The Way I See Things

Apr 25 2016 by Allison English

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The Way I See Things

Many years ago a best friend gave me a small journal as a gift. I decided to use it as a quote journal, and I wrote within its pages the many small words and longer passages that felt inspiring along the pathways my life has taken. I still write in it when something strikes me – although I must admit its pages are dwindling and I’m writing smaller and smaller to cram things into its margins. I’m not sure what I’ll do once it’s full! Written upon one of first several pages is a small and simple quote from Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

Well worn and tea stained quote journal from high school!

Well worn and tea stained quote journal from high school!

I’ve looked upon those words so many times, but recently they have been ringing ever more true for me. I’m in the midst of a yearlong mentoring process as a part of my training through the lineage of Forrest Yoga. This mentorship program has been a course of study under a Forrest Yoga Guardian named Sandra Robinson – owner of Equilibrium Yoga Studio in Peterborough, England. She was absolutely the best choice for me: encouraging, wise, kind and insightful in all the ways I needed at this point in my journey. Through the weekends of work with her guidance and in a small group of other mentees, I realized that my life has made me see the world around me and within me in quite a critical way. As a result of this practiced critical world view, I don’t see things as they really are, I see them as I can criticize them or pick them apart for being imperfect.

From a young age I was a figure skater. I’ve written about my skating before and what a huge part of my life it was up until about age 16. It was a marvelous and challenging sport to grow up in. It cultivated in me great physical and mental discipline, strength, focus and perseverance. It also planted the seeds of perfectionism, ruthless pursuit of achievement, isolationism and severe physical injury. I can distinctly remember so many of the private coaching sessions being a list of every single thing I did incorrectly and directions to repeat movements over and over again until they were “perfect.” One coach in particular chose one element each session and I just repeated it over and over again for a whole hour – each repetition a new error was found. There was never a time I did the movement well enough – there was always something wrong with it. There was little praise – even as a young child. I learned to pick apart every edge, every glance and every turn, searching for any minute problem that would lose me points or bring the criticism of my coaches upon me. Competitive programs were recorded, dissected and then compared to fellow students. I felt pitted against the other students my coaches worked with, and they against me – we were all pitted against all the other skaters. This was supposed to foster some sort of healthy advancement, but really it just made all of us see the world as broken, imperfect, hostile in some way and with success and achievement always just beyond our reach because someone always skated better or because something always needed more work. Even when I won first place, a competition would end with details on what needed to be improved for next time.

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A very young Allison wearing super-bright skating outfit before a competition.

I remember watching a random figure skating competition on television many years after I left skating myself. I was sitting with my partner and as each performer took to the ice my partner would say things like, “Wow! How graceful!” “That was an amazing jump” “Look at how fast she is spinning!” To these comments I would reply, “Her coaches told her to smile there. It’s not real” “She actually cheated the rotation of that jump and won’t get credit for it” “That spin traveled” (‘traveled’ is figure skater speak for a spin that doesn’t balance well on the blade). He noted long before I really understood it how totally and completely crazy it is that I could not appreciate the beauty in any of their movements – I could only see what they had done “incorrectly” or “not well enough.”

So we don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. And I have for a very long time seen the world through the eyes of that child who could never do any movement “right” and who had to remain hyper-vigilant about where the next criticism was coming from. I’ve built years into a habit of being hyper-critical of myself and those around me. I’ve held myself to standards that are unreachable and downright unhealthy both in my careers and in my personal life. All of this because my early world view was one of extraordinary criticism, rigidity and perfectionism.

I like to say nowadays that I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’m learning how to soften my inner critic (and some days just plain steal her megaphone and shut her up). I’ve spent a long time coming to an understanding of why I saw the world as such a harsh place where good things couldn’t happen. Working with Sandra peeled back another layer for me – a layer of forgiveness. I couldn’t know how to see the world any other way, and allowing myself to acknowledge I’ve done the best I could with what I was given has brought a playful lightness to my continued exploration out of the old way I saw things. Our teacher, Ana Forrest, has a funny and very true saying, “We don’t evolve by punishment. If we did, we’d all be fucking enlightened.” If I punish myself for the way I’ve seen the world, for being “stupid enough” to follow my coaches, I get stuck back in that perfectionist-“I’m not enough”-nothing ever works out mentality. When I offer up to myself a forgiveness and really deep compassion for where I am now and what I have been through, change happens so much more effortlessly! I become a person who is enough just as I am. Now I can see the world as an inviting place, mistakes as realms of growth and discovery, and the beautiful things happening in and around me.

This journey into my own different world views also helps me to understand those around me with so much more compassion. A person may be seeing the world around them through a really tough pair of glasses. I feel more understanding of that now than ever before. When you read these words, what do you feel about the way you see the world? And is that the pair of glasses you want to see everything through? What if you decided it was time to try on a new pair? I leave you with some final words from Sandra that I’ve been silently repeating inside my head with every person I meet and that has been imbibing the way I see things these days, “We don’t love you for being perfect; we love you for being you!”

Body Memory

Jan 22 2015 by Allison English

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Body Memory

There was a time, not really that long ago, when my pair of ice skates felt more comfortable to me than anything. When waking up early I found myself on the ice at a local arena, not on my yoga mat. When jumping into the air off the ice and spinning faster than you can imagine was more natural to me than walking up stairs. There were many years when performing and competing as a figure skater drove me more than meditation or yogic self-inquiry. Barefoot back then would have felt naked; now it’s the daily uniform.

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Then there was the injury that ended it all, and I left figure skating more than a decade ago seemingly never to go back. It was too painful physically at the time to even think about skating. And my Spirit felt destroyed when the rug of all I had known and identified with was suddenly pulled out from underneath me. For many years after, I felt like I wandered.

Fast forward to today, when I have been feeling a need to start ice-skating again. For months in 2014 I dreamed of skating. Every song on the radio became a skating routine rather than a yoga sequence. I was dreaming of choreography and moves in the field, hearing the sound of my old “patch” scribe drawing out the figure eights on the clean ice surface, and recalling the voices of my coaches chasing me around the ice. I could smell the ice just after it was resurfaced by the Zamboni. I took all of these as signs that the time had come to go back to the ice – to see what was still there. There were memories in my body, in my energy, in my very life force – and for some reason they were coming back to the surface. At the time I left my figure skating career, I didn’t have much mental space to process what happened. Maybe the time and space had finally arisen.

So I researched the local ice arenas’ public skate schedules and picked one that was close and worked: the Chicago Park District McFetridge Ice Arena. I pulled my skates out of hiding (yes I still have them, and they still fit!). I found some clothes that would work and I planned a Friday visit. The first time I went, I couldn’t even get my skates on. I was too scared. It was too familiar and too foreign all at the same time. I had to wait another week until I tried again and actually got onto the ice. I fully anticipated to fall flat on my butt! I was surprised at what I found instead.

I remember so much of the “bad” stuff of skating: coaches yelling at me, losing competitions, the relentless striving for perfection, how nothing was ever good enough – there was always the next step of “better” that someone else had mastered and I had to catch up to, the endless criticism, the demanding schedule and practicing. I had forgotten so much else.

Not only did I stay upright, but I am in fact still a quite capable skater. My feet, legs, hips, arms and hands remembered things that my mind had forgotten. Our bodies remember what our minds often forget. Here is what my body remembered:

1. Going Fast is Fun: Yoga is slow moving even on it’s fastest day. I forgot how exhilarating it is to go fast. And I can still skate REALLY fast! Speeding around the rink feeling the wind rush around you is the coolest feeling. I forgot how much I missed that feeling.

2. The Balance of Strength and Vulnerability: Figure Skating is equal parts strength and vulnerability. You have to develop physical strength in your feet and legs to carry yourself around on those little blades, but you also have to be vulnerable enough to fall down many times to learn how to do anything. You have to be willing to crash into a hard surface to learn how to stay upright.

3. Tough as Nails and Smooth as Silk: There were times in my childhood that I skated more hours than I went to school. I kept a rigorous schedule of sleeping, eating, practicing, studying and acing school – also working jobs from a young age. It was not hard and when I look back I see a child that really was tough as nails and holding all of this together! But at the same time, I had to be incredibly sensitive inside those skates to perform openly, to bring artistry to my routines, and to sense the subtleties that make the moves in figure skating so incredible. It was good to be reminded what a fusion of these two I am still today.

4. Trust: As a skater you have to trust that a skinny little blade it going to catch you after a dizzying spin or a high jump. You have to trust your edges are going to push, pull and propel you around the ice as you ask them to. You have to trust your legs beneath you and your arms around you to coordinate your movements. I forgot how good I can be at trusting myself.

Just before an ice skating performance – Cuteness!

5. Equal Parts Control and Wild Abandon: Let’s face it – it takes a lot of practice and physical control to learn all those jumps and spins…but it also takes a healthy dose of wild abandon! As I leapt about the ice trying to recall the jumps I used to be able to do, I had to let go of being in control. I needed to just go for it! Yoga has made me almost too controlled. It was incredible to leap into the air off my blade and hope for the best on the other end. My blades caught me every time! I guess the body memory retained a control and precision even without my mind being there 🙂

6. Beauty and Grace: I would not call myself graceful and I don’t think I move particularly beautifully. I would use words like athletic or capable to describe my movements. But on the ice, I am beautiful and graceful and stunning. I hadn’t been on the ice for 15 minutes, and someone came up to me and asked if I was an adult competitive figure skater. They complimented me on my graceful form in a particular turn I was playing with…on a movement I haven’t done in over 10 years. It was fun to remember that I can be graceful – even if just on a surface like ice 🙂

Your body remembers a lot more than you might realize.  Perhaps there are experiences you have passed through, difficult or delightful, that arise in your mind from time to time. I really believe this is your own body memory arising to give you an important reminder in your current life. Take the time to heed the memories that are arising, revisit elements of the past without getting stuck in them, and you might be amazed what you find. I know I am! And I am so happy to have a weekly skating date with my graceful, beautiful, fast moving, fast spinning, jumping with wild abandon, trusting, strong and vulnerable Self. What body memory are you going to reclaim?