What makes a good teacher? And when do we really learn something new? How do I expand my comfort zone, to grow in an empowering way? I remember these questions already from high school, but over the last two years, I have increasingly thought about, where I learn the most fundamental, transformational things for my life. Where do I have the most meaningful and confident relationships, that make me feel strong and allow growth when I’m vulnerable? And in this regard, what makes a trusted teacher or companion (for me)?
Recently I have been prompted to think about this subject again and decided to dig a little deeper… In continuation of my thoughts on integrity, I want to start a short series of posts about looking for integrity in teachers, coaches, and other “inspirational authorities“. Today I want to share a thinking process about my own experience of finding teachers I trust.
I realized that it is closely connected the possibility to disagree with them.
In the very beginning of learning to explore my body with awareness, a teacher told me that I had anger in my body. It was a moment when we were working with my legs, I was learning to notice my pelvis and the connection downward. And what I experienced was simply a strong sensation of flow. It was hot and there was a lot of movement in my legs. But I did not associate this sensation with anger at all. It was a very pleasant experience actually, I enjoyed the powerfulness. Anger, for me was something different, something aggressiv and destructive and I didn’t want to feel that. I was afraid of anger and that I would destroy things or people, if I let myself experience it.
Instead of asking me, how I experienced the moment, my teacher said, that this is anger. And that I probably will know eventually. This gave me a feeling of being wrong, small and dependent on him to let me know what I’m experiencing.
And after that session, I went home with a doubt about my experience, instead of the powerful, pleasurable sensation that I actually had experienced just before that short conversation. And with a nagging sensation of doubting him, in the back of my mind…
Even though I today realize that anger can be a quality, and that aggression or destruction are different things, this is exactly the kind of situation where learning something new didn’t happen smoothly and without extra effort.
I was busy with his interpretation of something and whether or not he was right, instead of being able to explore what I could learn from this powerful, pleasurable sensation of flow in my legs.
I find this a very innocent example of an important issue in the context of learning and personal development. When I really want to learn something new, something that is essential to my well-being, to living and expanding myself and expressing more freely – I have to move into the vulnerable field of „unknown“, I have to fully say yes and trust my teacher in moments that are tender. I want to accept their expertise and for a moment let go of some of what I previously knew; safe ways of acting and defending myself – in order to discover something new.
In a way I have to say yes, to being totally confused or lost or open to be touched and transformed.
And this, to me, is the most frightening and often most transformational field to go through, especially when it allows me to deal with something like a fear of destroying everyone around me.
Sometimes life serves me a kind of challenge – it’s not a choice, but a combination of events happening around me, that lead to an overwhelming sensation of being lost and having to find a new way. And then, the best thing I find is to go, continue, experiment, walk on… And I, of course, learn profound things in this process of finding some ground under my feet and a way to dance with the challenges. Sometimes then I will act in the way I usually do, trying to just survive, sometimes I get forced by circumstances to do something, that I would never have chosen to do – that can make me creative. But it can also create a sensation of disempowerment, defeat or frustration – until I again find a sense of agency and participation; even if it is „just breathing”.
In an intentional learning process, I bring myself in a situation of unknown, with the wish to grow beyond my previous limits. My aim is, to empower myself and others, by seeking this field that can be frightening and face my challenges in order to find new solutions.
And my experience is, that only when empowerment is part of the whole process, does it feel real at the end.
If I feel that I was forced to do something beyond my comfort zone, or asked to “just believe” like in the example above, on the other hand, I need an extra step of dealing with this sensation of being forced, before fully embodying what I actually wanted to learn.
I have been forced and I have forced myself to do things. And I have experienced, that forcing something can also get things done. But that force always comes with a price. A kind of effort and a feeling of disempowerment. Leaving traces and a bitter aftertaste or even pain, or just years later a frustration with someone who otherwise taught me many valuable things.
I don’t want to expose myself to this intentionally. Especially since I know that I can learn something much more efficiently when I learn from someone I trust. When I can really learn with them.
In this field of unknown one of the scariest things is, to be manipulated. To be lead to a place that I didn’t want to go, that is actually dangerous and where I am used… to be ridiculed, to feed someone else’s ego, to be exploited for money… the fear can go in many different directions. But it is real in the way that there can be people who exploit the trust they receive in these ways. And there can be situations where I am left with that feeling because I didn’t stop or say no, when it was necessary (maybe because I didn’t notice, didn’t know how or was not aware that that was an option…).
I find the fear to be manipulated can infest and compromise the empowerment of an experience. Even if I learned something great and I changed a lot of things if I am left with the doubt whether I really wanted this or I did it because I was „made“ to… it doesn’t taste good. It can either just slow down my process of learning or actually add a source of constant doubt to my experience.
Therefore I need to know, that a no is a no.
I need to know, that the person I work with is someone I can safely disagree with. I need to know, that if I say stop they will stop. If I say no, they will respect that and adapt to my learning. I need to know that they won’t judge me or leave me. I need to know, that if they disagree with my no, we can have a dialogue about it and explore our common language. I need to trust, that if they make a mistake they will be able to apologize honestly. And that if I make a mistake that they will listen to my apology without becoming patronizing.
Part of this, I can only know through experience over time. Through trying something, daring something or taking the risk that I just have to hold on. Sometimes I have had a feeling of trust from the beginning, and I might dare more with some people than others. But even with them, I notice that the ability to disagree with them is part of my „compass“ from the start. I trust you as far as I can disagree with you.
Especially with a teacher, who I meet for their expertise in a field, I need to know that they respect my personal integrity. That they appreciate the trust I give them, when I say yes, by accepting my No when it comes. I need to know that they will look for ways to collaborate with me around the subject we met to discuss. That they will open up a space beyond my comfort zone and hold that space, so that I can enter it in my style and my tempo, rather than throwing me in it.
When a teacher doesn’t accept my no, I don’t know if they ask for my yes for my own sake or for theirs… If they can deal with my no and allow me my own pace, including the option that I will leave and find another teacher, my trust, and respect for them is there. I will full heartedly recommend them to others, even if I notice that currently, I want to learn in a different way. Or if I’m exploring how to train and practice on my own (as I describe in Everyday Presence*).
My personal process should not be part of my teacher’s ego or need to be right. It is truly about creating a space for me to learn and grow. Their role is to hold the space and learn with me. And in a context with peers, we hold the space together.
My challenge in this is, to learn to say no or yes. This is where my courage is required and strengthened… It is vulnerable, even with those who I do trust, and who I know I can disagree with or be at a distance for a while, without feeling disgraced or thrown out.
When I don’t know, I wait. When I’m courageous I throw myself out there and try.
When I know it is safe to say No, I dare to say Yes, – to letting go, to daring unknown, to exploring a way of being that is weird, awkward and maybe just different, to dance with a challenge and grow.
Photo: Stephan Ansorge
…*I describe my personal approach in „Everyday Presence – a personal description“… My first book, which I’m very excited to publish in April 2017. If you’re curious and want to drop by to hold it in your hands – I would be thrilled to greet you at the Release-Fest April 21st, 5pm in Frederiksberg, DK.
It has been a funny ride to create this book and I’m excited to start sharing it with the public so very soon.
This week I’m sitting with the final corrections – I just received the pre-print last week. It is funny, how exciting it can be, to sit behind a book or computer, just knowing that someone might read words…
And yesterday, I received the final cover design from the wonderful Emma. And I’m blown away –
I love it.
COME CELEBRATE WITH US!
Get a feel for the actual book, get a sensation for its weight, see the other illustrations and be one of the first to read it…
The “Everyday Presence – Fest”
21st of April, 5pm-9pm
in the space of Heart Work Management
Sankt Knuds Vej 23 B, 1.Sal (backyard-house)
There will be juice, bubbles and a Schnack
Looking forward to see you there,
Here is the list that started in Everyday Presence – a personal description and will probably go on forever. Books, podcasts, videos that I enjoy to think about, try out, exercise with, laugh about. It is impossible to make a comprehensive list of everything that has been important to me. However, I want to share some, as a starter for your curiosity.
Body and Earth
How to Sit in Meditation
Different Guided Body Attention Exercises I give to clients and also practice myself
Conversations (Podcast, Blog,…)
The Liberated Body Podcast with Brooke Thomas.
Embodied Cognition and Health with Cathy Kerr
Your Body is Your Soul, Jaap van der Wal
Our Relationship to Our Bodies and Their Relationship to the World, Judith Aston
On Being Podcast with Krista Tippett
About Pain: Pain is Really Strange
Sophia Davis‘ Blog
Seth Godin‘s Blog
Katrin Müller‘s Blog
Books I Enjoyed and Find Related (Body, Mind, Being, Knowing…)
Hanna, Thomas: Somatics: Reawakening the Mind‘s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health
van der Kolk, Bessel: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Juhan, Deane: Job‘s body
Noë, Alva: Out of Our Heads
Noë, Alva: Action in Perception
Holmes, Jamie: The Power of Not Knowing
Langer, Ellen J.: Mindfulness
Carse, James P.: Finite and Infinite Games
Kleon, Austin: Steal like an Artist
Pratchett, Terry: I Shall Wear Midnight (And his other Discworld-Novels. Wonderful and funny descriptions of life!)
Scurlock-Durana, Suzanne: Full Body Presence
Scurlock-Durana, Suzanne: Reclaim Your Body
to be continued…
“There is no one, regardless of ability level, that can’t be connected to physical sensations” – Ohad Naharin
I have learned to use the physical experience of integrity as a compass in complex situations.
In situations where there either might be arguments for different actions or I simply cannot think of everything, I might have to go for something in a kind of experiment. Taking a decision and acting, despite the fact, that I do not have all the answers or do not know who else might be affected in which way.
Instead of going only after my principles, which could be a way of doing it, that I used to practice, I aim to go after this integrity-compass. Because integrity includes a sensation of confidence and being able to stand behind my decision, in a complex moment it seems to be the only reasonable thing for me to go after.
As I wrote earlier, losing my integrity for me feels like a kind of fine sandpaper is sanding the inside of my chest. In the beginning it is just a tiny sensation of discomfort. And as it continues, it starts to be more exhausting, painful even and somehow there is a layer of „dust“ in the whole body. A mood that can be covering every subject and make it unclear what actually started the sensation in the first place. Moving the chest would be uncomfortable, also because it would stir up the dust everywhere else. A weird mood, somehow related to nausea but spread in the whole body, potentially questioning my values.
Acting with integrity on the other hand, feels very fresh and airy. Especially my chest feels free.
There is space, I can move my arms, my head freely and I breathe more. There might still be a sensation of pain or sorrow, but it is usually clear, where it comes from. Maybe I just had to make a difficult decision, that I know impacts other people and is not all pink and glitter. But my values are intact. I don’t have to hide any area of my life, in order to protect it from another one. I can say ‘these are my choices, some of them hurt, some of them are difficult, and as a whole I stand behind who I am’.
When I notice the sensation of dust and wonder where it comes from (sometimes it’s easy to notice, where you chose something that goes against your values, but sometimes, when you’re good at rationalizing your choices, it might unclear which of them it is…)
I do an exercise to gain clarity that I would like to share with you.
Remember a situation where you made a decision, that for some reason or another made you doubt your integrity (or that of someone else).
Maybe you can’t even put your finger on what exactly brings this doubt. Notice the feeling that comes along with this. Maybe the first thing that comes to mind is a specific sentence that you had in your mind or that you tell yourself thinking back to this situation.
Stay with whatever remains as a memory of this situation.
Feelings can sometimes be a bit abstract, so what I would like to encourage you to do, is to describe the physical sensation that you experience now. (Take your time, this can be up to 5-6minutes)
And then, without changing it notice the position you’re in.
- Are you sitting? How are your legs?
- When you breathe, which area of your body do you feel most free and which most restricted? How is the rhythm of your breathing?
- When you feel a tension somewhere in your body, in which direction does it pull you? Or is it pushing against the back of your chair?
- What do you do with your face and in which position do you hold your head?.
- Go through the sensations in all areas of your body curiously, and in a way „freeze“ the feeling for a moment. Keep it in place, now that you’re so consciously learning about it. And discover the physical experience of a feeling.
- As you describe it, the tension might intensify a bit or the position becomes more fixated than it was realistically in the situation you’re thinking about. But bare with me.
- Whatever you’re sensing, investigate curiously and notice this physical experience connected to your experience.
- While you continue breathing, make it even a bit stronger.
Now let go of that tension.
Get out of the position you were in and move freely again.
If you need to stretch or get up for a moment to get out of this posture, do so. Until you can really feel that you got out of the previous experience (this can take 2-3 minutes).
The next step of this exercise is to now again remember the situation you started with.And while paying attention to not return to the same physical effort you just did, allow yourself to just notice what appears.
If you relax your body and breathe fully and pay attention – is there still doubt? Is there a question that you need to answer? Or a clarity that appears. How do you perceive the situation now?
My intention with this exercise is two-fold:
1. you get a clearer physical experience and description of when something doesn’t feel quite right. As you practice this, you can “hear” this earlier and take it into your decision making process intentionally. If you want to share your experience with me: I’m curious.
2. if you find yourself in an uncomfortable or slightly off
position, you can use it to notice, what lies behind this sensation.
If you want to share your experience with me: I’m curious.
(And yes, if you would be curious about a more physical description or being able to notice more details in your body to help you with this, one option could be to come for a session with me. I would be happy to explore with you.)
When I look back at how I lived integrity earlier I see a paradox that is part in making it challenging. And I have observed this in other people, who value it strongly, too.
When we are talking about a subject that is painful or uncomfortable, an act of integrity would be not to avoid something coming my way, that I have called upon myself. Or, even worse, if I have caused it for others as well. We could probably easily agree, that if I won’t wish for others to be able to move freely and express their opinions freely, and instead I just make sure that I can do whatever I want – this would not be an act of integrity.
So, if I’m in a leadership position and I promise and make sure that everyone else around me feels free and healthy, and at the same time I don’t take care of my own well-being, but slowly burn my energy resources, never giving up or resting.
Could that still be considered acting with integrity then?
Am I acting with integrity, if I have high moral intentions but am unable to do so at the level that I would like to, due to exhaustion or lack of emotional „surplus“ because I’m drained?
I believe, especially in the light of the current state of world politics and the way public communication works, that we, as people with integrity, need to be more consequent and add this element to our definition of integrity.
Taking care of our personal well-being is important. We should not be allowing others to burn us out and leave us behind. There are so many causes and reasons to fight for others, that we (as the world) cannot afford to lose our minds, our bodies, our living to being drained by people who just don’t care about the well being of anyone. (By the looks of it, not even their own.)
In my experience, integrity is an intentional process rather than a goal. We need to act and move in the world. As we do so, we make mistakes, we learn about new things that we didn’t even notice could be a relevant subject for our integrity. And we continue.
And I believe we can strengthen our impact on the world and the well-being of the people in it if we use the physical experience of integrity as a compass to take care of our actions.
More on this and an exercise for those of you like concrete, physical tools will follow here next monday.