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I had minor arthroscopic knee surgery a few months back. I visited a physical therapist afterwards to help with the recovery. He gave me a few exercises to do. Then instructed me on a timeline to get back to my goal of playing basketball. Since basketball involves a lot of jumping impact and turning, he suggested that I don’t try that for a few months. He started me off with an exercise of just standing on one foot. Then standing on one foot while slowly leaning forward and back. At first this simple exercise didn’t seem like it would do much to get me to my goal. But it only seemed that way because I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about the subject.
As I am standing on one foot I notice the muscles firing in the ankle. The nervous system is sensing balance and giving feedback for muscles in the foot to engage and contract. The same is happening in the knee and hip. He said the nerves in my knee were re-learning to measure movement, balance, and sending signals to the muscles to adjust. The muscles, little ones, were making tiny micro-movements to help keep me stable. The same thing happens while standing on two feet, but it’s not as noticeable. I hadn’t realized that so many little things are happening just to stand centered and balanced. It was all happening at a speed faster than conscious thinking. I thought the problem was in my knee, but the Physical Therapist saw it as a whole system that needed improvement.
A similar number of things acting together as a system act keep you emotionally and mentally centered and balanced as well. Most of these we don’t notice. If you are caught up in drama, it is likely that more than one thing is causing you to be upset, angry, jealous, or unhappy. If one muscle is weak, others engage to compensate and we can still hold it together. It’s when several things aren’t working that we fall down physically, and emotionally. That’s okay. It’s a normal set of causes and consequences, just like injuries to the body, they happen sometimes. And like rehabbing my knee, you’ll need more than one exercise to get out of your emotional drama, centered, stable, and strong again.
I asked the Physical Therapist if I should start running on grass. I thought the softer landing would be better than pavement. The Physical Therapist told me I wasn’t ready for running yet. Then told me that grass had too much chance of a gopher hole or something uneven. My knee wasn’t ready for an off balanced step at running speed, turning an ankle, and then putting extra pressure on the wrong part of my knee. I hadn’t thought of that. He thought a flat surface like a track would be the best place to start. I’d need to build up strength in these smaller muscles first. I’d also need to get my nervous system developed to respond and compensate faster for uneven surfaces.
I know about guiding people to develop mindfulness, change thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, but I don’t know how to rehab a knee. I learned that it would take a few more months than I would have imagined. That was helpful. My thoughts about what was best for my healing weren’t what was best for my healing. I didn’t have enough experience to think through issues like developing automatic micro-movements and gopher holes. In my lack of understanding I had made the solution too simple. The same assumption of simplicity often happens in our attempts to change our thoughts, beliefs, and emotional reactions.
My client Jack occasionally interrupts me when I am answering his question. He’s a very smart guy, but maybe a bit impatient. It came time in his process to figure out what was going on. He applied some of my exercises to the practice and he discovered part of his mind was anxious for answers, anxious for change, anxious for the painful emotions to stop hurting. From this desire to stop hurting emotionally was the impulse to get an “answer.” It turned out that his desire for change had also concocted an idea of how this change would come about. It seemed all his years of schooling had trained him to look for the “right” answer. Get the “right” answer and the problem gets solved. His mind has the simple answer that if it knew just the right thing that his emotions would change. But his emotional healing wasn’t a math problem or a history question on a test. Can you imagine me asking my Physical Therapist, “What do I need to know in order for my knee to get better?” It’s not a question of, “what do I need to KNOW?” It is a question of, “What do I need to DO?”
I would hope he would inform me that it didn’t matter what I “knew”. I could “know” all the right exercises, names of the muscles, anatomy of the knee, but that wasn’t going to get me healed. What was going to get me healed was doing the exercises to retrain and strengthen my whole leg. Jack tries to get his mind mentally and emotionally fit by getting answers. That’s like trying to make my knee better by reading books.
I thought playing basketball might be a good way to get my knee in shape for playing basketball. Bad idea. I need to strengthen my whole leg with individual exercises first, and then work up to complex movements like basketball. I had to retrain my knee system by isolating areas. When I work with people on changing their thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behaviors, it is also a matter of retraining different parts of your mental and emotional system so that it automatically does things.
In the Self Mastery program there are individual exercises for changing and strengthening different parts of the mind. Sometimes you are stretching to a new point of view, sometimes more mindful of emotions, and sometimes you practice standing still, like refraining from doing old patterns. Stand on one let for a while and you’ll see how much is getting strengthened by standing still. Sometimes the exercises in the Self Mastery Course may seem simple, or aren’t the answer you are looking for. Standing on one leg is a long ways from playing basketball, but it will help you get there. As you build strength with the beginning exercises you’ll be better prepared for the more complex practices that come later.
Jack’s automated way of thinking has already told him that these simple exercises aren’t the answer he is looking for. His automated mind thinks the changes he is looking for will come in the form of an answer, some bit of information. When you get an “answer” everything is solved is the paradigm his mind operates by. His mind is fixated on hoping to get some concept explained to him that will then make his mind operate differently. It won’t. This is just one expectation dynamic that gets in the way of his healing. It keeps him asking questions and then interrupting instead of actually DOING something different. His assumptions, impatience, and questions are all part of his old routine of emotions and behaviors. His mind will do the same thing with any answer. It will first be afraid that he won’t get it. Then it will hope the answer will save him from his fear and emotional pain. Then his mind will create disappointment and frustration that the answer he got didn’t change his emotion. Frustration and disappointment will drive his mind to look for more answers. It will take more than an idea in a book for his mental muscles to change this pattern.
Do you have an idea about how your change is going to happen, or is supposed to happen? Do you dismiss certain methods of change because you have the thought, “That’s not what I am looking for,” or, “That won’t work for me.” It’s interesting to me that people who don’t have experience in changing their beliefs can be such an expert on what will work and what won’t work. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore. I went into the Physical Therapists office with ideas about what might help me rehabilitate my knee even though I’d never done it before. I’m glad I dropped my assumptions about what would make me better.2