My mind really likes a lot of detail. It also likes to be read in to the bigger picture.
For instance, let’s say I decide I want to take a 30-day yoga course online (such as this one, which is the actual course my mind and body and I are taking together). This is as far as I’ve gotten, and I’m cool with just trying Day One and seeing how it goes.
My mind is not quite so cool with this. It has lots of questions. It also thinks my approach of “just try it and see” is more than a little cavalier – insensitive, even – given how much I know about its well-documented tendency to worry.
My mind wants to know, for example, how long each lesson will last. It also wants to know the cost. And it wants to know how I am so sure we will able to do 30 days worth of lessons in 30 days. It wants to know what time we will do the lessons each day. And how hard they will be. And it has lots of questions about what happens if we decide we don’t like the course.
The course is called “TRUE: Your 30-Day Yoga Journey.” It is taught by a young woman named Adrienne who is very good at yoga and also very wise. She also likes to do yoga with her pet, a dog named Benji, whose main job seems to be to lie down in the very spot where she was planning to do her next pose.
(For the record, my three pets can totally relate to this and think it is a great idea).
I’m on Day 17 of the 30 day course. For the last 17 days, despite my mind’s continued protestations and warnings, we have managed to do the course each morning without fail, starting around 9:30, or 10, or 10:30 or 11, or 11:30, depending on when my aching body wants to get out of bed.
Each day’s lesson has taken anywhere from 17 to 26 minutes depending on the topic. Each lesson – in fact the entire course – has been free. Some days have been harder than others, but each one has been difficult in different ways.
All of my mind’s questions are slowly getting answered as we go from one day to the next. But my mind doesn’t like it this way. It wants to get ALL the questions answered first, and even then have another day (or few) to think up more questions and get those answered as well.
In fact, if I left things up to my mind, we probably wouldn’t ever actually DO any yoga. But we would spend a lot of time thinking up questions to ask about it and getting those questions answered!
Why am I using yoga as an example in this post? For starters, because I am actually doing this yoga course and my mind has actually behaved exactly as I am describing all throughout our journey thus far.
I am also using yoga because our teacher, Adrienne, mentioned using our time “on the mat” as a way to learn more about how we live our lives off the mat. So far, I have learned that I live life by just showing up, and my mind lives life by worrying about all the obstacles that could prevent me from just showing up.
Adrienne also mentioned noticing how we are doing each pose, and particularly the ones we find more challenging. Are we opening into the pose, stretching body and mind to learn new things, or are we just hanging on for dear life?
The only way my particular mind likes to stretch is backwards….it is always looking for a do-over or a rewind. And I will be honest, certain poses she is teaching us have been sufficiently challenging that I actually AM just hanging on for dear life. As I watch myself wobble and shake and flail and flop, my mind has all sorts of commentary about how very dangerous this unnecessary extra activity it is.
Meanwhile, the rest of me gets up, shakes it off and tries again.
What is really interesting – and this is something I have noticed just over the last few days – is how often my irritation is really fear. Perversely, given the relative level of fear it expresses in a given day, my mind looks down on fearfulness. It thinks fearfulness is for sissies and is constantly telling me to just get over it already. Sometimes it even baits me by saying something like “well, how hard could it be?” or “what’s the worst that could happen?”
So sometimes Adrienne is teaching us a new pose. My body is wobbling and shaking as usual and my mind is warning me about certain doom. Then Adrienne says something like “okay people you got this – let’s hold it for 5, 4, 3, 2….”
At this point my mind is yelling at her, saying sarcastic things like “What is your obsession with this stupid pose anyway?” while my body is flailing about trying to hang on for dear life. I am feeling really irritable, angry even.
That is when I see it. Feel it. The fear. I am afraid. I am afraid I will injure myself. I am afraid I will fall over. I am afraid I am a failure….in yoga or life or everything. I am afraid I am going to die.
This fear shows up as anger in so many areas of my life – both “on the mat” and “off the mat.” For example, when a new client wants to hire me for a writing assignment, often my first reaction is irritation. Like, this is an interruption in my already-scheduled day. It is a disruption of my normal routine.
It is fearful to the ancient limbic brain, the survival instinct within me whose sole job it is to keep me alive and viable from one moment to the next. That survival instinct really, really, really likes to get 5-star performance reviews. Any departure from the norm, any new thing, any change, whether it is a friend leaving town or a pet’s sneeze or a twisted ankle or a stranger, could mean a reduction of stars on its next review.
So it produces fear as a deterrent. Don’t say yes to that meeting. Don’t commit to the yoga course. Don’t try that scary-looking new pose. Don’t show up. Don’t say yes.
Don’t be in this world. Just being in this world, just showing up, is dangerous. It could be deadly.
I get it. I totally understand where my survival instinct and its ancient limbic brain sidekick is coming from.
But I just can’t live like that. I also can’t change my limbic brain’s mind about the relative deadliness of any given choice or activity on any given day. I can’t derail my survival instinct or put in a request for a new, “low worry” brain.
What I can do is to learn how all these different moving, thinking, worrying, protective parts fit together and what role each plays in my greater existence. I can learn to be in this world by learning what each of these parts is supposed to do – how they are supposed to help me.
Then I can empathize with each, using kindness to let each one know I understand – I get it. I can tell my anxious mind, “I understand that new pose looks frightening. Truly, I do. We are going to try it anyway, but if it gets too precarious we’ll come right out of it, okay?”
I can negotiate with my survival instinct, letting it know I’ve taken every precaution to ease its worries: soft and cushiony yoga mat, check. Pillow for seating, check. Pause button on laptop, check.
Learning about what each of the various aspects of me does – the job each is responsible for – helps me to appreciate their high work ethic, decode their messages, thank them for doing their jobs so well, and then override their warnings with kindness, compassion, empathy and respect.
In other words, in this way I can learn to be in this world without being a bully towards myself, without being unkind, disrespectful, domineering or shaming towards any aspect of me. I can honor the weak and the strong within me, appreciate the fearful and the brave, listen openly and fairly to all input so everyone feels heard and I feel good about how I am being in my own life.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you feel like most aspects of yourself are in alignment from one moment to the next during your days? Have you found a way to hear yourself out from all sides that feels respectful and strong? Are there some aspects of yourself that seem like cowards or bullies and you are still working to feel like a whole, empowered and loving human being? What is your experience like within yourself when you decide to try something new?