I remind myself of this, a lot.
When I’m triggered, I go to a place of scarcity.
The real difference between now and before I started this work, is this: I’m more conscious and present about my patterns (and that is everything); I’m gentler when they rise up (and that is everything); I work with what comes up (and that is everything); I’m more forgiving of myself as someone who is alive and thus, in process (and that is everything); and…
I’m more connected to others, because I understand (finally) that all of the shit I deal with is shit you deal with, too.
I’m so glad to be with you in this game of living life big.
“I sense that you have some trouble with the Law of Gradual Progress,” my Chi Running instructor, Chris , told me with a smile at the end of our first session.
I nodded and smiled back. No sense denying that one. He had given me some tips to improve my running form, and now I was eager to soar across an open expanse of land.
“Keep the enthusiasm,” he said, “But progress gradually.”
It’s important–critical–not to underestimate micro-movements. The micro-movements provide the foundation for something larger, and without them, change is far more difficult. Here’s a short story that illustrates that idea:
When I was in high school, I started to work on Mozart’s Concerto in C Major. It’s a deceptively simple song because the key signature is in C Major, meaning no sharps or flats, and the song is composed mostly of a series of scales. When you work scales on the piano, you focus on micro-movements, getting the fingering right four notes at a time, then pairing two sets of four, then adding four more notes, and you do it slowly until you can execute the scale in one stretch with each note evenly struck.
I started the C Major while my piano teacher was on a summer break, and crashed through it without taking the time to really get the fingering even, thinking she’d be impressed that I had “learned” the whole song during her absence. When she came back, she chastised me (gently but firmly) and tried to reign me in by having me go back to basics and work the scales a few notes at a time to correct my uneven execution. When a musician plays scales unevenly, they’re as glaring as a mis-struck note.
So I went back to basics, but a curious thing happened:I would practice the micro-movements slowly, but then once I tried to play everything up to tempo, I would go right back to my “crash through the piece” fingering and musicality that I’d practiced in like a dervish. It wasn’t intentional; the muscle movements had simply worn a neuronal path in my brain and didn’t want to let go.
I think that a similar phenomenon happens when we’re trying to enact other changes in our lives–we want the sexy A-ha moment, the good story that would bring the audience to tears if we were ever on Oprah.
We want to be able to say things like, “After that moment, I was never the same.”
We want to “learn” a song in two weeks while our piano teachers are on vacation, or get Italian down pat overnight, or go to two or three couples therapy sessions and see our partners declare their love on bended knee (did you know that statistically, most couples who pursue therapy go to fewer than five sessions before quitting? Yikes).
We want the pill to fix it, the friend to cure it, the parental apology that will make up for a bad childhood.
I do believe that instant transformation happens, sometimes. I’ve met people who told me that they had an insight that forever changed them, and I knew that they were speaking the truth.
However, it’s not the norm. More often, change is first practiced in micro-movements that pair up, and then those pairs pair with other pairs (say that five times fast). We need the small steps. They are critical.
They might not seem as sexy, and they might not get as much attention, but they are everything.
Duh, Kate, you might say. I knew that.
Well, I know you know. We all know. But how often do we give ourselves the benefit of that kind of practice?
How often are we respecting the Law of Gradual Progress, vs. how often are we insisting that life bends to our will, and the lesson/insight/transformation comes when we want it to come?
How often are we reading the inspiring book or taking the inspiring workshop and feeling the high of a new idea–only to tell ourselves that “nothing’s really changed” if we get triggered or feel less inspired a week later?
Those sorts of reactions deny the impact of those small micro-movements that deserve, just like one note in a scale, to get their due.
Change happens in micro-movements. The inspiring book or e-program or workshop really did make a difference in your life–it’s now up to you to pair that micro-movement with another one of your own, so that they can build.
“I can do things for others, but I can never do them for myself.”
Hmmm. Whenever I hear that, it doesn’t ring with truth.
In fact, I think it’s fundamentally impossible.
Doing things for others that we can “never” do for ourselves is really this:
“I do things for others because if I didn’t do those things, I’d feel like an even less worthy human being than I’m already experiencing myself to be.”
We cannot love someone else any more than we love ourselves. The degree to which we accept our own flaws is in direct correlation to the degree that we’re accepting of the flaws of another. We are authentically generous only to the degree that we feel truly prosperous. There’s a parallel and proportion to human behavior.
If someone shares that they can do things for their kids but they “can’t” do things for themselves, I know that Burnout is standing at the front door, waiting for the right time to arrive unannounced and start making trouble with some kind of mysterious illness. If someone says they can spend money on others but not themselves, I know that even when they find that “perfect gift” for their BFF, Depletion is going to suck dry all of the joy. If someone shares with me that they can forgive anyone but themselves, I know that Resentment is their constant, relentless, soul-crushing companion.
It’s not selfish to work on you.
It’s really the only work that we can do.
Other people can be the vehicles for our growth, but they can only take us so far. At some point, we will all face the reality of our own personal “inside job.”
This is not bad news. In fact, it’s time-saving news–start working on loving you, forgiving you, serving you, having compassion for you, and you will not only be cutting straight to the core, you’ll also be learning what it means to sink into someone else’s rough edges without being razed over. Working on you expands you–and that expansion is like a ripple effect that directly serves others.
Go ahead and “fake it until you make it” in the meantime. It’s not a bad thing to give, or to make pretenses at forgiveness even if you know that deep down there’s still a lot of work to do. Challenging ourselves to go beyond the places we’ve fully grown into is really an act of kindness to the world, and it exercises just the muscles that we need to strengthen.
Just don’t get caught up in the lie of there being a distinction between you, and everyone else.
We’re all One.