January 30, 2012

The Penny on the Record.

A student of mine recently approached me in the yoga studio and told me that a blog post of mine had changed her life.  I immediately assumed it was one my posts featuring butts or naked ladies or sex talk. To my surprise she told me—through a smile so wide and toothy I thought maybe she had been huffing something before class—it was The Penny on the Record. Seriously—she insisted—I don’t even know when I read it, and it didn’t hit me then, but suddenly a couple of weeks ago all I could think about was the penny on the record! And I must admit, her enthusiasm and excitement was exhilarating. I’m the penny! I’m the penny! she gleamed—as if she had cracked the code to all the world’s secrets.
So in light of this, I am posting an old blog post here—and maybe it will inspire more of you to be the penny:

Back when I was unhappily married I read a book. The book was meant to help individuals decide to either A) stay put in your relationship and get to work on repairing things or B) turn around and run as far away as you can. (I chose A when I should have chosen B) The name of the book was Too Good to Leave; Too Bad to Stay and that pretty much described my conundrum at the time. In this book there was a chapter that—looking back on it—was a game changer for me. It was called Off-the-table-itis.

Off-the-table-itis refers to a conversation style whereby one person introduces an issue that they want/need to discuss and the other person takes the topic off the table with skill and cunning. This subtle and evolved divergence tactic is insidious because it is not only sneaky and difficult to catch, but if employed by a real abuser, it is also coupled with criticism, belittling and character bashing. Over the course of a marriage, this can (and did in my case) lead to one partner honing their skills in off-the-table-itis, and the other partner losing their voice and their sense of self entirely. It results in self doubt and a loss of self esteem—not to mention sanity. It is very damaging indeed. What’s more, off-the-table-itis was something I had been living with for more than ten years yet I hadn’t ever realized it was a thing. I suddenly realized that there just might be a reason that I ended up in tears at the end of every conversation with my then husband. Like a slow and steady carbon monoxide leak that kills you before you are aware of the danger—off-the-table-itis was destroying me without my even realizing.

A year or so after I read the book—and one badass transformation later—I was teaching a group of women at a substance abuse treatment facility near Boston. From the moment I stepped into the room with these women I could see we had something in common: we had—at one time in our lives—lost our center. Living with off-the-table-itis pulled me so far from my center that I became suicidal. The loss of one’s center can lead to drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, compulsive behavior, self injurious behavior, danger courting behavior, depression and anxiety among others. Whatever cocktail of environmental influences we are exposed to—at some point in our lives we simply lose our way. When we lose our way we have lost our sense of true north—our center. Like getting caught in an impossible maze, we end up following one path after another until we are so far from where we started—we lose all hope of getting back. As I looked at these women I could see that they were at a critical point in their lives. And just like me, these women had reached the end of the road. There was no where else to turn but in—to begin the slow and no guarantees journey back to where they had started—their center.

As I looked over this group of women—I remembered when  I too, had reached the end of the road. It was a time of profound uncertainty, fear and darkness.  But somewhere in the midst of all of that I realized I had a choice. I could continue to travel far from my center or I could turn around and begin the journey back to myself.

During that time in my life I made a vow to myself. I would stay in my center. I knew my husband’s chronic off-the-table-itis would liken this task to walking up the down escalator but I knew the warning signs—confusion, defensiveness and anger. So I vowed not to get angry, not to defend myself or judge myself and not to judge him. I simply would stay in my center. It was this memory that pulled forth the following words as I taught my class at the treatment center to a room full of women who were—just maybe—ready to make the same choice:

Imagine that you are a penny in the center of a record. All around you things are spinning and whirling around and yet you stay put in the center. You are able to see things happening all around you yet there you stay. Life has a way of drawing us toward the outer edges of the record and before we know it whoosh, we’ve flown right off—caught up in the centrifugal force of life until we end up someplace unimaginable. Your breath will keep bringing you back to the center of the record. Your yoga practice reminds you what it is to be in the center of the record and to simply observe what is happening around you.

There are forces all around us pulling us to the edges. Friends (toxic ones), bosses, colleagues and romantic partners can all suffer from off-the-table-itis which is a strong magnetic force to our pennies on the record. If you can not create physical space between yourself and those around you—you can allow your yoga, meditation, breathing and mindfulness practice to remind you of your center. Tap into your true north, and keep your penny in the center of the record.

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