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Crash and Learn: The Clarity of Disorienting Experience

December 07, 2020

Crash and Learn: The Clarity of Disorienting Experience
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One of the best things I’ve learned is that you can’t hear the answer unless you have the question within you.

I did a major declutter of my world a while back, and several insights emerged in the process. Not long after, I had a major cycling crash and concussion that presented a new perspective on my relationship with possessions.

What if insights aren't answers, they're ignitors of questions? The magic lies in trusting the deeper answers will be revealed not in our brains, but through our lived experience.

Links mentioned in today's episode:
Jill Carver - Fine Artist
Declutter Your Soul with Peggy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D. - Part 1
Declutter Your Soul with Peggy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D. - Part 2

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The story that launched the ethos:


Crash and Learn: Tracking Insight on the Edge of Awareness 

You know, sometimes you feel like you've just figured something out or you've had an insight or an aha. And it kind of feels like, "Oh, I get it. I just put the pieces of all of this together." And then, and then something happens that feels like you're going backwards. Or, " Have I not learned anything? How am I here again?"

I want to talk a bit about what I believe is happening there because, well, actually, let me first talk about what I don't think is happening there, but it's a way that it often gets framed. Sometimes there's an idea that can be, "Oh, life is testing me", but I don't think that life tests us. I think life invites us to keep expanding our perspective and shedding constricting ideas about what's happening in our experience.

And I think it's part of our cultural paradigm to think of that as a test, something outside of you is trying to test you. And that lines up with the whole model of reward and punishment and pass or fail and get it right, or get it wrong. And I don't know, that just doesn't feel true for me.

I hold it more as "I am an expression of the unfolding universe and it's a creative field. I'm a creative being in it. And if I make choice a, then one thing will happen. And if I make choice B something else will happen." And, and I often don't know what that's going to be until I've made the choice, which is the endlessly interesting part.

And either way, it's not a test that I pass or fail, it's just information, it's helping me steer the most expansive course  forward.

I learned something once from a painting teacher, from an art workshop that I took. A really amazing painter. Her name's Jill Carver, I highly recommend checking out her work. I can link to her in the show notes. 

Anyway, it was a five day, very intensive residential painting retreat. And one of the things that she taught us early on is whatever I'm sharing with you, whatever I'm offering you, you can't hear the answer unless you already have the question within you.

And I love that so much because we get an insight and we think we have the answer, but I don't think it's the answer. I think it is the ignition of a question, and then we have to live into the answer through some experience or in some cases, multiple experiences, because the question isn't strong enough yet. And if I'm resisting my experience, then I'm not looking into it for a deeper understanding of what's trying to reveal itself to me.

So all this to say that I believe our challenging, disruptive experiences hold within them answers to questions that are already alive in us. Or if they're not, the experience is waking them up.

Okay, so why am I setting that up this way? Because I want to tell a story about - here's the, premise of today's podcast beyond what I already said. It's that I'll get an insight, and I can get that insight from many different ways. I might read something. I might see something in a movie, hear something in a song. Someone might teach me something or offer something for my consideration or I'll have a disorienting experience. There's so many different ways that an insight can come in, but once it does, I start to orient to it. And there's, there's an experience of, "I think there might be something to this", but having the insight in and of itself doesn't really land it and integrate it. 

What I find is that always after that, something will happen. That if I'm curious, if I'm open, if I'm looking, I remember, Oh, I just had this insight two weeks ago or three weeks ago or whatever. And if I applied that right here, what would I see? And it completely reframes the experience.

So. Okay. So I'm going to tell a story about how this happened, just to give one example of it, but it happens all the time. You need to have the experience to integrate the insight, that's what I'm thinking. 

And so this started, this story happened when Peggy Fitzsimmons, my friend and decluttering coach was out here helping me do a massive declutter of my stuff.

Actually interviewed her a while back on the podcast, the episode is called Declutter Your Soul. She's just really wise and has a lot of insight about why we keep stuff and why it's so hard to let go of stuff. And what's possible if we release it. 

And one of the many things that I was confronted with in my work with her was this tendency to keep stuff that I actually don't need in my life now, in case I need it to be okay later.

I can't let go of my climbing gear. I haven't climbed for 10 years, but hey, you never know. I can't let go of my nine first aid kits - because when I was ski patrolling, I'd be given one for my pack at the start of every year. Well, that's first aid supplies. Like why would I, why would I want a shortage of that? Might as well keep them all. Like hundreds of band-aids and triangular bandages and Steri-Strips, and more than one person could possibly use in a whole lifetime. 

So Peggy was helping me see this pattern and, you know, it looks good on paper. It makes sense logically that I don't need a massive surplus on hand at all times. But the part of me who does not trust that, who actually feels safer with that surplus needed a bit more evidence, some real world proof. And not too long after she left, that evidence showed up. 

So I don't know if you've ever had this kind of an experience, it can be really unsettling, when you get a call that someone you love is in the hospital. And everything stops. And your mind just starts going through. "Are they okay? How bad is it? What happened? How did they get there?" You're suddenly catapulted into this different reality and you're trying to make sense of it.

So that's what happened. It was my friend Andrew, who's a paramedic, delivering the news. And the person who was in the hospital was me. Which made absolutely no sense at all, because I had no recollection of getting there. He's standing there in front of me in his paramedic uniform saying, "I'm going to check back in a bit and just see that you're okay." 

And I'm wearing a blue hospital gown and I'm in a curtained hospital room under the fluorescent lights. And I'm, I am unclear about how I got here. Because the last thing I remember, I was dressed in my biking gear, riding my bike across town to go for an evening ride. 

So I asked him, "why am I here?"

And he's got this expression on his face, and if you've ever had a concussion, you know the look because you've been on the receiving end of it. It's a combination of amusement and frustration and it's like an eye rolling, "Oh, for God's sake." Because he's already answered this question 10 times. But patiently kindly, he's about to answer it again when the doctor comes into the room. And he says, "Well, I'll let the doctor take it from here and I'll check on you later." 

And he leaves and the doctor says, "Hello", and I say, "Hello." And he's now amused because he can tell that I think I'm meeting him for the first time. And he said, "Do you know my name?" And I'm like, "No." 

"Okay, do you remember me talking to you half an hour ago?"


"Okay. What's your name?" I tell him my name. 

"Do you know where you are?" Yeah, I mean, I just came to understand I'm in the hospital, right. So yes, I know where I am. 

And he said, "Do you know what month it is?" And, and in my mind I was saying, August September, August, September, Aug...August!

I said, "It's August."

 "Okay, I'll be back in half an hour to check on you again." And he leaves the room and I'm thinking, I'm pretty sure it's August. And then I noticed that my friend Bonar is sitting in the room, and he's smiling at me and I'm like, "What are you doing here?" And he said, "You had an accident. You crashed on your bike and I came down to, you know, take care of you and make sure you're okay."

 And. I said, "Okay, can you just tell me, is it, did I get the month wrong?" And he said, "Yeah, it's September 9th, but there's no point really telling you that because you're going to, you're not going to remember five minutes from now."

So it was this strange experience of starting to come back into lucidity, but the threads, the threads aren't totally tracking yet. 

Some things are, the pieces are starting to come back together, my memories are stretching out a bit and I'm starting to track the map of my life. And I said, "Oh shit. I think I had a coaching call tonight."

And he's like, "Yeah, you did and you talked to your client."

"I did?"

"Yeah. She called you and you said, I don't know why you're calling me, but I'm guessing if you are, I, we must have a coaching appointment and I'm in the hospital. And the fact that I don't remember, we have a coaching appointment indicates that, uh, probably I also have a concussion."

And he said, "You both laughed and you know, she totally understood and she's glad you're okay. And she's going to call you back later too, to rebook." I check my phone. I look, yup. I had like a 10 minute call with her. Remember none of that. 

So I'm going to tell you the rest of the story, what got me here. And to this day, which is now a couple of years later, I have still no recollection of that four hour window between leaving my house and waking up, or I guess more just returning to awareness in the hospital.

So here's what happened: At about 4:00 PM I left my house to go for a ride on my bike. And the next thing I remember was now, this minute, four hours later, 8:00 PM in the hospital.

Somewhere along the way I crashed. And I phoned my friend, Beth, who lives in a different town, she lives like a half an hour away. And I phoned her three or four times and kept leaving her voicemails. And she said, finally, she went, "Okay, well, she must really need to get ahold of me." So she called me back and I said, "I fell off my bike and I'm okay. But I think I might be not totally okay because I have no idea where I am." 

And she said, "Okay, well, what are you doing right now?"

And I said, "I'm trying to find a sunny place to get warm."

 And she said, "Stop, just stop moving. Just sit down and stay in one place."

"Okay. I'm sitting down."

" What do you see?"

 I said, "I see buildings. I see, I think it's the Douglas Fir, so I think I'm up on Tunnel somewhere. And, but, um, but I'm not entirely sure."

And she said, "Okay, well just stay there and I'm going to get Andrew", who is our friend, the paramedic, who she knew was on duty "I'm going to get him to get in the ambulance and come up and find you."

 So then, and again, all of this, I don't know any of this. I'm just being told that this all happened,  I remembered nothing, but apparently then Andrew arrives. He drives up in ambulance, up Tunnel mountain, and he has a kind of general idea where I am and finds me. I'm there on the side of the road with my bike and so he throws my bike in the ambulance and then he's loading me up and he said, "Why did you call Beth?" Because she lives in a totally different town.

And I said, "Because I needed someone to take care of Lily and I knew that she would call Bonar and he would take care of Lily."

I never asked Beth to do that. And yet we hung up and the first thing she did was called Bonar and said, "Can you go feed Lily and let her out? Because Liz is in the hospital." 

So then Bonar did that and then he came to the hospital to hang out with me and see if I needed a ride home and just make sure that I was okay. And bottom line is, I was in the hospital for another hour and a half until I passed the test and gave the right answers and got all my wounds, brushed out with wire brushes. Hope that never happens to you.

And then Bonar drives me home - Oh, and then my friend, my friend, Leslie texts me and says, "Oh, my God,I just got your message. Are you okay?" I'm like, "What message?" And she said, "You left me a voicemail two and a half hours ago."

So I guess when I was trying Beth and I wasn't getting a hold of her, I was then trying to get hold of Leslie, trying my next friend who would know if -  I knew she would know if I... both these friends ride these trails all the time so I knew that if I kind of gave them some landmarks, they'd know where to find me. They'd have a clue where I was.

Okay, but what has this got to do with..? What this all has to do with is I'm like, "What the hell is going on? I'm just doing all this major decluttering. I'm clearing all this stuff out of my life. Then I crash on my bike and have a concussion. So why...? Is this not supposed to be opening up energy and flow in my life? Why is this happening?" 

But if I can figure out how to stay curious, meaning whatever happens, if I am in the question of, "If this wasn't life working against me, it's happening because it's asking something of me or calling me forth into something or inviting me to see something in a new way that is actually a more expansive way, that creates more ease in my being..."

If I'm asking that question, then nine times out of 10 I don't feel at the mercy of life. I may not love what's happening. It may be painful. It may be wildly uncomfortable, but it's not the enemy. I'm looking for what it's trying to get me to see. 

And so I crash on my bike and I lose my ability to orient where I am in space. I'm not there. Some part of me is there, but the part of me who is able to make the plan and track the plan and make sure all the moving parts are lining up exactly as they need to for everything to work out, that part was not there. 

And yet, somehow, first of all, I had a phone and then I had auto dial numbers in the phone, so I didn't have to remember the numbers. I had a friend that, without me even asking, knew that my dog would need to be taken care of and knew who to call. I had another friend who happened to be an ambulance driver who happened to be on duty, so I wound up getting a ride to the hospital without ever calling an ambulance.

I managed to connect with a client and let her know that I was not available for our coaching call. I had doctors and nurses taking really good care of me. And then I had my friend Bonar who came and got me and took me home. 

I got from crashing all my bike alone in the forest to safe, warm, cared for connected, loved, and transported home.

I can trust that in the moment, whatever's happening, I am surrounded by support. I will have what I need to be okay. And if I don't, I'll figure it out. In the moment, on the fly, with whatever is there. And keeping all this physical stuff, thinking that that ensures my future okayness, actually is not necessary. And it's weight and mass and things in my life that I don't need. And it, I mean, okay. let me be clear. I am not there yet. I still have lots of the climbing gear and lots of the first aid supplies and I, I'm not fully ready to let it go. 

But I can see that hanging onto it is an affirmation that I don't trust I will have what I need when I need it. And every time I release something and let it go, I'm affirming that I will.