The travel urinal I bought to stash under my driver seat might have been an indicator of overdoing. And yet I had spoken with another fellow who was commuting not just 1.5 hours through heinous LA traffic, but actually 3.5 hours in traffic each shift. My discomfort felt flimsy in comparison.
Where is the tipping point between striving in a way that allows you to grow, and striving a way that suppresses you? I would say this is a constantly moving target. I have found it to be related to age, stage in my career, health conditions. After my diagnosis of Grave’s disease, I am no longer able to strive and push my physical body, to ignore tell tale signs of fatigue in a way I was once accustomed to. For me, this tipping point is directly informed by the felt sense in my body. When the balance affords me more excitement and growth than punishment, the felt sense in my body is lightness and a sense of almost jubilation in my throat and solar plexus.
The crushing sense of imbalance and not wanting more struggle feels like a heaviness and density- a concreteness in those same areas.
I am not new to striving or pushing. I am a long term over doer- instructed through a lineage of women whom had to struggle really hard just to stay above water in their lives. I have also been indoctrinated into the perfectionistic culture of education and specifically western medical education- in which professionals are generally hazed into their careers. An interesting aspect about over-efforting, is that it often does not bring the results that we seek. Overtraining physically is directly related with injury. Staying in dysfunctional work environments can erode your mental well being.
When does striving tip a scale into self-perpetuated violence? When does sacrifice become crushing to one’s personal and professional development? When do relationship need to be gently let go of?
Again, for me, these questions are constantly in a state of flux, but can be answered by the felt sense in the physical. When I engage in a situation or person, do I find myself wanting more? Or do I find myself with a sense of dread. We all have to do tasks that we dread for certain periods of time. But overall, when I get to the end of my life, I want my work, my relationships and my physical experiences to sum up to a balance of joy.
I was taught growing up that striving was an ethic. Work hard, and everything will work out. And yet, time and time again that was not the case. Often, the more I bent over backwards or jumped, the more I was expected to bend over backwards.
As I have matured, I would modify that older adage to add that striving without compassion and wisdom is counter productive. In her research on how we effectively create change in our lives, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, identified compassion as being an underlying prerequisite for making lasting change.
When I can no longer sustain compassion for myself or others, this is a sign that some quiet, invisible scale has tipped, and I am no longer on the right path.
Pema Chodron writes in her beautiful book When Things Fall Apart: "How are we ever going to change anything? How is there going to be less aggression in the universe, rather than more? We can then bring it down to a more personal level: how do I learn to communicate with somebody who is hurting me or hurting a lot of people? How do I speak to someone so that some change actually occurs? How do I communicate so the space opens up and both of us begin to touch in to some kind of basic intelligence that we all share? "
When I vilify others, I remove my compassion toward them and also toward myself. This is not a place I can make any intelligent moves from.
There were many signs prior to my start date that this contract was not right for me. It is a more junior position than my years of experience warrant. I did not want to do only outpatient clinical hours and I did not feel safe with the communication or education style of the program director. There were no women present on any of my interviews. Last minute demands were poorly communicated- if at all.
Finally, when the energy in my physical body felt like concrete and the demands made became untenable for my business, I was able to draw a boundary.
After finally saying no to the escalating unprofessional demands, it took me a good 12 hours to get my footing. At first I went into all of the ways in which I had been wronged, and weren’t these people bad at their jobs, and weren’t they villains in this drama. And then, at around 2 in the morning after the incident, I woke with a start, and realized I had forgotten my commitment.
I made a promise to myself this year (starting September 2022) to practice compassion practices for myself and others as soon as I felt slighted (or as soon as I could remember).
I lay in bed, in the still of the early morning, and sleepily sent compassion- to myself as well as to the people I perceived did me wrong. Not gushy love- just a simple whole hearted wish for health, for ease, for a release of suffering. As I focused my mind, I drifted back off to sleep.
When I woke, it was a new day- literally and figuratively. The compassion I had practiced, had shifted something in me. I could see there was no need to keep reviewing the events at hand, or strengthening my position as either a victor or a victim.
I looked with a larger view at the situation, and saw this contract was never right for me. That the felt sense was off.
I could see that the establishment of my boundary, and then the switch into compassion practice, allowed for a more healthful resolution of a potentially harmful cycle. And a more healthful state of my brain.
As a person who is driven toward learning more, seeking more, contributing more professionally, I have to take gentle care to balance that drive with the basic requirement of non-violence, of ease, of peace in my daily life. I am completely imperfect in this practice and also completely devoted to seeking a different balance in my life- and by extension, in my professional teachings. I seek teachers and learning situations where I can become more educated without losing the basic tenants for my humanity. Without losing my compassion for myself and others. And for absolute certainty- without the need, to use a travel urinal to get to work.
On the grind since forever! Me doing a V02 Max test Ca. 1999, SF State University Ex Phys Lab