I’ve just returned from the most extended time with Pilates colleagues that I’ve had in nearly six years. My husband and I got married shortly after my professional organization went through a dramatic revision that left me without my continuing education and the economy went bust. Soon, I was pregnant. All together, those happenings kept me close to home and granted me many important personal lessons upon which I’ve often reflected in this very space. But it has also left me lonely for the sense of collegiality and the learning opportunities that come from working with my far away teachers.
This spring a really cool thing happened when Siri Dharma Galliano visited me – we started talking about putting on a Pilates conference in the San Francisco Bay Area. We are doing it, and soon I’ll have a pretty little button over on the right side of this blog page to prove it. In preparation for our project, I did some on-the-job training at Siri’s recent conference in Big Bear. It was a really great weekend, and I’ve come away with all sorts of insights and ideas that will be distributed amongst my various avenues of expression. I created this space for the sort of personal reflection that clears my mind in order that I can perform the many tasks-at-hand that fill my days, so it’s here that I will delve into the thoughts on Pilates and personality that came home with me.
By personality I mean the inconceivably complicated web of characteristics that make up who we are: what motivates, upsets, and challenges us; what draws us to certain people and what repels us from others, and all the other stuff too. It goes without saying, that I’m using the term as a lay-person and that the terminology is not as important as the idea that I’m attempting to convey: personality matters.
Joe Pilates himself had a pretty big personality. From the stories I’ve heard and shared, some have remarked that he’d be in jail for some of his antics if he were alive today. It doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch to consider that some of his failures could be linked to his eccentricities. Indeed, along with the stories of Joe’s intensities often come follow-ups showcasing Clara’s social grace and ability to smooth things over. Given that personality plays a role in any human endeavor, and since the Pilates method is less than a century old, it is even more likely that the Pilates community would still be caught in the quagmire of personality dynamics that have been there since the start.
I’ve attended six large-scale conferences and many more small-scale workshops. I always leave inspired to do better, full of admiration for others, and fairly overwhelmed with all the associated emotions because there is a layer of self-criticism within all that. As I’ve written before, Pilates is based on empowering each and every individual on their own terms. I’ve observed that when we train in groups it can be easy to lose sight of that fundamental aspect of the work – I think that the performance part of Pilates eclipses the personal empowerment part in the group setting. The performance aspect of the method is challenging to navigate without experiencing any self criticism because there is always somebody on show who is thinner, stronger, more flexible, more able, with more personal and professional connections, with more success, etc. The answer is always that there is no reality in comparison and yet it is so easy to do in the performance intensive settings of conferences and workshops when we are mostly in the role of audience member. If we fall into comparing ourselves to others we are bound to suffer because our performance is a result of our uniqueness and so it is impossible to replicate anybody else’s greatness. Conveniently enough, the antidote to comparing ourselves to others is the same thing that gives us access to our own unique greatness: knowing and honoring ourselves. The good news is that Pilates does this by design, the bad news is that we still have to navigate the whole personality thing because we all have to learn from someone, and most of the learning of Pilates happens in groups.
Here’s a quick list of areas in the life of a Pilates professional that I believe are almost completely determined by personality and how we relate to others: who we pick to learn from, who picks us as their teacher, who we prefer to teach, who we prefer to mentor, who we like (and don’t like) to work along side, who we chose to collaborate with on professional projects, who we build professional and business alliances with, who we are comfortable sharing ourselves with enough to transcend collegiality in order to form a true friendship.
I think that perhaps some of us take a while to sort all that out. While we are in that process I think that two things tend to happen. First off, there is the notion that there is something wrong with us because we didn’t fit with a particular person in a particular way that somebody else did. If we allow the notion to take root in the depths of our thinking we are likely to project it outward with judgement and criticism which tends to conflate someone’s personality with their skills, knowledge, professionalism, or any other attribute that is considered more acceptable to analyze. Such analyses, of which I’ve witnessed a fair amount, cause more harm than good and really boil down to us airing our dirty laundry. If we keep those judging thoughts close enough and run them through a battery of mental tests that refuse to entertain any self-abuse, and we share with no more than a few trusted confidants who support us in finding true relief from what causes us upset, we are eventually bound to arrive back at the beginning thought with the capacity for disarming it. In completing the disarmament, will have granted ourselves one more opportunity to free expression and saved our community from a lot of unpleasantness.
Put simply, if we were all to follow a general rule of keeping our opinions of others contained within our own mental machinations until we arrive at an understanding of what those judgements are telling us about ourselves, our professional lives would be free of a considerable amount of drama.
Over the past few years, my clarity of thinking on the role that personality plays in Pilates has sharpened. Previously, in my judgements of myself, teachers, colleagues, and clients, personality wasn’t clearly demarcated in my thinking. For me it has taken the development of my personal reflection skills to recognize when a personality is expressing itself. That has allowed me to avoid getting caught up in the drama that can so easily surround our personalities.
The older I get, and the more days I log as a mom, the more I respect myself and advocate for my own best interests. As my vigilance for self-care increases, so does my ability to see others more clearly. I can distinguish their skills and knowledge from their personality. With that clearer view, I can pay him or her their due respect. Yes, personality determines so much of how our lives take shape; and yet the more we can keep it as a thing unto itself, the more we can appreciate what others share with us in spite of the limitations of our personalities. We all have some good to share even when it comes out all wonky because of our personality. I prefer to focus on the good and take the personality merely as part of the theater that surrounds our lives. As far as I can tell once you see it for what it is, Pilates with personality is a lot more fun.