Rosalie Boulter, Paradigm Shifters Consulting
You are about to cross an edge with me.
Don’t push me over the edge.
I feel edgy today.
Livin’ on the edge!
I’m on the edge of something big!
What IS an edge?
An edge is the area between one place and another. It is neither good nor bad, though we often think of what’s on the other side as bad. An edge can also be a boundary… How we think about edges depends on whether one is pushed over the edge, leaps over the edge, steps out onto the edge or is at their edge. There often seems to be a risk of falling on the other side of the edge. Does the boundary help you or keep you fenced in? And if you go over the edge, does this mean you turn into somebody you aren’t? The shadow side of you? Do you find a new you? Is it all of these things? Exploring edges is one of the keys to obtaining better personal growth.
Who am I?
When you are at your edge, you are still behaving in accordance with who you believe yourself to be and perhaps on the brink of transforming – to ogre or butterfly, who knows. We say we are “on edge” in lots of ways – about to lose our cool or behave in ways we’d rather not and, conversely, about to transcend what’s come before. Scary shit!
A Systems Approach
In Systems Coaching, an edge is between what is now and what is trying to happen next. Sometimes what happens at that edge (edge behaviours) aren’t pretty or comfortable, and that’s okay. If we manage to go over the edge rather than applying avoidance patterns (such as approach edge, step back, repeat), then something new may await us on the other side, allowing us to gain personal growth. Again, possibly scary shit.
Working with Edges for Personal Growth
In yoga, you often start a pose and go to your edge – the place where it feels challenging and yet sustainable. This is a place that allows for personal growth through effort, and also through ease (Stirha & Sukha in yoga) – a place you can stay for a while. Then, you continue breathing. If your breathing becomes shallow or laboured, it is a signal from your body that there is too much effort and not enough ease. The response is to back off just enough so that you can experience both effort and ease, not give up entirely.
There is no benefit in going beyond your edge to huff and puff and gasp as your body protests. Likewise, if you back away from effort completely and rest in ease, your mind and body don’t expand and lean into the new space. Moreover, there’s no mind/body memory of this new place and therefore you continue to reside at your current edge, rather than gaining personal growth.
Getting Past the Edge
After breathing into your edge for a while, you often find that more space becomes available, you can move deeper in the pose, and you find a new edge that is deeper than before. Sometimes this can take seconds, while other times it can take years. Sometimes you deepen a surprising amount, and sometimes it is barely noticeable.
Ok, anybody else see how this relates to almost everything else in life?
One place this plays out is in our comfort zone. It is easy, it is painless, safe and automatic. What it is not, however, is a place of growth or change. There is no personal growth to be found in our comfort zone! I am not one of those people who believes nothing happens in the comfort zone! I don’t believe we constantly need to be challenging ourselves. I believe that when you need to rest, you need to rest – fully and completely. This is how we build muscle, build resilience, integrate. We need our comfort zone and sometimes more than other times.
In yoga, I am practiced at finding that place in the ease and effort relationship where I accept where my mind, body, and energy are in that moment and I find that moment’s edge and lean in. So why, when it comes to other challenging situations, do I discover an edge and bolt for safety? I’m not accepting nor compassionate about my state that day. There’s no exploring, no breathing. No drawing back a bit – it’s a full scale “I’m outta here.” What’s that about?
Nobody is judging me when I am on my yoga mat, other than myself. I have no suspicions that other yogis are privately eyeballing me and commenting on my form or fitness. Success in yoga is simply doing yoga. It is quite possible that nobody is judging me on other areas of my life, however, there is definitely the perception that they are. There’s that whole society measuring stick. The costs of not succeeding in life feel higher and more threatening.
Finding Your Edge
Physically it is easy for me to know when I’m pushing myself too far and in yoga your breathing is your clue. Well, in a lot of activities that’s it. Runners should be able to converse some while jogging, etc. Anyway, for me I know how to back out of a pose so I am still in effort but not beyond my edge. Sometimes in other parts of life it isn’t as easy to find out that degree of leaning in and backing off, ease and effort. Sometimes the trip from the comfort zone leads directly to the panic zone. The learning zone feels like a pencil line… A thin line between comfort and panic.
It seems like this is a good place to slow down. Putting our experience of the edge into slow motion, we might manage to expand our awareness so that there is space in this learning zone. Mindfulness helps. At what point do I begin to panic, to grow short of breath? What’s going on in my head? My heart? My spirit? Have you ever seen a movie where a character does something like walk through a wall and you see all the molecules of the wall? The transition through the wall is experienced as a long trip rather than 6” of wall… Experiencing all the molecules of our edges will help us when it comes to our own personal growth.
Then, perhaps I can change my perception of what feels like a jump into an abyss into a manageable process. It isn’t a trip from one extreme to another. It’s an exploratory visit to the learning zone. So, for today, what happens if we approach the challenging situations in our lives like a yogi? Breathe into the discomfort. When or if we are in pain, back off, not back out, and keep finding those new edges – stretching, gaining strength, growing, and enjoying the daily practice.
Sitting in Discomfort
Step one is always, always, always to keep breathing. When life gets more stressful our instinct is to breathe more quickly and more shallowly. Instead, slow this down. Take deeper, longer breaths. Ask yourself: Is this discomfort or is this pain? Pain is a sign something is wrong and something needs to be adjusted. Discomfort is something we can stay in, breathe, and explore mindfully. There’s personal growth found in discomfort. I hope you know I’m not just talking about physical pain or discomfort here. Mostly, we would be served by learning to stay in emotional discomfort. I reiterate “discomfort”, not “pain”. If it’s harmful, get out.
At the Other Side
What IS on the other side? What’s the worst thing I could find if I crossed that edge? What might I find?
Where’s your edge today? Where might you be if you crossed that edge, even for a short visit?
Rosalie Boulter likes to write and work with self-awareness to help herself and others gain harmony with themselves and with other people. She’s a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) among many other quirks and talents.