It had been 90 minutes since my neighbor shared her criticism about the way I choose to live, when suddenly it clicked. This squabble would have been the perfect opportunity to practice bringing myself back into center after the intimidating situation sent my body swirling into a frenzy of fight, flight or freeze mode.
Earlier, I’d spent the day in self-awareness mode with the Life 2.0 program, where I experienced “The Grab,” a practice that emerged from Aikido and, more specifically, Richard Strozzi Heckler’s Strozzi Institute.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this exercise named with a word that carries a generally negative connotation. Michael Jackson was all that came to mind. But it turned out to be pretty innocent. I was to spend a moment centering myself, speak my commitment statement, then wait for my partner to touch my shoulder while saying “Kara.” After “the grab,” I was to re-center and again speak my commitment statement.
Simple. But I was in awe at what I discovered with my reaction. Our teacher, Mike Cohen, told us to notice the sensations in our body and how we moved; maybe that was movement away, toward, or into a protective stance.
Despite expecting this interference, I was incredibly startled. First, my chest began to buzz as anxiety radiated down and outward at the anticipation. Then, at the grab, I stayed in my spot, but I jumped straight up, letting out a little squeal of surprise. My hands flipped up, palms flat, facing out in that “I surrender” mode. I laughed at the unexpected response. And then, with intention, I found myself able to come back to center.
While it was a simple exercise, what it revealed for me was profound. My partner pointed out that I threw my hands up, as if I were being mugged. Interestingly, my Enneagram 9 personality type is known as “the peacemaker.” Nines tend to avoid conflict and argument in an unhealthy surrender for the sake of peace. The anxious buzz radiating through my chest was familiar; it’s that same feeling I get when I’m bracing myself for a stressful situation. Moving up feels similar to where I go in fear; sometimes, it’s as if the “right” words are pulled straight up and out of my mind during scary conversations. And the laughter! Geesh! As I pondered this, I realized laughter can be a nervous habit, too. All this self-awareness in a seemingly small exercise! This extraordinary lesson brings to mind a rather pithy quote: “How we do one thing is how we do everything.”
Each of us experiences stress in our own way. The lesson here, however, isn’t the awareness of our innate reactionary tendencies; the lesson is in how we have the power to re-center and then act. I was able to quickly regain my center, feeling grounded and calm. Realizing my reaction to this simulation is nearly identical to how I react to real stress means I can face my fears if I can just find that center before extending myself into the world.
When you act from this place, you are more likely to show up rationally instead of reacting with imbalanced emotion. You’re able to engage as an adult, rather than stepping into the drama triangle of victim, persecutor or rescuer. Essentially, you’re more capable of problem-solving effectively and diffusing situations that may lead to regret later.
How I find my center: First, I imagine roots growing from my feet, then my awareness comes to the visceral length, width and depth of my body as I silently speak the words of a commitment statement that guides my day-to-day living. It takes practice, and, at first, it’s easier with closed eyes. And while I did not consciously practice centering while speaking with my neighbor, the afterthought is a positive step in practice. (“Yeah! You can do this, Kara!” Yep, I’ve got an inner cheerleader, too. She stomps all over that devilish inner critic.) Someday, the centering will become second-nature, eyes wide open.
As for the lifestyle disagreement, my neighbor’s yard is meticulously manicured and kempt, while mine is wild with edible and medicinal plants. My backyard is a learning lab wonderland for aspiring herbalists, like myself. I can’t bear to “tidy” her up, cut her down and tame her, especially with the intrigue of what’s waiting to spring to life.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So I re-centered and took the experience as an opportunity to share my perspective of beautiful–the magic of plants–and hosted a neighborhood herb walk in my own backyard.
Author: Kara McNabb provides natural health consultations using the principles of naturopathy.