What are your core beliefs?

IMG_0042A decade ago I moved from northern Virginia to a small town in Colorado with just a carful of belongings.   I left behind a marriage and a job and joined some good friends who were living what I saw as a conscious and sane life.  A part of me was looking for time in the mountains to deprogram and start afresh.  With more space and quiet, in a gentler town, perhaps I could get down to some wiser ways.

Did that happen?  In many ways it did.  The East is so dense with people, buildings, and culture that a girl sometimes can’t separate her own values out from those of the society.  In the cacophony, the quick pace, the getting and spending, one doesn’t even have time to think.  The attitudes of society soak in through her pores and affect her thoughts and behavior.

When I settled in Colorado, I found a job with odd hours, and I hiked up many a mountain.  I sought out yoga classes, then a yoga teacher training.  Slowly I began to unwind my physical patterns, my muscular tension and my defenses against the world.  In a hakomi, or body-centered psychotherapy, training I sat with peers in mindfulness and observed my core beliefs emerge.  I found an outstanding yoga teacher whose classes took me on an ecstatic journey, and after all this, I could feel my feet on the ground, my animal body engaged in the world, my heart open so that I engaged more easily with others.  I hoped work and love would flow more easily.  And they did, especially love.  Work?  I’m still progressing on that front.

Presently I find myself wondering how we in this country developed the mindset we have and the belief that we must work excessively and purchase new gadgets regularly.  I wonder how our environment, healthcare system, and political system all became so toxic or dysfunctional.  There is an armoring and network of habits at the national level just as there is at the individual level, of course.  We buffer ourselves against remembering another set of values by escaping into entertainment and the pursuit of status, or things.  I see a clinging to old beliefs and habits.  I see a belief in the dominance of a market economy above all.

I turned to history to understand more, and I read about the founding fathers and their ideas, about Christian fundamentalism, about the decline of intellectualism, about our perspectives on the body and about the evolution of psychology.  How, I wondered, did we become so materialistic?  How did a business mentality so thoroughly permeate medicine and education?  How did we get to this place where we must work such long hours and commute such long distances to have enough money for expenses?

At the same time I wonder what might help us to loosen hold of those beliefs and reconsider.  Let some new ideas in.  Would it be a change in education?  More yoga and less time on treadmills?  More time in nature?  That’s my prescription!  But each of us thinks we know what would be best, and none of us knows the whole truth about our troubles and what to do about them.

The good news is that younger people are coming up with new ways of doing things.  Whether it is because they are facing less abundance than their parents or just seeing what the world is now, they are already trying something different.  Generation Y, for example, is said to want a shorter work day and more time for family, more flexibility in their jobs, and meaningful work or lifestyle that includes work.  They want to support their communities.

I see this trend evolving in this small town I landed in.   Many young people are starting small businesses, collaborating to build a counter economy.  There are people making a living as web designers, social media managers, artists, and healers.  They find ways to network, or share office space, to promote one another’s businesses.  When our society can sustain these folks well, or if they can sustain themselves, we will all be healthier.

There is so much that is rich in life that becomes buried in business and striving.  I am a baby boomer with the values of Generation Y.  A yoga teacher in need of a job, a job in which I work with others for something I believe in and yet also have time for family and creative work.  Time to be outside.  Time for prayer and mediation and the study of history.  We need to really think about what we believe, what we feel in response to the world around us, and where we need to go.  Because if we don’t change course, we will pay a big price.

Can we not examine the bundles of assumptions and beliefs wrapped around us so tightly that we can’t notice?  It is time, right now, to slow down, to look both inside and out and consciously choose the values we will live.

Against our grain

Why do some of us feel we must push ourselves against our grains?  I’m thinking about my gentle, intuitive friend joining the Army as a young woman, or me marrying an exacting forceful husband (a budget analyst) when I was drawn to artistic, free-thinking sorts.  Was my friend trying to “whip herself into shape” with bootcamp and regimentation like I was in choosing a husband who would define things for me?  If so, why?

It seems when we’re young, we experiment, test ourselves, discover what we are made of.  Yet some of us have absorbed a puritanical streak or negative image of ourselves that shapes us still.  Are the psychodynamic psychotherapists right?  Do we unconsciously recreate the circumstances of a childhood in which we felt we were flawed and needed to change?

Let’s consider.  I married someone I thought would “whip me into shape.”  I thought something in me needed to be chastised and that I needed to learn to be more efficient, productive, logical, like him.  The marriage ultimately didn’t work, because I began to accept myself as I was with this global, intuitive way of seeing things, a less structured approach to my days in which I did what felt right.  Then I no longer wanted to be chastised and corrected.  Yes, I have many qualities or behaviors that could use improvement, but I learned it is crucial to trust myself and my inborn nature, to have compassion for those qualities.  Beating myself into shape through harsh means was disrespectful to myself.

I tried to rework the “terms” of my marriage, but it didn’t work; maybe we had too many years invested in the old way.  Years later, after working and living in line with my own grain, I met a man who respects me and champions my way of being.

Here’s another example:  I have tried three times now to become a psychotherapist.  Why?  People tell me I’m a good listener, and I’m fascinated by psychology, and I have benefitted greatly from being a client.  At the same time, I matured slowly and have been shy and emotionally illiterate in many ways.  Maybe becoming a therapist would be a good idea, teach me about emotions.  But no, it really isn’t a good fit for me.  And the truth is that I have no desire to be a counselor.

But it’s a good idea, and I have degrees in counseling, and coursework in psychology, and it’s a way to make a living, and it can be flexible work, and it’s a good idea, says some part of me.  So I went round and round attempting to be a therapist in different ways and modalities.

Once again, I was trying to correct myself, change myself, push myself.  I tried to reform and to compensate for areas I’m weak in.  At times it may be okay to challenge myself; I can imagine learning to keep better track of money I spend, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to become a therapist when I really don’t want to.  How fair is that to the clients, let alone me?

My friend who joined the army hated it, and now she works for the Veterans Administration as a social worker.  This job is about as difficult for her as being in the Army was.  She is gentle and spiritual, attuned to insights emerging in images and symbols, but instead she is often running up against rules and ways of thinking and requirements of her position that drain her.  While her coworkers rely on cognitive behavioral therapy, she keeps a sand tray in her office.  I think she needs an environment that nurtures her  imaginative qualities, though I also think the VA is lucky to have her.

Why does she do it?   I don’t know.  Is she a rare individual who doesn’t belong in this material world and rather belongs in a parallel universe where people are spiritual and intuitive?  Is the world too brutal for her?  Is she punishing herself as I was?  I don’t think she even knows.

It can be quite okay to test oneself, to try new things; sometimes we need to learn from discomfort.  We have all been there.  I knew when I worked in my dream job at a magazine on psychology and spirituality that I really wanted to be there, and I was VERY uncomfortable.  I knew when I taught yoga that it was what I had to do, even though much of the time I was scared and felt awkward and out of place.  But I see these instances in a different way than the others I’ve discussed.  The others go beyond stretching and growing into violence against oneself.

Marrying as I did, or trying to go into a profession I thought I should go into, I did because deep down I believed I was worthless.  I thought I needed to be remade, from the ground up.

My my, that’s a trip.  If I accept myself, I tend to make very different choices?  If I take the “shape up” out of the equation of living, what does my life look like?  What might society look like if we assumed we were okay?  As I have healed and grown and begun to live with my grain, life is rich and full of meaning.  I enjoy my work as a writer, yoga teacher, and disability educator.  I still struggle with my foibles, my fears, my weaknesses, but I feel oriented, clear, grateful to spend my days as I do.  But life feels magical, satisfying, and precious.  This state is life-affirming.  I know it is right.

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