The Power of Three

We are heading into deep winter folks! Deep winter means the holiday season is upon us. And with the holidays we can look forward to fun, merriment and stress!  

I have always found this time of year a bit of a struggle. The natural inclination is to turn inward. It is a time to slow down and be cozy. It makes sense that we would seek the comfort and companionship of friends and family. But sometimes that drive feels antithetical. There are days where I would prefer to be left alone with my dreary, winter self rather than make merry. Plus, for me, living with four different people with four different thoughts, wants and needs means there are going to be clashes. And being cooped up indoors for days on end is going to throw wood on that fire no matter how much yoga I do!  

Chances are, like me, you are going to find yourself in closer than normal quarters. This intimacy may come with challenging personalities. That is why, over the next few weeks I am dedicating my emails to sharing tools I have found for managing the “season of togetherness.” My hope is that it will help you manage your togetherness, help you feel more in control of your experience, and find genuine joy. 

A couple of weeks ago I talked about listening (click here if you want to read that one). This week I am focusing on triangulation. 

Three is a magic number. Religions, philosophers and marketers all understand that three is where it’s at because one is an anomaly, two is a mistake, but three is a pattern. And we love patterns. We count on them to give us boundaries and perimeters. They help our “brain hole” function better. When we learn a new skill or start a new routine, it is as if we are trying to sprint through a dense forest. We have to use more brain energy to forcefully navigate the terrain and stay upright. Like a sprint, that brain stuff burns out quickly. Routines, however, create a trail in our brain forests. When we step on the trail the pitfalls are minimal, the mental fatigue lower. 

Routines are coping mechanisms as well. They help us feel secure and help us relate to one another. This is one of the reasons why triangulation is so seductive; like the number three, triangles, with their three points, three angles and three lines, tend to be satisfying. Triangulation taps into our love of threes, it creates dramatic swings in emotions and it relies upon familiarity and pattern to yield results. 

So, what is triangulation? Triangulation is a form of manipulation where a person uses at least two other people to control the narrative of a situation with the “triangulator” at the center. It is a means of maintaining power and control by creating divisiveness. Although it is largely viewed as a tool of narcissist, it is not exclusive to narcissists. 

Gossip is the most common form of triangulation. For example; someone in your job gets a promotion that someone else wanted. Rather than go to the hiring manager and ask, “why didn’t I get the job?” The triangulator will go to a colleague and say, “Sally only got the job because she is a suck up! I can’t believe they fell for it, I thought they were smarter than that!” As long as the other person continues to talk to the triangulator, the triangulator retains power and control. The triangulator is both the messenger and the creator of the message. 

Most likely we have all found ourselves in, or been the perpetrator of, this dynamic. And while this behavior is absolutely toxic, it is important to note that this behavior has created a connection for the triangulator. This choice, feeble and toxic though it may be, allowed the triangulator to feel connected to another person. And that feeling, the feeling of being seen and heard, is satisfying. 

So, what should we do with triangulators? First of all, it is impossible to change anyone. The only control we have is over our own reactions. Therefore, we must change the message. 

For me, yoga has been very helpful with triangulation because yoga teaches us compassion, patience and possibility. Triangulation is generally caused by trauma. It is born from pain and suffering. I try and remember that when I am confronted with a gossip. This is not the same thing as excusing a person’s behavior. Pitting people against each other is never OK. But it does help me remember that everyone is doing the best they can. 

And I have compassion for that. 

With these three (there's that number again) tools, compassion, patience, possibility, I use this formula (note the 3’s!):

1.     compassion, 
2.     sympathy and/or option, 
3.     leave

Let’s Role Play!

Triangulator: “I can’t believe they gave the job to Sally! She is the worst suck up I have ever seen! How can they not see that?!”

Target: “You are upset that Sally got the job.” 
TRI: “Yes! I feel completely betrayed.”
Target: “I am sorry you are so hurt.”
TRI: “Yes, she is the worst! She – “
Target: “I’m so sorry you are so hurt. That is hard. I hope you are able to speak with the hiring manager about this. It sounds like you need closure. Excuse me.”

Then LEAVE. 

It is important at this point to extract yourself. By not allowing the triangulator to continue, you are changing the message. You are telling this person that you are interested in them, sympathetic to their pain, but not interested in this conversation. 

Of course, this is harder when dealing with family members or friends, because triangulating family/friends is intimate. We have been participating in that triangle for a long time. When dealing with triangulation with a loved one, it is important to discover for ourselves what we get out of the triangulation. What need is being “satisfied” by both the triangulator and by me? Often it is a fear of abandonment or shame. Once we understand our triggers, we can address them, i.e. “Mom, it sounds like you are upset. I love you. I am not going anywhere, but you need to talk to them about this, not me.” Compassion, sympathy and/or options, leave.

The key to this technique’s success - you need to actually feel compassion. When I say “I am sorry you are hurt” I mean it. I do not wish anyone to suffer. Likewise, I sincerely do not wish to participate in this destructive behavior. That is why I am comfortable with leaving. It is not working for me. And a conversation, if it is successful, needs to work for both people. 

Yoga is practical and applicable. As you head onto your mat in the coming weeks, I encourage you to practice these steps on your mat. When you find yourself saying “why can’t I balance today!” offer yourself compassion, give yourself sympathy and/or options and, if necessary, give yourself the room to take a break. Sometimes loving is hard work, so start with you. 

Good luck out there yogis! I believe in you!

Listening Well

I recently attended a 3-day immersion program studying attachment theory. At one point we were asked to draw a circle and plot how we were raised to deal with nine “core” emotions. If we were allowed to have/express that emotion in our family, it went in the circle. If not, it went outside the circle.

Without thinking about it, I plotted the emotional map of my childhood as “before” and “after.” “Before” was life with a bi-polar father before he accepted care. “After” was life after he accepted care. This was not a dramatic choice. It was a very banal choice; almost clinical. I had grown up with two distinctly different experiences, both were valuable insights for me. As such, they both had a place in the circle.

We were then asked to break into small groups and share our circles. After sharing mine, the conversation immediately shifted from “oh that is interesting” to curiosity about the mentally ill. I was peppered with questions like, “What was that like?” and “What did that do to you?”

I felt very exposed, vulnerable. I backpedaled. “Oh, no it’s fine. I’m totally fine! I am fine now. It’s totally fine!” 

When I was finally able to break away, I had a good run, then a good think. Why was I so disturbed by their reaction? I am familiar with people’s curiosity. I usually anticipate it. Why was this so upsetting? 

Because, to me, mental illness wasn’t a focal point of this exercise. I was on a different trajectory. And for them, the only thing they heard was “bi-polar.” They just heard the “before.” They completely ignored the “after.” They were so interested in the juicy tabloid bits of bi-polar that they ignored the fact that I also talked about an after - a point at which many of those core emotions were sitting comfortably inside that circle with a bi-polar father.

They missed my point. They didn’t hear me.

There are a lot of reasons why we misunderstand each other. Maybe it is because the other seems foreign and that makes us scared. Maybe because it peaks our curiosity. Maybe it is because we are distracted. Maybe we are clinging to preconceived notions and stereo-types.

Maybe it is because we are not listening well.

Listening well requires that we turn down the volume on our own internal conversation. We have to focus on the “hear” (see what I did there?) and now.

This week, if we are lucky and blessed, we will be sharing a meal with people we love and who love us. That often means we will be breaking bread with people we don’t ideologically agree with. This can cause a contraction. It can make us mad. How do we share space with people we don’t agree with?

There are no easy answers. Your best option may be to walk away. It may be to avoid the conversation entirely. If, however, you are endeavoring to turn down your own noise and be a better listener, I recommend trying the “2 second pause then reflect” approach.

When someone says something to you, wait 2 seconds and then tell them what you heard. For example:

Kiddo:  Mom, I do not want to do Math is Cool!

Me: (RAPID THINKING “Yes you do! You love math! You will have so much fun! All your friends are doing it! Just give it a try!!”Wait 2 seconds. Reflect… You don’t want to do Math is cool.

I know, this sounds phony, and it actually is when you first do it. But it works. It forces you to pay attention.

The two second pause forces us to process what we heard rather than jumping right into what we are thinking (which, let’s be honest here, is usually something about ourselves). Reflecting back makes us codify what we heard. And, since we most likely don’t want to get caught looking silly, we will pay closer attention so that when we reflect back, we get it right. 

Give it a shot. You may be surprised how often you hear yourself saying “oh I know exactly what you mean! I blah blah blah…” Notice how often you start forming your next question, counter point, or thought without even processing what the person said. 

When you find yourself saying bum-rushing the conversation, stop. Take a moment and reflect back what you heard: 

Kiddo: No! Math is Cool is going to be a lot of work. 

Me: (RAPID THINKING: Wellyeahitisgoingtobealotofwork,butthat’sOK!) Wait 2 seconds, Reflects… You don’t want a lot of extra work. 

Kiddo: No! I can barely keep up with what I have now. 

Me: (RAPID THINKING. Yes, this is true you are struggling with your work loadWait 2 sec. Reflect… It sounds like you are afraid you will be overwhelmed. Am I hearing you correctly? 

Kiddo: Yes! 

I’m not going to lie, it’s a ton of work. It also feels very hokey and awkward at first. However, the whole point of conversation is to hear each other and be heard. Anything less is just us making noises at each other. Anything less and we’ve missed the point entirely. 

I wish you all the love and bounty of the season friends. May your table be full and your heart fuller. 



Voting Day

Yoga is often translated as “union” or “to join.” In a fragmented and often lonely society such as ours, this is a lovely translation. It imbues a sense of wholeness, a promise for peace through connection. 
 
I love this translation. 
 
Unfortunately, it is incorrect. (Dang it!) 
 
Yoga comes from the root yuj which means to “yoke” or “bind.” There is a fundamental difference between joining something together and binding it. “Joining together” brings to mind a desired, invited coupling. Binding, on the other hand, is a restraint against will. Binding is an act of will and force that is typically put upon something that does not want to be bound.
 
Yoking is also an agrarian term. A yoke is tool traditionally used to bind two oxen together. There often is a plow attached to it. I plow the field to prepare it for planting. When I bind two beasts together, I am able to double the power and control the rate at which animals move. And, with their combined power, I am able to till more soil. 

Choosing the term “yoke” to describe the practice is a conscious one. It depicts a specific action. I yoke, or bind, the two beasts of burden that keep me from knowing my true Self; the body and the mind. I force the body and mind to do my bidding, to work for me. They help me till the soil of my experience so that I may plant the seeds that will bear the fruit of enlightenment (or, more specifically, ensure that I do not plant the seeds that will bear the fruits of karma… but that’s a lesson for another day).
 
In doing yoga I am using my power, my force, my will, to control my mind and body. I choose what to react to. I choose what to do. When the mind skirts away, I bring it back. When the body says “no, I don’t want to!” I say, “just try.” I no longer allow my mind and body to dictate my experience. I do. 
 
That is power. 

Yoga is often described as something that gives us peace, makes us feel more calm, relaxed. And while this may be a byproduct of the physical practice, the original design, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, was not peace per se. The point was liberation, or more specially Kaivalya, which means “emancipation.” Emancipation is defined as liberation from the bounds of karma and the cycle of reincarnation. It also means freedom from bondage. So, while we may find peace in our liberation, peace in and of itself is not the goal of yoga. Freedom is. That freedom comes from first controlling the body and the mind. Power to control my experience.  
 
Again; power.
 
The third pada (teaching) of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the “Accomplishments.” It is primarily of a list of powers that an accomplished yogi may encounter on their path to liberation. These are magical powers; flying, walking on water, becoming invisible, healing the sick, etc. For many people, the third teaching is sort of glossed over. The siddhis (powers) are seen as fantastical, wishful thinking, bizarre even. They feel out of place with the rest of the teachings. 
 
This makes sense if you are looking through the lens of yoga = peace. However, if you accept yoga = liberation, then you realize, magic powers are just a stepping stone along that path. If all of this phenomenal world is make-believe, then there is nothing at all unbelievable about overcoming the bounds of “normal” experience. The yogi will naturally have the power to overcome nature.
 
There’s that words again: Power. 
 
Clearly, one of the fundamental aspects of the practice according to the Yoga Sutras is power. 
 
Why then is there a divergence in modern practice from yoga-as-power to yoga-as-peace? 
 
There are many hypotheses. Here is mine:
 
Because most of the people who practice yoga are women. It is not socially acceptable for women to step into their power. Women are, for the most part, not encouraged to be powerful. 
 
Yoga teaches us that we have the power to choose our own experience. When a woman steps onto the mat she is told, “You are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to be flawed. You are allowed to try and fail. Go ahead. It’s OK!” Telling our sisters and brothers that this moment is enough, that they are fine just as they are, is liberating. It is empowering. 
 
But, because it is not socially acceptable to speak in terms of power, we flipped the script. We found a way to make our empowerment less scary. We tell ourselves and others that yoga keeps me calm, more peaceful. Yoga makes me less hysterical. 
 
Don’t worry, yoga will not upset the apple cart. 
 
Except when it does… 
 
Women’s history is essentially the struggle against power imbalances, against our power being taken away. Yoga promises to light a way back to that power. Which is why, I want to encourage all my yogis to remember; you have the power to upset the apple cart by exercising your right to vote. 
 
Your great grandmothers fought for you. Your mothers fought for you. Now it is your chance to fight for you. You have the right to practice, to play and you have the right to vote. 
 
Do not believe you do not have any power. You have been given a right. Do not squander it and do not let anyone tell you do not matter. 
 
You do.