Taking Unpredictability Head-On
Written on July 29, 2008 by Dr. Laurie
My client Steve was feeling pretty well. He has been in remission for about a year. He began taking yoga to strengthen his muscles and move his joints.
He found he felt better after a class, so he got into a pattern of one, maybe two classes a week. He felt so confident that he bought a class card, entitling him to a reduced rate on his classes because he could tell he was going to take them regularly for the next five months.
Then his arthritis flared up.
He was achey and tired, and couldn't imagine sitting through a yoga class. It was an unpredictable and uncontrollable event — upsetting all his plans, not just his yoga practice.
When the combination of unpredictable and uncontrollable occurs, there is the brain response of, "I quit. There's nothing I can do."
This leads to a depressed mood and apathy. It feels like nothing is possible.
I say "brain response" because researchers now believe that this isn't a psychological reaction as much as it is a biological preservation reaction.
But what served us on the savannahs when we had to conserve our energy is less useful now.
We can learn to override that internal wiring. That can make a big difference in your mental outlook when you're dealing with pain, or a debilitating symptom that comes up out of nowhere.
There are two ways to deal.
One is to take control in some area. The other is the paradoxical imperative to consciously surrender — for the moment.
Be in charge in some other part of your life.
While the area of frustration — what you can't do — has the magnetic potential to pull all your attention towards the negative. Don't go there.
Choose something you can do. Clean a closet. Organize and pay your bills. Do a project at work. We all tolerate undone things in our lives. So get something done. It will instantly make you feel a little better.
No, it doesn't cure the pain. But it does remind you that you're in charge of your life — your disease isn't running you.
Do something creative.
What do you love to do? What makes you happy when you see the finished product? Sometimes it's making a meal, or drawing, or designing something. Other times your creativity is found in connecting people, or imagining a new way of doing something. We are all profoundly creative, but we all don't tune in to it. When you do, you feel more alive, more possibilities for yourself. Indeed, you feel more like yourself.
Which takes us to the paradox: you can feel less helpless when you try graceful surrender.
Find the zone.
There's a space within and without where you sense something different.
Peace? Acceptance? Maybe it's moving out of your head into your heart. Or out of that knotted up place into some openness. To get there you let go of some of the struggle and resistance to what is. You stop resenting, replaying, gnashing your teeth and take a deep breath.
You don't have to like or embrace what is. Just see that this is reality for this moment.
It won't always be like this. Graceful surrender knows that "what is" is temporary. The flare, the pain, the fatigue are here right now.
But unpredictability goes both ways. The sun comes out. Someone you love calls. You have a good night's sleep. The deer don't eat the roses.
When we give in and allow life to be what it is in this difficult moment, then the other side of possibility becomes visible, tangible.
Strangely enough, allowing, rather than resisting, puts us back in charge.