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Leading Yourself Means Releasing the Pressure Valve

It Began with a Puzzle.

Those of you who know me know... I LOVE puzzles. As a kid, I used to spend so much time on them, I'd get bored with the ones we had, so I'd turn the pieces upside down and do them with no visual. I'd be furious each Christmas when we'd do a puzzle and inevitably, my brother would steal a couple of pieces so at the end he could the one to put the last piece in. Winter is a time for me, filled with puzzles. I'm not sure what it is about them. Maybe the fact that it makes me feel like I'm using my brain, or it's a way to sit and be quiet and think without having to sit and meditate. (though it is sort of it's own form of meditation!) Maybe it feeds my high achieving, Enneagram 3 brain that likes to accomplish so much. Whatever the reason, I love them. So naturally, as an early Christmas present, my husband bought me a few. He bought me one in particular that looked especially exciting. 1500 pieces. Old School Disney theme. LOTS of similar pieces. It was going to be a tough one! It took me 4 days to the put the edge together and I'm still working on the rest. It's been an excellent challenge! The puzzle is up in the loft, so anytime I want to do it I have to crawl up there. I'm not sure how it started, but I started giving myself a limit. I'd set a timer and leave my phone down below, and when the timer when off I'd have to stop and go down to turn it off. Often times, the timer would ding and I wouldn't feel ready, but alas, my phone was below so I'd begrudgingly stop and go down and turn it off and resume work or whatever else needed to be done.

Why all the puzzle talk, you might ask?

Well, I got curious this week about why I'd only give myself a certain amount of time. What I got to when I really looked, was fear. I was afraid I'd spend a whole day up there "wasting" time. Even typing that out loud sounds so silly. Number one, there's no way I'd spend a whole day up there. I need to eat, the dogs need to get walked, and my legs get tired. Number two... so what if I did spend a whole day up there? It's something I enjoy doing, so why wouldn't I let myself have that pleasure? Why do I feel the need to give it to myself in increments? I started noticing how much I do this in my life. I compartmentalize everything. 45 minutes to walk the dogs, 1 hour for yoga, 30 minute increments for the puzzle, only one hour of TV at night after dinner. In some ways, this is super beneficial and I believe we need structure and routine. I don't believe we as humans function well with days on end unplanned in front of us. On the other hand though:

At what point does the routine become rigid and lifeless?

At what point am I so focused on the routine and how long I can do this or that, that I leave no breathing room? No spontaneity? No deviation? Life was starting to feel that way. My biggest clue that things were getting rigid? My yoga mat. I started paying attention to my Sun Salutations. They felt choppy, rigid and tense. I felt like I was all staccato, all rigid, and I could feel it in my joints. I'd feel it, remind myself to soften, and there it was again in the next round. It was this constant dance of seeing rigidity and choosing to soften. What I'm seeing now is it was a dance because I've been stuck in rigidity for a while now... maybe since the start of the pandemic even. Crisis hit, and I leaned on my tools. I hunkered down. I lost weight. Gained a shit ton of muscle. Trained my puppy. Grew my yoga business. Built a Yoga stage and a yoga studio in a shipping container. Successfully mastered sourdough bread making. Learned to do a kipping pullup and double unders on a jump rope. I could go on. I achieved and achieved and achieved because that is what my Enneagram 3 brain knows how to do. It's what it's good at. I want to be clear, I'm not making any of those achievements bad or wrong. I am very proud of so many of them and I know I worked really hard to get there. AND. I have to look at what was driving those achievements. What is motivating me to do all those things? Because alongside all the achieving, I also kept hearing this small voice that grew louder the further we got into this year that said (and keeps saying)

Release the pressure valve.

Every time I hear the phrase, I picture myself like a pipe full of steam or hot air, and taking the lid off. I can see it so clearly in my head. I feel my body exhale. I "sort of," release some pressure. Just enough to not explode. Then, I go right back into full throttle mode. Each and every time this happens, the voice gets a little louder. Release the pressure valve. It all came to head this week for Christmas. I decided I wasn't going to do ANY work whatsoever, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. I was going to chill and watch movies and do my puzzle. So I did. I still found myself setting a timer. Old habits die hard. Then, I was writing in my journal on a prompt about pleasure, and I thought to myself, "this puzzle is something that really brings me pleasure, so why the heck am I denying myself that?" What is it within me that says I have to earn it or stifle it or make it mean less?

I started seeing the pattern everywhere for myself, and I decided to do something about it. Many of you know I'm fairly strict with my eating. My body does better without dairy, gluten, sugar and soy, so I tend to avoid all those things. For three days this weekend, I went all out. We made sausage cheese balls and cinnamon rolls, cheese fondue and Christmas cookies. I ate nearly every hour of every day these last three days. And you know what? It was GLORIOUS. I didn't die, my stomach didn't get super upset, and I was ok. The world didn't end. And it honestly felt amazing to let the pressure go and enjoy all the foods I normally would at Christmas time. It really got thinking about all the ways I put pressure on myself to eat a certain way and do a certain thing, make a certain amount of money... and what is driving all that? Achievement? Or pleasure and love of the thing? Sometimes that can be a a fine line. I teach yoga because it gives me pleasure and I love it. The money I make is a bonus AND I need money to make a living. I do not eat gluten or dairy or sugar because my body does not respond well to those AND it's ok to treat myself once in a while. I'm seeing I can have both. I can have days where I do a puzzle all day, and days where, because of my schedule, I need to set a timer.

As we approach the end of this wild year, and we inevitably start reflecting on all that has happened in 2020, I'd encourage you to join me in the practice of releasing the pressure. So you didn't do all the things you wanted to this year (or maybe you did and you crushed it.) So you aren't where you want to be (or you are). So you made some bad choices (or you didn't). It's all good. I'm learning right now that a big part of life is letting of all the expectations and the pressure to be, do, act, seem perfect.... and just practice BEING in all the ups, downs, and sideways moments. It's those times, when I'm truly IN whatever I'm doing, that I'm the happiest.

I'm working today, and I'm happy about it. It feels good to type these words and I'm energized and I'm giving myself that pleasure. Just like I gave myself the pleasure and joy of eating ALL the cheese fondue. I'm going to continue to practice releasing the pressure valve, and give myself a shit ton of grace when I forget to.

I hope you will do the same.

Here's to releasing the pressure, to giving grace, and to BEING in all the moments of our lives for the rest of this year and into 2021.



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