Friday, March 25, 2011

Falling Up

Iris stares across the table at me, blankly. Save for her eyes being open and her sitting upright, there are no signs of life.

This is the third time in the last two minutes that she's missed her turn in the conversation. I wave my hand back and forth across the space that I estimate encompasses her field of vision and on the fourth pass, she manages to mutter, "Mmmm, hmmm!"

The waiter arrives with his pad and asks if we've made our decisions. Iris turns her head towards him as if to say something. Her jaw drops open, but nothing comes out. He looks at me, his eyes questioning and I say, "Blood sugar crash. We need food stat. She'll have a burger medium rare, no bun, with whatever veggies you can put on top of it and sweet potato fries. I'll have the fish tacos."

The waiter hurries off, Iris still staring at the space he previously occupied. She looks at me again and utters, "Thank you."

Just knowing that food is coming seems to help a bit and Iris says, "I'm sorry, what were you saying?"

I respond, "Well, I was talking about Faith's post this morning and the whole concept of falling up."

"Falling up? What's that mean?"

"Most of us who've been practicing this happiness thing recognize that, when deciding to be happy, the decision point isn't a point at all, but is more of an ongoing process. In practice, much of what we do is unhappiness preventative maintenance: eating right, working out, meditating, writing, taking time to think, and so on."

"So, we end up being happy most of the time because we adopt a lifestyle that places happiness above say, making money or getting ahead or being popular, etc."

"Additionally, we tend to be really good at recovering from unhappiness. When we fall into anger or frustration or fear or sadness, we don't dwell there, but instead pull ourselves out of it quickly and easily."

"So we're good before and we're good after. The question I'm pondering is, 'What do you do in mid-fall?'"

Iris stares at me, but not so blankly.

I wave my hand.

She snickers, "I'm listening; I'm just thinking about what you're saying."

I go on, "For example, you've become really good at avoiding blood sugar crashes by paying close attention to what and when you eat. However, there are times when you miss a meal or just forget, and then you get to a place like you are right now. So the question would be, What could you do right now to pull yourself out of the sugar crash?"

"Well, I'd just order some food and then avoid talking or responding to anything until I have a chance to eat."

"Right! However, that's the recovery part. What if you couldn't get food for a couple of hours? Your blood sugar fell through the floor. You feel like crap and you can't get anything to eat. What would you do?"

Iris responded, "Well, how about you? It's late at night and you're really tired. So, you start getting hyper focused and super intense. So intense that the heat from your exchanges is melting everyone in the room."

"You're so focused that you can't even see it. Tomorrow, after a night's sleep, you'll be fine. But in that moment you don't see it. You're in free fall. How do you stop it?"

I think about Iris' question. She's definitely got the concept down and she's managed to turn it back on me in a really effective way.

"Hmmm...", I ponder aloud, "Well, I think the main problem is awareness. When I'm in that mode, I'm not aware of my intensity. I'm not aware of how people are responding to it. I'm not aware of my own body language and feelings."

"What are you aware of?", asks Iris.

"Ummm... I guess I become consumed with reaching closure, arriving at a logical conclusion to the discussion or argument. My memory regarding what each person has said becomes eidetic, I have a multidimensional map of the conversation laid out in my mind with ever thread and segue clearly marked, and my whole being seems to be wrapped up in reaching a destination."

"OK, so what does that tell you?"

"It tells me that the problem isn't lack of awareness, it's being overly aware of one thing to the exclusion of other things."


"So, the key to stopping my free fall would be to break the awareness that is muscling out everything else, to rip my focus away from reaching a goal or destination. Hmmm... "

I continue, "It would be similar to what Paul did when he rebuilt our driveway. He didn't just put a drainage ditch along the side, but also strategically placed large rocks along the way to break up the flow of water and slow it down. Without the rocks, the water would continue to gain speed and momentum until it reached the bottom. With them, the flow never gets too fast."

"So, what I need is something akin to those rocks, something that keeps me from building too much speed and momentum, even after I've started to flow into hyper-focus, even after I've started to fall."

"And how would you do that?"

Good question.

"I guess that I would need to practice it? I'd want to start in situations where I wasn't tired or overly focused and then practice shifting gears, moving from one focus to another, learning to do it smoothly and easily. I'd want to do it enough that it became routine for me. That way, whenever I found myself in free fall, the discipline would operate like an autopilot taking over and reversing the direction."

The food arrives. The waiter cautiously places a plate in front of Iris; it has a large burger covered with lettuce, tomato and onions and a heaping side of fries. He hands me my fish tacos and scoots away.

Iris looks at her food and smiles, "No more talking, we're eating."

Happy Friday!


  1. Interesting and useful analysis. I like the idea of practicing. If you need a sparring partner to hone your regulatory/self awareness skill, feel free to engage me at any time in a conversation about any aspect of my life. The way I think seems to be a natural stimulus for you, a wind tunnel, if you will, in which to tune up the aerodynamics of your regulatory processes.

  2. I wanted to scream as I read this, Mark! I planned to comment a few days ago but didn't. You mentioned flight and falling and I started thinking about the movie 'Drop Zone'. I haven't seen it fully, but it's about people who fall through the sky strategically using wind currents and whatever, to speed up, slow down, change direction, etc. They look like superman. When they are learning, they practice just a few feet above the ground with a gigantic fan blowing their body up, and then figure out how to stay on top of the air. I wondered about practicing falling so I can fall strategically. What would that look like? Can I practice with sensory input that matters less? Sometimes with new volunteers, I allow then to experience sensory overload but staging it (loud noises while spinning or something like that). I am extremely protective of my self in real life, so I don't allow too much 'gridlock', but what if I allowed it in situations that are less taxing, so that I could practice what I would do in the downpour?

    While reading your post I had a visual image of someone sticking you with a large pin to create focus on something else... Though the outcome might not be pleasant for anyone...


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