When my friend Sarah was in deep, deep labor, she told me, she suddenly became utterly polite, apologetic and thanked everyone around her continually. She was being the “good girl” she was conditioned to be. I myself swore like a sailor and decided the grass was definitely greener somewhere else right at that moment. Another friend got angry at her husband and started telling him this was all his fault, and yet another woman I know let everyone else make all her decisions for her and regretted it later.
When we are stripped down to our most primitive level, you’d think we’d become wonderfully clear, instinctive, a perfectly functioning animal. But clearly this isn’t what happened to many of us in labor, and in the creativity workshops I lead that doesn’t happen there either.
What comes up is our conditioning.
Everyone is conditioned a little differently. When doing something new and slightly scary, pushing ourselves to places where we can’t rely on our functioning adult tricks, we tend to fall back into the gimmicks we picked up in our childhood and young adulthood. For some it’s people pleasing, for others it’s being as unassertive as possible for fear of offending or getting unwanted attention. There are a million mildly neurotic ways to be conditioned.
“The way you do anything is the way you do everything” is a line one of my favorite teachers, Cheri Huber, uses all the time. What I love about teaching the workshops and giving speeches is that when we do the exercises, those little conditioned responses pop out within, oh, say 10 seconds. So it’s an incredible way to see what we normally do when pushed, to identify it, and then to try something else in a safe setting.
TRY THIS: Go ask a loved one (preferably a spouse or partner or family member) for their opinion of you in some area. It can be, “How do I look?” or even, “What do you think of ____________?” Fill in the black with: my career, my choice in partner, my lifestyle, etc. This may sounds like an absolutely ghastly thing to do. So, first of all, write down your reaction to this exercise now: (Invite criticism from my family?!?! Are you kidding?), etc. Then ask: Is this also a normal reaction from you about doing something that might push you out of your comfort zone? If you’d rather, you can go do something new like take a tap class, volunteer at something you know nothing about, give money away – whatever is not par for the course for you. Again, watch your reactions with mindful awareness as you decide to do this. Write them down. Be honest about it. Next, when you actually try the activity, also go at it with awareness. When pushed, who are you? Are you kind? Defensive? Compensating? Easy about it all? Okay, that last one was a trap cuz if you’re easy about it, then you aren’t finding the thing that is pushing you, so try again – find something else. The point is to see where your “deep labor” sends you. And then finally, once you’ve had the delightful experience of learning about yourself (gee thanks, Katie), you get to play. You get to try to do it in a different way. You might want to listen to feedback from your family knowing that it is their projection and has very little to do with you. You might want to take the class and not have to be the best. You might give away money without expectation rather than believe you know what it should be used for. So play with this. You can try to do things in a way that your conditioning wouldn’t let you before. Let this be an expansive exercise that will give you more options and more freedom. And please feel free to share any experiences here on this blog. And don’t forget: push only when it’s time, and breathe.