It’s not always the sunny side

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If there’s a problem, how do I deal with it?  Well, first I see if there’s a way I can work things out by changing my perspective.  A lot of the time, this clears things right up.  Say I’m not really happy with the long break I have between classes.  I guess I could talk to my manager about a change in the schedule or give up a class but what if I change my perspective on the matter so I can look forward to spending that 1.25 hour stretch reading!!!  All of a sudden, the inconvenience of not being able to go home or schedule a client becomes a boon and I get a whole 1.25 hours to read in quiet, away from the distractions of my house every Monday and Wednesday.  No action needed.  Just the quick perspective switcho-chango and I’m happy again.  Swim lessons got you down? Perhaps sitting outside at the Y, in the heat, after a long day of teaching and reading for 1.25 hours doesn’t sound that good and part of me would really like to cancel swim lessons for the girls this month.  Not so fast.  After all, it’s only one month and lessons are useful and won’t you just love all of this vitamin-d you’ll be getting while you sweat it out by the pool?  Taa-daa. Problem solved.  Do something about it? Naaah.  No need! Now I’m just fine.

In some areas of my life, I have a tendency toward inaction and it operates alongside the well known human desire to avoid discomfort.  The inaction seems to swirl around with anything that might leave me feeling less likable and the desire to avoid a particular discomfort that comes from confronting an issue, a person or the reality of change.  For this perspective-changing approach to be “successful”, I have to know about the workings of my mind and how to shift it.   It’s no surprise that I dedicate a lot of time to considering how my mind responds to a situation that is giving me trouble. Yoga, therapy, writing, and meditation give me the opportunity to study and alter responses to my thoughts as they come up.  I guess the idea is that these practices become tools that help one to have a stable mind and then be able to see clearly.  Sometimes these practices help me make good decisions that come from a deep and centered place.  But here’s the flash I had:  In this very specific arena, I have been using these tools to see how I react and then to shift my reaction so that I don’t freak out, don’t have to do anything, and can avoid the unpleasant business of discussions, change, or inconveniencing other people by doing something for myself.  Ugh.  Whoever thought yoga could be my crutch?

I’d like to relate this to what happens in the body.  You do a yoga pose and your knee feels strained.  You might think, “Oh, it’s not that bad.  I can totally handle this level of strain.  It’s just a little bit of pain.” Breathe deeply, calm the pounding heart.  Mind over matter, right? It’s a harmless little shift in perspective.  Your mind overrides that information that is coming in through nerves in the knee and you keep going with your practice.  The sequence builds, knee sensation gets more intense, you keep on with that breathing thing and inappropriately apply more weight to the knee.  One or two injuries later you might see that registering the information just to see if you could handle it wasn’t actually the point.  The sensation is useful information to guide you to appropriate action.  Appropriate action is to do something different so the freakin’ knee doesn’t hurt.

Being flexible is nice.  Seeing the sunny side can have it’s perks.  But using this flexibility and the understanding of how my mind works to skillfully eschew discomfort and avoid right action isn’t working out so well.  I only thought about changing my schedule for two minutes before I abandoned that plan and went toward inaction. I could have postponed swim lessons until school is out and our family schedule settles down, but I didn’t think of it.  I don’t really give myself time to consider what action to take because I just go right to, “How can I change my attitude to make this work?”  This attitude-adjusting seeps into my relationships and I have the tendency to accommodate stuff that isn’t what I want in order to avoid conflict. No es bueno.  There are times when it is appropriate to act.  We need awareness to know how to find clarity and we need clarity to know what right action to take.  Then, I guess we also need to cultivate the resolve to just do it.

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13 thoughts on “It’s not always the sunny side

  1. Maybe I’ve said this before, but I try to work with reactivity. I try to see a reaction right in the beginning before it evolves enough to have a name. I receive some data and a mindless reaction begins, and if I catch it I have a chance of being mindful. But it happens quickly. And if I’m not paying attention, then I’m in the story before I know it. Really good post, as always. Thanks, Amanda.

    1. I really appreciate this practice you describe of pausing and noticing a reaction. I guess I’m a little discouraged lately because it seems like I’m trying to do something like that, but the particular way I try to be mindful has become habit. This reminds me of what T.K.V. Desikachar says– ‘Your yoga practice always has to be a little more clever than your habits.’ So it does 🙂

      1. Yikes! Mindfulness becomes just another samskara! Okay. New practice. Next time I catch mindfulness becoming a rut, I’m going to look at it and say… Well, that’s amusing. We’ll out-clever this yet!

  2. another lovely, thoughtful post. dunno if it seems too far off point, but it made me think of that quote from maslow – ‘if you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.’ i guess we all have lots of tools – knowing when to use them, or finding the motivation or courage to use the ones we don’t like so much – is the trick.

    1. Ann, you’re right on with that Maslow quote. It cracks me up whenever I hear it because it’s so true. There’s a sutra that speaks to this, too…can’t think of which one at the moment, but it says that no quality is inherently good or bad. It can be helpful or unhelpful depending on the situation. I’ll look it up and get back to you.

  3. Love this, Absolutely agree as well! For me a lot of yoga & meditation, though it stems from a place of acceptance, it also helps to empower more skillful action. Not easy stuff but worth the effort 🙂

  4. Great post 🙂
    I think sometimes, there isn’t one right answer, only possibilities. I had this simple decision to make recently: am I going to bring lemon balm to the tea area (an act of loving kindness to the other yogis) or am I going to do it tomorrow (and take the opportunity to explore some issues around boundaries)? Because I was on a meditation work retreat I took a long time to think it through. In ‘normal’ life it would have been a two minute thought, or less. Eventually I realised that both options lead to interesting self-exploration. It just depends on which aspects of my Self I want to explore at the present moment.
    🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing this decision-related experience. I like how open-ended and exploratory the whole thing felt for you and think it’s great that you were in a situation (med retreat, awesome!) that allowed you to take the time to do that exploring. Reading your story helps me to realize that I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to make the right decisions *quickly* right now– as if there’s some expiration buzzer about to go off. But there isn’t. And the pressure just makes me less certain and cranky.

  5. The question remains for me as to what if you are at the receiving end of that inability to take action or communication in order to avoid the discomfort that conflict brings?

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