The Value of Plateaus

At this very moment I am experiencing a plateau. Other ways to describe this might be: writer’s block, being stuck, seeing no progress forward, a creative slowdown, or a state of little or no growth. I’ve been here before and, wow, it can be frustrating! It feels like nothing is happening, or that perhaps I am even going backwards. This state feels endless, like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

When I was young and studying ballet, a plateau would hit just after I’d begun to feel as if I were finally mastering whatever technical skill was challenging me at the time – triple turns, a split leap, or a high leg extension. I’d achieve the longed-for goal and oftentimes I would then become stuck. I couldn’t seem to reach the next goal no matter what I did. I would become disillusioned with myself and even critical. I guess I expected my body to master one skill and then immediately set off onto the next challenge without any kind of rest or assimilation period. Demanding!

In retrospect, it seems obvious that my body and mind needed a catch-up period.  My mind needed time to integrate what my body had learned to do, thereby fully absorbing the intricacies involved and incorporating them so they would be more automatic. What I didn’t realize back then, is that during this catch-up time, the body and mind are still working but in a different way than during the initial push towards mastery.

Both parts of the learning process are necessary – the practice building up to mastery and the integration leading to automatic functioning. Mastering the challenge seems much more exciting than the integration phase because we can measure the progress and both see and feel the growth. While we are integrating the changes, however, we can’t always measure what’s happening because it is occurring deep in the body’s and mind’s cells at a subterranean level. Since we can’t see or feel the integration process, it can register as if nothing is happening and we are stuck. But it’s not at all true that “nothing is happening”!

Eventually I recognized this instinctual mastery/plateau pattern in my work as a dancer, and I learned to be patient through the periods of “stagnation,” knowing that another period of growth would ultimately emerge.

However, the mastery/plateau blueprint is not only found in the dance world. I began to identify this pattern in other parts of my life as well – in career advancement, in financial markets, and in relationships. Careers don’t usually climb in a continual upwards growth-line. Often there are setbacks, lateral promotions, time-out to care for children or elders, and moves to a completely different career track. Yet, in the end, overall growth is observable. In fact, the periods of “non-growth” may even benefit the individual more, but in less tangible ways. Financial markets expand and contract constantly over the years. Relationships, too, have fallow periods where connection or intimacy may lessen for a while.

Expansion, contraction, expansion, contraction. This is the way that Mother Nature works as well. We experience rapid growth of flora and fauna in our planet’s spring season with plants and animals maturing in the summer. Then the autumn and winter are rest periods for the earth when seeds and animals can create reserves and hibernate in preparation for the next growing season. Patience is necessary while awaiting spring.

Patience is necessary while we await our next period of personal or creative growth as well. The integration phase is just as essential as the development stage and, as counterintuitive as it may be, the non-growth period is vital to the complete mastery of new growth!

For me, right now, I am exquisitely aware of the plateau I am in. Rather than beat myself up, however, I am continually reminding myself of the positive aspects of being in a catch-up period. I am surrendering into this breathing space and learning to respect and trust its benefits. I am allowing myself to rest, integrate, and create reserves so that when the next growth phase occurs, I will be rejuvenated and ready to spring forward.

 

© 2017 by Sheila Peters. All rights reserved.

Sheila Peters is a certified Eden Energy Medicine Clinical Practitioner, Reiki Practitioner, and wingWave©Coach. She also teaches Stretch/Energy Body Tune-up and Jazz Dance classes and workshops. For more information email Sheila at: sheilapetersdance@gmail.com, call 781-354-0725, or visit Sheila’s website at: www.energymedicineanddance.com.

The Goal Remains, The Path May Change

pathwayMore times than I like to admit, I have confused the path I am following for the goal that I want to reach. If a goal hasn’t been achieved by a specific method and/or timeframe, I sometimes can feel that I have failed. By labeling myself a failure, I can begin to believe that the goal is one I can never attain. Perhaps I’m not good enough, strong enough, or have the knowledge, skill, or fortitude to achieve it. I’m tempted to quit. More importantly, I assume that the goal must be changed or discarded.

 

For example, years ago, I developed something I called the “Moving Massage.” This massage was a 90 minute private session where I manipulated a client’s body in various ways to help them achieve increased flexibility, reduced anxiety, and renewed vitality to deepen the relaxation response. It wasn’t a regular massage and I didn’t use a massage table. I worked with my fully clothed client on a thick pad on the floor. It wasn’t purely dance, yoga, stretch, or Thai massage—it was a combination of everything I’d learned in my career as a dancer and movement instructor with added input from the somatic and therapeutic systems I had studied.

 

It was a blissful event! Part of the process involved letting the client lean into me in what I thought of as a loving “mother earth” embrace. Clients literally put their full weight into my arms as I sat on my heels, allowing them to feel supported and held as they completely released any tension in their bodies and minds. For the client the “Moving Massage” was very successful. For me, however, not so much.

 

My knees and thighs were exhausted by the end of the 90 minutes. Worse, I absorbed any negative emotions and energies that the client let go of. After each session, I had to rest and sometimes took 2 hour long naps to recover. Not a good business model! After 6 months of this work, I had to stop. I felt discouraged and abandoned my goal of using physical techniques to help adults find peace, balance, and relaxation on a mental/emotional/spiritual level.

 

Fortunately, I eventually realized that the goal itself was still a worthy one. It was the method that I had chosen that turned out to be an unsatisfactory way to achieve my goal. Somehow I had conflated the goal with the path.

 

maze-511151_960_720The path is not the goal. A simple but profound statement. One that I remind myself of often because I can easily confuse the two. Serial entrepreneurs know that failure is always part of the journey in creating new companies or organizations. A successful entrepreneur is able to let go of one method or route and explore other ways to get the job done. Perhaps the target market needs to be revised, the price point should be adjusted, or the product rethought. If the goal is a worthy one, it deserves another look at how it can be re-envisioned. Many more iterations may be needed before the goal can be attained.

 

Recently I found myself becoming discouraged by the low and inconsistent number of students at one of my class offerings. I had hung in there for over eight months through wild swings of attendance numbers. The vast majority of students loved the material and left the class feeling terrific in body, mind, and spirit. They let me know that the work was greatly appreciated. However, I still wasn’t getting consistent attendance nor were my classes filling up to capacity. I began to wonder if I was misguided in thinking such a class was a viable offering.

 

Fortunately, early one morning I heard a small clear voice in my head say, “Remember, the goal can stay the same but the plan to get there can alter.” Suddenly, I found myself flooded with new ideas and alternative ways to market, package, and label the class. I felt excited about the new possibilities that were emerging as I let go of the path I’d been following. I was re-imagining the work and its presentation. No longer discouraged, I was exhilarated! I felt free to improvise and to find a new method to achieve my goal. Allowing this transformation enabled me to let go of old strategies and reconnect with my goal in a less rigid way. And even if this wasn’t the final route to achieving my goal of consistent numbers of engaged students, I realized that I could always improvise again!

 

Permitting ourselves to change the pathway to achievement when necessary doesn’t negate our goals. To the contrary, it helps us to be more flexible and more creative. In fact, we can utilize this same concept in all areas of our lives—at home, in our relationships, and in our communities. If the weather doesn’t cooperate when we are planning an outdoor picnic we don’t have to call the whole thing off. Maybe someone’s garage or barn is big enough to house the picnic, and the impromptu venue change might just make the party more memorable.

 

We are, actually, all entrepreneurs—of our own lives. If we can remember that while goals remain the same, the paths to get there can change; we give ourselves the best opportunity of fulfilling our life’s dream.

 

 

© 2016 by Sheila Peters. All rights reserved.

 

 

IMG_0195Sheila Peters is a certified Eden Energy Medicine Practitioner, Reiki Practitioner, and wingWave©Coach. She also teaches Stretch/Energy and Jazz Dance classes and workshops. Email Sheila at: sheilapetersdance@gmail.com.  For more information, visit Sheila’s website at: www.energymedicineanddance.com.