In 1982, Julie Moss crossed the finish line at an Ironman Triathlon on her hands and knees. Only ½ mile to go, her legs gave out and she was unable to continue moving forward on her feet. She had already swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and run all but one half mile of a full marathon. In an interview on the NPR program Radiolab, Moss recalls that when she collapsed, a voice inside her told her to get up. She made a pact with herself in that moment to finish the race no matter what.
This story makes me wonder; what are we capable of if only we would believe in our ability to cross that finish line? Moss’s story reveals the inner struggle that all of us experience – the opposing voices within. One voice telling us to stop or to be cautious. The other voice telling us to keep going, to push ourselves. Signals from the body, the brain and the spirit do not always match up.
Depression can magnify this internal struggle. Part of you knows that you must engage yourself in life and wants to, while the other part of you feels the urge to isolate and dis-engage. Most of us despise this contradiction. We just want to feel better, to rid ourselves of the feelings and thoughts that seem to keep us immobile.
Julie Moss could have justified pulling out of the race when her legs gave way. After all, legs are somewhat essential when running a marathon. She could no longer control her leg muscles enough to finish standing up. Moss had to let go of the idea of finishing the race upright and find a new way to her goal, however untraditional. Although her body gave out and she faced the urge to quit, her determination won. She held a value and a goal so strong that it caused her to do the unthinkable.
Our values and beliefs do influence our actions and decisions. Countless studies reveal that belief alone can change moods, perceptions and body sensations or experiences. For good or bad, our beliefs are paramount to how our lives will play out. Instead of being victims of our experiences, we are sculptors of them. The question we must ask ourselves is, how willing are we to push through pain, ingrained patterns, strong urges and doubt to live out our values?
This week, take a look at your values. How do you want to be in the world and in relationships? What is it you want to be doing or how do you want to be acting to feel more authentic, more aligned with your values, desires and goals? Then ask yourself what is keeping you from living out those dreams. What pain, patterns, urges or contradictory thoughts and perceptions keep you buckled in front of the finish line? What do you need to push through them and live out your purpose?
Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) says that truly living is learning to live with your eyes wide open. Saying “yes” to life and to whatever life has brought you. Taking control by taking a good look at what is before you and inside of you.
Observing is one of the skills DBT helps people fine tune. It sounds easy, and in a way, it is a very simple skill. Yet, it can be difficult to practice. We are always observing. Some of us notice our outside world; colors of changing leaves, facial expressions, and birds in the trees. Some of us notice our inner world; thoughts, emotions and body sensations. Our attention is usually drawn to particular aspects of our experience. That leaves quite a bit to escape our notice.
We have a tendency to shy away from uncomfortable aspects of ourselves and our world. Someone who is good at observing her surroundings may be compensating for an unwillingness to observe her internal experience. On the other hand, there are those of us are who consumed with internal dialogue, to the extent that we hardly notice what happens around us.
The skill of observation requires us to slow down and take notice. External observation can help us escape the confines of our mind and our limited experience and allow us to enjoy the pleasures of our five senses. Internal observation can help us tune into ourselves to understand what we are truly feeling and thinking in a given moment. Observation has the power to help us become “unstuck” from distressing thoughts or worry, disengage from overpowering emotions, experience or notice other emotions and give us a different perspective on our situation.
1. Observe your surroundings. Use your five senses to truly see, hear, taste, smell and feel what is around you. Let go of thoughts so that the act of simply observing can take over. Feel the sun on your skin, watch the uncurling of the clouds, hear the quiet sounds of nature, smell the earth, taste the flavors of your food. You may find that basking in these simple things will allow you to release tension.
2. Observe your thoughts, feelings and body sensations without judgment. With curiosity, stand back and “catch” thoughts as you would butterflies. Notice the constant movement of thought, the waves of emotion and the way they affect your body. Begin to notice the relationship between these three aspects of yourself.
3. Observe yourself. Use your second attention to “watch” yourself go about your day. Be curious about your movements, reactions and behavior. Notice how you react to your environment or the things that happen during the week. Study yourself.
“Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity of self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes. He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening.” - George Gurdjieff
The Spirit of Therapy
Where psychotherapy interacts with our mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and relational wellbeing.