It was a rather startling and embarrassing revelation. In the elevator on the ground floor, ready to ascend to my therapy office, I pushed the button. And unlike before, I decided to push the button just once. Not 6 or 7 times, with urgency, as I usually did. Just once. It was a conscious decision, spontaneously made, and I noticed it. The elevator came just as quickly (or slowly, depending on how late you’re running) as it always did.
I laughed at the part of myself that was surprised about that. You mean I only have to push the button once? And it does the exact same thing as my prodding and somewhat demanding multiple attempts at getting the elevator to move faster? I smiled and laughed at myself, stepping into the lift.
I thought about all the other buttons that I push somewhat furiously – crosswalk buttons, buttons on the telephone keypad, sometimes quite angrily when they don’t respond the way I want them to. And the truth is that, just as any other mechanical item, buttons work pretty much as they are designed to – and don’t respond to prodding and urgency. They don’t listen to our needs or desperation. The buttons don’t give a hoot – and aren’t even capable of caring – about being in a hurry or our frustrations. They just go about their little unconscious button lives, and life goes on in its own time.
Trying to make things happen
The compulsive button pushing has a lot to do with pushing, forcing, trying to make things happen now. We have lost our ability to be patient in this fast-paced world. So much so that we yell at other drivers from safely inside our vehicles, knowing that we have no effect (would you be yelling if they were right in front of your face?). We bang on our keyboard and click the link over and over, thinking it will make the website come up faster.
Now that I have a 3 year old, I’ve found out how ineffective pushing a willful and irrational little being can be. When she’s got her heels dug in, no amount of forcing does any good, unless I’m willing for it to end up in crying, screaming, leg-kicking resistance.
And that’s what we often end up creating in our lives. When we’re up against resistance from the universe – whether that be in the slow-moving line in front of us, or trying to get someone to change their mind – it’s tempting to try to aggressively push through it. If we continue to force the issue, the results can be a mess. For my daughter, that sometimes results in toys smashed on the floor when they aren’t working the way she wants them to.
I’ve watched my own impatience or other egoic reactions play out through forcing the issue in my yoga practice. My sensitive neck hasn’t always allowed me to practice inversions, and occasionally, while working my way back to Headstand and Shoulderstand after an injury, I returned to them too quickly. Off to the chiropractor’s office the next day. Trying to compete with an amazing yogi next to me at a conference created a similar result. When recovering from an illness, time and again I impatiently jumped back into a vigorous practice before my body was ready, sending me back to bed for rest. It’s taken years, and probably will take a few more, for me to learn that pushing beyond my limits doesn’t serve my body.
Wise action instead of pushing
That doesn’t mean that we give up our efforts. Yoga, like anything else worthwhile in life, requires some effort and willingness to go beyond what’s familiar and comfortable. But this is different than pushing. There are better choices than pushing. The key is in intelligent action and choices based on wisdom – from the body, mind, and spirit.
I often turn to nature for guidance in the best way to respond to situations. What do we see the natural world doing when it meets resistance? It pulls back for a while, and then resumes.
Waves show us this effect. Shells, stones, and polished “sea glass” are brought into the shore by the gentle yet powerful movement of waves. The water moves the shell a bit forward, then recedes back to gain more momentum and power. Gliding over the shell again, it moves a further. Eventually, we find these beautiful objects as we walk along the beach, after having been pushed in perhaps a mile or more from the deeper waters.
Nature is also innately patient, or at least it gives us the impression that it is. Over time, water and wind wear down even the most solid and rough boulders. Any attempt to crack a large stone by water or air will, in short order, be met with futility otherwise. Baby chicks wait until just the right time to hatch out of their eggs, lest they be unable to survive. Most of the time, we either see nature pause until conditions are right to move forward, or it seems content with little steps of progress.
This is where we apply intelligent action and wisdom. During my yoga practice, I pause and observe, digesting my physical sensations. What is my body telling me in this moment? When I meet stiffness, I notice whether my body is softening into it, or whether it’s bracing up against it, and adjust my efforts and action accordingly. How is my energy right now? If I’m feeling fatigued, I rest or pause in a gentle pose. I’d love to be able to do the splits, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Rather than forcing myself further, I smoothly pull back when my groins or knees express disdain, and appreciate any small gains made. I know I have the rest of my life to explore further. I use action in response to the information I receive from my body, and apply wisdom based on my understanding of the poses, my higher guidance, and my past experiences.
Step back, then move forward again
Likewise, engage your best efforts for meeting your goals, whether it’s to develop more flexibility, to find a new career, or a new relationship. But if those efforts turn up empty, like the wave that draws back into itself before progressing forward, step back and reflect. Perhaps now is a better time to focus elsewhere, or to envision more clearly before stepping out again.
Consider what you’ve learned about the process so far, and apply that new knowledge when you take the next step forward. Progress usually comes in fits and starts. The easiest and safest path up a mountain side often involves switchbacks and even descending a bit to find an easier incline.
Your inner guidance may also have suggestions for how to approach a situation in an entirely new way. My daughter is one of my greatest teachers in this regard. Sometimes, the direct and rational approach just won’t work with her. Yes, I’d love it if she would just brush her teeth the first time I ask her, and do it well. But she doesn’t. So I’ve learned how to back off and try new and novel methods. Singing a song sometimes works. Walking away gives me a break to gain perspective: then I return, using the toothbrush to root out the grass, weeds, and flowers that have grown up between the pearly whites. Stopping for a bit to giggle and wiggle can work wonders on her willingness, too. She teaches me non-attachment, compromise, creativity, light-heartedness, and above all, patience, not just in my interactions with her, but in any situation of resistance that arises in my life.
So, the next time you get in an elevator, push the button once and see what happens. When resistance arises, try something better than pushing. Engage your endeavors with energy and enthusiasm, trusting that you have the innate wisdom to know when to take action and when to draw back. Somersault, laugh, and sit back down to work: like the wave, you’ll roll forward again with a fresh perspective. Not only will the task be a bit easier, but it will be more fun, too. A lot more fun than pushing.
Copyright 2008 by Constance L Habash