Make it Big!
We are very creative people when it comes to finding ways to distract ourselves. Our heads often get in our way and present us with many different stories so that we maintain life as it is rather than change. As a group at Phase One at Haven, we created a list of distractions used to keep us stuck. It was a rather long list and it did not take very long to complete.
I have two main ways to keep me stuck and away from change. One looks toward the future and one looks back. My tendency when I imagine a future happening is to “awfulize” the situation. I focus on all the possible “bad” things that could happen. I build and build until I am frozen and unable to consider any possible change. In that place I shut down. Looking back, I overwhelm myself with all the “shoulds” — the way I thought I was supposed to be. I can give myself great grief and get stuck again in beating up on myself.
I was pleased to learn during my experience at Haven how quickly I recognize that I am stuck in these places. This awareness was the first step.
If we keep taking checks inside to monitor what is happening to us at a body level, this awareness is easier.
The next step is to acknowledge what I am doing. I must acknowledge to myself and possibly others that I am using this way to distract myself — before I can change it. A simple statement to myself like — there I go awfulizing again — gives a message to my body that this is something I am doing to myself.
The next step is acceptance. This distraction is part of who I am and what I do. This is a part of me that I cannot change. It will always be part of me. It is what I do. I can, however, catch myself faster and faster. I can make another choice at any moment.
When I make a different choice — I have reached the next step which is action. For me, the action is often choosing to live in the present moment rather than choosing to be trapped in an endless loop of awfulizing a future situation or beating myself up with all the shoulds of what could have happened in the past.
These steps are commonly referred to at Haven as the 4 A’s and are part of the teachings there.
(For more on the 4 A’s see page 28 in A NEW Manual for Life)
For me, sometimes a simple recognition of what I am choosing to do to myself is enough to shift out of being stuck. Sometimes this is a repeated process of reminding myself again and again until I eventually move past it for this time. Sometimes I get totally stuck in an endless circle with no apparent way to get out. In that place, Haven teaches a strategy called “make it big.” It can be used for any kind of obsession that is going around and around in your mind. The same ideas keep cycling over and over again in your mind.
In this Haven strategy, the idea is to take whatever it is that you are obsessing about and make it big — larger than life. Go right into it. This involves your voice and your body.
Walking in a circle, make your movement and steps match the feelings in your body. Use your voice to vocalize making each statement louder and louder. Keep making it bigger and bigger until you reach your time limit. Set it up in advance with a time limit. Use a timer or a friend.
Getting a friend to listen is a great help. Let your friend know your intent and get their agreement to cooperate. You want them there to just listen — not to give feedback. This strategy helps to get the obsession out of your system. It is part of you, so you give it a place in your life rather than pretending it does not exist. Set it up the way that you want rather than having the obsession in control of your life.
I witnessed one example where a person used this strategy to get past obsessions about work. He vocalized all the things he was thinking about work. His voice got louder as he went. His steps were more and more exaggerated. With time, the obsession ran its course. He then had more clarity and focus for the group experience, rather than being stuck in the thoughts of work that had been triggered by a recent phone call. He could do nothing about the work issues at that moment, yet they were taking over his thoughts. Giving them a place in his life, accepting them as part of himself, he was able to move past the thoughts and put them to rest — for a while. He is good at the obsession thing so they will creep back and with awareness he can express them and let them go.
Another example was a person who was trying to find some direction in his life. He allowed his worries about the future and any ideas of what he might consider doing with his life to come to the surface as he walked. This process allowed him to access some of the emotions that he was stuffing as well. He was able to express them through this process, let them go and move on. By allowing the ideas to flow freely, he could see which ones came up more often than others. He could take a check inside his body and see which ones fit. He needed to get past the emotions and the worry first. Making it big allowed him to do that.
We had a time of silence and reflection during the program. During the few days prior to this, my “shoulds” had been building. We were nearing the end of the program and rather than look on the things I had accomplished, I was stuck in the “shoulds.” Often it was enough for me to notice the shoulds and remind myself to look at the things I had done instead. This time, it was not working. The “shoulds” brewed in my mind for a couple of days.
During the silence, I went for a long walk. With each step there seemed to be another thing that I felt I should have done or should have said. Most of my shoulds related to times when I chose not to say something. I was in silence and I was walking on a public road so I chose to express my shoulds in my head. I went right into it and I went over and over them again and again. I had a should for every step. The force of my steps increased. I brought up every should that I could think of.
Without any warning, I let it all go. My whole body relaxed. My face softened. I was aware of the fact that I was grinning. I felt alive in my body. I was thrilled to be alive. From out of nowhere, the words “I’m back!” came out of my mouth. I said it again and again and felt it everywhere in my body. I felt this aliveness through the rest of the Haven experience.
Since returning from Haven, I am more aware of the experiences in my body. I have spent a lot of time in my head having it run the show. Now, I often scan my body to see what is up. My goal is to continue to do this regularly once work starts again and see if I can catch myself faster and faster. Taking regular breaks to breathe and check on what my body is doing will help keep me in the moment and aware. In reality, I imagine I will have to remind myself to stay present over and over again. I’m thinking I will set up little signs in all my work spaces.
One day at Haven, I went to the session with a headache. One of the leaders commented to me that I had the body position for a headache. This was a normal body position for me and I often have had headaches. My shoulders go up and they roll forward. For the remainder of time at Haven, I worked consciously on keeping my shoulders down and back. It felt so uncomfortable and unnatural because it was not a position I was familiar with. I kept working on it. I would often shift my body and let it come back to the place I wanted it to be. I noticed about two weeks after coming home that my shoulders were down and back and I feel comfortable in this place.
I imagine if I can stay tuned in to my body, I can use this as a sign that I am allowing things to get to me. I keep taking body checks on a regular basis each day and hope I will be able to do that even when I am busy at work. The earlier we can catch ourselves, the easier it is to correct. Awareness is the first step.