Our natural, resting state is one of centered calmness. Yet, it seems that life's circumstances often throw us off balance:
An email relays disappointing news.
Someone's poor planning requires that your schedule change.
A rude comment or driver triggers your insecurity or anger.
In an unlikely place, my first pottery class, I learned 4 lessons and specific mental shifts we can make to regain balance when we feel off-center.
Class #1: Perfectly Centered
We were given two basic instructions:
1. Grab a ball of clay and slap it on the wheel.
2. “Center” the clay or mold the clay dead center on the wheel.
During the second class, I overheard the following:
Student (gritting teeth): “Centering is so HARD!”
Instructor: “Yes, it's often the most difficult step to learn.”
I didn’t realize it, but that short conversation deeply impacted me. I gave my fellow student a sympathetic glance, turned to center my first ball of clay for the day, and ended up with a lopsided mess. After my second attempt, I ended with a perfectly straight…mess. After my third attempt, I’m pretty sure some of my mess flew onto my neighbor’s wheel. With each attempt...and utter failure... my ego grew bigger and more irate. WHAT CHANGED?! The week before, I was centering like a pro and now I was, accidentally, high-fiving my neighbor with wet clay balls. I left feeling discouraged and frustrated.
During the third class my instructor unwittingly solved my mystery. As I prepped my mind to conquer my clay, I heard the following:
“You cannot center if you are not centered.”
I whirled around and announced, “there's a life lesson in that!”
I've since discerned 4 life lessons regarding how we allow ourselves to be thrown off center and the specific shifts we can make to re-center on our spinning wheel of life:
1. Challenges are simply lessons written in boldly colored markers.
"They" say, “perception is everything!” and "they" are right! What we call “our reality” is really our perception of reality. We will never know every factor that contributes to each situation we face.
I had a limited and unhelpful view of my clay fiasco. I viewed the clay as a challenge I needed to defeat when it was really an opportunity to learn and understand pottery (and myself).
Lesson from the wheel: Challenges are meant to catch our attention and offer us the gift of wisdom. Michael Beckwith writes that once we perceive something as a challenge we should ask ourselves, “what gift of growth is this challenge offering me?” When the challenge is the enemy, our reaction is to defeat it. When it is a gift, our reaction is to accept and learn from it. Mentally transform challenges into gifts and look for their lessons.
My classmate's words seemed to infiltrate and assault my mind. Still, my desire to mount an all-out counter assault on a ball of clay, rendering my neighbor a casualty of war with my flying clay balls, had nothing to do with the clay, my wheel, or even my teeth-gritting classmate.
Lesson from the wheel: I could not see it but my anger was self-directed. I was angry, discouraged, and disappointed that I lost an ability I once effortlessly possessed. I needed self-compassion to create calm, centering hands; Yet, through my anger I created agitated “clay-ball-flinging” hands.
When we realize that the source of our anger is always deeper than we think, we can become aware of what really triggers our frustrations. Determine the internal condition necessary (e.g. calm) to create the external condition you seek (e.g. centered clay); and make it happen!
I allowed the instructor’s comment, “centering is often the most difficult skill to learn” to re-define my truth. Initially, I was a Centering Queen, but once those words were put before me I popped them in my mouth, and took a big gulp. When we swallow negative messages they become a part of our system:
“you are not very good at this” *gulp*
“you are not worthy of that” *gulp*
“you are not pretty enough” *gulp*
“you are not smart enough” *gulp*
...the lists go on and on.
Lesson from the wheel: Recognize messages from others and ask, “does this resonate with my personal truth?” If it doesn’t, politely push the plate (or belief) away. Say,
“I rebuke that."
"I am not allowing that into my system."
"Please take that plate back to the kitchen.”
Do not allow things to become a part of you that are not for you. If this does happen become aware and consider regurgitating them :-) Caveat: Take care that you are not rejecting truth simply because the information is difficult to hear (e.g. compliments, helpful critical feedback).
These are all words I have used throughout this post. IT'S A BALL OF CLAY and I’m treating it like it’s an enemy in a bush waiting to kill me!
When emotionally triggered, we tend to use life-threatening language to describe ego-threatening situations. Millions of years ago our reptilian, fight-or-flight brain developed to release stress hormones to help us escape from lions. When activated today, this brain does not differentiate between literal life threats—“this lion is gonna eat me!” and word-enhanced, ego threats—“my co-worker's ideas are better...she's gonna destroy me!” In either case, our words trigger the release of stress hormones which harm our brains and bodies when released chronically.
Lesson from the wheel: When we use literal language, “my co-worker's gonna destroy me!” becomes, “I'm worried her good ideas may undermine my position”; validating our job position is less stressful than defending ourselves against someone attempting to “destroy” us. When using words that literally describe what your ego fears or what is actually happening, you enter problem-solving mode vs life-saving mode; fewer hormones flood your system; and you remain centered longer.
Find your lessons:
1. What is a challenge you are facing? Can you glean at least one gift of growth from it?
2. Remember the last time you felt angry? Recall your thoughts, feelings and sensations and ask, "when was this anger born?" Allow your mind to float back to an earlier time. This is insight into why the current incident triggers you.
3. What unhelpful or outdated beliefs about yourself have you swallowed over the years (e.g. I am powerless)? How do they serve you now (they must or you would've let them go). What personal truth would you rather carry?
4. Start monitoring your language. Do you use life-threatening language to describe ego-threatening situations? Notice how you feel when you shift your words.