A world distorted: Print Gallery by M.C. Escher, 1956
If you’ve ever received life-changing news, you know how disorienting it is. One minute the world is familiar and the next it isn’t. It might look the same but it feels — or at least you feel — different. Forever changed. I remember feeling, after I was told I had cancer, that all my plans and priorities had been upended and that I was no longer in the driver’s seat of my life; that I had been bumped over to the passenger side and that illness and treatment would determine where I went next.
It was incredibly humbling and disempowering. Do you know the feeling?
Fortunately, my treatment has gone well overall and I’ve been able to achieve a sense of relative stability in my life. But stability is always temporary, no matter who you are, and for regaining mine when I get knocked off-center, my role model is the Weeble.
No matter what you do to these little guys, they pop back up. Slide them down their slides, hold them down with your hand, drop them off a table — they always return quickly to center, standing up straight. That’s how I want to be. When I’m in my Weeble state I have more acceptance of what is, more self-compassion, less anxiety and even some inner peace. Think of fear and stress making you tip to the side, and reducing those emotions as bringing you back upright.
Weebles are made with weighted bottoms that bring them back to center; here are some ideas for developing your own metaphorical weighted bottom, including some tips from other readers.
Jenny practices what she calls aggressive acceptance: “The faster I can move through disbelief/denial and into the acceptance phase,” she says, “the stronger I am to face whatever challenge is coming at me.” It is undeniably true that wishing for things to be the way they used to be is futile and can keep you knocked over. Aggressive acceptance is what I call, “So what? Now what?” — a phrase I got from my dearly beloved teacher, Martha Beck. Curt says simply, “Surrender brings serenity.”
The Dalai Lama recommends thinking of others in similar situations. He describes how we can’t use our thinking brains when we are consumed by survival fears, but that focusing on others and invoking compassion for them can calm us down. It also connects us to something bigger than ourselves. (I read once that even the Dalai Lama gets knocked off-center sometimes; he’s just able to re-center himself really, really quickly.)
The right kind of breathing can also help, and I’m sure this is not the first place you’ve ever read that. Shallow breathing in our upper chests signals to our bodies that we’re in defensive mode (fight, flight or freeze). Slow deep breathing into our bellies, on the other hand, activates our parasympathetic (rest and restore) system. I use 4-7-8 breathing — inhaling for four counts, holding for seven and exhaling for eight — to help me fall asleep at night.
Other techniques that can help develop your weighted bottom include:
- Spending time outdoors, noticing sights, sounds, smells, the expansiveness of it all or the beauty in a tiny flower.
- Creating something. The author David Emerald calls creativity the opposite of feeling like a victim, which is an easy thing to feel when your life has been disrupted. I loved this idea so much I created something every day for a year (2019) and posted about it on Facebook. It felt fantastic, like I had so much personal agency; even when I went through a rough patch that year I was able to take one photo or think of my chemo creating the potential for healing in my body.
- Doing anything that gets you into a flow state, or “the zone.” This can be anything that you love to do, that holds a comfortable amount of challenge, that you do voluntarily and that makes you lose track of time. Jigsaw puzzles can do this for me; for my son it’s playing the drums; for you it could be anything from swimming laps to playing Mortal Combat.
- Guided meditation.
- Savoring favorite memories.
- Imagining how your ideal of a calm person would handle it, and doing that.
What else works for you?
Please hit reply and share the re-centering practices that work for you. Your idea may be just what someone else needs to hear.
Thank you so much for reading. I wish you a wonderful, un-wobbly week ahead.