Monday, August 24, 2009

Receiving the Gift of Feedback

Life really is a Shakesperian comedy at times. Last week, my blog post carefully laid out my philosophy on mentoring. I pontificated, quite sincerely, about how I strive to create a supportive environment for constructive criticism in my Women’s Studies classrooms so that we can all grow to our full potentials.

Then what happened?

I got critiqued. My partner, Amy, offered me suggestions about what I was doing that wasn’t really working and how I could improve. They were insightful and helpful.….And, well, all my baggage arose. I got defensive, hurt, and a little angry.

Funny how life offers us opportunities to learn what we need to learn. It’s never easy to take criticism, particularly when it’s regarding something about which we care deeply and have tried to do our best. In this case, Amy offered helpful feedback designed to be supportive, but it wasn’t easy to receive it as such.

I wondered, as she and I processed the interaction and the feelings it brought up for both of us, why I reacted so differently to this incident than I did to the suggestions of my yoga teacher earlier in the week. What makes some guidance feel like support and others like threats?

In my Intermediate yoga class, we were doing hip openers, leading up to Eka Pada Sirsasana (Foot Behind the Head Pose). My teacher, Ali, had us lie on our backs and guided us through how to put our ankle behind our head, then how to sit up while maintaining that position. Yes, that’s right, I said sit up, with our ankle behind our head. Some of my classmates were even able to stand up.

But I struggled. At one point, Ali suggested that I pause, and then she guided me through how to more productively align my body to get my shoulder more successfully under my foot. Why, I wonder, did that moment feel so helpful while the interaction with Amy felt like criticism? Why did I take one suggestion as encouragement and another as invalidation?

I think it’s because on the mat, I am embodied first. I have let go of concerns that I might look stupid or disappoint (I am trying to put my foot behind my head, after all!) And I don’t attach judgement to my teacher’s suggestions. I simply try it and see how I experience the result. When sensations or emotions arise, the poses offer a safe place to explore and move through them to make life affirming choices.

In yoga, I have given myself the permission to be a learner, and that means allowing myself to not be good at something. That perspective is harder to embrace in our personal lives, but we can often grow much more when we allow ourselves to embody the openness of inquiry. In yoga, I am not attached to outcome. I don’t care whether I can stand up today with my foot behind my head. I am much more interested in what I can learn in the process of trying to do so, and that nonattachment helps me make more life affirming choices about how I react to things.

Relationships offer us deeply fertile ground to cultivate that resilience. With loved ones, we often get caught in our reactions instead of fully embodying them, letting them pass, and then mindfully deciding the best course of action. When we can give ourselves permission to be a learner, we can better receive the gifts of the experience.

1 comment:

  1. Now that I'm retired, I'm exploring yoga a bit more deliberately. Perhaps I should work on how to embody the "Brain." Your posts offer some guidance. Thanks.