I know how to treadmill. I’m gooooooood at treadmill living. Literally. Metaphorically. Esoterically. Emotionally. All the “ally”s. I know how to go really fast, all while standing still. But I’m starting to wonder if, perhaps, that’s not a skill set I’m well served in cultivating and refining.
Picture this: just the other day, I was on the treadmill….doing my thing. Running at my own pace. And I turned to my side to see a young woman beside me blasting out 8mph on the treadmill. Mile after mile. Minute after minute. “Damn” I thought. “Now THAT is a runner!”
It irked me. She’s obviously doing better than I am. Naturally I need to pick up speed (because apparently doing as good as the random person next to me…whom I have never met…is imperative to my happiness). The next day, therefore, I went in and tried the same strategy she did. Run 8mph. Take a swig of water at every mile. I totally nailed it. It turns out…I can run 8mph on a treadmill, too. Take THAT random girl who doesn’t care how fast I run and whom I will probably never see again!
What a perfect metaphor for the life we are encouraged to live.
Did you get a good job? Well now you have to get a better job. Push harder! Did you find a good partner? Well when the romance fizzles, go out and find a better partner. Did you make your income goal this year? Well now you need to make more money next year. Go faster. Push harder. Beat the competition. That random person next to you might be judging you. You’ve got to do better. You’ve got to have more. You’ve got to BE more.
But no one seems to notice that we are all, basically, standing still. Killing ourselves on treadmills. Always trying to do better than the person on the moving strap next to us. Forgetting we are all, fundamentally, going nowhere fast.
Why do we do this?
The Yogis say that it’s a symptom of Avidya. Avidya, translated literally, means “lack of wisdom.” To expand on that…it basically is the sense that your circumstances define you. People who make their happiness contingent upon what’s happening out there are falling victim to avidya. People who say “I am my job” or “I am my finances” or “I am my weight.” Anything that ties our core identity to what’s happening out there is a form of avidya. It’s when we think that our perceptions about reality are the actual reality.
According to Yogis…it’s one of the core reasons we suffer.
The Problem with “Let Go” As a Solution…:
This is where new age woo-woo people often say that we just need to “let go.”
I’m going to be frank, here. That’s a bulls**t answer. What does that even mean? It’s like when people say “Just go with the flow, man!” Or “Be present.” That’s. Not. Helpful. Because it always leaves me thinking “HOOOWW do I let go? Give me an example!”
So HOW DO We Let Go?
According to Patanjali’s yoga sutras (which is thousands of years old…and its still in print. So apparently he got something right)….the answers are fairly simple:
First – Identify the symptoms or problems leading to discomfort
I’ll use myself as an example, here. For years I suffered from anxiety and insomnia (two things that work marvelously well together to perpetuate themselves). I was miserable. My job was too stimulating (which we HSP know is hardly helpful). I was living in a loud city (ahem…another problem). It was all a mess. But I knew I would be able to sort it all out if I could just get some SLEEEEEEP. So the symptom, in my case, was sleep deprivation.
Second – Identify how that symptom is impacting your life.
Oh like I really need to explore this. You ever been sleep deprived? It sucks, doesn’t it? I can’t concentrate. I am nervous all the time. My body temperature is thrown. My capacity to make good decisions is diminished. I feel unsteady….
Third – Set a goal for yourself around fixing this problem.
In my case, there were several goals that I started to work on with my teacher. The first was with the symptom itself (getting better sleep). The second was with the management of that symptom (how to function optimally when sleep doesn’t come). And the third was to change the relationship I had with sleep (learning how NOT to freak out at night when I was wide awake).
Fourth – Cultivate a practice.
“Practice” can mean just about anything. It can mean a yoga practice. Exercise. Journaling. Sleep hygiene. ANYTHING. But it needs to be something that helps you to link to something outside of your brain.
In my case, after searching a plethora of modalities (western medicine, acupuncture, herbs, teas, tinctures, meditation practices)…I eventually was given a recommendation to see a yoga therapist in the area. A friend of mine knew him and explained that working with him had helped shift her perspective AND improve her symptoms markedly. I went to see him. He helped me by listening to my particular challenges and giving me a set of specific movements to use, and some breathing exercises to engage in each day. Each session, we talked about both the practice itself (how it was going, and whether it was having any impact on how my body was acting) AND we talked about the events happening around me…and whether my responses were starting to shift.
But if that doesn’t seem like your cup of tea…no problem. The key isn’t to follow yoga per se. It’s more about finding a practice that works for you.
Fifth – Observe how that practice impacts your system
Pay attention. What’s happening to your thoughts as you continue with this practice? What’s happening to your behavior? Are you noticing any shifts with regard to your experiences? Are you starting to do things differently? In my case…was I, in fact, starting to sleep better? Improve my anxiety? Is my relationship with sleep easing up? Pay attention.
In my case, I noticed that I was feeling less anxious. Reducing my anxiety helped me to sleep better (not all the time…but I was sleeping better, more often). Getting marginally better sleep gave me some breathing power. The rest helped me to continue other healthy practices like healthy food and exercise. It allowed me to think more clearly. I started to be more discerning in my decisions about what I said yes to and what I said no to.
Sixth – Start to make deliberate decisions about how you might create an environment that is more supportive to you.
In other words…look around. Is your environment supportive? Are the people you are associating with supporting you? In my case, I was living in a city that was too stimulating. I was working in a job that was too stimulating. I was living a life that didn’t suit my needs. All my friends and family were far away. I could make new friends…but being an introvert…that’s not easy to do. It requires energy. And the job I was in took out all my social energy. So I was isolating myself in a cycle that…while I could sustain it…I didn’t want to keep working THAT HARD just to break even.
So I found a new job. I left the city. I went back home. I started spending more time with people I love. I branched out and met new people. In other words…I started living a life that looks like me.
Seventh – Repeat and let go
My life definitely feels more like me. But here’s the thing. I am constantly changing. My circumstances are forever in motion. So it’s not as though I can say “phew! I made it. Now I can just sit back and relax” That’s not how life works.
I can’t control what’s happening out there. That’s the thing that this whole process helps us to remember. I can only influence what is happening in here. And in spending time constantly refining my system and observing how my body is responding to my circumstances…I’m better able to make decisions in my daily life that support me (rather than deplete me).
So to “let go” doesn’t mean to “relax and stop worrying.” That’s not exactly it. Although I know a number of people who use that crap as an excuse not to engage in life or put in some effort. No…letting go is about being at peace with whatever outcome materializes. It’s about being able to discern and be deliberate. It’s about capacity.
In other words…if you want to lose weight, that’s fine. Letting go isn’t about saying “I give up!” (although feel free to do so if that feels supportive). It’s about saying “okay…I’m going to eat well. I’m going to exercise. But I’m not going to let my weight define me.”
If you’re looking to pay off debt…it’s not saying “to hell with it. I’ll just ignore my finances.” It’s about saying “Okay…this is the money I’m currently making. I’m going to create a budget. I’m going to observe my spending. I’m going to make an effort to spend less. But I’m NOT going to let my finances determine my self worth.”
Basically the yogis boiled down the idea of “letting go” to this:
- Do the work (Find a practice)
- Watch yourself (Observe your behaviors and monitor your progress)
- To the best of your ability let go of the outcome (Don’t fall victim to Avidya. Don’t think that what’s happening out there defines who you are).