Lean into and heighten your obstacle

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Nobody likes obstacles.

And things we don’t like we usually try to avoid. On one level this makes sense.

If you don’t like spinach, you avoid it.

If you don’t like your crazy racist aunt, you avoid her.

You don’t like the idea of dying so we do things that will hasten the arrival of death.

Of course the Nietzchean creed of “that which does not kill you makes you stronger” comes into effect…but really wouldn’t you rather just roll the dice and not do that thing which is an obstacle and see how it turns out? How much stronger will you be for eating spinach if it makes you gag?

And so this is the way of the world. Avoid the obstacles and if we can’t avoid them – fight them.

This gives us the War on Drugs or the War on Terror or the War on Cancer…or anything really. We seek to avoid and vilify our perceived obstacles.

None of this was in my mind when S came to my table and asked

Do you have children?

I don’t but I didn’t feel that would be an impediment to offering her something creative to whatever her situation was. She hadn’t said anything yet but she looked like she was going to say something. And then it came. Almost in one big breath. All at once.

I have two kids. Two boys. I know this shouldn’t freak me out, but it does. It totally freaks me out. It makes me so angry. But we have so few dinners together and then they just ruin it. They just eat so fast.

They take these huge disgusting bites of food and finish dinner in five minutes and then they want to leave the table and go and play video games.

And then I scream at them. Every meal I end up screaming at them to slow down, to eat like a human being, to enjoy dinner, to spend time with the family and enjoy that. But they never do.

I know I shouldn’t be upset but I am. I know they’ll grow out of this probably. But why do I care so much?

How long had she been  keeping this in? While it was in no way a comic monologue – it was very, very funny. Funny because it was true, and funny because you could feel the heartbreak coming out of the pores of this poor woman feeling totally beset by her two sons as she herself recognized the ridiculousness of the situation.
We chatted about her kids and just chatted. I suppose some tactics working on her came to mind (none of them seemed to fit) about her attachment to the way her kids should eat and what dinner should be like and what family time all played in mind but this was an irrational reaction so sometimes it is hard to come to those with reason in hand.
Hey, I was an 8 and 11-year-old boy before and reason isn’t a strong suit (not a bad thing per se, but I am just saying). But kids don’t want to fight with their parents – they just do what they do and hope to be seen and loved. There was no malice here of course.
And then the formulation came – lean into this.
I asked S if she was willing to try to put aside her feelings about this for a ridiculous experiment. She said she was. And then my off-the-wall idea smilingly spilled out.
S, replace the silverware your children normally use for dinner with clean garden shovels and shiny new pitchforks. And when they sit down to dinner seeing a regular plate of food with garden tools next to it they will obviously look at you like you have lost it. But you can just gently and calmly say ‘Boys, I realize that I have made dinner a really stressful place for you and I am sorry. If you want to eat your food really fast and in gigantic bites it shouldn’t be such a big deal to me and I have decided that I want to help you with that. Eat as fast as you want.’
My thought was that boys at that age would freak out with delight to actually eat like farm animals but that a few things would happen – eating with a shovel will have to make you eat slower and eventually the schtick would get old and you would beg to have regular silverware again.
But S was shocked and delighted. She suddenly saw through the radical heightening of the situation how crazy it was to be so angry. She said
Oh my God. This will totally work. I don’t need to fight my children. That is insane and wonderful. I want to go to a garden store. Now.
S hugged me, I hugged her back and I was left thinking how to lean into all my obstacles. Do you think this has general applicability for all sorts of obstacles?
Heighten them, agree with them and then see what comes out on the other side?
It might radically change geopolitics, relationships and your vision of yourself.
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17 comments
Steve Rice
Steve Rice

I love the practical application of this principle that you developed. I wrote a chapter in my book about leaning into the "dip" (making an analogy of life to a roller coaster) and the power of nonresistance. I love this picture. Very profound. Thanks for the great reminder.

Steve Rice
Steve Rice

I love the practical application of this principle that you developed. I wrote a chapter in my book about leaning into the "dip" (making an analogy of life to a roller coaster) and the power of nonresistance. I love this picture. Very profound. Thanks for the great reminder.

Susan Alexander
Susan Alexander

Matt:

This is so brilliant. I love this post!

These words jumped out at me:
"I asked S if she was willing to try to put aside her feelings about this for a ridiculous experiment."

I can think of countless examples in my life and other people's lives where a "ridiculous experiment" is EXACTLY what's needed - in place of the usual, conventional ideas we go through the motions with.

How good of you to suggest, and how good of S to be open to it. That's the lesson here, as I see it. Those who are open to the unusual, the ridiculous, and the wacky, are those who so often clear their own obstacles and can move onto new challenges.

We all need to search each day for our metaphorical garden shovels and pitchforks - this is very useful imagery.

This is one of those pieces you've written that belongs on the front page of major publications, in place of the usual and the conventional.

Awesome!
Susan

Susan Alexander
Susan Alexander

Matt:

This is so brilliant. I love this post!

These words jumped out at me:
"I asked S if she was willing to try to put aside her feelings about this for a ridiculous experiment."

I can think of countless examples in my life and other people's lives where a "ridiculous experiment" is EXACTLY what's needed - in place of the usual, conventional ideas we go through the motions with.

How good of you to suggest, and how good of S to be open to it. That's the lesson here, as I see it. Those who are open to the unusual, the ridiculous, and the wacky, are those who so often clear their own obstacles and can move onto new challenges.

We all need to search each day for our metaphorical garden shovels and pitchforks - this is very useful imagery.

This is one of those pieces you've written that belongs on the front page of major publications, in place of the usual and the conventional.

Awesome!
Susan

clark
clark

Indeed, very beautiful and artful. Bravo. Did she leave you any money? Just asking.

RedGypsie
RedGypsie

M, there's an idea! Travel! Visit cities and set up in squares all over! We could all follow, "Where is Stillman Now?" tweets. It would make a great book and movie...all the people and stories you would meet. I bet travel expenses would be no problem...you are exactly the kind of fella women want to cook for :-). You'd have a place to stay in every port. :-) Happy Friday. Your blog brings me joy.

RedGypsie
RedGypsie

M, there's an idea! Travel! Visit cities and set up in squares all over! We could all follow, "Where is Stillman Now?" tweets. It would make a great book and movie...all the people and stories you would meet. I bet travel expenses would be no problem...you are exactly the kind of fella women want to cook for :-). You'd have a place to stay in every port. :-) Happy Friday. Your blog brings me joy.

mjs
mjs

Jess, I remember reading Mrs. Piggle Wiggle when I was 6 or 7 - 30 years ago. I recall loving it and that she had an upside down house. Now that you mention it though I am dusting off the faded memories and it does seem PiggleWigglealian

jess
jess

Have you been reading Mrs. Piggle Wiggle?

mjs
mjs

Le Grain de Sable - tell me how it works if you try it! thanks for stopping by!

Le Grain de Sable
Le Grain de Sable

I just loved that! I work with 8 and 11 years old boys and I'm sure they will love that too!

Le Grain de Sable
Le Grain de Sable

I just loved that! I work with 8 and 11 years old boys and I'm sure they will love that too!

mjs
mjs

Thanks for writing Melissa! I would be delighted to be of service to you via the phone. email me and we can figure it out.

best,
m

mjs
mjs

Thanks for writing Melissa! I would be delighted to be of service to you via the phone. email me and we can figure it out.best,m

melissa s.
melissa s.

This is just beautiful. I wish we had a Stillman here in Portland, OR. Are you open to a virtual creative solution session (email exchange) for a decision my family has been struggling with? I would love to gain some fresh, creative perspective!

mstillman
mstillman

Steve I'd love to read that chapter and see where there is alignment in our visions. Sounds like we are in the same neighborhood. Glad you found the picture practical! Thanks for stopping by!

mstillman
mstillman

if you ever need help with ridiculous experiments... you know where to find me! As for those other friends of yours...hey, I am affordable!

I think listening well and deeply allows people to be open to going to someplace weird.

And if you know of any publications that need a different front page - I welcome all suggestions.

looking forward to meeting soon!

thanks for visiting the blog!

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