When screenwriter, director and author Sarah Polley had suffered post-concussive syndrome for 3-1/2 years, she went to see a concussion specialist who had an unconventional treatment method. The doctor told Polley that to cure her concussion, she must actively participate in all the activities that triggered her symptoms, including extreme head pain. “Run towards the danger,” he said to her. And it worked.
Not only did it cure her concussion, but it spurred a life paradigm shift. She took the statement as a challenge to question all her narratives about her life. One result was the book I recently finished titled, Run Towards the Danger. And it’s got me thinking.
What is the potential for my healing and growth when I run toward danger rather than away from it like I have been conditioned to do? How might my life become richer if I try it? What are the downsides of opting for comfort over risk? What feels dangerous to me?
I am writing this blog on my daughter’s 22nd birthday, recalling a time when I headed straight into pain. I was in labor; I had no choice. I opted for a natural birth, meaning no drugs administered, and lucky for me, there were no complications, and I delivered a healthy baby. So, I know I can run toward pain when I must. Things feel a bit stickier when I have options.
We all have different risk tolerances and different ways we avoid risk. Physically, some of us are adrenaline junkies, others couch potatoes, and most of us fall somewhere on the spectrum in between. Likewise, some are swimming deep in the waters of self-healing or spiritual growth, while others have just barely dipped a toe in, and some may be standing at water’s edge with absolutely no plans to get in. No judgement here–there is really no way to do life wrong.
But how much richer would our lives be if we challenged ourselves to practice moving out of our respective comfort zones? I’m trying to nudge myself in this direction every time I get the chance, starting by recognizing when I’m sitting too comfortably in comfort. I’m so used to this way of being, I often don’t realize it! By starting with little things, I intend to build my courage muscle and as a result grow in all sorts of ways.
My friend, the singer-songwriter John Brewster calls these little opportunities “micro-moments of bravery.” His song by the same name contains these lyrics: “I’m ready to live a life of meaning. The more I avoid it, the more it hurts. What is perfect, is.”
Sometimes the bravest thing we can do is back off. However, I think we might also honestly ask ourselves if retreating is another way of avoiding, which in the end causes us greater pain. Or, as in Polley’s case, prevents us from healing what is ailing us.
In yoga asana, we practice pushing ourselves to our edge, attempting the expression of the pose that feels difficult, even scary. We know not to advance over the cliff into injury, but the opportunity to run toward difficulty is always available. I wonder if we might try this approach with our hearts.
Another thing I’ve been playing with is directing my energy. Last week, after a massage, I rested on an infrared bed to sweat out the toxins my muscles released. As the bed got hotter and hotter, my mind fixated on my discomfort. I wanted to leap off the bed, but I didn’t. Instead, I began deep breathing and picturing my energy dissolving into the heat. So much so that I “became” the heat. It worked! My micro-moment of bravery gave me the strength to endure what I believe was healthy for me in the end.
I fully believe we choose where our energy goes. So, if I can become heat, I can also become other things that trouble me. And in that energetic state, I receive the wisdom my feared experience has for me. What beautiful healing is in store for me when I do!
In the first chapter of her book, Polley talks about her experience as a child actor playing the character, Alice, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I think of Alice, following a rabbit and tumbling down a rabbit hole, drinking a potion, eating strange cake, and ending up in all sorts of trippy situations because of her curiosity. She can run toward danger because of her open mind and an open heart.
And although she meets myriad challenges along the way, she’s okay in the end. Maybe even more alive.
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