A member of my study group walked out in the middle of the class.
When she got back, we celebrated what she had done.
What would happen if you did that at school, at work, or during a meeting?
Do you think it would be celebrated?
In fact, you’d more than likely be met with disapproval, or even be reprimanded in some way.
In my class, however, we celebrated. We celebrated because she was looking after herself, and doing what she needed in that moment.
We were doing an exploration that, while usually perfectly ok for everyone (it’s actually quite fun!), was too much for her that day, in that moment in time.
This can happen sometimes, even with the most seemingly ordinary, benign things in life, especially if you’re stressed or traumatized. Unfortunately, culturally we are generally not encouraged to listen to our bodies, our emotions.
My student, however, didn’t keep going along with the group. She didn’t keep “doing what she was told.” Instead, she looked after herself and removed herself for a while.
When she returned, we celebrated the fact that she was able to notice that it was too much for her AND that she acted on that by removing herself.
In my classes I help my students both deepen their self-awareness and cultivate a greater sense of their own agency. Nothing we do is a “have to.”
Even though this is the case, our conditioning from past experiences and the prevalent culture can make that feel scary or not even possible – maybe not even on the radar as an option. To not do what everyone else is doing is challenging.
In my classes we practice using these words often: “I am free to ______” and “I don’t have to _____” as opposed to the words “should” and “have to.” They feel different in your body.
Test it out for yourself. Think to yourself, “I have to read this.” Notice what that felt like. Then think to yourself, “I am free to read this.” Could you notice a difference in your body?
For most people the latter feels more freeing, less tense, easier to breath. It offers the possibility of choice. Agency is embedded.
Little by little students experience a growing sense of their own agency. For some, this is fairly easy right away, for others it takes time.
That sense of your own agency, when you feel in control of your own choices, even in small ways, is a crucial component of emotional health and general well-being.
Having a sense of safety and agency often go hand in hand. When you feel at least some degree of safety, which I aim to provide in all my classes, you are better able to make good choices for yourself.
We even explore saying “no” and not doing what we’re told, and choosing for ourselves what we want to do. It’s kind of fun, and definitely empowering.
It’s also enlightening and humbling to realize how quickly we jump to doing what we’re told, even when it is not in our best interests.
So, when someone uses their own agency to look after themselves, it is a cause for celebration.
They didn’t have to, so they didn’t. They were free to choose.
Don’t you wish more places were like that?