I want it my way or, the REAL cure for stress

Everything in my life would be so simple if only everyone did exactly what I want them to do all the time. In fact, that’s so obvious that I can’t really believe I have never said it before.  If you people would just do things the way I want them done, then I wouldn’t have all this stress.

Why can’t you conform to MY expectations?  Why won’t you give up your own needs, desires, and wants in order to  meet mine?   If you won’t do that, then LIFE IS NOT FAIR.

And you know what that means……I’ll have to be all stressed out about life not being fair.

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It isn’t really just people, though.  I want the DOG to do what I want.  And I really, REALLY want the weather to do things the way that I prefer them.  Like I’ve really just about HAD IT with the snow. We are in the middle of yet another blizzard (can I stand to write another blizzard post?) and I want it to JUST STOP.  STOP IT!!!

And that’s where the whole house of cards breaks down.  Becomes pretty funny, actually, when the absurdity is revealed.

I can rail at the weather all I want but it isn’t going to have any effect.  The weather is what it is. I can rail about the dog, too, and I could even do something to separate myself from him or train him to behave differently, but my major complaint is shedding and neither he nor I have any control over that.

We often live in a illusory world where we believe that we should be able to control other people.  We want to control not only how they behave, but often (and more insidiously) how they think and feel.   We want them to LIKE us, or think kindly toward us, or treat us with respect.  We get stressed in our attempts to manage other people’s thoughts about us and their behaviour toward us.  We think we know what’s going on inside other people, we think we can foretell the future based on what we think THEY think, and we think that there is something we can do about it.

??????????

Yes, that’s living in illusion.   A whole whack of layers of illusion.  Imagine the fabric that is called illusion….wedding dress stuff, layers and layers of tulle-like poufyness.  Then imagine what it would be like to have your hold on reality swathed in layers and layers of illusion:  not being able to find the ground, or find what is real….yes, that would be stressful!  Sometime we believe that the solution to the stress is for the other person to just Just Shape Up.  In other words, do what I want you to do, and do it now.  Then I won’t have to be all stressed.

If we look at the weather, the absurdity becomes obvious. If only the weather would cooperate, I wouldn’t have to suffer.  Not true! Suffering is a result of believing that I shouldn’t be inconvenienced. If the weather were perfect, I’d find something else to suffer (be stressed) about.  And I can’t change the weather anyway.  There’s got to be a better answer than that!

There is a better answer, one that actually works. The truth is that our thinking is wrong on two counts.   First, our stress is not a result of other people’s behaviour (or even the weather).  The stress comes from fighting with illusion….fighting imaginary tigers, if you will.  And the second wrong-thinking part is the idea that the cure for my upset (stress) is for the other person (or dog, or the weather) to conform to my expectations.  After all, I shouldn’t be inconvenienced if I haven’t agreed to it. That is not fair.  And that’s a thought a lot of us share.

The cure for stress is to get out of illusion, including the illusions that life contains no inconvenience and that life is fair. Imagine beating your way through the layers and layers of gossamer fabric, wrapped oh so gently around you, encompassing and wrapping you and keeping you in suffering.  The hardest part is to really allow yourself to wonder if you are in illusion. This is actually an empirical question.  It is testable.  You can ask yourself the question…”What do I know?”   And sit with that. What do you really KNOW right here and now? What do I know as opposed to what do I think, believe, or feel to be true?

I start with the things that are incontrovertible.  I know that I am breathing, for example.  I can feel it.  I can stop and notice my breathing.  Yes, I am certain that I am breathing.  Am I alive in my body?   Can I feel my feet on the floor?  Press them right into the floor and feel them there?  Yes.  I am breathing and I can I feel my body, beginning with my feet. So now I know that I am alive, a living organism, having an experience.   What else can I notice?

Then coming back to the upset at hand….what do I KNOW?   What have I seen, heard, observed?   Can I separate that from what I think I know about what I have seen, heard and observed?  For example, can I notice someone’s behaviour without engaging my beliefs about it?  Without the script or storyline? Can I just see what IS without all the layers of how it Should Be or or How I Want It To Be, or How Other People Might Think About It?

It is simple.   But it isn’t easy.  When I ask myself, what do I want to happen in this situation, I can see if I want to control something (or someone) else.  When I ask, what do I really know about this?, then I can better see what my own illusions are contributing

What do I KNOW right here in this moment?  Right here and now, can I separate my moment-to-moment experience from my thoughts, beliefs, plans, memories, concepts, and ideas?  Can I see what is mine and what is someone else’s?  Can I allow other people the same opportunity to be themselves that I want to have in my own life?  And when that becomes possible, what do I notice about my own suffering, or my own stress?

Freedom from illusion isn’t freedom from pain.  But it sure can minimize the suffering.

Anticipation of joy? Or joyful anticipation?

PEI

We leave tomorrow for the week-long bioenergetic retreat in Prince Edward Island.  We have spent a year preparing, with more active preparation going on since January, and accelerating toward tomorrow.  The program begins on Friday evening and runs through the following Friday at mid-day, and each year it draws a diverse group that somehow becomes a community during our time together.   And I can imagine that the people who are joining us from all over the world are preparing, packing, and anticipating.

I have been busy with getting ready, looking after details, checking in with the rest of the team, and preparing myself for the work of therapy.  Body psychotherapists use their bodies in their work, so part of my preparation has been to be sure I do my bioenergetic exercises, to be aware of my sleep and nutrition, to work through any internal logjams that may get in my way.

And now, today, I am feeling that lovely anticipatory excitement that comes up when you are heading off for an experience that is new and also likely to be challenging and deepening and supportive and connecting.   The closest comparison I can get is that feeling I had when I was maybe eight years old of expecting Santa to come and bring presents on Christmas Eve.  There was an element of surprise but also the expectation was that things would be pretty good.

I am looking forward to seeing what gifts the next week brings.  Gifts are not always in bright packages:  in fact, the gifts of the retreat often arrive in the form of difficult feelings, ones we prefer to avoid.  I guess maybe the gifts come when people are offered a time and space to be themselves, bring their struggles, challenges, and their joys, express whatever their bodies need to express, and then see what happens.   Part of my anticipation is that I don’t know what will come up;  part of my joy is that I do know that things will happen, people will have opening experiences, and we will become a community.

I wish you all the gifts that freedom of expression can bring.

 

Morning lupins
Morning lupins

logoblu

 

Body pain, emotional pain: why I don’t work out at the gym

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Working out challenges me. I am challenged physically, of course, and also in terms of my attitude and thoughts, so I guess I could say that I am cognitively challenged, too. I have to stay positive, to avoid over-thinking and to just DO IT.

But what I have found out about working out at home, is that the sensations in my body allow to me access other kinds of emotional responses than I thought likely…or even possible. I suppose if I had not been a client of bioenergetic therapy for more than ten years, I would perhaps not feel free to allow the behavioural expression of my experience. But I do, and I am amazed and full of wonder at what is going on.

Specifically, when I work through some of the deepest and most chronic of my body tensions, it hurts. It hurts a lot, but I am okay there, knowing that what hurts is my own tension. I am not injuring myself but pressing extraordinarily tight tissues against gentle resistance, such as the foam roller, or opening my hip outward using a strap to support my leg. What happens is this: I wait with the sensation, sink into the intensity, try to allow relaxation to happen around the exquisite pain of the place where my resistance meets the roller (for example). And I am moved to sobbing, deep, deep sobbing, tears and wailing. It feels pulled out of me, from my deepest self, like part of me is tearing apart. Rolling my thoracic spine over the roller has a piquancy that is like nothing else, but as the roller descends toward my lower ribs, to the area of my diaphragm, the intensity increases. It is painful, genuinely painful, but I know it is not the pain of injury. It is the pain of my chronic tensions, chronic defenses against living my own life, resisting the pressure to soften, to release, to let go, to allow, to surrender.

So I do let go; I let go into the sobbing and wailing and that contributes to some softening and relaxing. I can’t stay for long; the sensations are too intense, my reactions are big, and I can only hold that space for a few moments.   There it is:  my body letting go another tiny bit, releasing ancient tensions through sobbing and vibration.  I don’t have any stories to tell myself about WHY I am crying, don’t have any need to locate a reason in my everyday world.  It just happens.  Then it is over.  And then I can step away, take a deep breath, and rest in the experience of a new and different body, a calmer and more alive self than just a few moments before.  The ground feels more secure, the world looks brighter, and I am intensely present to myself.

Reason to change

Boy, do human beings ever dislike change!  We don’t like it when we have change thrust upon us.    If something changes without notice, well, then, I am unprepared, maybe taken unawares, feeling out of step or off kilter.    We prefer to call our own shots, to have predictability in our lives.   We don’t even like it much when the weather changes, even though it is eminently clear that the weather means nothing personal.

When we see the need for change in our own lives, we often resist it.   Even if we want the change, seek it, work toward it, sometimes we get in our own way.   Obstacles arise, apparently by themselves.   Inertia settles into the body.  We may actively sabotage our own efforts to change our behaviour.   Then we give up, saying, “It’s too hard.   I’ve been okay like this so far;  I don’t know why I think I want to change anything anyway.”   Then we settle for living less than our full lives, sighing with resignation.  “I can’t change.   Things just won’t go the way I want them to. There is no hope…”

I respectfully disagree!   Change is possible.  In fact, change is inevitable.   We work incredibly hard to try to keep things, including ourselves, from changing.  But change is going to happen.   We can prepare for it, try to focus it in a particular direction, and let life change us.   The key is letting it happen rather than trying to force it, or force ourselves.

People come into the office wanting something to change.  Sometimes they want circumstances to change, but mostly they know that the change has to come from within.  Sometimes people want harsh measures, and they are particularly punitive with themselves.   “I have to lose twenty pounds and so I am not going to eat anything good for the next two months…”   Sometimes they want me to be punitive with them;  it may be the only kind of relationship they know.  How different it is to allow change rather than to force it!   How different to set an intention rather than create a goal and rigid steps to achieve it!

Change is happening to you, right now.   It is happening to me, it is happening in all of our lives.  What one tiny step can you take right now to move that change in the direction you prefer?  Maybe you can step outside for a walk, or maybe just a deep breath to change your relationship to your work.  Maybe you can email a friend, to change your social connections.  Maybe you can pick up a bit of litter.  Maybe you can send a positive thought to someone you fear, to change how you relate.

If not you, then who?

If not now, then when?

What do you REALLY want?

I have been thinking a bit about wants and needs.   We often want something…something that seems indefinable, amorphous, something that feels out of reach.  Trying to nail down that wanting feeling can be hard.

However, some people have their  wants clearly identified.  If only, they think, if only I had a new car, then I’d feel really good.  Or…if only, if only I could go on vacation and just take some time off, THEN I would feel really good.  Or maybe, if only, if only my husband/wife/mother/father/teacher/boss would just change their behaviour, then I would feel okay.  Or maybe, if only I had someone to love me in my life, if I only had a partner who really, REALLY loved me, then I would feel okay.

So sometimes we want concrete objects:  the new car, the big flatscreen tv, the smartest phone.  Sometimes we want time and luxury:  vacation, travel, food or entertainment.  Sometimes what we want is something from another person:  their attention, affection, or some kind of treatment that we experience as positive.

But do you hear the commonality that underlies all of these wants?  Do you hear what we expect each of those things, experiences, or behaviour of a person?   We expect that WE will feel a particular way, a particularly GOOD way, if we could have the wanted item or experience.

What we really want isn’t a car or a tv.  It really isn’t a vacation or someone to love us.  What we really, REALLY want, is the feeling that we think we’d have under that desired circumstance.

So no, honestly, I don’t want my boss to stop bugging me.  I want to FEEL the way I think I’d feel without that behaviour.  I want to FEEL unbugged.

So all I really need to do is change how I feel;  take charge of my own feelings, stop giving my power to feel to other people or to my negative thoughts, and just FEEL unbugged.

Sounds easy….and it can be.  If we can accept that we construct our feeling of want by our thoughts, fantasies, and wishes, then perhaps we can construct a feeling of having enough in that same way.   Or try this:  notice when you DO feel “enough…”  What is it like in your body and mind when you feel “enough?”   When have you had “enough” to eat?  “Enough” work for the day?  “Enough conversation,”  “enough sleep,”  “enough music?”   How do you experience enough?   Then allow that feeling to spread throughout your life…so that what you are right now, what you have right now, what you experience in THIS moment….THIS is enough.  Enough for now.

When the craving or wanting or desiring or attachment to objects arises, see if you can locate a sense of “enough” in your body and rest in that.

Needs?  Well, that can be a topic for another day!

Chicken and egg take two

Which comes first, the thought or the feeling?  Do our thoughts actually create our feelings?  Or does a sensation in the body give rise to a thought, which would suggest that feelings come first?

One of the things I have learned in my studies is that when you have an apparent dichotomy, you can bring the level of analysis down to a finer view and the dichotomy will disappear.  Okay, that’s a fancy way of saying that most things look different when you take a different point of view.

So ages ago, psychologists theorized that a sensation in the body was just that, until the person gave it a label and then it became an emotion.  Much later, pioneers in the cognitive therapy movement suggested that what we THINK can dramatically affect how we feel;  specifically, we can generate a whole lot of personal distress by thinking distressing thoughts.  That doesn’t address the question of where those thoughts actually arise, though.  Lowen (check out the lowen foundation for his writings, and audio and video recordings….http://http://lowenfoundation.org/index.html) was ahead of his time, really, in pointing out that the neural activity of a thought likely arises from a sensation in the body.   Damasio offers a variety of clinical and scientific support for this…that the FEELING of what happens is what creates our thinking and our behaviour.

WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES ANY OF THIS MAKE?

Okay, I am getting there.   You know that I love the theoretical but the practical is infinitely more, well, useful.   What it means is that everyone has a piece of the truth.  In your own experience, you can point to times when thinking about something in an unhelpful way has made you feel worse than you were feeling before.  So that part is verifiable with experience.   And when you develop your body awareness so that sensations register on your consciousness, it becomes apparent that there are links between body sensations and at least some of the thoughts that seem to arise spontaneously.   Here’s a pretty crude example:   You start to notice an empty feeling in your belly, and then there are some noises from in there, and at the same time, you suddenly notice that someone in an office down the hall must have popped popcorn (that should be illegal unless they plan to share) and you have a thought…..Maybe I’ll go out for lunch.    It would be hard to argue that the internal sensations, the external stimulation and the thought were unrelated.

Try it…try to see what connections you can find between your thoughts and your body sensations.   Or just your thoughts and your feelings (emotions, or overall mood states).   Notice when your thinking is affecting your feeling state.  Notice what thoughts arise when you experience particular body states.   See if you can figure out which is chicken, and which is egg.