Breaking through the clouds

I have read and reread a vivid metaphor for many years now that has played a substantial role in my journey through life. It is about an eagle, attempting to reach her home in the midst of a terrible storm. The sky is painted dark, clouds are black and thunder and lightening surround her as she fights to stay aflight. As she flies she becomes exhausted and even confused, fighting to keep her flight path, being dashed about and pummeled by rain and wind this way and that, attempting to “sweep away the clouds” with her wings. The author graphically describes how she “awakens the doves… with her wild cries and vain endeavors to find a way out…” The story concludes with the eagle finally dashing upward, with all her might, into blackness and valiantly breaking through the clouds, finding herself above the storm and then “all is light”. That final scene is etched in my mind, and I replay it over and over, often with chills up and down my spine. Such a powerful depiction of a battle well fought.

Out for a run earlier this morning I was growing tired, finding myself wanting to slow down, perhaps even walk for a bit. I have been stepping up my mileage and my pace over the past couple of months and some days that is more exhilarating and enticing than others. Today as I was pushing myself rather hard, that little eagle came to my mind, seemingly out of nowhere. All i could think about was this little eagle, flying through a raging storm, beaten down, wet, confused, exhausted, yet flying with all her might. I could visualize the entire scene in my mind, I could hear hear screeching and see her straining with everything she had. I could sense the darkness and the cold and the desire to be in a safer, calmer space. Then the moment arrives, when she gives it all she has and with one final gust, she emerges through the clouds. Hard not to be inspired. To want to push through. To keep fighting.

The effort. The struggle. The fight. Sheer exhaustion. I cannot help but resonate with that. It seems that life is never short of providing us ways to practice building stamina, endurance and will power to push through. I have experienced many moments in my life where I simply did not feel I had it in me to keep going. I see a similar battle in my clients that I sit with from week to week. I hear their stories, see their emotion, sense their drive and admire their courage. A battle is not won by hiding. A battle is won by showing up and using all you’ve got to give, and not stopping until it’s over.

Many people say that “it is in your blood” or “you either have it or you don’t” when they talk about courage, will power, drive and sheer determination. Perhaps there is some truth to that. But I tend to believe that if we were not simply gifted with such qualities, we can certainly seek them out, learn them, even obtain them. Perhaps grow to become them…

I believe that we as human beings are capable of change. We are capable of growth. We are certainly capable of being motivated, inspired. So my question becomes; how does one share the power and possibility of breaking through the clouds with one who is still in the storm? How does one practice their way through life in such a way that renders one ready and willing to stay the course when the storm begins to rage? How do we as connection driven beings, assist one another in the plight… of life?

The following link provides a powerful reminder of how each and every one of us are seeking to feel we are not alone, that we are somehow seen, heard, even cared for by another being. That someone not only sympathizes with us, but actually gets it, feels it, sits with us in it. Brene Brown did a fabulous voiceover for this little cartoon, in which she describes the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Dr. Dan Siegel, neuropsychiatrist and researcher uses the phrase “feeling felt” in his body of work around interpersonal neurobiology, a fancy way of describing how people connect and why. Feeling felt provides an almost sacred word picture for me, as i contemplate the actual internal feeling I get when the person I am with seems to get what i’m saying or what i’m going through or where i’m coming from. It is so powerful, perhaps even softening to ones soul…. to feel seen, heard, felt, for who you really truly are at the core of you.

It is a rarity however, and a feeling that many people have never experienced. Most often we walk around feeling very isolated and alone, even misunderstood or actively judged, for not being enough… smart enough, pretty enough, athletic enough, intelligent enough, fast enough, creative enough… you name it, we mostly feel inadequate and not only judged by others, but often times judging ourselves against how we feel others see us. It can be debilitating if we do not find a pathway through it, that allows us to create a buffer. Buffer against the storm, buffer against others judgments, buffer against our own feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt.

In therapy, we often use the phrase “grounding”. We are referring to a technique that is used to help those of us who become overly anxious, unstable in mood, “flighty”, or disconnected from self or others. The concept behind grounding is actually quite simple; soothe the anxiety, fears and instabilities that cause the person to feel out of control or distant from the present moment. Quite literally it means to root or ground the person to the earth beneath their feet.

We utilize meditation, often guided meditation to bring the focus of the individual to the present moment. An example would be to focus on the chair one is sitting on, how it feels beneath you, supporting you, holding you up from falling. Another example would be to imagine yourself flying through the air like a kite, and to feel the gentle tug of the string as you are being guided back in for landing. The concept behind the technique is focus. Where one’s focus lies, has a great deal to do with one’s perspective on life, and the individual moments that make up the larger picture of the journey.

This concept of grounding seems to come into play as I think about the eagle desperately flying through the storm and eventually breaking through the clouds to the sunshine above. Perhaps if one can find a way to sense the solid ground beneath ones feet, when we feel the world around us crashing down or swirling up… Perhaps if we could shift focus, see the strength we possess and even the purpose beyond the present moment pain.  Maybe we could connect with a larger picture, even when everything seems to be falling apart. Perhaps if one could reach out and connect with another being when loneliness threatens to engulf… One could find strength to stay aflight amidst the storm.

Perhaps even break through the clouds.

Relaxation is an Action

DSC_0639_2Laying in savasana (final relaxation) during the ending of a yoga class this week, I heard the instructor make the statement “relaxation is an action”. This may not stand out to you or be obvious for most people, but for my busy and nonlinear mind, I had never thought of relaxation in this way. I was rather dumbfounded really, thinking to myself, how have i never recognized that action that is involved in relaxing?

I have never been someone for whom relaxation came naturally… in fact I can remember as far back as my early childhood, hearing my mother say to me “just relax” and “you should relax a little”. In reality I still hear these phrases from those who love me and know me most… and even still, relaxation is not natural for me, nor do I always connect with the overall purpose of such an act. I seem to much prefer go-go-go and do-do-do. To the point of my own detriment…

So now, here I sit pondering this new reality, of relaxation being an action, and suddenly it has come to life in a whole new way,  in a way that I can far better understand and grasp, and maybe even begin to utilize in my busied little world. Because “relax” is something I can now “do”. If that makes sense to anyone but me….

I’m going to break it down, for myself.

Action, according to the dictionary is a

Noun: meaning
  1. The fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim
  2. The way in which something such as a chemical has an effect or influence.

What this says to my “monkey mind” (a description for busy/cluttered minds we like to use in yoga) is that in order to relax or to choose to participate in relaxation, there is a process for doing such an act… and additionally there is some sort of intention or purpose to acting in such a way. Could it be that relaxation or the act of relaxing actually has a higher purpose than being “lazy” or “idle” as we have come to understand in our culture? Could it be that relaxation has a purpose and in fact in a significant place in our lives, outside of vacation?

In our culture of “on the move”, “always productive”, “must accomplish”, “better be growing”, “don’t stop till you drop” mentality, it’s like we need permission or some form of concrete evidence based facts to support a need for such a relaxation, because otherwise we look at it as weak and lazy or stagnant and in many other derogatory ways.

I loved the way the second line definition commented on how a chemical has an effect or influence…. we now know so much more about the impacts of stress and being hurried all the time, on the physical body, and we are beginning to understand the science behind relaxation and meditation as well.

Jack Kornfield has really helped pave the way for us in coming to understand the overall benefit and long-term impacts of meditation/relaxation. Because of his ongoing research and steady practice in both teaching and living an intentional, meditative life, we have learned that we can actually change the way we think and the way we behave through practicing meditation or mindfulness on a regular basis.

This happens to be incredibly encouraging to me, to know that I have the ability to change and that I can choose to act in a way that promotes and encourages relaxation- which I am coming to a new understanding of its positive impact on overall function and living a purpose filled, intentional life.

So what is the take away? An action is an intentional, purpose filled process with a specific aim in mind… Our actions can be chaotic and fragmented, busied and even bored, or they could equally become intentional, deliberate and organized in order to promote more authentic ways of living out our day to days, connected to something beyond just go-go-go, do-do-do.

Stress creates a whole host of chemical reactions throughout the body, washing over our minds and bodies… you can research what that means and how that impacts health on your own time. But know that just as stress creates chemicals to wash over the body, meditation, relaxation and mindfulness also create a host of chemicals to wash over the body and mind and their impact is significant for long-term health and well-being.

So today, I am choosing to not only create stillness and quiet in my day, but to sit calmly in mindful relaxation, to change the way I live my life for the better, even one minute at a time.

May you find the intention and motivation to do the same.