“Where did you get the idea that you’re supposed to do it alone?”
My acupuncturist asked me this question during a recent treatment for back pain. She reminded me that in acupuncture, issues in the lower back are related to the degree of support in our lives, and she wondered how I was doing in this regard. I told her I was exhausted by the effort of figuring out some important challenges facing me right now – that I’m frustrated by the process, and feeling isolated in my confusion.
She paused, then asked, “Why would you avoid the help available to you?”
Since then, I’ve been mulling this question over. Why would I?
What I’m noticing is what happens when I behave as if I’m the only one who knows the answers I seek. If you’re like me, you revert to this behavior when you’re in the uncomfortable place of not knowing; you buck up and deal with it on your own. I go inward, seeking clarity for the next right step through journaling or meditation. I don’t want to share this process with others because it’s murky, slippery, hard to work with.
It’s counter-intuitive, this closing down in a time of need. Rather than expanding my options, I narrow my field of focus. Rather than looking for guides or traveling companions who might share the load, I shoulder it all myself. I withdraw from my support system, rather than relying on it to help me navigate the waters.
Ironically, I teach others to avoid doing this very same thing. In my Unfurling program, there’s an entire session devoted to calling in support. I love what happens within the group when participants recognize in themselves and each other how hard we believe it is to ask for help, and how easily we can shift that habit. An incredible relief descends on the conversation. We all breathe easier when we agree to take the pressure off ourselves, and open up to receiving assistance from our allies – both seen and unseen.
When my acupuncturist asked me what support would feel like right now, tears came to my eyes. I saw that I’d cooked up a story about how THIS particular journey is mine alone and no one has what I need to figure out what comes next. When I released that story and said OK to receiving the support I actually need right now, I felt a huge relief. I felt held.
A state of lockdown
When I believe I’m a solo act, I shift into survival mode. My thinking narrows itself down to black and white scenarios, and I generally don’t like any of the options I see. I find it excruciatingly difficult to be creative. My writing gets clunky. I can’t plan a dinner, much less the next steps of a project I’m working on. I lose interest in the world around me and miss all sorts of gorgeousness.
My body also reacts to the belief that I’m unsupported. I’m stiff, sore and tense. Yoga poses I normally slip into with relief create havoc in my joints. I carry myself gingerly, like someone recovering from surgery. When I catch a reflection of myself in the mirror, I think “Poor woman!”
We can trust that all around us are allies, just waiting to be called upon. They see where we are on our journeys, they have what we need, and they want to help. We are fully supported by an interconnected web of kindness and wellbeing. The only thing holding us back from accessing this web is our belief that it doesn’t exist.
Our allies include people, places, and practices. Some are visible, some are not. It’s important to recognize which allies we want for this particular part of our path: do we need compassion and empathy? Sage advice? A sounding board? A restorative yoga session? The space to breathe? A totem to remind us of our special superpower?
Once we see who or what might help, it’s on us to make the ask. For some of us this is really really hard. We may believe asking for help is admitting “weakness”. We may not trust that someone else’s ideas are in our best interest. We may be afraid of sharing the vulnerability of not knowing.
The big mistake, I’m learning, is denying ourselves support and trying to muscle our way through life. When we join hands with our allies, we release ourselves from rigid contraction, and allow openness and softness to arise. We find new ways to connect, which leads to new possibilities. We breathe easier.
While the journey I’m on is mine, I’m certainly not alone.
Are you pretending that you’re a solo act? What type of support can you call in right now? Who’s on your Dream Team of allies?