One of my now-favorite yoga instructors leads her students through a series of poses several times at the beginning of each class, both by demonstration and verbal cueing, and then falls silent as she continues to move through the sequence without calling out the poses as we go forward. At intervals, she reminds us, “Trust your body. You know the way.”
At first, I would become confused about which pose to do next without her spoken directions, and found myself constantly checking to see if I was doing the same pose as she was (which sometimes involved awkwardly craning my neck and twisting my body to observe her next move. Yes, I did fall over a few times. This is less painful than falling off a horse but no less embarrassing). Over time, however, I began to trust my muscle memory, realizing that after a few passes through the sequence, my body truly did “know the way.” I could close my eyes and allow myself to flow through the series from one pose to the next without having to constantly glance over at the instructor.
I also accepted that sometimes I was out of sequence or off the pace but that this really didn’t matter so long as I was matching my breath to my movements and staying centered and grounded in my own practice of being mindfully present in my own body and in my own space on my yoga mat.
Something about this phrase “you know the way,” caught my attention early on and kept me coming back to her class despite the initial awkwardness involved in her lack of cueing (I am a rule follower and want to “get things right.”)
As a young immigrant with Dutch parents, I often found myself ignorant of the customs, idioms, and cultural knowledge that my American peers took for granted. Halloween was a mystery (but a fun one. Who can beat the combination of costumes and candy?) We opened presents on the 5th of December (Sinterklaas) instead of the 25th. We put mayonnaise on our French Fries and chocolate sprinkles on our sandwiches (both are delicious, by the way). I often found myself looking around to see how others were behaving, speaking, or dressing to try to fit in and not inadvertently relegate myself to social Siberia.
In other words, I did not learn to trust myself to “know the way.” Developing an eating disorder early in life further disrupted my ability to listen to and trust my body or my brain. It has taken me years of healing and recovery to discover that I can know what I need and want and have enough value to take steps to seek for those needs and wants to be met.
Many of us are finding that we currently do not “know the way” forward due to conflicting information and differing opinions on how and even whether to re-open the economy and resume activities previously banned due to the coronavirus restrictions. People are passionately divided over how to best pursue safety and sanity during these uncertain times. The news coverage is full of angry confrontations between those with conflicting belief systems. The confusion, chaos, and lack of clear direction can lead us to feelings of overwhelm, hopelessness, powerless, and even despair. No matter where you land in this ongoing debate about the collective good vs. individual rights and freedoms, however, there are certain principles that can help us “know the way” during this challenging time:
Compassion for ourselves and others. Chronic stress can overwhelm our coping mechanisms and cause us to behave and speak in ways we normally wouldn’t. Be quick to apologize and quick to forgive both ourselves and others.
Kindness towards ourselves and others. Now, more than ever, we need to have patience and grace as we all struggle to adjust to a new normal that we don’t always understand how to navigate successfully.
Patience towards ourselves and others. Learning new skills and alternate ways of doing tasks takes time. We learn everything new by trial and error, from walking to multiplication to riding a bicycle. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Learning to ask for help and to laugh at ourselves can help defuse a potentially frustrating or defeating situation.
Acceptance of ourselves, others, and our new circumstances. Acceptance is sometimes mistaken for liking or wanting or being “ok” with someone or something. Actually, acceptance is simply acknowledging that the current situation “is what it is.” It doesn’t mean we like it or want it that way, just that it is that way. Until we accept that something is currently true, we cannot put any energy or attention towards trying to make any changes, because all of our energy is being channeled into defense mechanisms like denial, or minimization, or avoidance (my three favorites, personally). Only once we accept, or acknowledge a problem, can we begin to consider ways to tackle it and make things better. This extends to accepting ourselves, as we currently are, and others as well. Acceptance is not resignation. It is the beginning of empowerment for change.
I had to learn to stop looking around to see what everyone else was doing in order to fit in. I realized my nervous system was designed to keep me safe and help me make decisions and take actions congruent with my own values, beliefs, needs, and wants. While it is important to consult trusted sources for guidance in areas outside of our area of expertise, is it also important to check in with yourself to see what feels right for your particular wiring, personality, moral compass, and situation, as well as considering your emotional, mental and physical capacity.
Turn off the news, find a quiet place, close your eyes, and check-in with yourself (and your Higher Power if this is part of your belief system). Don’t just look outward. Look inward. You know the way.
Kathleen Choe is an LPC-S and NL Trainer. Learn more with her at the Natural Lifemanship Conference, Interconnected 2020!