The constraint of frameworks (or how the rules we live by take away our creative freedom)

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it’s a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don’t we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it's a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don't we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?
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My framework geek-out story

If you’ve been in one of my classes, if you’ve seen me present, if you’ve been in one of the self-development groups I facilitated, or if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been a fan of certain learning frameworks. You might even say that I was a framework crusader. The two main frameworks I’ve preached are the “observation, feelings, needs, request” communicative framework of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) which is a reflective practice framework used for personal and professional development. The combination of these frameworks was even the central theme of a chapter I wrote for a book that was published last year.

My framework shame story

But what I couldn’t articulate for a long time was how I often felt constrained by these frameworks. It was Jadah Sellner’s interview with Elizabeth DiAlto on the Untamed the Wild Soul Podcast that helped me pinpoint the dissonance I felt. In the interview, Elizabeth gives a brilliant explanation (at 28:14) of why people might feel as I do:

There is a lot of danger with frameworks and formulas because they will work for some people. Some people are built to follow them. So many are not. And the people who aren’t rarely go, “Oh, that wasn’t the framework for me.” They’re usually like, “What’s wrong with me? I’m the worst.” They compare themselves to all the people it does work for, when it’s just (…) you’re a uniquely designed person. You’ve got to figure out your own way.

This! A version of this inner dialogue had been going on for years. I especially felt it in relation to NVC. The story was usually along the lines of me not being compassionate enough, not enough of a good listener, or that I didn’t use the framework well enough. At some points I even considered myself a fraud for writing or talking about NVC. Who was I to promote NVC when I felt challenged in using the framework in personal relationships?

When I first learned about the ELC, and during the first four years of this blog, I used it anytime I faced a challenge in my teaching. It was super helpful. But after a while, I started to doubt myself and avoided using it to reflect on my teaching. Then I judged myself for not using it, and eventually the inner dialogue was that I wasn’t a good teacher.

Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it's a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don't we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?
Click image to share on Pinterest.
My NEW story

Now that I’ve stepped back from both, and took some time to follow my own creative flow, I can see how I didn’t feel free to fully express myself within these frameworks . At first, they were exactly what I needed. They helped me navigate unfamiliar territory, and helped me out of some challenging situations. But as my self-awareness grew, and as I made my own path, the frameworks felt constrictive. I felt like a snake who was choosing to remain in its old skin.

Of course this was all self-inflicted. I didn’t have to follow these frameworks. I chose to because of an older story: others know better than me. I was looking outside myself for a way to live a good life, a better life, when the truth is everything I’ve ever needed has always been inside of me (as Elizabeth always says), and the life that I have now is good as it is.

Frameworks can provide a solid foundation for those who are starting a new career or who are exploring new concepts. This is how they helped me. However, it’s important to remember that I can take what I want from these frameworks, and I can leave behind what doesn’t work. In doing this, I create my own framework: the framework of my own wildly unique life.

Do you have a similar story with frameworks, formulas, modalities, or systems? Which story are you in right now: the geek-out, the shame, or the new story?


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What’s the language of your reality?

Do you think the language you use influences your reality, or do you think reality has nothing to do with language? This has been a topic of debate between linguists. The theory of linguistic relativity maintains that language influences thought, and as a result how a person makes sense of their world. The other camp believes reality isn’t determined by the limits of our language.

You don’t have to look very far to see that people in the self-development world fall in line with the first camp of linguists.

Thought is Cause; experience is Effect. If you don’t like the effects in your life, you have to change the nature of your thinking. ~ Marianne Williamson in “A Return to Love”

The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude. ~ Oprah Winfrey

I think and that is all that I am. ~ Wayne Dyer

So does that mean if you gain control of your language, you’ll also gain control of your reality?

This is what I thought. For the most part, I still believe this. But now I’ve added an important to piece to the puzzle. Reality is not affected by thought alone. Reality is also affected by our embodiment.

I’m still working through this idea, but the personal practices I’ve been doing for the last two years have helped awaken this awareness. It started with my yoga practice at Ayurveda Yoga, and then the subsequent yoga teacher training course I took there (Tip: their 25th semester of yoga teacher training starts in the fall.) After doing my first yoga demo class, my wonjangnim (my teacher) suggested I’d benefit from embodying the practice a bit more.

Georgeanna and I at Ayurveda Yoga, Daegu, South Korea (October 2016)

Although I conceptually understood his advice, I clearly wasn’t embodying it. It took a while for me to learn I wouldn’t understand this by reading books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, or asking for opinions. If I was going to learn embodiment, I was going to have to get in my body and listen to what she has to say.

At the beginning of this year I joined a mentorship program with Elizabeth DiAlto, the creator of Wild Soul Movement (Tip: enrollment for her virtual program is going on now). Her practice centers around helping women discover the wisdom of their body via movement. In her words:

My aim is to meet you where you are and guide you to where you want to be while always keeping primary focus on cultivating your trust and faith in the idea that everything you’ve ever needed has always been inside of YOU.

So through yoga and Wild Soul Movement — through hip circles, forward bends, downward dogs… — I’ve discovered the language of my body. She speaks the language of Intuition and Discernment. She gives me hints as to whether I should say yes or no.

She whispers my truth, and my job is to listen to her. Her whispers are getting louder these days, and I’m starting to wonder how I ever lived my life without hearing her.

I wonder this because my reality has never felt more joyful or calm. Even though I have challenging decisions to make in this current reality, I’m not feeling anxious. My thoughts have shifted. I can finally say I’m starting to trust myself thanks to the language of my body.


Related reading:

Choosing Happiness?

Emotional & Physical Fitness – Rupa Mehta Talks about Self-Compassion

I NEED movement: Theodora Papapanagiotou

 Tearing down my own big picture – #MatMoments


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What do Brad Pitt, binge eating, and feeling feelings have in common?

We’ll get to Brad Pitt in a minute.

First, what’s your weakness? Ice cream, Netflix, wine, Instagram, or the S-Town podcast? Mine is potato chips: ahh, that crispy, salty, greasy goodness. Omitting a few enlightened exceptions such as the Dalai Lama, — who I highly doubt is bingeing on sour cream and onion chips and the latest Orange is the New Black — we’ve all engaged in some kind of binge behavior. Why do we do this?

In her Untame the Wild Soul podcast interview with Elizabeth DiAlto, Samantha Skelly defines bingeing as a way to numb out because we can’t deal with what’s going on. Essentially, we can’t deal with our emotions.

When I look back on my life, I recall many moments when I didn’t realize this is what I was doing. I had no idea I was running away from my difficult emotions because I didn’t know it was okay to acknowledge them.

Elizabeth might reply to this experience by saying, “You didn’t know what we didn’t know.” I love this because it helps me be gentle with myself, and it also helps me take a step forward. Now that I do know, I can choose differently. I can start to gather tools to face my resistance toward feeling those challenging feelings.

This resistance often looks like self-blame and self-shame. To get beyond the resistance, Samantha asks, “Can you love the resistance?” For example, when I indulge in a can of Pringles or my Instagram feed, it’s usually because I’m bored or dissatisfied with the moment. Instead of doing something more loving, such as reading or meditating, I grab for these distractions. But rather than making myself feel guilty, can I love the part that scrolls through the feed, or pops the lid? Can I be gentle with this part of me instead of making it bad? It’s in this love that change happens.

Interestingly, Brad Pitt had something to say about this in the May 2017 GQ cover story, :

I mean I stopped everything except boozing when I started my family. But even this last year, you know—things I wasn’t dealing with. I was boozing too much. It’s just become a problem. And I’m really happy it’s been half a year now, which is bittersweet, but I’ve got my feelings in my fingertips again. I think that’s part of the human challenge: You either deny them all of your life or you answer them and evolve.

(…)

Sitting with those horrible feelings, and needing to understand them, and putting them into place. In the end, you find: I am those things I don’t like. That is a part of me. I can’t deny that. I have to accept that. And in fact, I have to embrace that. I need to face that and take care of that. Because by denying it, I deny myself. I am those mistakes. For me every misstep has been a step toward epiphany, understanding, some kind of joy. Yeah, the avoidance of pain is a real mistake. It’s the real missing out on life. It’s those very things that shape us, those very things that offer growth, that make the world a better place, oddly enough, ironically. That make us better.

There’s no doubt that sitting with difficult feelings is hard to do. I have yet to deeply my examine some deeper challenges. This requires courage. And because loving yourself can seem a bit vague, it also requires tools and guidance.
To get the specifics on what you can do to face your binge behavior, I highly recommend listening to the podcast linked above and visiting Samantha Skelly’s website, Hungry for Happiness.