Friday, November 11, 2016

Stay on the mat

Recently I finished reading "Love Warrior," a memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton. In it, she shared personal and relational struggles and the tough work of becoming whole. She wrote with such refreshing transparency. I feel like we could be friends. She shared how healing yoga was for her during a crisis period in her marriage. One day, however, she wandered into a 90 minute hot yoga class by mistake. She had almost made her exit when the instructor greeted her. Now, she was stuck. As everyone went around the room stating their intentions for the practice, you know, stuff like, "I want to be one with myself," or "I want to illuminate love and light," etc., she had something else in mind. When the teacher asked her what she hoped to gain, she kept it 100: "I'm just going to try to get through whatever is about to happen, stay on the mat, and not run out of here." Yep. Totally my kind of woman.

Throughout the rest of her yoga session as well as the book she kept returning to that metaphor. Stay on the mat. It came to mean doing the hard work and not squirming out of it. It meant staying present when tough feelings emerged. It meant remaining grounded in a difficult conversation or emotional moment, rather than checking out, shutting down, or hiding behind your walls. I simultaneously love and hate everything about that. I know intuitively that it's necessary for a healthy relationship with ourselves and others. It's also incredibly uncomfortable and even painful.

I've been reminded of that metaphor all week because this election has been intensely emotional for both sides. Maybe even the mention of the presidential election causes you to tense up and brace yourself for whatever will be said next. But the mere facts that our nation is polarized and the reactions are so visceral speak volumes to the importance of this work- the work of staying on the mat. Try it with me today. I know it's going to be hard, but all you really have to do is breathe, stay present, and stay open. When someone you respect reveals a deeply held belief that opposes yours, stay on the mat. When everything in you wants to rage, wail, or numb your emotions altogether, stay on the mat. When you feel hurt, misunderstood, and invalidated, stay on the mat. Stay present. Stay open. Stay loving. Most of all, just breathe. Now, what if we all did that? I know it's a tall order. Sometimes it's not wise or safe to be that vulnerable with some. But you can at least give it a try with those you truly love. Next time it gets heated and feels hard, remember this. You are a warrior and you can endure. Don't punk out. Stay on the mat.











Thursday, November 3, 2016

Bougie discomfort

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a client. She is a therapist in training, so in addition to discussing her personal concerns, we usually end up chatting about psychology concepts. You know, because we're cool like that. Anyway, in our last session, she introduced me to a mindfulness practice called bourgeois discomfort. Since I like to colloquial term "bougie" a little better that's what I'll use.

Basically, bougie discomfort is a way of training yourself to cope with unpleasant situations. For instance, if the temperature is not to your liking, rather than rushing to turn on the heat or the AC unit, just sit with it for a while without frantically trying to change it. Another example might be to sit in an uncomfortable position for a short period of time. Sit. Breathe. Notice the discomfort and notice that it either lessens or you just adapt to it.

I practiced this a little during my birthday travels. Most of my trip was spent in the middle seat on the plane and in a cramped back seat of a car. I also had a different eating schedule than I'm used to, so I got to practice whenever I felt hungry or slightly nauseated. I was never in pain or facing any harm, of course. In fact, I imagine it's called bougie discomfort because you're not facing real suffering. You are just practicing being a little less comfortable than usual, definitely good practice for people with first world problems. The hope is that as you learn to adapt to different uncomfortable conditions, then you're better able to cope when things actually get real.

Give it a try. How can you offend your bougie sensibilities today? Can you sit through a boring meeting? Can you breathe through a traffic jam? Can you hold that plank position a few seconds longer? Can you settle into a sensation without rushing to fix or change it? I bet you'll find you can withstand way more than you realize. That, or you'll realize, at least in some cases, the things we desperately try to avoid maybe aren't so bad after all.