Therapist's Note: There comes a point in the counseling process where I can say to my client, “Did you ever imagine you’d get here when we started?” Usually eyes will widen, a head will shake...then a grin emerges. Here’s an illustration from my own life of how we can come to exceed our expectations of ourselves by leaning into our discomfort a little at a time.
Outstretched fingers reach for distant toes
Muscles groan and grumble
against the discomfort of less familiar pathways.
Inhale: spine lengthens,
space growing between each and every vertebrae.
Exhale: heart melts toward the floor,
space collapsing between chest and legs.
Muscles sigh and lighten,
releasing into refreshing new postures.
Outstretched fingers meet toes at last.
Confession: I spent the better part of my life passively accepting that I couldn’t touch my toes. I even told myself it just might not be possible, something about the proportions of my torso to my legs I theorized, without doing any research that might end up proving me wrong.
I still remember that embarrassing moment in elementary school gym class when I failed my “sit and reach” fitness test--my desperate fingers falling short of the marked line on the yardstick. That moment easily could have inspired determination to improve my flexibility, but instead it solidified my rigid resignation to remain tense. I shrugged my shoulders and went back to things I knew I could achieve; there was more glory in getting to the top of the rope climb than in touching my toes anyway.
A year ago today, events in my life conspired to coerce me into practicing yoga regularly. My rigid resignation to remain tense wasn’t working so well for me as it turns out.
Confession: I wasn’t good at it, truly, not at all. Yet (miraculously) I kept coming back to my mat once or twice a week, showing myself grace and compassion even as my awkward, clumsy body lurched and stumbled through unfamiliar, uncomfortable positions.
Then one day, without much effort or fanfare: I touched my toes.
Then another day, also without much effort or fanfare: I folded my fingers all the way over the tops of my feet.
Maybe someday: I’ll reach even farther.
This is so often what it is like to change. Consistent enough incremental discomfort eventually adds up to a whole new sense of self that defies previously-held notions of who we are and what we can do. There likely won’t be much glory in it, but the lightness and the release in our mental and emotional muscles feels so...darn...good.
Think about what you are trying to change in your life at this very moment.
I imagine there was a time, not so long ago, that you assumed the way you were was the way you were always going to be. Then came a time, also not so long ago, when the discomfort of staying the same finally outweighed the discomfort of stretching into new parts of yourself.
Now you’re here, on the mat, feeling unsure and perhaps a little silly. Yet you show yourself the grace and compassion you need for your next move.
You lean into the discomfort, just enough to find your edge. You do a little something new here. You stop doing a little something old there. You don’t strain, but do stretch. Afterward, you take a day or two off, until you’re ready to come back to the mat again.
Then one day, without much effort or fanfare: you just barely skim the surface of what you’re been reaching for.
Then another day, without much effort or fanfare: you firmly grasp what you’ve been reaching for.
Maybe someday: you’ll reach even farther.
Even while your reaching comes up short, notice how with each little stretch your heart and mind release rigidity and soften into flexibility.
Doesn't it feel so...darn...good?
For Further Reflection: Take a moment to reach for your toes. I mean it! Notice when the discomfort starts to emerge. What sensations do you feel? Where does your mind wander? How does this remind you of the changes you are trying to make in your life?
Here you will find metaphors, images, reflections, and inspiration on the change process. Psychotherapy intersects with creativity, nature, and spirituality on these pages. You can start anywhere you'd like. You'll find a note on my thoughts as a therapist as well as a prompt for your own reflection at the beginning and end of each entry.
I'm a licensed therapist in private practice in Indianapolis who provides counseling to individuals and couples, particularly around issues of anxiety, adjustment, and relationship wellness.