Choosing Assistance


Image: Damian Gadal

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
March 12, 2017

There are times in all of our lives when we need a little help from our friends.  Yet some of us have a hard time acknowledging that.

Last week I was talking with a friend who was commenting on the struggle she was encountering with some home repair projects she was trying to complete on her own.  Any of you who have attempted something similar, especially after the loss of someone you relied on to do these things, will recognize the dilemmas these tasks present.  It can seem like an overwhelming chore looming over you like a black cloud. You find yourself succumbing to the procrastination mantra:  I’ll do this when ________.  Fill in the blank with any mythic event in the nebulous future that will somehow enable you to handle this on your own.  As we talked, we both wondered why it was so hard to accept that sometimes you just can’t do everything all by yourself.  And, in fact, there are times when it is better not to even try.

Our culture has ingrained in us this mythical idea that self-sufficiency is the ultimate noble goal.  We need to be strong and face all of our challenges by ourselves.  This concept seems to be in our national DNA.  In fact, our society carries it to such an extreme that we get upset with people who we perceive as “not carrying their own weight”.  You can see this in the current debates raging around us, particularly when it comes to social services.  Policies are built with rules that will prevent the “undeserving” from obtaining services.  This means that arbitrary moral judgments need to be made about who is or is not deserving.  Sometimes following those rules is so daunting that even the “deserving” can’t get access to services.  Thus everybody complains and nobody benefits.  Somewhere along the line we have lost the sense of community and common good.  Or worse, our sense of community has become so distorted that only certain people are allowed to join.  If they don’t meet the requirements they become outsiders, not worthy of our generosity or even compassion.

This scenario may seem extreme, but I think you all know what I mean.  Still I can hardly profess to having the answers to all of the world’s problems.  One thing I do know, though, is that we can all do a better job of accepting our own limitations.  Sure we’ve all heard stories of people overcoming impossible obstacles to achieve some amazing goal.  Those stories can be inspirational.  But too often we forget that these are the exceptions, not the rule.  When we find ourselves unable to accomplish similar feats we can easily become discouraged, focusing on perceived inadequacies rather than recognizing that we, too, each have our own amazing skills.  Instead we withdraw into our safe little cocoons afraid to let anyone know that we might not measure up to the impossible standards we set for ourselves.  And – yes – we impose these standards on ourselves.  You can try to blame outside circumstances, but ultimately we make our own rules for acceptable behavior.

Let’s all engage in a little thought experiment.  Look back in your own life and try to find at least one achievement or experience you have had in which you accomplished something that you didn’t think you could do.  My guess is you’ll find something.  Probably more than one thing. We have all faced struggles and challenges.  Chances are, too, that each of these has been a learning experience. This is something that the “vulnerability expert” Brene Brown talks about in her speeches and writings.  Her message is that even though we think that putting on a brave face is what is expected of us regardless of how we feel, it actually takes more courage to acknowledge that not being perfect isn’t a measure of self-worth.  In an interview with Krista Tippett on the program “On Being” Ms. Brown said, “the most beautiful things I look back on in my life are coming out from underneath things I didn’t know I could get out from underneath. . . the moments that made me were moments of struggle.”

So needing help on occasion doesn’t mean inadequacy or even failure.  What it means is that each of us has certain gifts, but no one is always good at everything.  We can fall into the trap of thinking that other people have it all figured out, but somehow we missed the boat.  We are obsessed with perfection.  Interestingly, though, perfection itself is in the eye of the beholder.  There is no hard and fast definition of perfection that works for everyone.  I like the Urban Dictionary’s definition: “an impossibility, something unattainable, something that cannot be reached..ever.”  Even the Cambridge English Dictionary defines perfection as “the state of being complete and correct in every way”.  Does anyone know of any person or thing that meets that consistently meets that definition?  Of course not!  And yet somehow we expect it of ourselves.

Here’s another thought experiment:  think of all the times when you have helped someone else.  Usually, you feel good about helping and give your assistance freely.  You feel glad that you were asked for your help.  Why not spread those good feelings around?  When you ask for help you are giving someone else the opportunity to experience those good feelings.  So instead of feeling needy, you can actually feel altruistic.

All of this can, of course, relate to my favorite topic – exercise.  Sadly, I still hear people say that they don’t want to come to a class because they are sure everyone is going to point and stare and laugh because of their inability to be perfect.  There are, of course, many flaws in this viewpoint not the least of which is that everyone starts somewhere and even people with innate abilities were not born experts.  All attempts, no matter how rudimentary, are opportunities for learning.  So give the people around you credit for their willingness to support and help you along your journey, wherever you are on that path.  Accept their help at whatever level it is offered. You might be surprised to learn that none of them is perfect either.

Delete “Should” By Peg Ryan “Mile High Pilates and Yoga”


Delete “Should”

Mile High Pilates and Yoga
By Peg Ryan

Custer, SD – A friend recently expressed her frustration with the requirements we establish for ourselves.  “The word “should” needs to be eliminated from our vocabulary,” she exclaimed.  Amen to that.  I would also add the word “expectation” to any list of tyrannical and misleading words.  You can all probably think of others.  And – yes – I think the word “tyrannical” applies since we hold these words over our heads like mallets ready to bludgeon us whenever we perceive a shortcoming in ourselves or others.   Sharon Salzberg has some enlightening thoughts on this subject on the On Being website which she has expressed in an article called “The Tyranny of Aspiration”.  In it she talks about a friend inviting her to Washington, DC to see the cherry blossoms.  As she observed the beauty of her surroundings, her friend remarked that the trees were past peak.  Suddenly her enjoyment changed to let-down as expectations clashed with reality.  One more reminder that making plans can be useful as long as the outcome is left out of the plan.  Let outcomes be whatever they become.  There’s probably nothing you can or could have done to change the outcome anyway so accept what it is and let go of labels and categories.  It is what it is and that’s the best it can be right now.

At this time of year when celebrations abound, the specter of “should” can feel particularly threatening.  Did I do everything I was supposed to do? What could I have done better?  As I sit here watching the snow fall outside my window, I wonder about all of those people who had travel in their plans.  Some may be patting themselves on the back for leaving early, but others may be disappointed that their plans were disrupted.  Still others may have decided that all the warnings didn’t apply to them and their determination to do what they said they would do will somehow bestow some kind of badge of honor upon them.  I hope none of you reading this are in this latter category.  But many of us have been there at one time or another.  During my commuting years I remember all of the times when getting to work or some other commitment seemed so important that I was determined to get there regardless of horrendous weather.  There were times when a 20 mile drive could take as long as 3 hours.  But all the “shoulds” and expectations would not allow me to acknowledge that my presence at whatever place I was headed to was not really that important.

Fortunately, I’m older and at least (hopefully) a little wiser now.  Or at least more experienced.  But I can still fall into the “should” trap just like everyone else.  Another friend recently talked about the need to stop comparing abilities today with those of yesterday.  She said “I need to stop reminding myself of all the things I used to be able to do”.  That was then, this is now. The things we’ve accomplished in our past may have been fabulous.  But the fact that our abilities have changed is not a cause for disappointment or sadness, but rather a time to recognize and enjoy what we can do today.  Like everything else in the world, our bodies have changed.  This is a fact no matter how old you are.  And here’s another reality to consider: every day we age a little bit more and everything continues to change.  I saw a quote recently, “Without change there would be no butterflies.”  Not sure who said it, but it’s a good thought.  Accepting and adapting to where you are today is one more opportunity for practice.  There’s that word again – practice.  Everyday presents another practice challenge.  Practice itself is not about achievement.  It’s about trying again each time we fall back into the expectation trap, recognizing that it’s not the end of the world.  Just another experience to add to the many that make us who we are.

Another concept that inspired me this week was described by Elizabeth Gilbert in an interview on “On Being”.  She spoke of choosing curiosity over fear, primarily in the context of expressing creativity.  But I would take it a step further.  Many of us let fear prevail because of cultural conditioning.  We are the sum of our experiences, good and bad, positive and negative, and everything in between.  This brings me to the other word I would like to banish:  “expectations”.  We expect things of ourselves and others because of repeated messages we receive and internalize.  Instead of allowing ourselves to be curious about unknown people or ideas, we often let fear prevail keeping us from learning something new and perhaps unexpected.  At this time of year when we are especially focused on giving and receiving, it might help to think of the knowledge we receive by overcoming fear as a gift.  In an article called “Acceptance as Giving” the author Madisyn Taylor speaks of “allowing ourselves the gift of seeing through another person’s eyes”.  She goes on to say that although giving and receiving are part of the same cycle, we often try to be too controlling on one side or the other.  By letting go of expectations we open ourselves up to experiences that may be unlike anything we could have imagined.

This all may seem very esoteric and beyond our real life experience, but let me bring these concepts back to the main topic of this blog – exercise.  When you come into a class or begin whatever movement modality you practice, start with the conscious intention of letting go of “shoulds” and all other expectations.  Although practice does require a daily choice and commitment to follow through, it does not require you to look or feel any particular way.  Each day and each effort is different.  If on any given day you can’t seem to perform with the same energy that you had yesterday, so be it.  Tomorrow will be different.  Just do what you can.  Maybe you’ll stop a bit sooner than you might have on a different day.  Or maybe the idea that less is more will be your new reality and you need to learn to accept it.  Either way do the best you can with what you have to work with today and it will always be exactly what it is supposed to be.  By giving yourself the same compassion that you would give to someone else you might even receive a bit more patience and tolerance for yourself.