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Up-Leveling and the Willpower Gap: The Juggler in a Tornado

“Man has at various times been defined as a building animal, a working animal, and a fighting animal, but all of these definitions are incomplete and finally false. Man is a learning animal, and the essence of the species is encoded in that simple term.” – George Leonard, Mastery 

Susan Peirce Thompson, who I look up to, writes a great deal about willpower in her book Bright Line Eating. She talks specifically about the willpower gap – that space we find ourselves in when our willpower is depleted for one reason or another, and we begin to drop the ball in ways that our conscious mind may be less-than-pleased – or even horrified – by.

Never have I felt this in my own life more clearly and observably than I do now.

Among other times, willpower depletion can occur when we add a task or responsibility to an already full plate, attempting to maintain all the responsibilities we had before, plus one.

In yoga practice, this can be illustrated as such:

We stand in tadasana. (Tadasana is the “Mountain Pose,” in which we stand on our two feet, balanced equally from front to back and left to right. Arms by our sides. Though we may look like we are just standing, getting the balance just right is an ongoing learning.)

The instructor says, “move your thighs back.” So we bring our awareness down to our thighs and move them back in space, allowing the muscles at the front of the thighs to fill out the flesh and skin at the backs of the thighs.

The instructor says, “Maintain that. Now, press your tailbone forward.” While trying our best to maintain the thighs pressing back, we now go with our mind deep into the pelvis, the home of the tailbone, and begin to move it forward. If we are successful at maintaining the two actions at once, we become more streamlined from front to back, and our awareness becomes more laser-sharp. More, as we might say, centered. We may also find that we gain verticality through this action, perceptibly getting taller.

This may seem simple enough, yet it’s one of the toughest concepts for beginners to grasp. They attempt to move their tailbone in, and their thighs bounce forward. They go to move the thighs back again, and the buttocks flare out.

It’s tough to maintain our task load and add to it. 

This requires the stretching of the whole human being, and is what happens when we expand ourselves.

George Leonard explains, “Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it.” This decline is, where I observe, the willpower gap lies.

In my own life, I’ve been blogging, podcasting, teaching, and coaching for three years (in addition to parenting). In that time, I’ve added partnership, a new home, and Bright Line Eating to the mix. Each time something new is added, I go through a period of adjustment that looks like chaos, and can be hard to trust. Most disconcertingly to an ex-addict, cravings can come back.

I’m now in the process of adding two more monumental changes to this already-full plate; changes that I embrace and am grateful for – changes that feel necessary and expansive to fulfilling my potential. And, the chaos and disruption is palpable. Yesterday I yelled at my daughter. I said something base and disrespectful to my partner. Things I would not normally say or do. And yet, when I’m in the willpower gap, when things are shifting and expanding, I have come to realize I am liable to do these things.

If I tune in to my emotions, I can feel that I am afraid – uncertain if I can pull it off. I watch the parts and pieces of my life – the proverbial thighs back, tailbone forward instructions – flying about somewhat haphazardly, and somewhere in the midst of it all a part of me is standing at the center and trying to catch them all, like an overwhelmed juggler whose pieces have been swept into a tiny tornado.

And, this time around, I am aware that this is, in fact, part of my process. As I grow, I go through periods of what looks like chaos, integrating the new, and in those times, trust is needed. I know that meditation helps, sleep helps. Time in nature helps. And, at some point, I must let go of the need for perfection and trust the intelligence of the process. This is, after all, the domain of the right brain – that which governs putting things together, and the right brain is famously spontaneous and non-linear.

Bon voyage to me and to anyone else who is up-leveling. Bon voyage to all.

**** Check out the podcast with Susan Peirce Thompson

Yoann Boyer

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