by Guest Contributor Matthew McNatt
Day in, day out, I ask myself eight questions. I teach them to parents of children with autism, too, as part of an approach called 8 Questions Coaching, which helps build awareness of feeling and demystify emotion.
The first six questions help people answer the last two—the most important ones—honestly, without self-deception.
Right now, let’s look at Question 7:
• When my back hurts… can I find the beauty in this?
• When I’m changing a diaper… can I find the beauty in this?
• When the sun first peeks over the horizon… can I find the beauty in this?
• When my skin crawls, my leg tremors, or I get dizzy… can I find the beauty in this?
• When a bill arrives, someone breaks a promise, or I’m stuck in traffic… can I find the beauty in this?
These questions are all in the first person, because that’s how the 8 Questions work: a parent or provider models, alone and in front of a person with an autism-spectrum condition, asking herself a series of questions. She stops if the answer to any is “no.” She keeps going, as long as the answers are “yes.”
We don’t ask the 8 Questions of someone else, lest a question come across as a veiled threat. Rather, we’re invited to ask the questions of ourselves—and to be aware: what results do we notice? The 8 Questions can change us; they can change our relationships. A father becomes aware: he’s listening to his daughter… and she’s actually sharing. A mother becomes aware: her son made eye contact… looked to her for guidance… waited for her “okay”… trusted her to understand—and, in doing so, gave her a taste, she thinks, of what most moms can take for granted. If you choose to practice this question, what do you notice?
Question 7 asks: “Can I find the beauty in this?” So, what’s this? In every situation, whatever happens, I can choose how I’ll respond. So can you. This is the situation, including our response.
Sometimes, things look ugly—they really do. Sometimes, to me, even the back of my left hand, with its bulging veins, looks ugly—but then I touch it. I palpate the muscles, the veins, the skin. I wiggle my fingers. I sense my hand. I sense myself, touching my hand. And therein is the magic: this is no longer ugly. The palpation, the movement of my fingers, feels good—blesses me, even. Yet which blesses me: my left hand? my right? my movement? What nonsense! There isn’t one, without the other—and that reality makes this, all of it, beautiful.
If my back hurts, I’m not faced with an aching back. I’m facing away from an aching back. My aching back, like the stories I can tell of how it got this way, isn’t my self. Your stories, my stories, our pains: they’re only part of us. We picked them up. Over time, how might we put them down again? What beauty might we find, in exploring new ways to move, letting our old pains and patterns fall away? Even in pain… “Can I find the beauty in this?”
When I’m changing a diaper, what’s before me is not just a dirty diaper. What’s before me is a dirty diaper… and my daughter… and my hands, holding her tenderly, with care. What’s before me is an opportunity to care, to love—and to grow the love I feel for her in the process. Perhaps the love she feels for me might grow, too. “Can I find the beauty in this?”
When the sun first peeks over the horizon, it’s not just the sun’s light that’s new for today—and perhaps a bit too early for my liking. It’s today itself that’s new, with all the opportunities this new day brings. How much anger can I let go? How much pride can I set aside? Whom, today, might I walk beside… comforting him, or letting her teach me? “Can I find the beauty in this?”
When my skin crawls, my leg tremors, or I get dizzy: it’s not just the discomfort I experience; it’s an opportunity to notice what still is working. It’s an opportunity to seek out or implement suggestions from a HANDLE or Feldenkrais practitioner who empowers people to create new experiences from similar situations. It’s an opportunity to recognize my own limits, for the time being, to consider how I might have exceeded them—and to accept what is, right now… for what it is. “Can I find the beauty in this?”
When a bill arrives, someone breaks a promise, or I’m stuck in traffic, it’s not just the bad that’s in front of me, or in front of you: it’s the possibilities. That bill from the hospital, for instance, helps keep a midwife employed—and safe, supportive births in my community possible. That broken promise provides motivation to reexamine a relationship—and makes new directions possible. And traffic? What does traffic make possible? An opportunity to enjoy good music, a chance to practice relaxation (with greater challenge), an opportunity to learn (whether with thankfulness we left early, or redoubled purpose to allow time for traffic next time), or simply an opportunity to recognize the dynamism all around us—dynamism that assures us: we’re still alive! “Can I find the beauty in this?”
Asking this question helps twofold, since finding beauty becomes easier:
• When we recognize the opportunities inherent in this—in whatever situation is not only before us, but in which we’re already included—and also
• When, prompted by the question, we remember to look, listen, and feel for beauty.
Proceeding only when we can answer “yes,” however—“Yes, I can find the beauty in this”: that’s a game-changer. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but in the body-mind of a person who compassionately crafts his or her own way, beauty is everywhere, waiting to be formed, waiting to be found.
If you’re not looking already, how soon will you start? And if you’re already looking: what child, what friend, might be blessed to search beside you?
Photo Credit: This photo a shared via Creative Commons License and is the work of D Sharon Pruitt. You find it and more photos like it by visiting www.PinkSherbet.com
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