Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Your mind is a rubber band.

I had a bit of an epiphany last night as I was laying in bed falling asleep. This post is about riding the emotional roller coaster. I believe to some extent that that roller coaster is not only good, but necessary. I also believe that we tend to do one of two things: indulge in it or ignore it all together, neither of which is healthy.

In yoga, Bikram particularly, we learn that our bodies are different every day, and that that is okay. More than okay, that is the nature of the body. If we come to class expecting to get ahead of where we were yesterday every single time, we will meet resistance, suffer emotional disappointment, and be further away from our ability to improve and get to our "ultimate goal" (although yoga continually evolves, so there really should be no stopping point. The depth is bottomless.)

This is the irony of western mindset in this practice. To improve, part of your job is to give 100% effort at your place of benefit on that particular day. If you insist on pushing further you may either hurt yourself or impede your progress by over stretching, causing the body to guard, tear, or tighten the next day.

I believe our minds are like that, as well. We have a plan for how we would like our days in general to go, emotionally. Ideally, we'd like to be continually improving in our ability to move though our day with equanimity, handling whatever comes up, and staying in a mental place that allows us to constantly improve our performance at whatever we are endeavoring to do, whether that's writing, balancing a budget, leveraging a buyout or skiing bumps.

But just like our bodies will tighten to loosen in response to our day, our stimulus and our environment, and, over a time, improve in the overall if we are disciplined enough to meet the body where it needs to be met every single time, and then at that place give 100% effort but no more, so do our minds.

The mind needs to have space to run the emotional gamut. And sometimes, we need to step back and watch as emotions run through it. Compassion for that place is not capitulation. Compassion for that place is meeting the mind where it needs to be met so it can process the stresses and inputs of the day. You may have plans for how you, your body, your mind, your wants and your plans should move forward (next run we will be focused, centered, and non judgmental so we can ski better), but if the mind has not caught up to that place because it is still filtering the input from a cumulative effect of hard training and feedback over the course of five days or so, you may not have the run you want, expect and plan to have.

The mind may need to work through self doubt, judgement and quantitative properties, whether you want it to or not. How you allow it to do this will dictate how fast you come back to a place of calm. Letting the mind express those thoughts, observing them, and then letting them pass through you like water through a sieve, or coming up with alternative conversation to the doubt you are hearing about your ability to perform, or your worth, or the worth of your endeavor will help Refocus the mind on the task at hand.

Trying to deny the mind this process would be like sitting on an over stuffed suitcase to get it to close. Eventually, the pressure inside will be too much for the latch, and the whole thing will fail. Now you have a big new mess to clean up and you need a whole new suitcase, you have ruined this one.

Working through this place is important and difficult, because we all wish we didn't have to be here. We all wish we could avoid conflict, especially internal conflict. We are eager to get back to that place where we felt control, and not eager to look in the mirror and watch what ever needs to happen, happen.

I'm talking about taking a moment to let your mind process and catch up, meeting your mind where it needs to be met, with compassion and patience. Observing the process with curiosity while you continue to work. Mindfully changing up the rhythm of the day to ease rather than add to the stress, while still asking the mind to perform.

Giving up and walking away isn't the solution. But a coffee break and some laughter with a friend might be. Allowing yourself to go in to full blown crisis may not be helpful. Training yourself to function while processing is a good thing, it gives depth to discipline. But do it with compassion.

Having a good, stout cry for a few minutes in private can be relieving. Recognizing when you are in over your head and you need advice or a good stout cry on the shoulder of a friend is beneficial as well. Recognizing when you are abdicating your responsibility by dumping your problems on a friend, or allowing yourself to go into crisis because you pushed things down for so long that they are blowing up, or going into crisis so you can make sure that you have friends who love you when you are in a place of self doubt is selfish and destructive, the middle path is quieter, calmer, and will lead you out of this.

observe the process gently so that it is truly a relieving pressure valve and process rather than a pity party. The first has merit for meeting the mind so it can spring back and move forward, the second mires you deeper into misery.

just like in yoga, pay mindful attention to your place of benefit. Check your alignment. Move with compassion. Ask more of yourself, observe the results, back off as necessary, make sure you are able to breathe long and slow through the effort. If you can't, reevaluate your place of benefit. With this mindful approach, your mind will snap back into a place of deep performance faster, healthier and open to process more. With a head down charge forward mindset, you will go only as far as you can until you cause harm, and then you will either stop all together, or spend a long time rehabilitating an injury.

As you deepen your practice, you will find that you rebound back and have greater depth and capacity for work, creativity and discipline with each willingness. Your mind is working like the rubber band that it is, you are going to your place of benefit and growing into yourself. Congratulations!

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