Working with Resistance

Once again, my yoga class this morning has inspired my writing topic for the day. In my yoga teacher training we learned about something called PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation.) Essentially this is just using your muscles to resist or push against whatever stretch you are in for a few moments before relaxing the muscles, allowing you to sink and relax even deeper into the pose. It is similar to the idea of clenching different muscles before releasing them to relax more fully and release stress. It is a fascinating and useful technique to be sure.

One of the beautiful things about yoga is that we can take what we learn on the mat out into the rest of our lives. So what can we take with us from PNF? Well it draws our attention to the idea of working with resistance. A lot of the things we do in yoga class can be looked at as metaphors for how to live our lives with more ease. For the most part, people don’t like resistance. We don’t want to have our plans altered or interrupted. We don’t want disagreements or dissent. We just want everything to run smoothly in exactly the way that we want it to. We can even start to feel cheated or hopeless when things don’t go our way.

Using PNF in yoga not only allows our bodies to become more flexible and go deeper into difficult postures, it reminds us that we can use resistance in our everyday lives to our own advantage as well. We just have to be patient and use what life gives us rather than trying to reject it or avoid it. The other day at work my friends and I were discussing the idea of having bad memories changed or erased like in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Although it is undoubtedly an interesting, tempting concept, none of us were convinced actually going through with such a procedure would be a good idea or something we would choose for ourselves. Thought experiments like this help us to reflect on the ways in which we can actually be grateful for all of the hardships we have experienced in our lives. In the moment, a lot of the things that happen to us seem unfair, unbearable even, but later on we come to realize that those same events have allowed us to become who we are today. Perhaps they made us stronger, wiser, more resilient, or even led us down a new path we wouldn’t have taken otherwise.

Looking back, it can be easy to see how some of my worst life experiences were worth the pain I went through. However, that doesn’t make it any easier to accept the difficulties I face in my present. I’m trying to remember that PNF perspective though. Even if at first it seems like I’m being held back or led away from where I want to be, it may actually be the opposite. I’m trying to stay strong in the face of adversity and trust that one day I will be grateful for even these painful times. I’m even trying to be grateful for them right now, even though I don’t yet know what they may lead to down the road. All I can do is keep moving forward and have faith that I’ll get to where I want to be one day, despite (or even because of) the struggles along the way.

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Change

I think it’s very interesting how many people I’ve heard say they don’t like change. I am one of them. Yet change is the only true constant in this world of ours. Without change none of us would even exist as we are. Just like with most things, it can be beautiful and also terrible. Just a few weeks ago I was quite excited about all the new changes that seemed to be happening in my life. Now as things continue to develop and change even further, I feel as though change is no longer a friend, but a bitter enemy.

At times like these I try to remind myself of all the changes in my life that initially felt unbearable, that ended up leading to some of my greatest joys. You can never really tell what even the smallest change may mean down the road. At the very least, it is an opportunity to practice letting go. Something I’ve never been very good at. I’m surprised my fingers are not just bloodied stumps from all the clinging I’ve done in my life.

One of the things I struggle with when facing an unpleasant change is whether or not to surrender to the sadness and pain that accompany it. I never know when I am just letting myself experience a healthy amount of painful emotions or when I am feeding those same emotions. Surely it isn’t healthy to turn away from every pang of the heart, but at the same time it is so easy to fall further into that deep dark hole that I’m still working to climb out of.

I suppose when I was younger there wasn’t much of a choice to be made. It was impossible to deny the feeling of raking claws across my chest, tearing at my tender heart. It seems like I used to cry so often as I was lying down to sleep at night. I never thought I could actually miss those awful moments of sorrow. Yet now I almost long to feel in the way that I once could. For years now, it has been nearly impossible for me to cry. It isn’t that I haven’t had reason to. The tears just don’t seem to come anymore. Instead of stinging eyes, now I only feel this strange gaping chasm behind my ribs, a terrible emptiness.

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Lessons from Childhood

I find it very interesting to see the way the children I work with interact with the world around them. Although their problems and emotions are often less complex than those that come with adulthood, they can be surprisingly similar in other ways. I find myself specifically fascinated with those common toddler tantrums. It may sound ridiculous coming from an adult, but I identify with their unmanageable emotional states more than you’d think.

It used to make me panic when a little one would start freaking out, but now I see it as an important opportunity. I’m so used to seeing parents only responding with more threats and yelling. Which obviously only makes the child freak out even more. I have no idea what they hope to accomplish with that. Perhaps it’s just an example of the parents having little to no control over their own emotional state while dealing with the child’s.

For me these moments relate back to my dilemma about helping people when they seem stuck in thinking and seeing things a certain way. One of the many wonderful things about children is how malleable their minds are. When a toddler is pouting, I see it as a great opportunity to test out different methods of helping them escape that unpleasant mindset. What works? You really have nothing to lose because even if nothing works, they tend to come out of it on their own quite quickly.

I still haven’t been able to make any super significant progress. But yesterday I did think of something that I’ll definitely try again. A little four-year-old girl was pouting because we took away a box of things she was ripping up. As she stood their, arms crossed, teary-eyed, I tried to come up with a way to show her that it was a waste of time to be angry and upset. Their time at our center was almost over and I wanted her to see that her time would be better spent further enjoying all the toys we have instead of pouting. One question, did seem to make her pause.

I eventually thought to ask her if she liked feeling upset. After a stunned moment of silent thought, she stubbornly answered yes. While it didn’t go exactly as I’d planned, she did seem to see a glimmer of humor in this blatant lie. What I was actually getting at though, and what I hope to be able to show more kids, is that it’s our choice whether to be upset or happy. It seems like I didn’t learn that until a few years ago myself.

When these strong emotions come up inside of us, especially when we are young, it feels like they must be right. That we must be supposed to feel this way, because of whatever has happened. It seems impossible to feel any other way. Then we become indignant, latching on to these negative feelings, insisting on the truth of them. Little ones luckily don’t have the willpower or attention span to hold onto them for very long. But as we grow older, rather than learning how to let go of these feelings quicker, we seem to learn how to hold onto them for far longer instead.

It’s funny how we all agree the things children throw fits about are ridiculous, but as adults we feel our inner tantrums are fully justified. Yet in the grand scheme of things, they are all just as silly. And even if they aren’t, it never helps to harbor negative feelings and sour even more moments in response to things not going our way. Maybe part of the reason I am so interested to figure out ways to help kids with these feelings, is so that maybe I can gain some insight into how to better help myself with them as well.

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Loving & Letting Go

What is grief, but love persevering.

Unknown

I’m still working my way through Les Miserables. As I near the end, I feel confident in saying it has become my new favorite book. I am going to be very sad once I’ve finished it. There are so many beautifully worded commentaries on the human condition. Things we all know well, but put in a way that reminds us of the mystery and beauty of being alive in this world. The last thing I read that really struck me was about love.

I believe it was called the great paradox of human existence or something to that effect. It has the potential to save, to transcend, while equally having the power to destroy and condemn. What a cruel world where we must have the very thing that may ruin us. There are so many contradictions in this life. Our challenge seems to be to let our love be stronger than our fear. A difficult task.

I am constantly being confronted with things that confound my black and white thinking mind. How am I to devote myself whole heartedly to a love that I can’t be sure of? How am I to hold onto this love inside while also letting go of the pain? It seems like I used to feel everything all at once, so sharply, and now I feel nothing at all most days. Neither is ideal. But I don’t know how to negotiate a happy middle ground.

I read something the other day about it being possible to still love someone, but to also let them go. For me this feels impossible. Which is what leaves me in a difficult position. I desperately want to keep my happy memories and the love I have in my heart. But I also want to be able to let go and move on. How do I do both? If I focus on letting go, my heart closes. I feel hatred and betrayal and disgust. If I try to push these feelings aside and recall more tender emotions on the subject, it once again becomes too painful to let go. I feel myself clinging desperately onto some chance of reconciliation.

It’s always been much easier for me to forget someone if I have a reason to hate them. However, this hatred tends to also taint all of the nice memories I’ve made with them. Is it really possible to have both? To cherish the memories while also accepting there will be no more? Maybe it is something that I’ll be able to master someday with more practice. Maybe it just gets easier with time.

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Grasping

As someone who finds comfort in consistency and knowing what to expect from one moment to the next, it has always been hard for me to accept that the nature of this existence is change. I’ve often heard that depression is the effect of living in the past and anxiety is caused when one tries to live in the future. I think this is quite accurate. Anxiety is mostly a shapeless, murky panic of the unknown. It is the fear of losing control. Although any control we think we have is merely an illusion regardless.

I am hopeful that beginning therapy in January will give me some new tools to cope with this fear. For so long now I have tried to handle my mental health on my own. I stubbornly maintain that I already know what I need to do. I just have a hard time making myself do it. However, I am not longer sure that’s true. I would welcome some new strategies. And I want to try them even if I doubt their ability to help me at first.

I am not sure where this deep distrust of the world around me has come from. I have always been in a fairly good position in the grand scheme of things. This world has always taken very good care of me. And I have always overcome the obstacles that I did encounter. It may sound stupid, but life is really one big trust fall. You have to let go. You have to stop grasping. You have to face your fear of falling. You have to trust in yourself. Trust in the universe to catch you. It might be scary, but it’s better than dragging your nails in the dirt all of your life. And my fingers are practically nubs right now.

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