Learning to Walk: the awkward dance of growth

by | Nov 8, 2023 | Getting Real: The Blog

Another night awake with sleep nowhere in sight. So I breathe, then get distracted. I pray, and get distracted. I practice energy exercises from my early coaching days, and get distracted again. I notice how blocked up my energy is. The headache helps with that observation.

I notice, over the course of two hours, that my mind isn’t used to turning inward for any length of time. Excessive work… distractions: audible/kindle… phone games… drama from life/friends/family… evenings in front of the tv…  there are so many compelling reasons to step away from Being and spend my time Doing. 

And I have. For the last six years, I’ve stepped away from Being, and gotten busy, busy, busy. It was imperceptible at first, not conscious, just responding to a life season that asked a great deal more of my time/energy/focus, than I was used to giving to the outside. 

I use the metaphor of walking when I coach. Right foot, left foot, and repeat. We know the wisdom and efficacy of this. Just try hopping for a while. 

Think of walking as growth. Our right foot is our inward growth, our left foot is our outward growth. It doesn’t matter which one we start with, what matters is that we exercise both. The thing is though, that it’s a whole lot harder to move fluidly between outward and inward growth, than it is to walk fluidly with both feet. 

When it comes to our own development, we’re more likely than not to find ourselves engaged in a great deal of hopping. This is not an excuse to shame or blame ourselves. It’s just what is. 

In our culture, we’re taught to want it all, to want it now, and here’s the best one… to believe that there’s something wrong with us if that doesn’t happen. The list of our desires includes those things that are only possible over time, and with a great deal of effort. Growth is one of those things. 

So we hop (inward focus, or outward focus). We get stronger on that particular foot, until that foot gets tired, or life forces us to put the other foot down and use it, as well. And we switch to hopping on the other foot, only we’re able to interject our ‘strong’ foot more often. We go further with this modified hop, until life corners us into switching feet again. 

If we stay with this long enough, we might find ourselves skipping some, or doing some rather bizarre, but easier than hopping, dance moves. After decades, we even begin to walk. There’s always a little skipping thrown in there, and when times get tough, we might revert to hopping, before our fatigue reminds us that there’s a better way. 

Walking takes time. Not months, not years, but decades. Maybe a whole lifetime. 

For me, it started with inward growth. This was back in my 30’s, when my pain no longer stayed behind closed doors. I wrested my focus from all my external hiding places, and turned towards the doors in my psyche that I’d slammed shut, and then thrown every piece of internal furniture I’d owned, against them. I was SURE that my death lay behind them. What I didn’t realize was my life waited there for me. 

I can loosely name the seasons… 

Right foot: facing the sexual abuse from my teens, and the decisions that flowed out from that

Left foot: raising kids, building my lifelong dream of a farm, owning my own horses

Right foot (with some skipping): listening to what my horses were trying to tell me, and finding the question, “Is it okay for me to Be?” 

Left foot (with some skipping): pursuing my dream to work with people, with horses, getting my coaching certifications and building my practice

Right foot (with a lot more skipping): facing the end of a 25 year marriage, rebuilding my life, connecting more deeply to who I am, what I bring, and how I show up. And then having to let go of my farm and horses.

Left foot/right foot (some weird dance moves thrown in): working for an organization where I could bring both my coaching and horse training expertise, the joy of getting married to Jeff, blending families, finding a new rhythm with a new family structure

Left foot (more hopping): becoming immersed in my work, losing the balance between life/work, and working far outside what I know of who I am, what I bring, and how I show up

Right foot/left foot : growing through the discomfort, grounding more deeply in who I am, re-balancing my life

In the context of working for others, the pendulum began to swing again. I love my work, and I believe with all my heart that it has been the next life-giving step for me, but as I often share with my coaching clients, some things aren’t able to heal until we’re in a situation that triggers them again. Which is not, by the way, any reason whatsoever to put ourselves into situations that are not healthy for us!

So add more Right foot (internal growth) back into the mix. Work has moved to a sweet spot with room for life, and I get to look at what got me hopping, and more importantly, what did I learn from it, and how do I want to move forward in something closer to a walk? 

First, an honest admission: I squirm every time I’m up against my own broken places. There are some ugly, mean voices that find their way back to the surface of my head that want to color it all in shame. At this point, I know those voices aren’t mine, but in the moment, I still have to fight for that.

So what is showing up here? What is asking to heal?

I’m not excited about saying this out loud, so I’m just going to take a moment, wrap my arms around myself (highly kinesthetic), and remind myself that I’m worthy, loved, and precious, not in spite of my stuff, but right along with it. Facing this stuff and growing through it is what gives depth, richness, and meaning to the whole journey. 

Okay. Here goes, and though it’s always more nuanced and textured than a single answer, the landscape here is… people pleasing; believing I need to be someone I’m not.

Ugh. I’m not sure anything drains me faster than that.

I have spent the better part of my adult life working through this formative coping tool, so why am I surprised that after decades of intensive work, this still shows up? I hear the voices of my cultural assumptions chiming in, “You should have this down by now!”

 Wry smile. Performance based worth, my old companion, here to greet me. I wrap my arm around his shoulder, put a gentle kiss on his cheek, and invite him to sit and rest a while. He’s super tired from years of constant vigilance.

Juxtaposed to the shame that asks why I still haven’t gotten this down, is an incredible kindness. What a gift, that for the most part, we have only a few core wounds, with their attendant coping strategies, which we get to unpack and heal all through our lives. 

Can you imagine having to “check one off the list” only to find a completely disparate queue of other wounds with their favorite coping strategies waiting for their time in the sun! I think I’ll take the ones I have, and continue working gently with myself as I have the opportunity to heal further. 

See what I’m doing here? I’m siding with the voice that is mine. Speaking out what I know to be true, so I can hold onto my own voice, even as I look at the behaviors that hurt me. 

For me, naming what is happening is a way that I anchor myself into the “Right foot/inward growth”. Once named, it’s harder to un-know a thing. This is the act of bringing that foot into play. Now comes the work of sitting with, acknowledging, and honoring what needs to be healed. 

I give a slow exhale. The balance of both feet on the ground feels good in this moment. Of course it’s a fluid thing, but I’ll enjoy this next step. These few hours of ‘Being’ pull out the churn in my head, and maybe even make it possible to turn in for a little nap, before the sun comes up, bringing more Left foot work to do. 

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  1. Julie

    Your writing is incredible. The insights, the rhythm, the raw honesty and emotion, the dance between wounds and healing. Oh my. Thank you.