancing on one leg, with arms flailed out to the sides like wings, isn’t going to help me with my balance. Thinking about the next pose while being off-balance in the current pose isn’t going to make me more balanced in the next pose, either. Anxiety and getting lost in the thought of the next move causes more anxiety and imbalance in the present pose. By the way, making a face and having an attitude…also not helpful.
Same holds true when we approach stressful situations in our lives. Sometimes, all that’s required is backing off a little. Getting focused and having some grit to move further into tough situations with grace is a better option.
Why is it so hard sometimes to calmly deal with what’s in front of us?
Habit, what we’ve been taught or experienced, fear, shame, self-doubt, or ego. Defense mechanisms.
I’ve never seen a situation improved by overdoing anything, forcefully trying to get ahead, showing off or getting aggressive. But we all do it and see others doing this every day. Everything is pretty awesome but we’re bent out of shape because of our own twistedness.
One of my favorite things about yoga is drishti, or “focused gaze.” Throughout the poses it isn’t necessary to glance around and see what other people are doing for comparison because the focused gaze is generally off the tip of the nose. All you need is awareness of the poses and then try to land somewhere between giving up and over-doing. When someone brings ego into yoga class, she may think others are watching and that her classmates care how skilled she is. (We don’t).These are the people doing a random backbend while the rest of us are in downward dog with brittle shaking arms. It’s nice to be in your own space and breathe. It’s a space of minding our own business with awareness and a side effect of strength building.
Something to try: The next time a difficult emotion shows up, try letting the emotion show up and simply be curious about it. Most of us immediately react when an unpleasant emotion shows up. We label the emotion “unpleasant.” Notice what fear (or anger or sadness) feel like in your physical body. What color and shape is the emotion? What’s it like to just sit with the emotion without taking it, or letting it take you, on a ride?
“I feel sad.” “I feel angry.” “I feel scared…” “This is what it’s like to feel _____________.” Sit with this for at least 5 minutes without blaming others or outside events for your feelings and without having self-judgment. Notice what happens.
Rotten chinaberries were plentiful where I grew up. My aunt had a chinaberry tree in her yard. Fragrant purple flowers would drape from the tree each spring. So would clusters of chinaberries. Ornaments, as they’re called, from a tree that had made its way to the United States in the late 1800s from India and China. The soaptree. The berries can be mashed and mixed with water to create a laundry soap for clothing.
Eventually, the berries would release from the tree and scatter about the yard. After days of heat, rain and humid temperatures, the berries rot. As kids, we’d pick the berries from the yard and throw them in a pail for later use. Girls against the boys. Ammunition. Organic pellets.
Walnuts made good ammunition, too, but chinaberries were surprisingly effective. They’d give a walnut a run for its money any day. Walnuts were harder to come by. They didn’t have as far of a reach, were less dependable and wobbly when thrown at your target. Chinaberries would sting. They’d leave a welt. The rotted ones also had the added bonus of stink. The stink factor alone made for extraordinary psychological warfare preceding any physical contact with the skin.
We’d tricked our young minds into thinking that a fun way to pass a summertime morning was to climb on top of my uncle’s storage shed and throw chinaberries at the boys.
I wanted to get along with everyone. Seemed like a waste of time and energy to fight when we could just play and have fun. We could have been sipping sugar-laden Kool-Aid or swimming somewhere. Listening to music, riding bikes or exploring some forbidden territory near the creek. But instead, it was often full-on violent chinaberry wars.
When someone is throwing chinaberries at you, you have three choices: retreat from enemy forces, attack and throw back or surrender and be pummeled with berries. There’s really no good option. The best option is for no one to be throwing chinaberries in the first place.
Stop the crazy cycle
Couples come into therapy throwing chinaberries at one another and then wonder why their spouses are retreating, attacking or have given up! Most couples have good intentions. They’re looking for energy, joy, spontaneity, passion and companionship. Some desire a higher level of intimacy on an emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual level. At the very least, some couples are just trying to survive and get what they think they need. When we don’t get what we want from someone else, we may get confused or angry and attack.
You will never criticize your way to closeness.
Throwing chinaberries at your spouse leaves everyone with emotional welt marks. The psychological stink of shame, blame and behaving like a victim create unproductive arguments and acting out.
Instead of throwing berries, you might ask yourself what it is you’re really trying to accomplish. If what you’re after is validation, love, closeness, passion and connectedness, you’re not going to get it by attacking your spouse or by shutting down and hiding from emotions, either.
Take the focus (blaming/being a victim) off of your spouse and spend some time with yourself. What’s your part in it? Could it be that what you “want” from your partner is something you’ve been afraid to give yourself? When is the first time you felt this “want” missing from your life? Chances are, if you dig deep, you’ve felt this way long before meeting your partner.
Inspire your spouse to connect instead of attacking your spouse for not connecting. Learning constructive and healthy ways of experiencing and expressing your emotions will help with this. It’s difficult to understand another’s point of view if you don’t understand how you developed your own.
As an adult, another person can’t create your emotions and behaviors.
Set the bucket of chinaberries aside
Stop blaming. Stop chasing. Stop avoiding. Stop retreating. If this sounds foreign, understanding your own internal emotional world can lead you to becoming an insightful and emotionally safe person instead of an emotionally reactive person.
What do you want to create for yourself?
It’s tough being an adult. We all spend our lifetimes trying to become one, no matter what age. In couples’ therapy, people show up for a variety of reasons. In the early stages of therapy, couples tend to focus their energy on the other person’s faults. One or both people have to be woken from this dream of, “If only my spouse would__________, then we wouldn’t be here.”
Criticism, resentment and victim stories ruin relationships. The more energy one focuses on someone else’s faults, the more distance gets created, resulting in more criticism, resentment…and more unwanted distance.
Whatever we put our time and attention into will flourish. Whatever we neglect, avoid, ignore or criticize, will, at best, remain the same, but most often, withers and dies. Most couples in therapy for affair recovery discover that when they focus their attention and energy on their spouse, their relationship not only turns around, but often, flourishes. Two relationships cannot be maintained if one of those relationships is meant to be a committed one. Splitting energy between a triangle of three people leaves everyone hurting and deprived.
All of us have to tackle tough issues if we want to experience mature, deeply satisfying relationships. Focusing energy, whether consciously or not, among superficial habits won’t get you there. Having guts will. It takes guts to face problems. Sure, anyone can numb out or have an affair, avoid, and pretend; but it takes guts to face a situation that isn’t working and have a mature conversation about it.
Couples who can’t find the courage to resolve their issues, (which began long before they even met), may decide to divorce and remarry, while continuing to feel like they were victimized in the previous marriage. The sad reality is that most find themselves in a very similar situation only with a new partner. (An exception here is if one person has been working hard in therapy but has an unworkable partner).
Some important questions to ask yourself:
What would you like to experience in your relationship?
What have you been doing to create those experiences?
Where do you focus most of your energy?