By Amber Ault, Ph.D., MSW
I’m fond of this axiom: “If you want something different from what you’ve had, you need to do something different from what you’ve done.”
Here’s an important corollary: Doing something different will, at first, feel strange.
When we envision something different for ourselves and begin to practice creating it, it’s important to prepare to receive it. Otherwise, new possibilities will be assimilated by the powerful machinery of old patterns and we’ll continue to feel stuck. It’s not enough to want something different, or even to envision it. In order to create something different, we must release the barriers — often unconscious — that stand in its way. We need to lay in new skills, including tolerating the discomforts of receiving the goodness we desire.
Just as I encourage my clients to incorporate these principles in their lives, I try to apply them in my own.
Even so, it surprised me to find myself hanging upside down in a sun-lit breeze on a warm afternoon in June: my ankles six feet above the floor in fur-lined leather straps hung on a Pilates Cadillac frame, my hands securely held by Kathleen,* Pilates instructor par excellence; tail high, head low, my spine a long swinging bridge suspended between them.
Have I mentioned my former fears of heights and flying — and their gravitational risk, falling?
If we want something different from what we’ve had, we need to do something different from what we’ve done. And, at first, it will feel strange.
I’m asking my body for something different these days; an illness side-lined me from endurance sports several years ago, and each time I returned to doing what I used to do, I injured myself. I needed to do something different, which led me to dancing, which recently led me to Pilates, which, much to my surprise, led to my saying yes to the possibility of hanging from my heels.
I’m repairing and restoring my health, but also asking for some things endurance sports didn’t ever quite give me. I want something different from what I’ve experienced, so I am taking a different approach, and allowing it the time and space to evolve. I invited this particular opportunity, albeit indirectly and in a way limited by my previous experience and imagination. “Sometimes I think it would feel good just to hang by my knees from the monkey bars,” I tell Kathleen. “Oh, we can do that today,” she says.
Ask — and prepare to say “Yes.”
A few minutes later, I’m lying on my back on the flat surface of the Cadillac — a table-like structure with the dimensions of a military cot braced inside a steel rectangular prism-shaped frame about seven feet tall. Kathleen stands on it, too, at my feet, inside the frame, and somehow gracefully manages to support me in raising my legs high enough that I can tuck my ankles into the leather straps secured to the exo-skeleton. Suspended by the ankles, feeling the relief of the traction I’d envisioned, solidly supported by the flat surface of the table, I think I’ve gotten what I asked for, only better.
Kathleen hops down and comes to the end of the Cadillac, inviting me to extend my arms so she can offer me a greater stretch. I clasp her hands and reach; soon, I find myself sliding inch by inch off of the table: head, neck, shoulders.
“Hey, how far are we going to go?” I ask Kathleen, my effort to keep it light scarcely covering a note of rising apprehension.
“As far as you like,” she says.
If we want something different from what we’ve had, we’ll need to do something different from what we’ve done. And it will feel strange at first. When we ask the universe for something different, we need to be ready when it arrives.
My ankles are suspended in straps attached to the scaffolding above. My head and shoulders extend beyond the support of the table, but still defy gravity through muscle and will. I anticipate a moment, if we continue along this trajectory, when the full length of my body will be beyond the support of the horizontal plane of the trapeze table, stretched between the high hanging tethers and the anchor of Kathleen’s hands. I check in with those hands: they are confident, clear, unequivocal.
“You know, this is a bit of a trust exercise,” I say, giving myself permission to slide into space.
And suddenly, I feel weightless. And free of pain. Free.
And just as the amazement registers, resistance arises — as it so often does to steal our joy.
Anxiety surfaces in my body-mind: the tensing fear for my safety, desire to take care of the other person (Will my weight be too much for Kathleen? Could she end up injured?), self-conscious worry about getting it right. Oh, and: here’s the echo of my family’s cautionary motto arising: “it’s all fun until someone gets hurt” — as though pleasure’s price is always pain, and falling the inevitable consequence of freedom. I know these old friends; they once had a practical, benevolent mission. They used to look out for me. Now their protective vigilance only serves to distract my opening to the deliciousness of direct experience.
I greet them, thank them for their service, and let them go.
Deep in my breath, I choose to trust that Kathleen knows her limits, as I trust that I know mine. I find the tension in my fascia, my muscles, my joints, and let it go: relax and breathe, relax, and breathe, relax. Expand. Savor. Stretch. I asked for this. I choose to welcome it. I can luxuriate in it for the moment it is, rather than pollute it with fear of a moment that is not here and will never come.
When we intend to create something different, we must be ready to receive it when it shows up. We can release resistance, self-sabotage, undermining. Now, there is no fight here. I give myself over to feeling as light as a dust mote floating in a beam of sunlight. Heels up, head dangling, arms outstretched, I am in a backflip from a dock, suspended over water. I am whooshing down a playground slide, headfirst, toward sand. Has it really been more than half a century since I was last hung by the heels, blinking into sunlight?
What does it mean to liberate the body? What does it mean to expand and release our limitations — not by pushing through, but by opening, allowing, stretching, embracing? When we want liberation from our old patterns, we must do something different — and expect, at first, that our newly found freedom will feel unusual.
Hanging supine, completely relaxed, I discover one whole universe and half a whole century can open and shift in 48 seconds. My body is a bridge between the past and the future, alive in the present. A few adroit moves later, Kathleen pops me back onto the support of the trapeze table. My usual dance with gravity resumes. I breathe into the visceral desire to weep and laugh, simultaneously and deep and long. The joke of our own limitations so often is on us. The possibilities for expanding become abundant when we understand how to get out of our own way, how to release fear and anxiety, old stories, and beliefs that work against our greatest possibilities.
The body is not a metaphor for life, but life itself. Our relationships with our bodies shape our relationships with others. Shifting both is possible.
When we feel stuck in toxic relationships or stalled out in other areas of our lives because what we’re doing continues to create experiences we don’t enjoy, it’s time to consider doing something different. “Doing something different” includes laying in the skills to receive-and-allow when a new approach actually begins to create what we say we want. Even the good choices of freeing ourselves from a toxic relationship or dating someone who treats us well can feel strange and disorienting — much like the liberation of hanging upside down with the support of a solid frame and a trustworthy guide. When we work with old habits and fears, treat them with compassion, and release them because they are not serving us any more, we can find ease and freedom and joy — in our bodies and in our connections with each other. (Copyright Amber Ault 2017)
*Gratitude to Kathleen Conklin of PilateSpa International. Find her in Madison, Wisconsin or teaching in international venues, through her virtual presence at www.KathleenConklin.com or www.Pilatespa.com
About Amber Ault, Ph.D., MSW
Amber Ault coaches people around the world on getting the shifts they need to survive, exit, or avoid toxic relationships. You can contact Amber Ault at www.amberault.com and find her books on Amazon.com. Check out her webinars on Lovefraud Continuing Education: