I find flower bulbs miraculous. Every year, as the days grow shorter and colder, I bring home several bags from the nursery, nestle them in the soil and frankly forget about them. And every year, they touch and teach me deeply about ‘trusting the timing of things.‘
Our American culture is pretty impatient by world standards. There is an underlying expectation for things to happen somewhere between quick and immediate. We unconsciously bring this pressure to the latte line and our own personal goals’ achievement. Granted deadlines exist, more in some moments, interactions, endeavors and career fields than others. However, most of us have experienced that when we push hard, things don’t necessarily go more smoothly. It’s like trying to rush a 3 year old or an elder. When we push harder, resistance increases.
Last week, a student from my graduate alma mater, the Seattle Institude of Oriental Medicine (SIOM) came to interview me to discuss her senior project. Senior projects are researched and presented like a thesis in the final of this 3 year Master’s of didactic study, observation, and clinical practice of East Asian medicine. From a brief email exchange preceding our in person dialogue she wrote,
“I see a lot of patients in our student clinic with complicated or chronic patterns that seem intractable without some internal mental/emotional shifting, but how do I bring it up? Will they accept this kind of feedback coming from me? How to avoid offending? How do you know whether a patient will be open to change or not, and whether you should keep working with them if no change is coming?”
In person we engaged a vital discussion. Fully meeting her earnestness and good intentions, I offered some humble reflections learned by being a human and working with a lot of people over these years. Below I’ve summarized thoughts I articulated in that dialogue, and some that have emerged in the days since.
- Change is hard! Even with discipline and self-awareness, it’s hard! We are such funny, idiosyncratic creatures of habit. And ‘turning the ship’ of our daily patterns takes a lot of effort, and not just once, but again and again. This applies to a change of posture while typing at the computer, incorporating a beneficial stretch, or evolving a pattern of eating or exercise. Some of my patients might find it quite entertaining to know that I myself am currently back to doing the Mud Walking exercise and using the Tendon Relaxing soak so I can enjoy running with our warming weather. And I’m not 100% consistent with either.
- Humor and humility go a long way. In making changes or trying something new, I find it really valuable to hold it all pretty lightly and laugh at myself. When I push too hard, my own resistance flares with the ardor of a toddler or a stubborn dog. If I’m not taking myself too seriously, I can laugh. And I feel a whole lot more alive and joyful when I laugh compared to the strain of ‘over-efforting‘.
- Each individual has their own timeline, their own journey. It is a real honor and joy to work with people every day in the interest of decreasing pain and supporting vital health. The trust they place in me is humbling. When I meet someone in clinic, I might suggest a particular exercise or some dietary counsel, a book recommendation or referral to a yoga class or a therapist. But I offer these with the same spirit as nestling the bulbs into the soil. I can offer the treatment and counsel I believe will best address someone’s primary concern or condition. And yet it is not my body or health. Each individual will determine what they’re ready to include or incorporate based on the wisdom and reality of their own body and life.
- Faith, Doubt & Determination.I’ve learned a lot about efforting less and trusting the timing of things. I don’t mean abandoning ambition or intention. Rather, I’m less inclined to push hard to make something happen. Instead, I persistently explore the faith I have that something is a good idea. The doubt that arises repeatedly as to whether or not I can do it. And then the cycles of determination and trust that things will emerge as they will, sometimes almost despite me. As we move around together in this human life, we are all nestling bulbs into each other’s ‘soil‘, and each one of us will have our own dynamic cycles of faith, doubt and determination.
- It helps to have company: be it a walking or exercise partner, someone who’s also trying to shed some of the winter excess with different eating, or someone with whom we can share silent meditation. Particularly when we are beginning something new, it is so valuable to have someone who is either sharing that activity or particularly affirming and supportive of our efforts. We don’t do anything alone, ever, really. And it can really help us stay aligned with our intentions if we have informal encouragement from friends, family or colleagues, or the structure of regular acupuncture visits, or other supportive treatment for our physical-emotional-mental health. And this looks different for every individual.
- Beginning again, moment after moment. We can start anew every moment. We don’t have to wait until the end of the week or the month, or next year for that matter. At this very moment, whatever our intention, we can start fresh, place fresh bulbs or seeds in the warming spring soil and see what emerges.