Necessary Roughness: Why Being Tough Pays Off

Necessary Roughness: Sprouting TulipsThis weekend after my morning cup of tea I headed into the yard to tackle a little perennial garden that I inherited from the previous owner. The only reason I knew it was a perennial garden is because just this week the brave wanderings of tulips and a single bright crocus appeared above the rambling vines, decaying leaves and fallen branches. I also know that the woman of the house before me was an amazing gardener and her spirit in the house has been restless lately because the yard was messy and those poor tulips were struggling.

It was far worse and far better than I expected. The vines had snaked through all the dead weeds and it was physically hard to pull the dead out of the garden. I started off with my tiny rake and approached the garden politely. The rake would get caught and I would have to uneasily place a foot into the garden to untangle the rake. I was terrified of stepping on a tulip or some other colorful bit of life. After the first hour of this I got up some courage and stopped contemplating what was alive and what was dead. I’m the new owner of the house, so I asked myself if I wanted tangly vines in my garden—no.

Instead I braced myself and pulled them up from the roots. I cleared a space big enough for my feet and I got low and started pulling up all the dead branches and shoots. Sometimes they came easily, sometimes they broke and sometimes I had to engage some extra strength and pull something up by the roots.

As the garden started to emerge I realized there are chives, a huge assortment of tulips and crocus and some bright, green ground cover that I’m going to need to research. The circular nature to the plantings of the tulips makes me fairly certain that all the space I cleared is days or weeks away from exposing some new treasure. This yard that I have inherited is going to continue to delight and surprise me throughout the year, but only if I do the necessary work. I have to uphold my end of the bargain and clear out the vines and fight through the mess of mudded down leaves. This yard requires some necessary roughness to expose all this vulnerability and beauty.

As I was out there sweating and pulling that phrase came to mind, necessary roughness, and I thought about the patients I’ve been treating lately. This early spring has brought in some grumpy, stubborn pain in my patients and I find myself having to be far tougher than I actually am to treat this pain. This time of year the Liver is ruling the world and it makes things feisty, stubborn and rather bull-headed. While I am all of those things personally, professionally I am a touch skittish and afraid to cause pain. My years of extreme sensitivity and low pain tolerance make me terrified of hurting people.

This spring I’m feeling stronger and lately I’ve been facing head on some brutal treatments. I’ve tried to keep my breath calm and easy while patients whined and cursed and wrung their hands at painful points. When they got off the table and the pain was completely gone I would sigh deeply and thank the heavens that the pain was worth it and shake off the vicarious trauma of all their nervousness.

I’m just not very good at being rough. But I am getting better and better at learning the signs of when to roughly pull pain up by the roots and when to sneak in and gently trick pain into going away. Knowing and trusting that line is giving me more courage to be tough and to take bigger risks.

Last Friday in my morning yoga class I taught about “tendencies.” I invited everyone to stand against the wall for centering without the safety of their yoga mat. Throughout the class I taught concepts that are just outside my comfort zone to share the experience with my very unsettled students. Our personalities and tendencies make us our own special individual selves. I insert needles in a very different way than other acupuncturists. I teach Chaturanga differently than a lot of yoga teachers. Honoring what makes me different is worthwhile. Staying within those borders exclusively does not serve me or any of the people I am trying to teach or treat. Sometimes stepping outside of our comfort zone allows us to experience greater beauty or greater clarity about life. I had to fight the vines to save my garden. What fight might you need to fight in your life right now? In what ways would playing tough pay off for you?

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