Choosing Assistance

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.

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Burn the Negatives; Make Room for the Positives

 

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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!