Friday, March 22, 2013

The Stories We Tell

As I mentioned in the last post (quite some time ago), there are certain ideas that seem to follow us everywhere. I have been trying to think of what to write for this post for awhile. I have been traveling, and the main reason for the travel was to attend the 6th World Congress on International Children's Rights and Family Law in Sydney, Australia. There is a follow-up conference specifically dedicated to children's views in Auckland on Monday (NZ time). It is no secret I love conferences, but I felt like I had run out of things to say about them, especially considering I was not teaching yoga at this one.

But then the answers came, as they tend to do. Generally speaking, when I travel, I am one of those people who wakes up early and gets out of the hostel before most sights are even open. I prefer to walk cities, partially to save money, but really, so I can see everything there is to see. I am one of those people who attends conferences from morning until the close of the day and hates being late to sessions, let alone missing them. (That might be because I have been the final presenter on more than one occasion, and I like when people stay for my presentation, but I actually think it has more to do with wanting to gain everything I can from my time there.) That has always been my story about my travel and conference experience, and I wanted that to be my story on this trip.

So what does this have to do with this blog? That story is nothing like what I experienced this time. My story had to change. And the universe has been feeding me information about stories and their effects on us all week long.

First, there was this TED talk called "The Danger of a Single Story." I have watched a lot of TED talks while I have been here because I have hurt too much to see the sights and been too exhausted to do too much work (though I have, of course, done some). Then there was this blog post about whether we listen to our body's stories or our mind's stories. And then I saw that one of the first Western-recognized African storytellers, Chinua Achebe, had died, and I read a wonderful tribute to him here (full disclosure - a dear friend of mine writes that blog). And of course, there is yet another yoga teacher sex scandal involving none other than Mr. Bikram himself, sort of the antithesis of the popular view of yoga, but sadly becoming more and more common.

It seemed the universe wanted me to look at the stories I have been telling myself. Lawyers are taught that stories are our bread and butter. Stories are how we win cases. If we cannot tell a compelling story, we cannot make our clients human enough for the court, or in many cases, the jury. Stories are what I love about conferences as well. I have my story of the work I do, but it is through conferences, particularly international conferences, where we can expand our stories. We can learn from one another and see the work we do from different perspectives. We can learn from one another and begin to do our work with more focus on the fuller picture. I cannot say full picture because I am not sure we ever get that, but expanding our stories brings us a fuller picture. In some ways, we can learn to improve what we do, and in others, we can actually learn that what we do is pretty good. But we can never know which it is going to be until we hear the stories from everyone involved.

And this is what we learn on the yoga mat. In the yoga blog post linked above, the author talks about listening to her body instead of her mind. It is when she listens to her body that she makes decisions she does not regret. I have written before about learning to trust the body and not the mind, but I think it always bears repeating. We live in a society focused almost exclusively on listening to our minds. Our minds often tell us what we "should" do, not what will actually help us in the long run or even the short run. But how do we learn to listen to our bodies? As a yoga teacher, for years, I thought it was about quieting the mind long enough, and the body would give us easy answers. Most yoga traditions are focused on quieting the mind. While asana is the physical part of the practice, listening to our bodies is not only about listening to our bodies. It is really about listening to our intuition as opposed to what the mind wants us to hear. It is just that our bodies are often the medium through which our intuition comes to us when we are on the mat. Thus, listening to our bodies is a metaphor for listening to the deeper, and fuller, story of our lives.

That is, however, much easier said than done. Sometimes the answers come immediately. We have all had those experiences where we just know we have to do something. But sometimes when we want the answers the most, it is when they are least likely to come. And that, perhaps unfortunately, is when the mind goes into overdrive. It tries to examine all the possibilities. It listens to all the advice there is. And of course that advice is often contradictory. Psychologists who work with children often say that if we do not tell children the truth about what is happening in their lives, the story they make up is going to be much, much worse. Our minds are sort of like those children. Our intuition knows the truth, but it is not always accessible, just as adults often hide the truth from children to "protect" them. But then the stories we tell ourselves are far worse than the truth.

I wish I had an easy answer here. Sure, it's easy to say, "just ignore the mind, and listen to the body/intuition." But sometimes that simply does not work. The mind continuously gets in the way. Something is blocking our intuition. We continue to tell ourselves the same stories over and over again instead of reaching out for the new story, the one that can actually lead us where we need to go. At this conference, I left sessions early, and I missed the last three. I just could not sit there any longer. I barely saw any of Sydney, and I had never been here before. But that is what my body told me to do. It is not the story I expected to live, and there was quite a bit of disappointment is not living the story I expected. But there was also a sense of knowing it was right and necessary. And the rest of the story is that there is always next time.

What stories do you tell yourself? Do you get upset when you cannot fulfill them? What do you do to expand on your stories, to hear others' stories?


© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Information Overload

Have you ever noticed those numbers and items that seem to follow you everywhere? My birthday is January 10, and I swear I see the number 110 everywhere (for those of you not from the United States, we put the month first and then the year). I got a herniated disc and sciatica, and all of a sudden I see pain management centers on every corner and people are telling me their back problem stories.

And just this week, snakes seemed to be everywhere. This is the Chinese year of the snake, and one day, I was talking to some people about a scary snake experience, and then I went to see someone else who handed me a plastic snake. Then the following day, I was at someone’s house, and the wall hanging had snakes on it. And I have a cousin who sees the number 613 everywhere.

Where does this phenomenon originate? I know this happens to other people.

Many of us think our brains are about bringing in information. The opposite, however, is true. Our brains are really just filters. If we actually processed everything that we receive, we would go mad. In one sense, then, our brains our simply filtering out the things that do not fit our preconceived notions of what follows us around. For example, I see a lot of numbers every day, but I only pay attention when the number is 110.

Many people have begun calling this time in history, the information age. We can get any information anytime we want. Some people have pointed out this means we do not need to remember as much information. I mean, why do we have to remember if google is always at our fingertips? But that also means there is so much information we can get lost amidst it.

Here is the information I have been getting for while I am still in pain: 1) the surgeon has no idea; 2) the acupuncturist says it is a kidney blood deficiency; 3) the chiropractor says it is emotional; 4) another acupuncturist agrees about the emotions; 5) some say it is inflammation, and I need a cortisone shot; 6) some say I just need a prolozone shot; and 7) the physical therapist has simply given up after trying to work on my back and legs. Oh, and of course there has been the foam roller suggestion (yes, it’s awesome, and yes it hurts more than anything!). And I listened to all of them.

We look to others who have expertise in certain areas, and of course, when your only tool is a hammer, all you ever see are nails. We ignore all the other information for that which makes the most sense to us, or that which seems to follow us everywhere we go. And that is useful and necessary . . . to a point. At some point, we have to stop taking in so much information from the outside and look to the inside for the information that will be most beneficial. The answer is not always 110 just because I happen to notice it everywhere I go.

And I recognize I am talking (typing?) out of both sides of my mouth. The first step is to stop zeroing in and seeing only one piece of information, that which follows us around. The second part is to stop trying to make sense of the information coming from a variety of sources limited in the same ways we are – sharing their nails with us. And at some point we have to listen to the information within ourselves.

Not just our brains are really great filters, though there is no question, many of us get caught up in our minds and forget the rest of ourselves. But it is those moments we check in with ourselves that we learn the most, and the most healing can occur. Because our bodies know what information to share with us. Our bodies can tell us what we need, not what someone else thinks we need.

There is no doubt learning from the experts is important. They help us understand all the possibilities, and the more information we have the more we can then filter through. But at some point, we have to stop taking in all the information there is. We have to stop googling every possible avenue. And we have to start listening to the one person who knows what works for us.

We live in a world of information overload. It is so easy to get caught up in always trying to get all the information. It is incredibly interesting, helpful, and important. But there is only so much we can take. Those little nuggets that follow us around are proof that we like consistency, we like filters, and we like to leave out some information sometimes.

Yoga is a lot about letting go. Someone once explained bodywork (energy work) as downloading information into the computers that are our bodies/minds. If we think about ourselves that way, yoga is a chance to let go of the information we do not need anymore, the information that is getting in the way of the information that will be most useful to us.

Do you ever notice information overload in your life? How do you finally stop it? What numbers and items show up all the time in your life? Are they trying to teach you something?


© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.