Tuesday, April 26, 2011

that which we resist persists

About ten years ago, I was working with a therapist who, after a couple of sessions where I talked about my relationship with food, suggested I go to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, just to see if it would help.

And the minute she said it, every single cell in my body revolted. I wanted to die. There was absolutely NO WAY I would go to one of those meetings. Never. Ever. Not in a million years, not if you gave me a million dollars. Never. Not if the room was full of hot, eligible bachelors. Not if it meant I would never overeat again. If I happened to be running down the hall of a burning building and the only way out was through an OA meeting, I'd burn up with the industrial carpeting. Not. A. Snowball's. Chance. In. Hell.

A simple suggestion, one that I could take or discard, and my whole essence was ready to drop a very small, very targeted nuclear bomb on the sweet, dear therapist who mentioned the idea.

Needless to say, ten years passed, and my relationship with food has remained interesting.

When I feel good about myself, food is my nourishment. When I feel bad, it's my comfort. And I think that's pretty "normal." But since I don't see anyone else eat, and can't get inside the heads of other eaters, I have no idea whether my relationship is dysfunctional or not. However, some part of me desperately fears that it is. Otherwise I wouldn't be willing to burn up with the carpeting.

So, last week, in honor of the Year of Yes! (well, ok the fourteen months of yes) and in an exploration of Risk, I went. And it was scary. And it was awkward. And the building had some truly horrid industrial carpeting. But what's most important is that I made it out the other side. Was I like some of the women in that room? Yes. We all had tricky relationships with food. Was I not like some of the women in that room? Yes. And for privacy reasons I won't say why.

What I was afraid of was the label. I was afraid of admitting that my relationship with food might have been "abnormal" or "dysfunctional" which would, by association, make me a failure. Yes, it was that simple. If I went to a meeting of people who had trouble controlling their eating and found I was like them in any way, I was a failure.

I'm pleased that I went, and I'm incredibly proud of myself for facing that silly little fear that's been holding me back for ten years. Will I go again? Not to that particular meeting. I'll try another one, just to see, but I don't particularly care for the 12 Step model.

So I'll throw it out to you: what are you afraid of? What one thing does your whole body create a violent reaction to when you consider doing it? And if you could do it safely, what would it take for you to do it?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

doing The Work

A few weeks ago I went to a two-day workshop with Byron Katie, a teacher and leader who has developed a very clean, streamlined way of digging a little deeper into the thoughts and beliefs that keep you stuck. And while I didn't care for Katie herself (she was a little holier-and-more-transcendental-than-thou than I care for in my teachers), much to my own surprise and consternation, I got a lot out of her workshop.*

The first thing we did when the workshop started was to fill in a Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet. (You can get one, too, for free here.) You're asked to think of a specific situation in the past that has caused you pain and continues to cause you pain or discomfort whenever you think about it. Then, with that scenario in mind, you fill in the statements on the page.

Once your statements about what you needed someone else to do, say, think, or feel in that situation are on the page, you take a deep breath, and go back and question those statements. I'll go through one of mine as an example.

I looked back on a breakup situation and wrote "In that situation, I am angry with Frank because he wasn't ready to be in a relationship with me." (The underlined phrases are what I filled in. And "Frank," as usual, is a pseudonym.)

That statement is then subjected to four questions:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react (behave) when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without that thought?

So, was it true? It sure seemed true. I was angry. I was angry at Frank. And he wasn't ready to be in a relationship with me -- he even said so. So it seemed pretty true. But when I got to the next question -- can I absolutely know that it's true -- things fell apart. Frank may have told me that to get me off his back. He may have changed in the several months since we split up. He may have been ready, but the timing wasn't right, etc. There was really no way of knowing what was going on outside the confines of my own head.

So the answer to the second question was No.

How I react when I believe that thought is to get frustrated all over again. To feel like I'm not worth being ready to be in a relationship for. To feel like I'll never be in a relationship. I feel angry, and sorry, and frustrated, and fired up, and invested. None of which is pretty.

So who would I be without these thoughts? I'd be more free. I could be more understanding, less judgmental, less angry, less invested. I could be a better friend to him. I could be a better friend to myself.

(See how this is starting to work?)

Then, the final step is to take the statement through a series of turnarounds.

Initial statement: "Frank wasn't ready to be in a relationship with me."

First: I wasn't ready to be in a relationship with me. (Doesn't feel very true, but I sit with it anyway.)

Second: I wasn't ready to be in a relationship with Frank. (Again, doesn't feel very true, but I let the ideas wash over me.)

Third: Frank was ready to be in a relationship with me. (This one had a little more impact, because it allowed me to see what a relationship at that point would have been like. It wouldn't have been the kind of relationship I would choose, that's for sure.)

I used this technique on a series of non-useful beliefs to great results. Imagine this one:
"I'm going to be single for the rest of my life."

First: I'm not going to be single for the rest of my life. (Heard it.)

Second: I'm going to be single only for a short time. (Hmmm, all of a sudden, singlehood is a precious commodity...)

Third: I'm going to be partnered up for the rest of my life. (Wow! I better make the most of this singleness now, that's for sure!)

I recommend picking up a worksheet, taking yourself through it, and sitting with a friend, coach, or trusted advisor and having that person take you through the questions and turnarounds. And when you're done, you can thank me for saving you $295 and a day and a half of uncomfortable hotel seats and recycled air.

* When I don't like a teacher personally, I don't want to like her work. I don't know why, but it probably has to do with a smallness and competitiveness in me that says, "But you don't like her, her work can't be good!"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

what makes yoga risky?

I headed out the door today to a yoga class feeling nervous. What if I looked like an idiot? What if I did everything wrong? What if I was that loud, obnoxious, nervous person who laughs at everything, only because she's nervous? What if everyone there knew each other and my showing up meant that someone who regularly takes the class wouldn't be able to get in and then everyone in the room would be angry at the new girl who ruined everything?

Welcome to my fears. You can see how going to yoga was a risk for me today.

Dictionary.com defines risk as "exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance." And that's what I was facing at yoga class. I might lose my sense of myself as a "cool" person -- not that there's much there to lose, honestly, but I tend to cling to those shreds tightly. I might face danger in a room full of angry, experienced students who resent my intrusion. And, more likely than any of the others, I might get stuck in a backward bend with the heels of my feet stuck to my ribcage and not be able to get up ever again.

I'm a confident (and flexible) person, so I knew these catastrophic eventualities were unlikely. I was headed to the YMCA, not The Studio for Professional Yogis Only, for crying out loud, and it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Most regulars were probably in the park.

Because I was willing to risk looking stupid, because I was willing to face the hostility of an imagined clique, and because I could delineate these threats beforehand, I could see that I was taking a risk. And recognizing that I'm willing to risk metaphorical sticks and stones hurtled at my being makes me realize how much stronger I am than I think. And how much more I could do if I just let myself believe.

So here's my challenge for you: what's something that you've wanted? Something you've been jonesing for but have allowed small risks to stand in your way? Go and do it. Have it. Be it. Take the risk. It might fail miserably, but at least that way you'll know.

(And for the record, while the heels of my feet did almost touch my ribcage, they didn't get stuck there, and I felt so well-cared-for at the yoga class, I want to become a regular myself!)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

It's time for April!

When I started this Year of Yes (well, ok, the 14 months of yes) project, the qualities I had grouped together for this month were "adventure, thrill, risk, and aliveness." And I had visions of myself hang gliding, shooting guns, climbing rock walls, and otherwise having all the adventures a girl can have in the city.

But as I've revisited the topic over the last week and a half, I've discovered that I am likely to do those things anyway (albeit in a warmer month, perhaps), and so exploring the quality of "Adventure" might not benefit me as much as something else. So I've shifted focus a little, and am now looking at Risk. What am I willing to risk to have what I want? What am I willing to risk to be who I want to be?

In my daily practice, I sit and write five things I'm grateful for, five things I get credit for, and now, five or so things I'm willing to risk to be who I want to be. They're often things like "looking like a fool" or "rejection," things that I am already unconsciously willing to risk, but I find that bringing them to light and intentionally putting them on the line makes my choices more rich.

For example, I reached out to someone I had stopped communicating with and asked if being friends would be possible. What was the worst he could say, no? Ok, I was already willing to risk that. I was willing to risk an awkward conversation, possible rejection, hurt feelings, and/or an uncomfortable friendship on the chance that what I'd get in return was a rewarding connection with someone I find funny and intelligent. I'm finding that risk is really rich -- it's not about risking my neck (as my mother has already pleasantly worried), but rather bringing focus to those things that I cling to for comfort, and being willing to let some of them go.

Because I never know what will be on the other side of them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

help from one of my favorite podcasts

Think about the last time you didn't get something that you wanted. When you look back at what got in your way, what was it?

Most of the time, when we're truly honest, the answer to that question is "me." (And I don't mean me, Kate Sandberg. I mean "me," you.)

Radiolab, one of my favorite podcasts that blends science with humanity and storytelling, has done an episode on some of the things you can do when your biggest obstacle is yourself.

(My favorite part is at the beginning, when Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how Tom Waits talks to his muse. Because picturing what she describes is so delightful...)