Experimenting with growth

In working with clients I am always focused on supporting them in growing their capacity to do what they intend to do and show up how they intend to be in the world. And, like most coaches, I am also always exploring how I can grow my capacities to be the kind of coach and human being I want to be. There is no question that sudden, discontinuous shifts in our lives (a new job, an illness, the death of a close friend) can be catalysts for growth, as can a fantastic class, or an encounter with an inspiring leader. But in the day to day of life, how can we find opportunities to keep growing? And how can we do so in a way that feels safe and not too risky? My suggestion to clients (and myself!) is to try small experiments. One place I often experiment is on the yoga mat. Yoga is a great place to try things out—how long can I be in this pose-that-feels-like-it-will-kill-me? Can I do it for just one more breath? Can I find a way to hold the pain, discomfort or awkwardness for just one more moment? Yoga also has the benefit of being an embodied practice; I have to be in my body to do it, and I have found that insights which strike while on the mat often take root in my body. One of the poses that I have always “hated” is chair pose. I have pretty strong quads from biking and spinning, yet it is so hard for me to hold this pose. Recently I heard the teacher suggest a small adjustment, “can you squeeze your outer hips in a bit?” Um, what? Yes, I could, and—suddenly, the pose was a bit more stable, a bit more tolerable, a bit less going-to-kill-me. And in that moment, I grew. I grew my capacity to hold that pose. I grew my capacity to be more open to experimenting. I deepened my understanding of how to balance strength and stability. I proved to myself, once again, that change is possible. I realized I could stop being attached to my fixation on how awful chair pose is.

What small change have you made recently that led to growth? 




How does growth occur?

Recently I was at a short meditation retreat and one of the themes raised by the teacher was how practice can increase our capacity to “be with” our experience. I will admit to a bias toward wanting to grow my capacity to “be with” the biggest, most difficult things—otherwise, why bother?

This particular retreat, coming in January, means several retreatants showed up sniffling and coughing. Admittedly a bit of a hypochondriac, I briefly considered bailing on the whole thing. However, the retreat leader (an MD) talked me off my ledge, rightly pointing to my own fixation about germs, and also suggested that I wash my hands a lot and keep my hands off of my face. I had already been single-handedly consuming the retreat center’s Purell supply and redoubled those efforts. But then I also decided to make "not touching my face" an object of my practice. Could I do it? 

It’s hard, much harder than you think. I invite you to try it for one day, or even a few hours. Eyes itch, noses twitch, we imagine a crumb here or a piece of dirt there, and up go our hands to our faces way before we’ve had time to think. So for the remaining 2 days of the retreat, I made it my practice to notice this. The itch would start and I would first tell my hands to stay put. Then I would bring my full attention to the sensation. This is a common instruction in meditation, but not too often applied to an impulse that is so bothersome as a highly itchy itch. What I found time and time again is that as I surrounded the offending spot with all of my attention, the sensation changed. It wasn’t itchy any more, it was twinge-y, or ticklish, or painful. And then it just disappeared. Every single time. And what I noticed even in that short time is that I became more able to do this. It became easier. My capacity to hold space for the itch and resist the urge to respond to it increased.  

This is such a small example! But it illustrates how growth can and often does occur. Through making a very small shift in how we respond to something that is different from our habitual reactions, and doing so repeatedly, we can increase our capacity to act and be in a new way.

What small shifts have you made to support a change in your life lately? 

Now Arriving

Riding Amtrak from Philadelphia to DC this morning as I do at least once a week, I was in the middle of my morning meditation as we approached Wilmington. I love to meditate on the train because the physical sensation of the train moving provides an energetic dimension that I find supports being in the moment. This morning I experienced that even more intensely. “Now arriving, Wilmington,” the conductor announced, and I felt myself jolted back to NOW. I thought, NOW I am at Wilmington, this place, on this train, and this moment won’t ever happen again, in this way, in this life.

And I then thought, what if we were able to carry the sense of that “now arriving” to this moment with us at all times? What if we “arrived” squarely in this moment, this now, again, and again, with each fresh moment? What if we treasured that “now” instead of always looking back and ahead, fretting about what might have been, and planning ahead for what might be?