Judgment-Free Zone

With all the recent emphasis on the many ways in which we humans are different from each other, it seems like an appropriate time to remind ourselves of all the traits we share.  For example, we all have the capacity for joy and pain.  Few among us enjoy being miserable. Most of us want to be happy, comfortable and safe.  In general, we all want to survive and thrive.  We may have different ideas about what will make that happen, but the goal is still the same.  Survival is an instinct we share with every other living thing on the planet.

Yet each of us is also unique.  We come in different shapes and sizes.  No two humans are exactly alike, even identical twins.  Our ages might be similar, yet we can still be at different stages of our lives.  We come from different backgrounds experiencing varied ways of viewing the world.  We might even come from the same family and still have dissimilar viewpoints. How often have you recalled an incident from the past with a sibling or other family member and found that your memory of what happened is totally different from theirs? Both of you might have been present at the same time and place yet your perceptions of the event were different.  There’s a clue:  it’s all about perception.  As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Of course, there are ways in which perceptions can cross a dangerous line, especially when a focus or belief becomes so narrow and fixed that other ideas, no matter how rational, simply can’t penetrate.  But my point here is not to preach or point out all of the ways in which humans treat each other badly. I don’t think any of us needs any reminders of those things.  Instead I’d rather see us all at least try to focus on ways in which we are all similar.

Again, it’s all about perception.  Rather than viewing our differences with fear, envy, self-righteousness or self-deprecation, maybe we can try celebrating our individual uniqueness while still recognizing that we are all fallible human beings.  Of course, it would be ideal if everyone treated each other that way.  None of us has any real control over how anyone else views the world.  In fact, we often have little control over the circumstances in which find ourselves. But no matter where we’re at or what we’re facing, we can always change our perception.  It might not be easy, but it’s always possible.

The problems of the world may be overwhelming, but if we each make our own contribution to perception improvement there’s no telling what effect it might have.  My own small attempt at this is to provide a judgment-free zone in all of my classes.  No matter who you are, where you come from, what you look like, your choice in partners, your beliefs, your physical abilities or dis-abilities, you will always be welcome in any of my classes.  We’re all seeking the same thing – to be healthy and to feel good about ourselves – even if we look differently while we’re doing it.  No judging allowed. We can each move in whatever way works for us as individuals while still enjoying the fact that we are all moving together. Everyone does whatever they can do to the best of their ability.  And if you’re reading this but can’t come to one of my classes, seek out a judgment-free zone near you.  It might take a little effort, but I’ll bet there is one somewhere near you.  There’s nothing like moving your body to help remind you that good feelings are still possible in our troubled world.

Burn the Negatives; Make Room for the Positives


Burn the Negatives; Make Room for the Positives. Photo: Herb Ryan: http://www.custerfreepress.com

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
January 22, 2017

CUSTER, SD – Winter can feel overwhelming at times.  For example, weather can interfere with the best laid plans.  Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution to walk more.  You start off really well and suddenly the temperatures dive, the sidewalks shine with ice and the trails in the woods are clogged with snow. Even winter sports enthusiasts can be disappointed when there is just enough snow and ice to be a hazard, but not enough to support the fun stuff.  If you decide to go elsewhere to ski or swim, you can find yourself stymied by airline delays or cancellations. Then there is the busyness that comes in January after the long stretch of holiday breaks that characterize November and December.  So much to catch up on – so little time!  Despite solstice the days are still short.  Time seems compressed and suddenly everyone seems to want a piece of yours.  There just never seems to be enough to go around.

Combine all this with Seasonal Affected Disorder and (dare I say it . . .) post-election anxiety and we have the ingredients for a deep dive into depression.  Take heart, though.  Just when you think hope is pointless and the light at the end of the tunnel appears dim or even non-existent, along comes the Burning Beetle Blues Festival in Custer SD.  What a great example of turning negatives into positives.

For the past couple of decades, the forests in western states from Canada to the southwest U.S. have been ravaged by an onslaught of voracious bark beetles.  The plague has had an enormous impact on the Black Hills in general, and Custer in particular.  About 5 years ago, some Custer residents decided to turn the hand-wringing and lamentation into action.  Thus began the Bark Beetle Blues festival.  The first year of the event saw residents drowning their sorrows in music and art.  Sculptures and picture frames were created with the “blue wood” of the dead trees remaining after the beetles had their fill.  The talented musicians of the Black Hills wrote songs and performed them for a delighted audience.  School children danced and sang.  The festival became a much needed and appreciated antidote for cabin fever in the middle of January when most South Dakotans are house-bound and already longing for Spring.  The following year launched what has become a tradition of burning a huge effigy of a beetle.  Since then the festival has grown to include a variety show and fireworks display. Last year a crew from National Geographic turned up to film the event.  (Unfortunately, I could not find an on-line link to the article, but you can probably find a paper copy in a local library.)   Some years have featured bitter cold January weather, but that has not stopped a huge crowd from turning out for these events.

Witnessing this year’s event made me think of the ritual of the fire puja.  Fire is one of the five basic elements including earth, water, air and ether (empty space) that provide the energies of our known universe.  Using the ritual of fire helps us to let go of things that are no longer useful to make room for new ideas and intentions.  Of course we always want to honor the power of fire and treat it appropriately, but with safety taken into consideration, we can all create our own fire ritual.  If you’re feeling stuck, it can be very satisfying to think about the obstacles in your path, write them on paper and cast them in the fire.  Taking some time to recognize the factors in your way can be the first step to finding ways around them.

Many of us can find examples in our own lives where unexpected positives have emerged from even the most dire or sorrowful situations. This is certainly true for me.  Many of the plans I made in my life have not panned out, but other things have happened that I never could have imagined.  This has become a good reminder when I become disappointed over something not going my way.  And – yes – I need to remind myself.  It is a daily practice to remember to take each day as it comes and accept things as they are, proceeding from there instead of wishing things were different and letting negativity cloud my day.

In recent weeks I’ve seen friends of mine turn their fear into activism.  They have been joined by others who share their concerns.  Perhaps they’ve been surprised to learn that so many others felt the same way they did.  It is a confidence-builder to find out you’re not alone.  Taking that first dangerous step into the unknown can feel so solitary and isolating.  But once that leap is made, the results can be surprising.  In the fire ritual, mourning can be a necessary process leading up to the decision to let go.  But at some point it is necessary to let the mourning pass and rejoin the world.  It’s not always easy and it can be a rocky process, but all it really takes is putting one foot in front of the other and being open to the opportunities around you.  That, too, is an opportunity for practice.

So, to borrow from Shakespeare, if now is the winter of your discontent, try moving out of your own way.  Throw those obstacles into the fire and take a chance on something new.  Renew your resolve to do whatever you decided to accomplish in 2017.  And remember – if your New Year’s resolutions are already getting lost in the undertow or if weather has gotten in the way of your movement plans, there is no better time than now to find a new activity.  An exercise class is a great way to start.  Movement will lift your mood and boost your energy.  Also just like my activist friends, you may be surprised to find friendly like-minded souls who will happily help you along on your journey without judgment of any kind.  We are all looking forward to having you to join us.  Our welcome mat is always out!