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What’s the difference between falling and flying?

My intention?
My ability?
My landing?

Recently, I’ve had Grace Potter & The Nocturnals song, Falling and Flying playing in my ears and in my head. I can feel that both falling and flying are full of energy. Both falling and flying can be scary and unsettling and both can be exciting and eye-opening. So what’s the difference?

Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestault Therapy said this about that:

What if the difference between falling and flying is breathing?

Breath has the power to nourish and cleanse, to energize and relax, to ground and empower. Let your breath flow and you convert falling into flying, fear into excitement, panic into peace.

This week, whenever you feel the grip of fear, go to your breath. Do whatever you can to breathe into the tight, stuck places. Let the energy move rather than be held rigid.

Breathe and transform falling into flying.

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wasabi peas 2Yesterday, I wrote about an argument I overheard over wasabi peas. Oddly, it was very much like arguments that I have in my own head all the time. Turns out that most people have one part of them which is about discipline and toeing the line and another that is about creativity and spontaneity. Not surprisingly, these two are almost always fiercely at loggerheads.

CLAW brawladine-vs-chains-n-cheeriosThink Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers. Fierce. Grim. Intense.  No compromise.  No middle ground.  No way.  Grrrrrrr.

In Gestalt Therapy, these two sides of the personality are called Top Dog and Underdog (for more information, click here and here) which invites looking clearly at the needs underneath the seemingly contradictory positions both sides tend to hold.

James Yates, a Charlottesville Gestalt Therapist, offers the best description I’ve found of these two sides of ourselves in his book, A Career with Heart: A Step-By-Step Guide to Discovering Your Life Path:

The Top Dog, similar to Freud’s Superego, is made up of beliefs and behaviors that are attempts to adapt the self to social reality, i.e., to get love and acceptance and to avoid punishment, abuse, rejection, abandonment, and criticism. This includes controlling the Underdog’s behavior with ‘shoulds,’ ‘have to’s’ and self-defeating beliefs such as ‘You don’t deserve it,’ ‘There’s something wrong with you,’ and ‘You’re bad.’ A common Top Dog strategy is to suppress emotions including anger, grief, and fear, as well as joy and excitement.

The Underdog represents the spontaneous, expressive self who is focused on self-fulfillment, self-expression, and expressing and satisfying wants. In the face of the Top Dog’s domination and continual demands, the Underdog may withdraw, drag its feet, rebel, or do whatever it can to maintain some dignity and get its needs met.

Much like those Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers, when I look at the root of their arguments, usually they are not contradictory at all (both CLAW competitors really just want to have fun, put on a great show and raise money for worthy causes). Both sides want the best for me, want me to be happy, want me to be safe and loved, but their approaches to get this is wildly different.

Instead of passively sitting aside and letting these two attack each other, I’m finding that when a Wasabi Pea incident comes up (oh yes, many times a day), what works is to listen to both sides. By paying attention to both parts, I can help them see that they want the same things and how they can both get their needs met. By letting Structure (Top Dog) and Expression (Underdog) talk to each other and integrate their needs, then I tend to make better decisions that really address all sides of me.

In my meditation example, I might listen to both sides of the argument and say to Expression, “Okay, how about if we just sit for 5 minutes? If you still want to get up and do something else then, we can.” Or, I might suggest sitting for the full 20 minutes and ask Structure to schedule 40 minutes of expressive, creative play later. Funny as it sounds, it really is like having arguing kids or a fighting young couple in my head and it’s my job to help them understand each other and get along.

Play with this for yourself. Notice when you start having your own internal Wasabi Pea fight. Maybe you are resisting getting up early to go for a run, or you want to cut back on sugar but find that you consistently overeat chocolate, or Ben & Jerry’s keeps winning out over kale. Whatever it is for you, see if you can recognize the two sides of yourself and instead of allowing them to have a knock-down, drag-out, listen to them both compassionately and see what you learn and how everybody can get their needs met.

With a little attention and care, the international aisles of our minds and of Harris Teeters everywhere might be more integrated and peaceful. As always, I’d love to hear how this goes for you!

wasabi peas 1Recently in a Harris Teeter, I was scouring the international section looking hopelessly for toasted sesame oil. As I scanned each shelf, finding everything from tamari to sweet and sour sauce, rice noodles to seaweed snacks, a young couple came down the aisle. This is what I overheard:

She: Okay, so would you like some spaghetti? That’s inexpensive and…
He: Hey! Wasabi Peas!! I love wasabi peas! Let’s get some.
She: No, we’re not getting wasabi peas. They’re expensive and you’ll eat them in one second. What about the spaghetti? Do you want spaghetti?
He: No, I want wasabi peas. Here’s another kind, I haven’t had these before. Let’s get these.
She: No, we’re not getting wasabi peas! We only have $40 to spend and we’re not buying an expensive snack that isn’t even that good for you.
He: (picking up another container of wasabi peas) Yeah, I want some wasabi peas.

I don’t know exactly how the conversation continued, since (still without any sesame oil) I moved on to the condiments aisle. But later, when the couple came up behind us in the checkout line, there in their cart was a box of spaghetti and a 12-pack of Corona, and a big can of wasabi peas.

My stomach hurt a little after overhearing their fight. At first, my discomfort was just at the sadness of conflict in a relationship. I’ve had variations on the Wasabi Pea Fight with lovers, children, and friends, for sure, and it never feels good. Neither side is listening, just butting against each other. As I sat with it, though, what hit even closer to home was that I have the Wasabi Pea Fight in my own head all the time.

In my mind, probably several times a day, there is a fight between the structured and disciplined side of me vs. the expressive, creative side of me. The two of them argue almost exactly like the couple. So for example, Structure & Discipline wants me to meditate every day for 20 minutes. She knows that when I do this, I am more balanced all day, more focused, and happier. She knows it’s good for me to sit every day. Expression & Creativity, on the other hand, hates to be tied down into sitting regularly. She’d rather have the freedom to do what she wants: maybe have another cup of tea, or listen to some music, or fiddle around on Facebook. So the two sides of me have a big, fat Wasabi Pea Fight right there in the international aisle of my mind.

We all have these two sides – Structure and Expression — that tend to butt up against each other and seem constantly at odds with each other. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about how Fritz Perls described these two forces in Gestalt Therapy and how to shift the conversation. In the meantime, let me know what your two sides are arguing about today.

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