Back in the saddle again

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I’ll start by saying that I’m no expert in making New Years resolutions. Or rather, I can make them just fine, but at some point I always fall off and lose momentum. Sometimes the fall is hard. It’s painful. My inner critic throws a party and invites all the Negative Nellys: Judgment, Guilt, Shame, Blame, Anger, Grief, Fear. And they can be very chatty.

I assume you can relate. This is part of the human condition. No one is able to keep it up 100% of the time. No matter how flawless their Internet persona is…or how upbeat they appear in person. We all crash. And we all burn.

This blog is not intended to read: I did it, so you can too! I am not your cheerleader, watching from the finish line. I’m on the path with you. This is my attempt at telling you what I’m telling myself, which is: get back in saddle again….and again….and again…ANNND again.

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The saddle is always ready for another ride. So, what follows are some ideas that help me get back up.

THE CYCLE OF CHANGE

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Change is one of the most simultaneously terrifying and hopeful concepts. It’s a paradox. It encompasses death and rebirth. It’s constant. It’s unavoidable. It can be a long game or turn on a dime. I can run and hide and try to resist its force, or take a big breath and dive straight in, or just let it come like a tornado and suck me up into the chaos.

We all deal with change differently. But when we look at the cycle of change, a pattern is illuminated. Intentional change (such as a New Years resolution) has clear stages of development. Knowing what stage I am in becomes helpful because it gives perspective. And perspective leads to self-compassion. And self-compassion enhances motivation. Bingo!

Here are the stages of change. This is based on the work of James O. Prochaska. If you want more information I suggest you read his book “Changing for Good.”

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Change is, like all things, a cyclical dance.

The first stage of PRECONTEMPLATION happens on the subconscious level. For example, before I consciously know a change is coming, I feel what I call “jammed up inside.” My qi stagnates and the pressure builds. I get irritable and restless. I have weird dreams at night. My upper back and shoulders ache. Sometimes my gut gets out of synch. My sleep is funky. If enough time passes I tend to feel depressed and foggy. But then eventually, clarity erupts into my conscious mind. Ah ha! The light bulb goes on.

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This is the CONTEMPLATION stage. It is here where my wheels start turning. My dreams come in the daytime and take on a theme. My mind holds the question: what if….? I like to call this stage the Magic Wand stage. If I had a magic wand, what would I do? What would I create?

I brainstorm. I bounce ideas around until something sticks. I talk to people I trust and get feedback. I do my research.

If the change I’m dreaming up feels scary, I may stay in this stage a long time, spinning my wheels. It can be easy to feel stuck in this stage. I try to remind myself there is no such thing as stuck, because change is unstoppable. I am always moving in one direction or another. Something inside me keeps pushing up and out against the status quo.

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Oftentimes the hardest thing to do is get out of my own way. It takes a lot of courage to forge a new path. So having a plan of action helps me get started. It’s nice to have a map to guide me when I become disoriented as the change starts to work its magic. It’s comforting to feel prepared before heading out into uncharted territory.

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The secret I’ve learned about the PREPARATION stage is the importance of leaving a little wiggle room in the plan. I try not to get too attached to the outcome. The path of change is never linear. And in practice it’s more of a “choose your own adventure” that morphs to accommodate new information as it arises in my conscious mind.

Nevertheless, it’s crucial to pack a bag of essentials before walking off into the terrain of all future potentials. My essentials are usually questions:

What do I want? What do I need? Where is my support? Who can help me? Where am I going? How will I get there? How do I want to feel once I’m there? How will I know I’ve arrived?

The more clarity I have in the preparation stage, the more I trust my ability to take the first step into the action stage.

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Ready, set, ACTION! The action stage feels really awesome. I’m off to the races, sitting high in my saddle. The wind in my hair. Some epic rock balled playing in my mind.

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The Negative Nellys are looking confused and stunned as they eat my dust. I feel accomplished. Smug even. I totally got this. Why did I ever doubt myself? This is easier than I thought it would be…for a brief time….

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…before I notice that I’m headed in a slightly different direction than planned…and the saddle starts to slip…. and my grip weakens…and then BOOM.

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Welcome to the RELAPSING stage. It is here where I feel like a total shit. I’m bruised and embarrassed by my fall. The Negative Nellys are laughing and giving each other high fives as I feel myself shrinking into a tiny shell of my former glory.

But in my experience it’s the most powerful stage for gaining momentum. It has the most potential for strengthening the connections to others and myself. It is the most transformative point in the cycle.

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Relapsing is a land of torment and redemption. My discomfort affirms my growth. If I didn’t feel icky, I would either be in denial or back at the starting line. The pain I feel becomes proof of my progress.

When I’m able to reframe relapsing as an opportunity to reevaluate my goals and fine-tune my relationship with my inner critic, over time I build resiliency. I learn to trust the cycle and myself. I learn to let go of the reins and allow myself to be lost. I learn to be gentler with myself when I fall. And I develop compassion for others who struggle to hold on.

This is the beauty of relapsing. It builds character and humility. It teaches me how to surrender my personal will to divine will. It teaches me how to ask for help. And how to receive.

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And I should note here that relapsing doesn’t always have to mean I stop doing an action physically. Relapsing can be as subtle as revisiting old mental patterns. For example, I might still be going to the gym twice a week, but I relapse into shaming my body image. This is a chance for me to get back in the saddles of self-acceptance and self-love. Relapsing creates tension against which I am able to flex the deepest muscles of my spirit.

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You may have noticed I’ve skipped over the MAINTENANCE stage. To me, maintaining change is found when I zoom the camera lens way out to see the whole cycle repeated again and again….AND again. To me maintenance includes all the stages.

So I don’t concern myself with how to maintain a change as much as I do with how to move through a relapse and get back in the saddle again. When I know how to do that, maintenance becomes inevitable.

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Ok, that’s the cycle of change. Now lets make some resolutions!

INGETRAL LIFE PRACTICES

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Some years I don’t make any resolutions. I say screw it. Some years I make only one. Keep it simple. This year I’m making a bunch. I want to invite change across the board. All systems go! My big resolution this year is to integrate all aspects of myself into something bigger than the sum of my various parts.

Integral Life Practices comes from the work of Ken Wilber. You can find more info here.

The basic idea is that wellbeing involves engagement of all areas of our being. It is not enough to eat organic food and exercise if I ignore troublesome thoughts in my head and vice versa. It is not enough to deal with my body and mind, if I’m lonely and super stressed at work. To be healthy, I must consider all areas of my life. When I am mindful of my health on all fronts, I am able to feel the parts weaving back together. I am aware of my whole self and my oneness with all of life. And that’s the ultimate big picture goal right?

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So it’s helpful to break it down. Wilber uses the following categories, or modules. You may think of others that are useful to you, but this is a starting place.

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I am going to make a resolution for each section. Maybe more than one! Here it goes:

Body: 1. Exercise more (duh). Go to the gym two time per week. Hoop more. Yoga more. Focus on feeling strong, flexible, and balanced. 2. Eat more. I generally eat healthy food, but I can be a busy bee and struggle with making time to eat, and eat mindfully. Burritos here I come! 3. Hone my practice of feeling my emotions physically. Increase my sense where my qi is stagnant and feel it move. The more I’m able to do this for myself, the easier it becomes for me to feel your qi as we work together.

Mind: 1. Meditate more (duh). As in daily. It’s gym for the mind! 2. Make a serious dent in my book pile. 3.Affirmations. Because I’m awesome.

Spirit: 1. Spend more time outside connecting to the earth. It heals the soul. 2. Dive off the deep end into my true mystical nature. I’m not going to hold back this year. Fair warning. 3. Deepen my gratitude practice. Gratitude brings my attention to the present moment and softens my fears. 4. Slow down enough to feel my true self unfolding.

Shadow: 1. Continue playing and writing music as a cathartic process. 2. Make time for drawing, painting, and doing creative things that get me out of my left-brain. More mandalas. 3.Continue moving old energy with somatic therapy, energy healing, shamanic healing, acupuncture.

Ethics: 1. Practice the golden rule. 2. Practice nonviolence towards others, the earth, and myself.

Sex: 1. Have more sex (duh – says the new mom, wink). 2. Dive off the deep end into my true freaky nature. Why not? 3. Connect with my sexy sensual self. 4. Deepen my capacity for real intimacy and vulnerability.

Work: 1. Stay open to what comes. 2.Trust the process. 3. Continue writing blogs. Heyo! 4. Keep dreaming. 5. Be intentional.

Emotions: 1. Practice compassion for others and myself. 2. Have courage. 3. Be aware of how my emotions feel physically and mentally. 4.Connect to others, the earth, and myself.

Relationships: 1. More party time. More time with my friends. More date nights with my partner. 2. Be present with my love ones, especially my son. 3.Deepen by ability to stay open.

Annnnd end scene.

WOW. Now there are a lot of resolutions! And a lot of saddles.

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But while this list may seem long and potentially overwhelming, it actually pumps me up to write it and read it back. I feel energized.

This holistic approach to resolutions allows me to see a larger vision taking form. These small intentions all feed the big picture of who I am becoming. The path looks more like a web of tributaries flowing into the great river of Me.

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This web acts like a net to catch me when I fall. The momentum of my progress in other areas pulls me along, and a positive feedback cycle is created in which I’m able to get back in the saddle quicker and with more ease. I may be in different stages of change in different areas, but the effect on me is global. As I evolve I am integrating my experiences back into the whole.

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And this brings me to my last invitation for you when you are considering your New Years resolutions. I got this idea from a beloved client. It is simple and sweet, but can pack a punch.

WORD OF THE YEAR.

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In her brilliance, my client gave me the idea to have a word of the year. Love it! It is a way to keep focused on the big picture.

What is the thread that will tie everything together? What is the cherry on top? What will I gain by taking an integral approach to my health and wellbeing? What am I seeking to find within myself? What is at the core of my longing? How can I distill my goals down to one word?

This year my word is Integration.

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I seek to integrate the wisdom of relapsing back into the cycle of change. I seek to integrate all areas of my life into one broad colorful brush stroke of wellbeing.

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When I’m lost I can fall back onto this word as a reminder. It will be the ground on which I travel, whether I’m the saddle or not.

So what’s your word of the year? What would your resolutions look like through an integral lens? Where are you in the cycle of change? How do you get back in the saddle?

I’m wishing us both the very best of luck on this year’s ride. Happy trails and Happy New Year!

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“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” 

~Carl Jung