When the Pressure of Change Throws You Off

By Aimee Bernstein

There is a wonderful old story about a farmer who finds a wild horse in the field and takes it home. His neighbors, admiring the horse, congratulate him on his good luck. “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” the farmer replies. A few days later, his son is thrown from the horse and breaks his leg. “What bad luck,” his neighbors say. “Good luck, bad, luck, who knows?” the farmer replies. A week later the army comes by wanting to inscribe his son. Seeing his broken leg, they leave without him. “What great luck,” his neighbors say. “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” the farmer replies.

Without a larger context and a deep perspective that often comes with time, none of us really knows whether situations are good or bad. All we know for sure is that change happens. Sometimes it falls gently like the dew; at other times, it crashes into us, zapping every cell of our being like a cattle prod. Still at other times, it arrives with such audacity of hope that we may find ourselves excited and perhaps even a little frenetic. However, whether or not we desire the change is secondary. What matters most is how we dance with it.

Here’s a basic principle I learned from aikido. Any time you have a job or task to do, energy streams through your system to help you do the job. If you open and align to it, you experience, well-being, aliveness and joy. If, on the other hand, you resist it, you experience discomfort, distress and possibly disease. Now some jobs are so small, like standing up from a chair, that you won’t even notice the rush of energy. And some jobs, though big, are so familiar to you, that you open and align to the pressure of change as if you were operating on automatic pilot. It’s the changes that are less familiar, those sudden bumps in the dark, those that rip your heart open or send instant messages to your worry center that need some tech support. Responding well to the pressure of change is the ultimate dance of intimacy. It is between you and you. Aligning to this energy infers an embodied balance or center not just the idea of it. You have to be willing to sense/feel without racing to your cognitive mind for analysis, critique or instructions for you to dance through change with presence and grace

The other day I watched a student at the Zendo I attend, teach for the first time. Noticeably apprehensive, her body swayed forward and back as she sat waiting for the rituals that preceded her talk to begin. After a while, her movement naturally lessened like a pendulum coming to rest and she became centered, grounded and confident. Her presence filled the room and in doing so, her performance was a hit even before she opened her mouth.

Getting good at finding center when we lose our balance is of utmost importance. It is human to be unsettled by the changes in life; it is mastery to quickly find our way back home. Often people will take a walk in nature, listen to music or engage in some other activity that calms and re-centers them. However, in the midst of a business meeting or emergency, none of these modalities is appropriate. Instead, each of us needs ways to re-center in a heartbeat when under the pressure of change. Here’s a couple of ways I learned through aikido to reprogram my nervous system.
1. Imagine and pretend there is a white vertical light (I call this center) that flows down through the top of your head and into the ground. When we are under pressure, some of us react by moving ahead of that vertical beam as if to rush or to exert our will while others lag behind it so they don’t have to fully engage. Spend time every day noticing your habit and then call your spirit home and realign to center. If your habit is to move through life ahead of yourself, sense/feel your back. Cheap trick–imagine you have big wings growing from your shoulder blades. On the other hand, if you tend to lean back, feel the energy in the front and say YES to the situation. The more you practice, the easier it will be to your way home fast as your inner highway develops.

2. When we resist pressure, we contract and may feel fear. When you feel yourself getting smaller, reverse the flow of energy and like the sun, radiate out 360 degrees. Don’t think about whether you can or can’t do this- just play it as if you can. Sense/feel the circle around you getting bigger. (It will if you don’t limit it.) Soon you will be as big as the job or change that initially unsettled you.

How do you find your center when under pressure? What are your techniques? In the spirit of shared learning, please write a comment.