Who said so?
About two weeks ago a lithe young man pushed a surfboard into the ocean, past a crashing wave and out towards the kelp beds. I was sitting on top with a paddle. As soon as he had let go I started paddling, as instructed, and then waited in the calmer waters beyond the surf for both the lithe young man, my teacher for the day, and my fellow student. Once we were all gathered we were further instructed to paddle some, to achieve momentum, and then get up on the board and continue paddling while balancing against the waves.
“Balance is not really my forte,” I told the lithe young man. He smiled at me and asked me to just not think about it and look at the horizon while I tried to get up and paddle.
I tried it once, thinking hard about which muscles I would need to get up and balance. I fell into the water before I had managed to squat on the board.
I tried it again and actually stood up and then started to think about what I needed to do to balance against the rolling waves beneath me. I fell again.
But the third time something had changed, I had paddled closer to the kelp beds and was looking at them trying to discern fish as I got up and paddled. And paddled. And paddled. It took ten strokes for my head to catch up and tell me that, actually, I have no balance. I fell back into the water.
I laughed at my self and how silly I must look to my sister on the shore, standing well and then falling with no apparent reason. And then, because I keep thinking even when I am sitting in the water clinging to a surfboard and laughing, I started questioning myself.
“What makes you say you can’t balance? Who said so? And doesn’t the evidence point the other way?” The facts are that I did just stand up and paddle for a bit until my mind told me I couldn’t, I am often clumsy because of inattention and can’t stand up in Tree Pose, or Nataraj, but I can also draw finely detailed pieces. Evidence it seemed was inconclusive.
“What happens if I just assume that I am telling myself a story and that in fact the only reason I can’t balance is because I tell myself that I can’t?”
I got up on the board again. I stood up and paddled. I paddled over the kelp beds and around my little group, with the lithe young man smiling sweetly. I enjoyed the new perspective I had of the beach. I relished the silence. And when my legs were aching from the unusual exercise I sat back down on the board. It seems my assumption was correct.
Once I got over the paddle boarding induced muscle ache in my legs I reexamined my relationship to balancing in one legged yoga poses. Sure some of the muscles that I need could be better developed, but all in all I have no actual problem with balance, outside of my mind telling me I do.
My question at this point is how do I know what is just a story I am telling myself and what is actual fact. The answer to “Who said so?” is probably a good first indicator, as would be any thought that very insistently tells me that no I can not do this, I am waaaay to stupid/unathletic/etc.
While it may seem a lot of work to reexamine your assumptions about yourself again and again, that kind of work carries with it a whole lot of freedom and possibility. Just think what I could do if I weren’t tied down by that one story from way back when that always pops up if I try to do that thing.
What stories do you tell yourself? and how do you deal with them? Join me in comments!