How to disband your Committee of A**holes

a committee of meerkats
Yes, this is a committee of meerkats. After all, who wants to look at a**holes?                     (photo by Dusan Smeta via Unsplash)
At the beginning of every Eight Weeks to a Longer Spine class, we sit in a circle and check in.  I want to know how the past week went, what worked and what didn’t.

The responses usually include at least one tally of days without pain, an insight or two, some new aches, and accounts of growing comfort with sitting and continued frustrations with standing.

Then, a few Wednesdays ago, Sheila said that she’d noticed a drop off in the amount of time she spent with what she called “the Committee of A**holes.”

I’d never heard the term before, but I knew exactly what she meant: the random, destructive, critical, knee-capping, self-negating attack thoughts that rise up in the mind, apparently from nowhere.

Sheila first heard the term from a friend, who heard it at an AA meeting. I thought it was so brilliant that it had to be all over the internet, but it’s not. The only useful citing I found came from professional certified coach, Janice Otremba’s blog post, “Chairing the Committee of A**holes,”  Otremba goes so far as to give them names: Eeyore, WTF, the Judge and the Drama Queen.

Although I never named them, or felt them as separate personalities, I know my own Committee of A**holes all too well. For years, they visited me every morning.

I am not a morning lark. At best I swim toward consciousness, prop myself up on the pillows, and spend a few minutes getting my eyes to stay open. It’s a vulnerable state, and it’s exactly when my Committee used to offer its choice insights:

“It won’t work. There’s no point. You’re dim. You’re lame. You’re undisciplined. You never get anything done.”

I still don’t spring out of bed in the morning, but waking up is much more pleasant now, because my Committee no longer convenes when the alarm goes off. I can’t tell you exactly when they stopped. Last times for almost everything slide by without notice. But I do know it was sometime during the past four years, which means it coincides with me starting to learn and teach Spinefulness – and I don’t think that’s an accident.

When I first went to Palo Alto for a weekend Spinefulness workshop, in March of 2016, all I wanted was to lose the excess curve in my upper back.

After years of yoga, I could straighten my back in asana practice. But candid photos showed me that when I wasn’t on my mat, I was getting more rounded every year.

In that first weekend, I learned why the yoga practice I’d been doing to straighten my back was actually increasing the rounding. And I learned how to sit, stand, walk, bend and sleep in a way that naturally elongated my spine.

It was the smallest of beginnings. But I kept going back, and over the past four years I’ve experienced a profound change. My spine is longer. I feel stronger, and lighter.

And then there’s the fourth effect, one that I can’t quite squeeze into a single word. Happier? More grounded? Easier? More at home in the world?  Whatever you want to call it, it’s the state of mind that sent my Committee packing.

We practice Spinefulness by becoming aware of our body in space, aligning it with gravity, and relaxing. We do it again and again, all day long. Then at the end of the day, when the lights go out, we set ourselves up to sleep in alignment, and relax.

This steady awareness practice cuts down on opportunities for the Committee to convene. Practicing alignment as you chop vegetables, for example, means you remain aware of your posture. There’s no dropping unconsciously into your thought stream, which means you can’t be hijacked by random shots from the committee. Furthermore, consciously choosing to relax multiple times a day eventually resets your anxiety level. High anxiety is the Committee’s favorite snack.

Instead, you begin to feel self-acceptance at a Mr. Rogers level. Gradually, it becomes self-evident: no one in the world is exactly like you, and people really can like you just the way you are.

Who knew?

I so wish I had met Sheila 30 years ago. As I struggled to wake up, I could have said, “Committee of A**holes,” and disarmed them. After all, why pay attention to anything that comes from that source? It’s the Rumplestiltskin effect: once named, they lose their power.

Do you have your own Committee? Have you ever named them? Leave a comment below, or hit reply and tell me more.