During a session I had with a holistic practitioner a few months ago, she pointed out how often I use the word ‘try’ in conversation. It was eye opening; over a year ago I had made a conscious effort to eliminate it from my text and email replies, noticing how flaky and non-committal it sounded. ‘I’ll try to make it!’ ‘I’ll try and get that done by Friday!.’ I may just as well have said ‘Sorry, I know I won’t make it/get it done.’ But I was oblivious to how much I was still using it in verbal conversation, particularly when talking about myself and my poor habits: ‘I’m trying to drink more water,’ ‘I’m trying to get organized,’ ‘I’m trying to eat more greens,’ and so on.
When I think about ‘trying’ to do something, I picture either attempting something & failing, using a lot of effort or working really hard and never actually achieving the desired outcome. I realized I was ‘trying’ (and failing miserably) to control certain aspects of my life, instead of just ‘being.’
The impact of words on the subconscious mind is quite fascinating. In fact it’s a big part of my practice & how I cue clients in breathing and movement awareness. The verb I choose to convey an action can be the difference between the client using the correct muscle group to create proper alignment and stabilization, or over-compressing the joint and pulling it out of alignment by using a different muscle group altogether.
If you picture the words soften, lengthen, float, melt in relation to your ribcage, and then think about the words flex, connect, brace, contract, you should be able to feel the power words have on your mind and body.
I practice Qigong weekly with our practitioner Jeanne Steen. Qigong is a gentle moving meditation that promotes the flow of qi (or life force energy) by ‘allowing’ the qi to create the movement. For the first few months I struggled to get my brain to grasp what that really meant, and translate it into how I moved my body. Then one day I had an epiphany during class about how to ‘allow movement’ instead of ‘creating it.’ Over several years I have trained in Strain Counterstrain techniques and as an Integrative Movement Specialist. In both the focus is on very precise joint positioning to reduce nervous system firing, which in turn reduces tightness & pain. So I decided to apply some of this knowledge to my Qigong practice.
Rather than focusing on my shoulders and hips as my arms and legs moved, I put my attention on creating the right conditions for movement in my body. I visualized space between my vertebrae to create length, decompression and stability in my spine and I spread my planted foot and toes to create a stable base for a one legged stance. Once the conditions were set, I let go of everything else and thought about floating my other foot off the ground. I found this allowed my hip flexors to just do their job (instead of concentrating on the alignment of my hip and choosing which muscles I thought should be working the most). The resulting leg lift was effortless and I felt completely stable with no compression in my low back. The qi did it! Or that’s how it felt at least, as if it had just floated into the air.
From that one leg lift I learned that if I just stay present in my body and focus on creating the space to allow movement to happen (instead of sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong and trying to control how my subconscious mind wants to lift my leg), there is a lot less effort required and things turn out just right. Of course maintaining that level of mindfulness every time we lift our leg is a challenge, and it doesn’t just start to happen that way once we figure it out, but the goal is for it to happen more frequently with practice.
This realization has also translated into reducing effort in other areas of my life. I often try to control all aspects of a situation, like an Olympic Curling Athlete, furiously micromanaging the melting of the ice to make things go exactly the way I want them to. But if I just focus on creating the space (or framework) for a successful outcome and then step back to allow what I put in place to unfold, things tend to happen organically.
Two other emotional habits that can also really mess up the art of allowing things into your life are worry and attachment, particularly attachment to an outcome.
I remember learning a bite-sized lesson in letting go of attachments one day at a restaurant in the suburbs several years ago. My young niece was messing around and knocked my bag onto the ground, breaking in two a prized possession of mine that had been attached to my bag for several years. It was an eye of protection stone, given to me by a good friend after her travels, to protect me from negative people. My niece saw the heartbreak on my face and immediately began to cry. In that moment I had to make a decision about what was more important: an inanimate object, or consoling my grief stricken niece.
I could have chosen to create continued suffering around losing something irreplaceable, but instead I allowed myself to be sad for a bit, and then just let it go. What good would that suffering do? It wouldn’t bring back the stone. Since that day I’ve found it much easier not to hold material possessions in such high regard.
Years of renovation on my 100 year old building and the opening build out of Tribe have also taught me to let go of the need for (or attachment to) perfection. In the early days of renovating my home I would stare at all the century old nail holes, water stains and gaps in the wood and obsess over it. After living with them for 15 years I don’t give them a second thought anymore. Instead I choose to enjoy the beauty of the wood that has withstood the test of time.
I still have a tendency to stare at the pipes under the wall mount bathroom sinks at Tribe in utter disgust sometimes, which I notice happens on days when I am feeling a little off my game or stressed about something else. But I have learned to move on. In the grand scheme of things some ugly U-pipes are insignificant compared to the zillion other issues humanity faces on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean of course that I don’t have a plan in place to box in the pipes. I now just ‘allow’ the pipes to sit there in their ugliness until that day arrives.
As for attachment to an outcome and worry, I could say that I’ve been ‘trying’ to give them up, but I won’t. Lets just say they’re a work in progress. I’ll have to get back to you on them...
If you interested in trying some of the modalities that have helped me through this process of learning to let go and allow more, Jeanne teaches QiGong 3 times per week and the first class is free. Hypnotherapy, offered by our practitioner Karen has been invaluable in taking control of the annoying little voice in my head (like someone who won't stop talking during a movie). I have learned how to politely ask it to pipe down. #talktothehand