‘Feeling the tug’ versus ‘doing the dance’

Navigating the holiday season

A friend of mine spoke recently about her overwhelm at everything she’s juggling just now: work, home, family, responsibility for elderly relatives. I’ve sometimes been in a similar place. At one time or another, most of us have: trying to make it all fit, keeping everyone happy and handling multifarious projects all at the same time.  My friend described it as a feeling of being pulled in different directions— a sort of emotional and psychological tug-of-war.  

My friend’s circumstances weren’t specifically related to the Christmas holiday season — but this chimes for many people this time of year. December seems to me inherently contradictory. We get busier and speed up when our bodies (from an evolutionary perspective) are designed for wintering, slowing down, embracing the darkness—as our ancestors did in the days before electricity, going to bed as the sun set and sleeping until it rose again. While we’re still in the grip of a global pandemic, things might feel more contracted than normal but many people I know are still, this year, feeling the pull of obligation: that feeling of so many things to do and people to see, over the holiday season.

I asked my friend if she could think of her experience from another perspective. Instead of feeling like she is being tugged (pulled away), I asked her, could she think of it as dancing towards—or between—those tasks or people or things? Tugging has a sense of violence about it, an involuntary energy that comes from something, or someone, else doing the pulling. Things are outside of our control; we let others dictate our actions or behaviours. We are slaves to ‘should’ and ‘ought’.

Commonly, when we’re overloaded with obligations we can be pulled into resentment. If we can’t or don’t, let go of the too-many things, then we’re making an active choice to overload ourselves—even if, mostly, that doesn’t feel like choice. What does this say about us? Who or what are we choosing to be in that place of overload or too busy? Is there something we are trying to prove to ourselves or to others?

What would it feel like to be able to glide blithely through things, limbs moving fluidly through space, and that movement bringing with it a sense of joy?

Easy enough to say, perhaps— but how is it possible? It’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since that conversation with my friend.

How do we reframe our thinking to shift from ‘tug’ to ‘dance’, to take a step back and remind ourselves that we have a choice?

Tune in to the body

Whether we’re engaged in a tug of war or moving in a lyrical dance, we’re connected to our bodies. 

We can use the body as a guide to our internal experience. How does the ‘tug of war’ play out in your body? If you’re in tug mode, and feeling discomfort or overwhelm, stop. Find the feeling in the body. Is your back stiff, or are your shoulders tensed up? Do you feel a constant knot in your stomach? How would you describe those sensations— the ‘screwed up shoulder’ or ‘tangled tummy’ feeling, for instance? It can help to pin down the feeling, apply a metaphor or give it a name. 

What would it take to lighten up physically? How can you make the contracted parts ‘dance’ so they’re free of tension? I’m not talking doing about a full-on disco, ballroom or ballet dance. For me, the ‘contracting kaleidoscope’ sensation I have in my stomach when I’m in a place of stress gives way— when I actively loosen the contraction—into what I call my ‘shoulder blade waterfall feeling’ that feels a bit like having wings.

Photo credit: Mary Markevich

Tune into how your body feels when it’s freer: what would you describe the sensations then? What does the movement of gliding, sliding, dancing feel like on the inside? For a moment, see if you can connect to that lighter place. You can even find a visual image that might help: think of swirling leaves coming off the trees in the autumn, or the eddy in a stream as it swirls downhill on its way to the sea.

If we consciously let go of tension in the body, we can often find a moment of respite from that urgency of feeling tugged.

Consider what you can let go of

Being busy can give us tunnel-vision. At least, that’s what I experience. I get so blinkered by the things I need to do that I’m unable to take a bigger perspective when allowing a little space around things might make the tasks and responsibilities feel lighter.

Ask yourself: must I do ALL the things? Are there some I can put to one side and save until later? Is there anything you can delegate? Could you enlist other people for help (not always an easy one!)? Is it possible to pay someone else to take care of some of the things on your list, or swap or share resources with a friend?

Thinking about it, an effective tug of war means working as a team, in which each one has their own place in the overall choreography. When we allow in others in a combined collective force, there’s less effort. Then the tug becomes a dance – literally – as feet are aligned and everyone pulls in the same direction.

Who’s on your tug-of-war team?

Tap into the meaning and magic

Another way to find perspective and create space in the face of stress or tension is to think beyond our own circumstances. What is the meaning behind each of those tasks? This can help to filter the important tasks or duties from those that are less significant or even necessary.

For me, this means reflecting on the value of service inherent in each task. How does it align to my values? Being aware of the underlying meaning of each task—how it links us to others, how it creates, how it contributes—can help put us in the zone of magic: that feeling of connection to something beyond us, so that we are dancing in a space that is dance in a zone that is more expansive than our perception of our individual place in the world.

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