Last week when I was immobilized from an emotional neck injury that required me mostly to lay on my back, to move slowly with great attention and to embrace how painful living in a body can be, I learned a few things that I feel determined to hold onto now that my body is fully functional. The first and most important lesson is the utter and complete sense of gratitude I have for all the millions of ways that our bodies work for us. Often, it is injury and physical limitation that shows us how much freedom of movement we take for granted. We don’t realize how well we felt until we are sick. Pain is a funny thing. When you are in it, you can’t remember ever feeling well, and when it is over, you can’t remember how intense it was.
Join Wendy while she works to master the art, study the science and discover the practice of positivity one day at a time. The growing body of scientific research in positive psychology proves without a doubt that shifting your thinking habits from negative to positive creates a thriving life. When you train yourself to remain open, curious and lean towards wonder, surprise, gratitude and occasional moments of awe, the way you see your life changes the life itself.
Join the quest here….
One of my regular stops during the week is in the weight room at my local gym. This is a place where I tap into true optimism about humanity. The best days of the week are usually the ones in which I start out early with my new strength- training workout, which I learned from the boys’ athletic trainer at our local high school. Partly, I am inspired by the ways in which, after just a few weeks, I can track my own progress and witness myself getting stronger in yoga, as well as daily activities like lifting two boxes at a time instead of one. But what is even more inspiring in the early morning hours at the gym is watching the wide range of other gym members, each of whom are leading themselves through challenging routines of weight lifting and arduous core workouts.
I am not sure if it is a primarily Western mentality that presumes that life will be easy and as an extension it will require little effort. In fact, we belittle work as an encumbrance, instead of recognizing it for the value it brings to who we become as people. This phenomenon is true in many places in life, but none so much as in the world of relating. For some odd reason, we have collectively never identified or taught the truth about the significant work involved in relating to each other. In both work and personal relationships, we are continuously shocked that relating successfully requires so much attention, patience and resilience.
Here’s the thing to know about love. Sometimes it feels great, like a sunny day in the Northwest after 26 days of rain; but sometimes it feels like the early stages of flu- unsettled, achy, and a loss of appetite. Okay, well maybe not as bad as the flu, but love lives can be irritating, like an insect bite that keeps itching. This is good to know about love because it allows you to have reasonable expectations, that love will not fix you or your life- it will keep you interested in life and if it is good, keep you honest and trying to be yourself.
It’s hard to believe, but this weekend the New York Times confirmed the news: More work time does not equal more productivity. In fact, taking regular naps, breaking up work time into shorter intervals and recharging your body and brain with real getaways is the long studied answer to increased productivity. This conclusion flies in the face of all of our beliefs about the hard work we have long been instructed as the requirement to get ahead.
It is only recently that I have given in to the need to rest. For me, there is no choice. My mind seems to shrink in proportion with my fatigue and I have given up the idea that there is anything to push through. So now I rest, I meditate, I doze and when I come back twenty minutes or even 40 minutes later, my ideas have collected themselves. I am fresh, my mind is clear, my thoughts are directed and I can complete the task in half the time that I had been struggling through the marsh of my tired mind.
I remember many years ago when I was deep into the juggling mothering phase of life with my four kids. Back then, I was the only driver and their lives were filled up with games, lessons and play dates. Sometimes I would wake in the early morning, anxiously trying to figure out how I could cross town and get 2 kids where they needed to go within the same hour. One of my oldest friends who was going through menopause at the time, called and shared with me her frustration with managing the details of life. She said, “I can’t even take care of a houseplant.” I couldn’t imagine this space in the midst of my multi-tasking, mind mapping kid chauffeur service.
When we feel broken inside, everything around us seems broken, too. The sense of being not enough- good enough, capable enough, kind enough, or loving enough, pervades every interaction. Judgments and storylines that uphold them are easy to grab onto, easier still to invent. In a ridiculous attempt to heal we chase the story like an animal chasing its own tail. We spin out of control the harder we try to make sense of the world outside of us.
Blind positivity is not really that positive. In fact, if there is any single overarching confusion about how positivity science works, it is in the mistaken belief that one should hold positive beliefs all the time, even when things are painful and challenging. This kind of positivity is related closely to the magical thinking that is promoted by trainers who psyche you up to walk on hot coals. The recent film “The Secret” works positivity in this vein as well, that thoughts are magical and just by saying them and repeating them you will get your wish granted.
I am trying to learn how to stop feeling my children’s feelings. Today at the end of a challenging basketball game, which our side lost, I was working vigilantly to bear witness to my daughter’s frustration without feeling it. When I mentioned that I was trying to stop feeling my daughter’s feelings to another mother, she said: “Good luck- let me know how that works for you…” I am not alone in this strange space, of allowing what other people feel to saturate you. It is a strange zone- this intense emotional sharing that happens in intimate connections.
To a large extent we are what we do every day. To an even larger extent, the human experience is a habitual one. This is why it isn’t that surprising that for the majority of us, even our thoughts are habitual. I have read that as much as 95% of our some 60,000 thoughts that fill our minds and shape the way we see the world are the same thoughts we had yesterday and the day before that. It takes a lot of energy and attention to think outside the box, especially our own box. Yet, most of us don’t even realize how stuck we are in old useless thought patterns that don’t serve us and even keep us from living the life we say we want.