Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The beauty of developing a rich and textured relationship with your body is the clarity with which you know when you're not doing what you know you must. When your behavior is incongruent with what is required by the life you want, the body distorts. It must distort in order for you to take action that undoes or undermines your true nature, who you really are.

And that's the place I'm learning about these days, where it's actually painful to keep doing what I've always done, keep living my protective strategies, keep playing small. But moving away from those behaviors requires taking new action, making change in my life. And for anyone who doesn't know, that comes with its own kind of pain: fear of the unknown, anxiety, resistance to vulnerability.

So here I am, between the rock of where I know I must go, and the hard place of what I know I must release. The thing about hard places is that we as human beings develop lots of strategies for tolerating, accepting, and even attaching to the suffering we experience. And while running from pain is certainly not the answer, neither is languishing in it.

As I see it, I have only the rock, the unknown changes I know I must make. I can only face those fears and anxieties, turn toward what my life requires of me, and love whatever I find. As George Washington Carver
says, "Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Neuroplasticity and You

We're born with the major interstates and highways in place. That is, at birth, our nervous system has developed its primary trunks--the ones for breathing and simple digestion, basic reflexes and survival instincts. During the first one to two years, our nervous system continues to GROW AND GROW at a speedy clip. Local freeways and routes, parkways and boulevards and avenues, roads and lanes are all laid down as we learn to see and recognize, to respond and in turn affect our environment. Every tiny street and driveway and path is formed as part of the network of nerves we need to first move our fingers individually, then in concert to pinch and grasp, then in harmony to maneuver spoon to mouth.

All this is to say that the trillions of nerve pathways we use daily are created, grown, and developed while we are out here in the world. Indeed, our nervous system depends on external stimulus in order to form at all. It is only in response to our environment that neurons shape and stretch and arrange themselves into functional pathways. And as we repeatedly respond to the same stimulus, our bodies strengthen and reinforce the pathways that serve us, while allowing the others to wither away and disappear.

Neuroplasticity is the idea that our neurons are plastic and pliable. They grow and fade according to frequency of use, and they are also constantly re-forming to be more efficient and effective. Other tissue in our bodies are also plastic in this way, including the expression of our DNA, but neurons are particularly sensitive and quick to respond to change. What is most extraordinary about neuroplasticity is that it is in play throughout our lives! The assumption had been that all this neuron growing and pathway creating primarily occurred in those first couple of years of life. But we now know that neural pathways continue to adapt and develop as we age, and that NEW NEURONS CONTINUE TO GROW well into our senior years. That's right, new neurons have been found in the brains of seventy-somethings.

So what does that mean in our lives? It means that what we need to keep our nervous system thriving is the same thing we needed to develop as infants: novel stimulus. We need to consistently present our brains and nervous systems with new challenges and new environments, whether external or internal, to navigate, to learn from, to respond to. Just as an athlete trains her body by asking more of her muscles and coordination, so our minds and neurons require variety and constant change to develop, no matter what our age.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Meet Your Shadow

As winter continues, there is ample opportunity to experience, grapple with, or despair over our shadow aspects. No matter how many times I've faced my own dark, difficult parts, it seems to always take me by surprise, the stark fear, the strength of my resistance. Someone once said, "Nothing determines who we will become so much as those things we choose to ignore." A twist on messages from "The Secret," it's not just about where we turn our attention, but also where we refuse to turn our attention, that manifests in the world.

Jung gives us that "Whatever is rejected from the self, appears in the world as an event." And indeed, I have seen the working of that wisdom inherent in our Selves, in the unfolding of our lives, in the workings of our universe, in my own journey as well as in journeys of those around me. Whatever part of me I push down always pops back up as an unexpected detour or crisis in my life. So what I think I am successfully denying returns in my world returns to me as an emergency, or it is "emerging, see?"

And our choice at that point is to either continue the suffering/suppressing cycle, or as Nietzsche puts it, "gain the courage to rebaptize our badness as the best in us." What I am beginning to understand and embrace is how my badness, that I have railed and struggled against for so long, is actually my best resource. I am an expert at how to numb myself out and escape my feelings; I have many tools for this purpose! And that expertise is not at war with my capacity to love myself, or to imagine a bold life. In fact, it is my greatest ally: a safety net. If ever things get overwhelming or I want to stop what I've started, I am an expert at checking out!

My gift of this past week has been the experience of holding ALL of my resources--from my skills in controlling or thinking I control the circumstances of my life, to my commitment to challenge the limits of just how much joy I can gather into my life. These different capacities and skills, which I had heretofore pitted against each other, are finally, beautifully, and easefully meeting each other as members of the same clan, comrades, and teammates. And I feel valid, strong, and truly loving of myself.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Out of the pressure cooker, and into the crockpot...?

If you're like me, then your life contains quite a bit of pressure--to get everything done, to not make a mistake, to not fall off the bandwagon (of diets, workout routines, self-care regimens, changes to old habits). Self-imposed pressure cooker living is how I've conducted much of my life, and what that approach has done is 1) guarantee failure, and 2) simultaneously let me off the hook.

If every slip up is a catastrophe, the end of whatever grand plan I've established for myself, then no plan will ever come to fruition. If any step backward ends the journey, there will never be enough steps forward to reach my goal. But here's the crafty part: once I've failed, once the pressure seal has been broken, I am no longer accountable to my goals. I don't have to worry about going somewhere I've never gone before. I can instead return to the well-traveled landscape of self-recrimination and guilt at have failed--an uncomfortable place, but somehow comfortingly familiar.

What I've come to realize is that the pressure cooker setup is a lie, a perception I create to explain and justify my behavior. But the truth is it doesn't matter if I make this choice or that choice right now. What's important is the sum total of choices I make now and now and now and now and now and now and now and now and now... It's ok to eat that piece of candy, or not fold the laundry today. The real question is how do I nourish my body most of the time, how do I handle my chores most of the time, what do I put my attention on most of the time. Like a crockpot, how life really works is being consistent and persistent over time. It doesn't matter what you do for the moment. What's important is what you do most of the time. You can say no to your habitual ways of being; you just have to do it again and again.

I've been told this is my breaking free from perfectionism, from the story that it's either 100% or it's 0%. By waking up to the fact that 80% (heck, 51%) of the time is quite a lot of the time, I am jumping out of the pressure cooker way of living. And perhaps that's true. But my experience of this shift is that of coming home to compassion within myself, of finding a way to be just me, a human being, flawed and magnificent, most of the time.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Getting in My Own Way

Alas, though I had the best of intentions--weekly blogposts, Curing-then-Healing-then-Reorganizing, I steered myself smack dab in the middle of inaction. I had grand plans and a clear vision of the structure of these blogposts, but it seems I tripped myself up: no posts since September!

For the new year, my motto is: do first, plan later. Or perhaps more encouragingly, I will give myself permission to get the ball rolling while inspiration is hot, while my e-motion will produce some physical motion, and leave the edits and structure to pull together along the way.

Because 2008 is the year of growth! And the only way to Awakening and Expansion is to DO some stuff first. So. First post of the year, done.