As Real as Gravity

I was in a meeting recently, when someone said, things are happening that are as real as gravity.  My mind, as a psychologist, went immediately to those aspects of our inner reality—namely our thoughts and feelings—that are equally invisible and as real as gravity.  

And it struck me that we often treat these two things – the idea of gravity versus our inner experience – very differently.  Both are invisible and powerful.  But that is where the similarity ends.  

Humans have learned, for the most part, to co-exist peacefully with gravity.    I’ll bet there are high jumpers, pole vaulters, and freestyle skiers, just to name a few, who occasionally would wish that gravity would just let up already!, but I never, EVER had anyone, athlete or otherwise, come to me for help with dealing with gravity. 

Here’s the thing.   We so often co-exist far less peacefully with our thoughts and emotions.  While gravity is an accepted part of our world, our thoughts are, too often, the enemy.  While gravity is allowed, our emotions are so often rejected or avoided.  We don’t think about controlling gravity but we engage in any number of hacks to try to control our thinking and emotions.

Photo by Lewis Roberts on Unsplash

Imagine if we were to fight or ignore gravity in the same way we do at least some of our inner experiences.   It would be hilarious to watch—if it weren’t us doing the fighting.  And if it was us, out there punching at nothing, screaming at gravity to stop! we’d be likely mortified and angry at ourselves for the spectacle we were making.

What can we learn about our relationship to gravity that we can extend to our inner experiences?  First, we can recall that insight.  That the things that are happening inside us are as real as gravity.  At their most elemental levels, thoughts are electrical impulses and emotions are sensations…so both are real.  Physiologically and psychologically.  As real as gravity.

Why is this important?  The first step in working more productively—or even just co-existing more peacefully with our inner experiences—is to acknowledge them as real. 

Only then is understanding and the possibility of a more effective relationship possible.


Secondly, and right on the heels of the first step is that we do so with a wholehearted sense of being on the same side.   Just as gravity “just is,” so shall we accept our inner experience in all its glory, from the sublime, the mundane, to the hypervigilant, and the downright unpleasant.  All of it is a part of who we are.

To recap: step 1 = acknowledge, step 2 = accept.  Just like we do with gravity.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

When we get to know our inner landscape – our thinking tendencies, where our emotions live in our bodies – with acceptance and even a sense of openness to the experience, we have moved from acknowledgment to working on understanding…and change, if that’s what is called for.

Stu, a water polo coach, was pulled up by a complaint from a parent of an athlete regarding his tendency to lose his temper during training when things were not going well.  His go-to response when questioned about this inclination was to note—irritably—that if his athletes would execute the play as presented, he wouldn’t have to resort to “putting a rocket up their bums.”   His high performance manager referred him to me for work on his anger issues, or his job was at risk.

At first, Stu was an unwilling client who came to our sessions in a bluster about kids these days who didn’t know how to put in honest effort in training!  But with time and repeated exploration into the effectiveness of anger as a coaching strategy, Stu’s attitude started to shift.  He grudgingly admitted that any progress his athletes made after one of his “sprays” was short-lived at best, and at worst, he’d recently had one of his better players suddenly quit.  With these admissions and owning of the consequences of his anger, Stu began to relax and acknowledge how his anger felt from the inside and how unpredictable it sometimes was.  And how sometimes he was even afraid of it—and of what he’d do unthinkingly in response.

Anger.  As real as gravity.

With that acknowledgment—and lots of normalizing of his emotional experience to reduce his reactivity and self-judgment—Stu came around to a willingness to work with his anger symptoms and learn different ways to cope with his frustrations.  This meant really leaning in and learning to tolerate the rising intensity of anger with a spirit of exploration, not revulsion.  As well, learning to recognize those symptoms early and develop strategies to soothe and reduce anger’s volatility.

None of this would be possible without that acknowledgment.  Anger.  It’s real, it’s powerful, and I can work with it rather than ignore it, be hijacked by it, or make excuses for it.

Where are you on the spectrum of inner experience acceptance?  0  = no way, Jose, the less I have to deal with thinking and feeling, the better to 10 = I know my thought patterns and go-to emotions…and am cool with that.

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