I watched another video from the TEDxUNR event in January. Not because one of my friends linked to it, this time; it showed up in my feed because I’m following TEDxUniversityofNevada on the Book of Face. But the title caught me:
Psychological flexibility: How love turns pain into purpose. The presenter is Steven Hayes, a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, and it is…well, both difficult and profound. Definitely worth the watch, though, so I’ll see you back here in 20, give or take a little.
“What are you going to do about difficult thoughts or feelings?” That’s a really good question. And it’s one you can plan for, rehearse, think deeply about, believe or even think you know exactly how it will go…but you never really know until you get there. You never know how answering the question the first time will affect how you answer it the next time, or the next, or the next. You never know how those answers, piled one on top of the other, will take you to a place you never expected and maybe never wanted to be.
But you’re there anyway. So what do you do about it? There are always choices — or so we’re told — but the reality is rather more nuanced, I think. You don’t have a choice about what happens outside yourself. Your choice is how to deal with it.
For a long time, my choice to deal with the infinite ITs was to go on exactly as I had before. I think I mentioned this somewhere in these posts, or maybe it was one further back, but during a session with my then-hypnotherapist, he said, “You know, the reason you’re doing ‘nothing’ about your situation now isn’t that you’re doing nothing. What you’re doing is repeating a strategy that has worked for you in the past: waiting it out. Waiting to see what comes next, and will that give you more to work with.” I’m paraphrasing and generalizing, of course, I don’t recall the exact words, but the gist? Oh, yes, I remember that.
It had worked before. I expected it to work again. But it wasn’t, because too many other parameters had changed. So I was in a place where I was deathly afraid and absolutely paralyzed because there were either not enough rational choices, or too many for me to cope with. And nothing in my life to that point had given me the tools to cope with that kind of reality.
Unlike Steve Hayes, I’ve never had a panic attack. But fear? Oh, fear and I go way back. And I’ve made that sound, more than once. Sometimes it’s even been out loud. And about the only thing I had the capacity to realize, when
life my life was going to hell, was this: I had to do something different.
Figuring out what that meant took longer. Like him, I’m still working it out. I will probably never have an answer that feels immutable, but I know now immutable isn’t the goal, because that isn’t how life works. Psychological flexibility, though. Even if it boils down to paying attention to your own corner of the world so that when life asks that question — again — you can see where there might be a path, even if it’s in a direction you never knew was there…there’s a universe of potential there.
And the interesting thing for me is how much this dovetails into parts of Emily Nagoski’s presentation about authentic sexual well-being, and how it echoes my massage instructor telling us the body remembers everything. Because that’s exactly what it sounds like to me when Steve talked about physically cowering on his floor as an adult and having that flash of memory on the night his parents were arguing and he was cowering under the bed. In this case, it wasn’t bodywork that triggered the memory, it was his physical reenactment of his posture, but still.
“I will not run from ME!” Steve says.
Running never really got me anywhere. Not in this context. So that’s another challenge for me, a good one, one I’m grateful to be able to see instead of still being curled up on the floor howling, even if only metaphorically.
It’s hard not to run, sometimes. But I will learn to stop. I will learn how to not run from ME anymore.