In Tai Chi, there’s a movement exercise called Pushing Hands. The lesson to learn when doing this exercise is that force can be redirected. If you redirect a strike, it will never make contact. The strike won’t meet resistance; therefore, the flow of the motion is never interrupted.
Pushing Hands teaches the Tai Chi student about flow and resistance. The less resistance there is during the exercise, the more it flows. Another way to look at flow versus resistance is by comparing a dam to a boulder. Water will flow its way around a boulder, but cannot penetrate the resistance of a dam.
In conversation, flow and resistance work very similarly. Do you find that you can easily speak your mind, allowing your conversations to flow along, while feeling a general sense of well-being? Or, are you more defensive when you talk to people, feeling vulnerable, and on-edge?
Those who find it difficult to flow in conversations have usually experienced some sort of negative emotional event in the past. Perhaps when they were a child, they weren’t allowed to speak at certain times. Or, when they did speak, they were made to feel stupid. Even when we’re older, we can develop phobic-like responses to events that come up in life. A simple conversation can turn into a trigger point that we take with us throughout life.
My wife, Jenn, has had a defensive wall up most of her life. She’d never felt as comfortable as I’ve always been when it comes to revealing personal history to strangers. I’ve had no problems telling people what challenges I’ve had in the past, and what my struggles are right now. However, Jenn was typically more closed off, and told only her closest friends her “secrets”.
Only recently has she shifted from that mindset. She had what I’d call a breakthrough. She really liked the freedom she saw in me when it came to opening up to people. And she wanted to be more open, and free to be herself too. She knew she kept her guard up during conversations, so she went inside herself for the answer. Of course, she’s been on a personal growth journey for years. But it wasn’t until just a few days ago where the clouds parted, and the answer was revealed.
When Jenn was in her twenties, she attempted to rent an apartment. She met the landlord, an older lady, and they had a pleasant conversation. They got along great, and the conversation was flowing nicely. However, when the landlord asked what my wife did for a living, the lady stopped smiling and told her that ‘we don’t rent to people like you.’
Jenn was floored, and hurt. It was at that moment she shifted. She felt judged, vulnerable, and self-conscious. Needless to say, she didn’t get the apartment. That precise moment in time, Jenn made the decision that she would stay guarded, and on the defensive, so that no one could hurt her like that again.
And she held on to that for 20 years. And as amazingly giving and empathetic she was to everyone around her, she could never fully open up and share herself without fear that someone might hurt her again. This led to a lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It was like she had a 24 hour guard at the gate, not letting anyone ‘in’ without getting top secret clearance first. And after you got past that guard, there was another one down the road protecting that area too. And if you got past those guards, and got too close to her, you were quickly escorted back out.
But something wonderful happened just recently. She’s learned to be more transparent, and more genuine. She’s opening up, allowing others into her life. And she’s totally digging the space she’s in now. I just loving seeing this new woman coming out of a shell I didn’t even realize was there!
Conversations didn’t flow for her. But now they do. It is still a space she is getting used to, but the stress of simply conversing with someone is disappearing. Her decision to be open, and let her walls down, has actually made her more confident. It’s given her a strength I’ve never seen before.
It’s this strength that gives us self-esteem, self-love, and self-confidence. When our walls are up, we don’t allow others to be all they want to be, because they feel our resistance. But when our walls are down, that resistance is gone. And people around you open up.
We’re all vulnerable to something. But if we know that we’re all vulnerable, and we decide to be authentic anyways, it opens the door for everyone else to let down their guards, and be themselves.