Finding My Feet

Finding My Feet

From the center of the room, she barks, “Find your feet!” She instructs us to root, firmly down, and to notice the four corners of our feet.  “Find them!” she commands.  I like her barking.  I appreciate it.  Her barking is the equivalent of a bitch-slapping, and this tough girl who has hand-crafted a protective 12-foot brick wall over a number of years of self-inflicted abuse sometimes finds herself in need of a good bitch-slapping to bring her back down to earth and to knock some of the bricks out of her wall.

So obediently, I listen, and I root down, and I find my feet.  “I found them!”  I want to scream and point to my feet to show teacher I’ve done a good job, but I’m a hot mess and doing so seems inappropriate in a 95 degree heated yoga studio full of 40-some other sweat-dripping aspiring yogis who are, just like me, trying to find their way—as well as their feet.

But what is all this talk about “finding your feet?” I mean, I get it…sorta…like the logical explanation…I get it—root down, stay grounded, know where you are, it’s okay to be exactly where you are yadda yadda yadda.

But have I ever felt my feet? Have I ever really felt them, actually supporting me and providing me with other enlightened yogi stuff like that?

Nope.

Not by a long shot.

I mean, I can see my feet, but I haven’t necessarily found them.

Basking in the sunlight of a Florida beach, I stood at the very edge of the shore. The temperature rising in my body, I sought the refreshing cooling therapy of the ocean. The once galloping and charging wave that commenced deeper in the ocean—far out from where a non-swimmer like me would venture– now quietly reached the shore and gently tickled at my feet.  The water spiraled around my toes before returning to the ocean and swiftly taking with her, sand from beneath my feet.

An uncomfortable feeling…

Having the sand swept out from underneath you…

And so I changed my position, having lifted my feet and moving to “higher ground” next to me, where the sand had re-leveled itself.

Ahhhh….much better….solid footing again…

Except it wasn’t solid footing at all.  The dissipated wave now returned, spiraling my toes again, and returning to the ocean again, and swiftly, deftly, taking with her, sand from beneath my feet. Again.

And so I’d move to higher ground.  Again.

Anything to avoid that uncomfortable feeling of what remained when the sand had been swept out from underneath me.

I looked down at my toes and took pause. Wait a minute, I thought, what if I just stay? What will happen if I allow the sand to be swept out from under me? What if I DON’T seek higher ground? What will happen if I just stay?

Where had I heard these questions before???

Cue the barking.

What would happen if I just stayed? What would happen if instead of seeking higher ground, I would find my feet? Would I lose balance? Fall over? Be washed into the vast ocean (which is a real and very scary threat to someone who never learned how to swim)?!?

The answer to all of those questions was clear:

Possibly.

Perhaps dangerously throwing caution to the wind, I said to myself well fuck it…let’s see what happens…

I recollected the commands of my insightful and valued yogi instructors…I rooted down…I noticed the four corners of my feet pressing down into the sand, the sand that would leave me as quickly as it had met me…

And I just stayed.

The sand had pulled away from my heels, leaving my feet in an upright, angled position.

An uncomfortable position.

And I stayed.

I weebled and wobbled.

And stayed.

Terribly inflexible, my feet angled this way caused some considerable pain…

Yet I stayed…

What will happen, I wondered, if I just stay here…if I stay here and just deal with the discomfort…if I just deal with the pain….what will happen?

Another dissipated wave came, and it too, swept even more sand out from underneath me, causing even further discomfort and further pain.

And I stayed.

I kept my feet there, but I re-positioned my hips, allowing one side to bear the brunt of my weight, and then shifting it to the other, allowing the other side to bear the similar burden of my bodyweight.

Hmmmm that’s not too bad. I’d discovered that re-positioning my body instead of removing my feet would deliver comfort, a different comfort than if I had removed my feet, but a comfort nevertheless.

Soon another dissipated wave came, over and over—you know the drill by now…but then I looked down at my feet again…

My toes were curling into the sand, gripping at the sand, clinging to it. Instead of trusting my re-positioning, my toes wanted to play anchor. They were gripping so tightly, eventually even cramping because I was hanging on so tight.

As quickly as I noticed my clinging…

“WHY ARE YOU GRIPPING? WHY ARE YOU CLINGING?!?” bark bark bark.

I let go.

And guess what?

I didn’t fall over.

Feeling encouraged by my new-found discovery and more confident, I wondered, what will happen if I go another 10 feet further into the ocean? Can I find my feet there, too? Can I stay? Can I find my anchor? Will I be able to root down? Can I allow myself to stop gripping? To stop clinging? Will I allow myself to let go?

Cautiously, I tip-toed further, and the waves grew more rapid and violent, stirring water around my shins this time.

The sand shifted. It came. It went.

And I stayed.

Over and over again, wave after wave,

And

I

Stayed.

And the most interesting thing happened after about fifteen minutes of just staying….and allowing for the discomfort…

The sand anchored my feet.  One might say the sand “buried” my feet, but this optimist would suggest that the sand now supported my feet, enveloping my ankles and holding me in such a way that I did not have to shift my weight from one hip to the other; instead, I was held by something greater and more powerful than myself.

I found my feet!

And bricks are being broken, and walls are falling down.

 

Re-frame: Classic Metal

It happens every semester.  At the end of it, our students are encouraged to fill out what’s called an SRTE– Student Rating of Teacher Effectiveness (at least I think that’s what it stands for! LOL!!!) They are asked a number of questions about how well they believe they were taught by their instructor or professor.  The results from all participating students are then calculated and we are given a ranking across a number of different criteria.  There are two “umbrella” type criteria– our overall effectiveness as a teacher (named “quality of instructor”) and an overall assertion of the quality of the course.  Rankings are from 1 to 7, with 1 meaning, essentially, that you suck, and 7 meaning you’re the world’s greatest thing since sliced bread.

Now I’m not one to brag, but my “quality of instructor” score usually runs in the high 6’s.  One semester, I even got a whole 7!

But then I’ll run through the rest of the criteria to see how I “performed” in other areas.  And invariably, every semester, there is at least one student who apparently hated my guts.  Because this student breezes through the SRTE and gives me “1’s” on every single criteria.  Over and over, this student is saying to me, “you suck, I hate you; you suck, I hate you.”

But the rest of the students apparently LOVE me, if my overall average ends up being in the high 6’s, right?  And I should be amped about that, right?

Wrong.

Nope.

Instead, I fixate.

…On that one student who hated my guts.  Who thought I was incompetent.  Who thought I was the worst teacher in all of Penn State’s history.

I’m not the only one who fixates.  My colleagues talk about the same fixation.

Why is this our human nature?  Why do we focus on the negative and fail to celebrate the positive?  What social constructs support this kind of negative thinking?  It is so counter-productive.  And destructive.

There IS power in positive thinking.

The executives at Disney World have this figured out.  When “guests,” not “customers,” inquire with “cast members,” not “employees,” about what time the park “closes,” cast members are instructed to say, “The park is open until 8:00.” Disney uses associative language and positively connotated word choices to convey a message that is more enticing and welcoming.

I’ve learned from grief that I cannot focus on the negative because it is the negative that eats me apart.  It drags me down and makes me sink.

And so I’m learning to re-frame everything.

Instead of focusing on what I’ve lost, I strive to focus on what I’ve gained.  I’ve gained a tribe of individuals who have loved me and supported me throughout this whole process.  I’ve gained an insatiable desire to live and to live life to its fullest.  I’ve gained the capability to love even more freely– and even harder– than I did before.  I don’t have anger in my heart.  Grief, loss, taught me all of that.  And I’m learning to step away from those negative thoughts that come in every now and again; the ones that tell me that having a happy life is just not in my cards.

I’m learning to re-frame my thinking.

G. comes from a world that is totally different than mine.  I tease him by saying that his world is “classical” and mine is “metal,” using music genres to compare our differences.  And previously, I was intimidated by his “classical” world.  Thought that the two could never mesh.  If our lives are so very different, how could it ever possibly work?   I’d fixate on that.  And to this point, there has been no evidence of it not being able to work, but when the mind fixates, it will search for the “proof” until it convinces itself that its found “solid evidence,” that indeed, it will not work.

Well that’s not so healthy, is it?  Seems pretty counter-productive for someone who really wants to live and live life to the fullest.

So I changed my thinking.  And instead of being “intimidated,” I am now seeing his classical world as an “adventure,” like going on safari or a scavenger hunt or an exploration!  I hope that he also sees my “metal” world as an adventure too!  This could be– and so far, has been– a really, really wild ride, like being at Disney!  And that charges me.  It gives me the freedom to believe that I, too, deserve to be happy in this new life.  It gives me “permission” to have fun, to simply enjoy life, and to let love in and to breathe love into everything I do.

There IS power in positive thinking.

Maybe that one student who hated my guts was just confused, thinking that 1s were equivalent to the “highest ranking” and 7s were indicative of the “lowest quality.”  Or maybe she/he was drunk/high/half asleep/ when filling it out. It is possible, you know.  After all, they are college kids.  Or maybe she/he never came to class and just doesn’t care about a stupid SRTE.  Or maybe she/he is just a bully and hates everyone.

Who cares?!?!

Re-frame it.

Believe it.

Live it.