How Therapy Works: Shifting the Frame
There are two of us on the run
Going so fast, every doubt we had is coming undone
‘Cause in better light, everything changes
- Lucius, “Two of Us on the Run” Recently, I was fighting with my son. The first time I realized my child would have his own ideas and that I would have to learn to persuade rather than force, was in the parking lot of daycare as I tried to jam his 3 year-old limbs that bucked and twisted into a car seat against his will. A few minutes before, he had been laughing, racing a cart around, and didn’t want to leave. I was ready to go, and thought his acquiescence was optional.
Our more recent argument was about how he would spend his summer, and I felt strongly that my plan was the better one. And I felt he must agree immediately. For a few days, anger and urgency rose in a growing wave that could be momentarily pushed back when my attention was drawn to something I had to accomplish but would resume its rise again when I was no longer busy. At the end of a workday, I drove to my running trail, a narrow sliver of woods hidden inside the city. I got out of the car, took a breath, and started my watch. I ran. Trees and shade and cicada buzz washed over me. Darker groves of shadow drew me further and further, in a process of unspooling. I ran. Urgency abated. My footfalls dodged rocks and puddles. I inhaled. I ran. What if we had time? I ran. I exhaled. Time to come to an agreement, to talk, to persuade each other, to return to understanding and getting along.
I ran. Leaves reached out to me along branches, gesturing, extending themselves. I chewed on the feeling of disaster and examined it. It prompted the questions: How could I force agreement? What could I threaten him with? I wondered. What if the feeling of disaster did not need to be? I ran. What if there was time? What if there was time?
If urgency left, it seemed there was no problem any more to fill the clearing that was left. Or the problem was different. The trail stretched out, bark and earth; water eddied around boulders, making pockets for tiny fish poised like a quiver of arrows.
The problem became something my son and I could fix together: the problem of how to spend a good summer. I ran. The wave receded. The need for force had made a rift in our relationship. The rift meant disaster; disaster called for force. If I could let go of that idea, we could figure it out.
I ran. I felt better. Like a solution had been given to me by a woman I had met in the woods handing out magic beans or a wish. Nothing had changed, except my image of the predicament.
I ran. I crossed a bridge whose boards rebounded with my steps. And with that, the problem was solved. It seemed the disaster was something that I had partially created and then amplified and then smoothed away. I don’t know why running has always been a therapy for me. But like therapy, it exists in its own space outside of the limits I feel imprisoned in. I only have to show up, put on my shoes and start and I am transported to possibility. It asks commitment for a specified time and afterwards my eyes see better. I am more present, more generous, more capable. Running for me, like therapy, like poetry, does not change the world, “makes nothing happen.” Yet, the frame is shifted. And everything is somehow, suddenly different.