Newsflash: having a child means you don’t get to do what you want all the time.
This statement is obvious and comical for the parents that are reading this, but I will be honest, this was a big surprise for me when my son Theo was born.
I’ve always been someone that works with a calendar. I have an idea of what I’m doing, when I’m doing it, and I stick to my plans. It’s my unique combination of Pitta and Vata doshas. I use my to-do list so I can be effective, efficient, AND prevent my Vata dosha from getting overwhelmed or indecisive.
I remember in the first few weeks after Theo was born, I turned to my husband with shock and said “oh my goodness. He doesn’t have an off button.” I only have so much agency over this living, breathing creature.
Suddenly, I could make all the plans that I wanted, but ultimately the schedule was determined by Theo. If there is somewhere I need to be at a specific time, I need back-up. I can’t converse with Theo and count on him to follow my schedule.
Now whether you have kids or not, you’ve experienced a situation when your carefully laid plans are forced to change. Maybe the change of plans even sends a little surge of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) through your body.
Pause for a moment, take a few breaths, and ask yourself honestly – how do you deal with plans changing, particularly if the change is because of someone else’s needs or requests?
We can look at the Ayurvedic doshas to approximate how you might react when your plans change:
Pitta – You had everything planned to a T, and this change can’t happen without your approval. You get into a FIGHT stance, making sure your goals are still prioritized, or perhaps reacting in anger if you aren’t able to be in control.
Kapha – Darn it. Conflict. You go into FLIGHT – you’ll go along with the changes that need to be proposed, won’t share your feelings or needs in the situations, and quietly stew while you go along the new plan.
Vata– Deer in the headlights. FREEZE. A change of plans? Overwhelm and indecision come to the forefront and you might feel stuck for a few minutes before you’re able to make sense of the change.
Any of those sound familiar?
Like I mentioned, I’m personally a delightful (joking) combination of Pitta and Vata, and I can see how imbalances in these doshas result in a more intense fight or freeze response.
Having a child has made changed plans all the more common, and it means that it’s become more important for me to learn how to deal with changed plans in a more constructive way.
Here are a few of my favorite tools that have been helping me navigate unexpected situations a little more gracefully in recent months:
1. Your dharma is whatever is showing up in front of you.
Dharma is a Sanskrit word that translates to our purpose or duty. Very often we think of our dharma as this big, unchanging, important mission that we need to stay constantly and consistently connected to. Ram Dass thinks of it differently. He shares that our dharma is whatever is showing up in front of you. If you’re meditating, your dharma is to meditate. If your child comes in and wants to play, your dharma is to play with your child. If it’s time to work, your dharma is to work.
This view of dharma releases the attachment to staying on a fixed path. It’s a reminder that life is what’s happening right in front of us, and that our duty in any moment is actually right in front of us. Changing plans isn’t getting in the way – it is the way.
2. Don’t argue with reality.
Byron Katie says that if you’re arguing with reality, you’ll lose 100% of the time. It’s a good point. When your plans are changing or something unexpected happens, ask yourself if you’re working with or against reality. You can and should speak up for yourself, share your opinion, and make changes if it’s necessary. And – if you’re in a reality that you don’t have control over (it’s raining, your child wakes up from a nap, or you’re all out of milk), don’t argue with what is.
For me, this tool is the reminder I need to take stock of the present and actually move forward, rather than getting stuck in regret or frustration.
3. Learn to surf.
In my yoga classes this week, we’ve been talking about how when you’re surfing, you can’t control the water. If you tense up or get controlling, you’re going to fall off the board. When you surrender to what is and the specific wave you are experiencing, you’re able to be more agile and adjust to the conditions of the surf.
This is particularly helpful for me when I get caught in my “freeze” Vata response. Instead of tensing against the moment in fear or distress, I soften the body, bend the knees, and remember to surf with what is.
4. Give it 90 seconds.
This is one of my favorite tools. Whenever we have a stress response, whether it’s to something unexpected, a mental stressor, or a physical injury, our body has a 90-second hormonal surge of adrenaline and cortisol. When we’re in the midst of this stress response, we exit the prefrontal cortex and don’t have access to the part of our brain that’s good at making decisions.
Those 90 seconds are when the Kapha says “it’s OK” without asking any questions or speaking up for their needs.
Those 90 seconds are when the Vata is stuttering and feels stuck.
Those 90 seconds are when pitta says something they’ll later regret.
So instead of making decisions during those 90 seconds – pause. Take a few deep breaths. And then once the hormones have cleared from your body, ask yourself what you need to do or say to respond to what is happening.
Which of these tools do you think would be most useful for you? Take a moment to again call to mind that recent time that you were faced with a change of plans. Imagine putting that tool into practice – how would that have changed the situation?