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The Unexpected Ask

I’ve been shaken and upset.

And now I’m learning the steps to recover.

Have you ever qualified someone in your mind as being a good, safe person only to have that jostled apart with one action? You’ve spent time together; you enjoy their company and then Bam! out of left field they ask you to do something you’re not comfortable with. Or they do something that crosses a boundary. And you find yourself completely baffled. Did I completely misread this interaction? What just happened here?

This has happened plenty of times over the years, and certainly every time I chat with other women, they have stories too. Men, you’re welcome to comment if you’ve been in these shoes. When I’ve asked men that I’m close to though, what I typically hear is that they’re unsure why it’s a baffling situation. They don’t understand why it’s so hard to navigate communication. I’ll give a few examples.

I was teaching one-to-one Yoga online to a wonderful gentleman. We’d shared very pleasant conversation, and I felt a nice connection. As we neared the end of our Yoga session, I had us come into Happy Baby pose, which is a hip opening pose, often very soothing for the mind. It also happens to be a very exposing pose if you’re at a certain angle, which I wasn’t at. I’ve always been prudent about discreetly keeping my exposed vulva out of plain sight. This wonderful gentleman who I’d really come to enjoy, asked if I could turn towards him, thus exposing myself to him. I didn’t want to turn myself towards him. But I found myself giving a quarter turn anyway, which would be enough to see some exposure. I felt sick as I did it. We went from me leading a class to a student, to me feeling like a sex worker doing what the man desires. I also became aware of our conversation in which he let me know he’s in the film industry. Was he filming me? Why didn’t I just say, “No, I’d rather not?” Class ended minutes after that and I took a long shower, wanting to wash the experience away. This is one of those stories that I’d tell a girlfriend, mad at myself for complying and she’ll say, “I totally get it, it’s ok. I do that too.”

Most recently, a Yoga student, who I was very fond of in a grandfatherly way, took my nude photo by the Bare Oaks sign. Something I needed to do for social media promotion. I was ready with a yoga mat in place to cover my breasts for Instagram, but he suggested I take some without covering up, for myself. I thought, I don’t really need anything for myself, just this promo pic, but I moved the yoga mat anyway. “A little bit more, I can’t see your pubic hair,” he said so sweetly, but it triggered something in me. Why does he want to see my pubic hair? My agreeable mind kicked in, soothing me and telling me all was well, I was overreacting. But a slice of me was starting to believe he was taking these photos for himself. We took the shot I wanted eventually, I thanked him, and we moved on. The following week, the photos came up in conversation and he asked if he could get a copy. This caused a full on “Warning! Alert!” siren to go off inside me. But I heard my voice say the words, “yes, of course”. Confused by my own response, I packed up quickly and bolted. Luckily, I had the ride home to mull it over before actually sending anything. I tried to rationalize the interaction. Maybe he collects nude photos of all his friends? Maybe he’s making a photo album of cool things he does, and Yoga at Bare Oaks is one of those things? Even so, I’d never give out a nude photo of myself. Ask me when I’m in my right mind and the answer would always be no. I’m not comfortable with that and I’m on alert as to why anyone would ask. That sweet grandfatherly man has now been shifted into a different category in my head. And, truth be told, I’d rather not do that. I’d be happy to just forget about it, pretend it didn’t happen, and continue our friendship as before. I think that’s why I blurted out, “yes, of course,” because I was desperate to skip ahead to the narrative where we were friends again and I felt safe.

When I’ve shared these stories, everyone’s face crinkles in disgust when they hear the “ask” I wasn’t expecting. It would make sense to feel anger towards the perpetrators, and I do a bit. But there’s an unrelenting anger towards myself, for not being stronger. Healing needs to occur here.

I spoke to a friend of mine, Gab, who is a monk and often gives sage advice. “I’m 36 years old, why am I still doing this? I should have figured out how to say what I mean by now.” But he reminded me that we’re human, and emotion always comes before logic. I later read this exact same thing in the very popular book Atomic Habits, so it must be true! Think about it: you’re in an awkward transaction with someone, you feel something right away. Your mind is trying to keep you safe; you can decide later if your actions were rational. In some instances, logic kicks in shortly afterward, maybe while you’re still talking to that person. But lots of things take some time to process, before the calm arrives and you’re able to speak level-headed. I found that soothing to learn. It’s ok to react a certain way, and then, if appropriate, revisit it and speak the words that align with your heart.

He shared a template for communication called Beginning Anew. There are 5 steps:

  1. Flower Watering: Offering a compliment to the other allows you to enter the conversation with light energy. It reminds you that the person is not the problem that situation needs some tending to. We’re dealing with a situation, not a person. Offering a compliment also allows the other to open their heart and their ears; not feeling attacked or as if they are the problem. (If they feel attacked, they will not hear anything and just go into a shame spiral.)

I find this beautiful about you…

  1. Expression of Regret: Every conflict involves more than one person. No one is fully right, nor fully wrong; both parties are partly right. Find your half of the conflict and own up to it.

I regret that I…

  1. Expression of Difficulty: For this situation only (this is not a time to purge about the past) express the thing that has aggravated your peace of mind/your unease. This is not about the person or who they are, but about a behaviour that can be changed.

I struggled with…

  1. Aspiration for the Future: Growth includes some kind of change and healing. This is where you express in which direction you’d like to go moving forward; a path that is different than what has led to this conflict in the first place.

Could we do this in the future?

  1. Hugging Meditation: This is to check in to see if things really are ok now. Look at each other for a few seconds, offering each other well wishes in your gaze. Then share an embrace for 3 breaths. Honour each other with a smile.

Would you be open to sharing a hug for a few breaths?

The Hugging Meditation could be appropriate for partners, family, or friends, but it’s not a necessary add on for Beginning Anew Communication.

To address the two stories mentioned previously:

Virtual One-to-One Guy – I handled this before being introduced the Beginning Anew Model. I met with him again and was asked again for this turn towards him. The second time around I felt ready to ask, “why, would you like me to do this?” He had a bit of a story, about sharing vulnerability and spiritual togetherness. I said that I respected his reason, but I’d still rather not, I don’t feel comfortable. We continued for many sessions afterward, and it was never brought up again and everything was above board.

Picture Taker Guy – I’m yet to see this gentleman again, but I know I will eventually. With Gab’s guidance I’ve reflected on the need to shift him into a different category in my head, because nice people do bad things sometimes. It’s the behaviour I had trouble with, not the whole person, and I can address the behaviour. How he chooses to handle the communication will determine if I change my mind about him as a person. I’m willing to give him a chance, because we’ve had a couple of years of wonderful interactions and just one weird one.

My conversation with him, following the template, would look something like this:

I really appreciate you braving the freezing wind with me that day to take those photos. It was kind of fun. I regret that when you asked me for a copy that I didn’t speak honestly with you. I struggled with your request as I found it quite triggering and I was confused about what was happening to our dynamic. Going forward, I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t bring up sharing the photos, as I’ve learned it’s not something I feel comfortable doing.

You might be looking at this and thinking: ya right, as if I’ll say it like that! But remember, you get to process and ready yourself before speaking. There’s no expectation that you’ll have these words on the tip of your tongue right away. You might write yourself a little script and go over a few times. React how you react, try not to worry about it, and when you’re ready, you can find your version of Beginning anew. You owe it to yourself to bring some closure. It’s an empowering step.

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