Don’t be absurd – 3 tips to practical sanity

absurd medieval rabbits torture a manThere’s a wild streak of absurdity running feral in the world. The public sphere of debate, politics and planning have blurred into ranting, clownish blurts of the absurd. Perhaps this isn’t new – perhaps there is a tide of the absurd that washes in and out of human communities periodically. If so, it is high tide because (for an example) at the moment it seems that the idea that anyone in any media can be assumed to be telling the truth is now an outmoded, dowdy joke. Not a funny joke, more a disparaging snort of derision. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like that.

I think that having fundamental expectations be absurd undermines our sense of connection to each other and creates an environment in which anything goes, because nothing is ‘true’ any more.

So in an absurd world how do we stay realistic without going mad or becoming overburdened with cynicism? We remember what is always true. Here are three truthful tips to help you stay sane in a flood of absurdity.

Happiness is never absurd

Your happiness and wellbeing matter. Primarily to you and those closest to you, of course, but this is always true. You can hold onto this. That’s not an invitation to become an egomaniac, but a simple reminder that in the face of bureaucratic coldness and structural stupidity you still have value as a sentient being. That is not a grand statement but it is a truth. Well it is a truth I invite you to make the choice to believe in.

Nature is never absurd

Strange, wondrous and amazing the natural world can give you almost infinite pleasure. If you interact with it and let it interact with you then there is a stable and meaningful continuity to that relationship which offers a counterbalance to the absurd in human endeavours.  The endless repeating of patterns in nature are true. They are the language we turned into mathematics. Nature is our alpha and our omega.

Even those who might dream of taking humans to far-off planets must think hard about how to bring nature along for the ride or gamble all on finding it there and welcoming at the destination. Let the natural world be a truth in your reckoning.

Love is a verb

The advanced idea that ‘love is a verb’ is an antidote to the absurd because it puts an active involvement at the centre of choices. It puts a rudder in the waters of chaos and brings the first two ideas into your choice in the now. How will you chose your next action in the context of valuing your wellbeing, and staying connected with the fundamental truth of nature? From those two truths you can triangulate more easily to love in the world and towards your own path of truth.

It may well be high tide for the absurd right now, but this too shall pass.

Over scheduled and too busy to worry

over scheduledDo you have the over-scheduled virus? It is a type of modern flu that has all the symptoms you’re sadly familiar with: fatigue, poor sleep, low level physical ailments (sniffles! That half cough!), a constant sense of not quite being ‘all there’ (because you’re keeping at least one eye on the clock to make sure you get to your next appointment on time), and perhaps worst of all is the gnawing doubt that a helluva lot of what is taking up all that time is not actually important. You know, proper important. Especially compared to the things you’re too tired for at the end of the day, like conversation.

I remember conversation, it is when you talk about something other than the logistics of the next day or who will do which chores. I’m sure I’m still capable of it, if only I had the time. Of course any spare time gets soaked up quickly by the ever-present “should do” list or sleep but presumably there’s a possible future in which I’m caught up on all those things and so is someone I know and we could have a conversation. Hahaha When did that become an almost outlandish fantasy?! Even people I know who are retired from work are busy busy busy. Strange days.

Why you stay over scheduled

But you know, there’s a payoff to this behaviour too, a hidden lining that creates comfort. You wouldn’t think so but there’s plenty worse your brain could be doing and keeping you busy today and tomorrow is really quite clever because when we slow down our habit is not to stay in the now. Oh no, we send our giant brains out into the days beyond and into what might happen. Dangerous ground indeed for this is the hunting grounds for anxiety. Dwell briefly in the future and make a decision about the suitable path and all is well, one can navigate through events and respond when challenges arise. Lingering in the permutations of what might be is necessary for great work but demands huge capacity to defend and define one’s limits and scope. Otherwise the clever early-mammal part of your brain is lured into a hamster wheel of what ifs and becomes trapped in the momentum of its own spinning. Anxiety feeds on you again. There’s a nascent part of our (perhaps higher) self working hard to explain these traps and warn us of the dangers. We tend not to listen.

The ego believes passionately that we’re above such silly situations. The compromise is our over-scheduling. It appeases the puff of the ego and perilously protects the vulnerable brain from too much anxiety. It would be funny if it wasn’t so personal! So the payoffs are always there in our behaviours. You could call it the comfort of complaining. These habits can be so hard to acknowledge without someone to talk things over with and that time in which to reflect on our own patterns or those of our friends (actually I’m a lot wiser when it comes to other people than I am about myself). I’m also lucky to have some very wise friends! So although I’m over-scheduled I’m cautious about just stopping and so making a gap. Even if I could completely stop work and all my commitments and responsibilities that comes with a different risk. We all know that nature abhors a vacuum and in the past it has been another extreme – anxiety – that filled it. I’d like to do it differently this time. I’d like to find a middle way.

Have you ever tried a self-development course and come across a facile question like “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Oh you’ve GOT to be kidding?! But I tried, I tried so hard to soar with eagles and do better and be better and unleash the giant within and all that stuff. But what I’ve learned is a hard lesson to share, and it is that pretending you can’t fail is unfalteringly useless and here’s why.

Making a friend of failure

Of course you could fail. Most of us actually live from a primary identity of failure. That’s a constant in our lives. From the moment we fell over learning to walk we have implicitly understood that failure is part of the human condition. Even as a mind game to expand our comfort zone it is really really the wrong question to be asking.

Here’s a question to try on. “What is so important to you that you will do it anyway, knowing that you will fail in part?” It is likely that you will fail to meet your fullest dreams, on the other hand there are amazing discoveries promised if unknown at the outset. How might you answer that question? Take a minute now if you like to roll it around and see what you come up with.

This choice, this engagement with your own private calling, does not ignore or diminish the idea of failure and instead embraces it. It is not some light optimism that evades the shadows or distorts the reality of challenge, but instead a serious call to us to face the source of meaning and value in our lives. It is a middle path that expects courage and offers a radical hope. I’m not quite proud of my failures yet, but I am ready to expand them. Are you? Share your proud failures or your middle path in the comments.

Overcommitted

overcommittedEver been overcommitted? Ever found yourself juggling time madly multitasking and pushing your own limits to get everything done? Of course you have, and how silly does it feel to realise you’re the one who signed up for this storm of activity. Sometimes it takes a lightning bolt to show you the terrain that you’re stumbling over. That terrain is actually flat – you’re tripping over your own haste.

You’re in charge of deciding what your time is best spent on, but sometimes you’re the wrong person to make that decision. You don’t think to put your hand up and ask for help, after all, “You can manage“.  So you push on, managing to get by and catch yourself at the stumbles, head up, and carry on through the stress.

Overcommitted is a warning sign, it is a hand up, asking for help. If you’ve felt these first warning signs of storms in your life, take a deep breathe and pause. You have a choice here to give yourself a break. So reconnect with your commitment to meaningful and mindful activity. Quite possibly, a lot of the expectation you’re overcommitted by is from you. You got here from your desire to get it all done, make all the achievements and meet the high expectations of those demanding inner critics. Let me remind you – they are insatiable. They will always have a little thing where you weren’t good enough, didn’t do enough, let yourself down.

Overcommitted is a downward spiral

What might be next? Your health or your close relationships as you take for granted the fuel that is sustaining you and the people who understand what you’re reaching for? Don’t let there be collateral damage from wanting to do well, come back to your centre and recommit to less. Evaluate and select only that which is most meaningful to you right now. Let go of the expectations that you’re drowning under that don’t serve your higher purpose and those that are not in alignment with your intention.

You are not a failure. You’re someone’s beloved, so remind yourself that you can only do, what a person can reasonably do, and that is enough.

You just being is awesome

being open your hands RUMIYou, just being here, you’re awesome. You don’t need to “do” anything to be valuable, or worthwhile or precious. You are a wonderful human being. Sure, you’ve got some flaws, everyone does, but you know what? You just being is awesome. That goes for every single sentient being in the world. Imagine how many wonderful people there are behind all those faces that blur past you in the streets or on trains or television. Every one of them is a soul in a body.

So, What do you do for a living?

Mostly we get caught up in what we do. What we do for work. Our culture is very worky worky. Work is, by definition, both a noun and a verb. What we do is called work and when we are doing it we are working. That’s obvious enough. But it pushes just being out of the picture. There’s “working” and then “not-working”.  We don’t remind ourselves that it is useful to just be. Be yourself. Be quiet, be unfunny or a bit sad or thoughtful, be filled with hope, wonder, or just contentment. When you’re worried, anxious or down, that’s who you are too. It is not the job you do for a living that matters it is the being you express by your living.

What people love about you is your being, not your resume

Think about someone you love. Think about what it is about them that you love … I bet it wasn’t that last project they worked on in the office, or their resume, or any of that worky worky stuff. It is in the way their soul shines through and speaks to your soul. You know, that “somehow you make me the better version of myself I like to be” feeling. Maybe you or your beloved is one of those amazing, inspirational people who manage to express their soul in their work day as well. Fantastic and congratulations! Long may you prosper. Ask yourself, if that company crumbled or the economy faltered, and somehow the work was gone would your love for that person vanish too? No.

Connect with being

Maybe put your ‘to-do’ lists aside for a day or two and let yourself rest in being. Let’s be adults, if this is the weekend you’re moving house or catching a plane go ahead and do the things you need to do. But once you’ve done what is needed, stop. Let it be enough. Your purpose is to be here, now, mindful in each moment. Decide moment to moment to do what is needed, or just be. If you can think of something to do that is awesome and expresses your soul into the world, then by all means do it and live long and prosper doing so. If not, you, just being, that’s awesome too.

Boldly go in your direction

keep-calm-and-boldly-goWe’ve talked about starting over and it is worth touching on that idea again, because the pressure is often to do Big Things. You know, Those Boldly go where no man has gone before expectations*. That’s fun for a while if you are an intergalactic adventurer, or a woman. (I mean I even got to make a pennyfarthing where no wo-man had gone before) but at a certain point, most of us just want some help with the basic “boldly go” part.  Those first steps or stumble in a new (for us) journey are their own bold adventure. It could be asking for help to plan an overseas holiday when you’ve never left the city but everyone around you is infecting you with their itchy feet.

Taking action in alignment with your own values put you back into the driver seat of your own life. Freedom is in being bold on your own terms. Maybe committing to a slow shift in your eating habits, or starting to go for walks again or maybe a gym session or saving money. Whatever it is for you, where you’ve had a hint of fear, or worry about what other people are going to say, or if you’ll look silly, or fail, or or or … well, that’s an opportunity for some bold baby stepping.

Boldly go (but in bitty bubby steps)

We yearn for big wins and particularly successful people who are used to achievement forget that starting over is all about starting small. By small, we mean really small. Simple. Two minute tasks, being mindful, remembering to make a choice rather than react. These are the baby-what’s the next thing I could do that takes me towards what I want? Take a little action, bitty bubby ones but bold, feel bold. You’re courageous! You’re brave! You can totally do this!

Be bold baby!

By the way, it doesn’t even have to be about fulfilling your dreams, maybe just do the things that are bugging you and that let you simplify that endless to-do list.

Sometimes being bold is saying “no, thanks.”

No to more commitments, things that serve other people, or things that aren’t helping you get your own stuff sorted. Maybe being bold for you is asking for some help (maybe from all those people you’ve already been helping all this time?) or be bold and be brutally honest with yourself about what is really important to you.

So muddle onwards in your own direction and boldly be yourself. There honestly is no one better suited to it than you.

*Like discovering new galaxies or intelligent alien life. No pressure, right?

Frozen in fear

Rabbit medicine image by Angela C WernekeHave you ever done something so weird and against your own self-interests that your best friend says to you “That was self-sabotage.” And you can’t help but miserably nod your head and mumble “I don’t know what came over me.” It was fear that came over you.

Fear that was stealthy, sneaky, predatory. Fear knows how to trick you and catch you and then let you be the agent of your own downfall. If you’ve felt self-sabotage, it is a particularly horrible feeling. Sometimes, despite our rational intentions, we act like the natural prey of the thing we’re most afraid of – a rabbit covering under the screamingly fast approach of the eagle’s outstretched shadow. In that cramped crouch we are calling ruin upon us.

Snuggle down little bunnies and breathe deeply here in the safety of our burrow, we will learn a different relationship to fear. We currently have a curse on us, we turned away from something big one day and when we glanced back we’d lost sight of that strength and sense of personal power that gives us confidence in normal living.  Perhaps you didn’t know how to stand up to a verbal bully, or you took a fall of some kind, it doesn’t matter you got left behind in something important. Fear has found your signal now and you’re the hunted.

The fear and danger of beginning

One of the richest hunting grounds for fear is in beginnings. Rabbits make a great symbol for beginnings – so fertile, so closely associated with spring. They’re good eating too and mostly without weapons or armour. So when we begin something new, there’s a tendency to dwell on all the ways we’re vulnerable and at risk. How do you approach being at risk? Lots of times it makes sense to do research on the risks and plan how to avoid or respond to them doesn’t it? A lot of times, too, our friends or mentors suggest that we “face fears head on!” Ah. Sounds reasonable doesn’t it? Sounds brave and tough and more likely to be successful than cowering. Well maybe that works for some people but if this doesn’t work for you here’s something else to try.

Not everything needs a fight with fear

Most of learning something new, or making a new beginning isn’t about fighting, it’s about accepting. A beginning means something is going to be different and any fear that shows up at that time is a great invitation to expand. If you’re busy fighting it, it can use the distraction to send a flanking movement around to sneak up on you, all that energy you’re putting out is going in the wrong direction. Perhaps instead you could invite it over for tea and cake and once it has settled in, let it tell you what’s going on for it. Your fear is, after all, the shadow of your dreams. Let fear join your team, let it have a place at the table to discuss strategies and ideas it has seen further than you have right now down the path you desire and if you’re not fighting you have a chance of growing together and becoming more than the sum of your parts.

Fear might be uncomfortable to have around regularly, but much better there in your lounge room where you can get hot under the collar together and work things through than behind you with a knife in your frozen back.

Image credit: “Rabbit medicine” by Angela C Werneke in ‘Medicine Cards’ by Sams and Carson (1988).

Promise of puppies

promise of puppiesIt felt like a tough week for lots of people. How hard is it to pull yourself out of the downward spiral when friends are having tough times, your back is constant pain, the news is filled with violence and horror? What can you turn to? What keeps you going in dark days when depression sniffs around or when you don’t know how to take anymore of the *same* *shit* for even another day? Times like this words can’t reach past the gunk to help you reset, you know there’s still love and hope inside you, but you just can’t feel it. Take a tip from the pros to help yourself through and use the power that comes from the promise of puppies.

Kittens work too, or Shetland ponies, baby turtles, that video of a baby elephant dancing with a ribbon. Maybe even a penguin falling over. Whatever. You’re getting the vibe here – find that which for you summons the promise of new hope, true innocence, and unquestioning, uncomplicated, straightforward love and fun. For me, this is the promise of puppies – love and fun. You’re on your own with the toilet training.

Are you shaking your jaded head and tut-tutting?

Yeah, I hear you and the “oh grow-up” or “get serious” type comment, but hear me out. If you want to live deliberately, mindfully, according to your values, then you need some tools to help you reset and refocus when events have you grinding your teeth with frustration or anger. Our grown-up rational mind tries to think us out of the problem. Oh mighty giant brain! I don’t know about you, but for me that just goes around in blame circles, or shoulda-woulda regrets, or just one more thing that I have to remember to do or change or remind myself. Here’s the shortcut – looking at a picture (or listening to a piece of music) switches the side of your brain that’s in charge of processing stimuli and at the same time it gives you a nice feeling. The feeling is the key because all that worry and thinking has put tight, anxious feelings in you, feelings of ‘not enough’ and the power of puppies is that you are already enough. A world that can hold puppies is a world where a smile is still possible.

You’re not being heartless or immature to want to be able to smile in the midst of hardship. You’re giving yourself care and re-affirming the context and values that you have decided to embody. If a picture of a puppy or a kitten helps you stay on track then why would you deny yourself? Sheesh, consider making it a tattoo!

Puppies are for life

We all know that a commitment extends beyond the holiday, beyond the first rush of sweet hedonistic pleasure, so remember – the power of puppies extends well beyond playful Saturday afternoons. Sneak a glimpse at one first thing Monday morning, or any sleepless night. Let the love and life you see in them seep back into your weary mind and from there you can relight your candle with what you may like to think of as ‘higher-level activities’, but I don’t judge. Want life? Want to feel the bliss but you’re too far from it to even crack a smile? Build yourself a bridge and come back to home.  Come on back to that golden lake of joyful contentment that lives inside you because from there you’re living the life that you really want.

Freedom, bliss, joy, balance – they all start from your center. Want the power to return to that place whenever you want or need to? Use the promise of puppies to get you there. I do.

Bliss of being

Do you feel the bliss of being? Are you in love with the play of light and the feel of the earth as you move through the days of your life? Or do you feel that you’re missing out on something and if only you knew what it was you’d never rest until you found it? “Just tell me!” I’ve heard people plead, “I want to be happy, tell me what to do, I’ll do whatever it takes.”

bliss of beingActually, we’ve been talking about this topic for a long time here, it is why the quincunx model is so important, why we spent time witnessing our behaviours around debt and provisional living. All those topics are connected. They are all part of the incandescent line of who you really are – the part of you that is always enough. It is the part of you that knows the bliss of being, the part that is always already free.

As human beings we get caught up in the human parts of our lives. Our intellect is in charge, driving us this way and that that way, lashed invisibly to our powerful and cunning egos we are so busy in the four senses of the world and their pleasures that we lose touch with being. We look down on “just being” a bit. After all, why go to all the effort of evolving this giant brain if you’re not going to use it all the time? (Exacerbated by all those ways we have of proving how clever and giant that brain really is – MENSA memberships and official measurements of IQ and the university system and so on.)

The burden of the brain

So what’s the drawback of the valuable brain? Well because your amazing, unique, wonderful giant brain will never bring you bliss. Instead it brings with it all of the side-effects of thinking; constant thinking, over-thinking, worry, anxiety, living in the past by re-living events and conversations, trying to double-guess events and reactions that haven’t and may never happen, living in a future that is not certain (when I lose weight, when I have more money, when I have time).
Let’s come at this from a different direction for a moment, and use time as an example. We’ll use ‘human time’ and ‘being time’ to illustrate the difference. Humans used their giant brains to invent clocks so we could keep appointments. That’s handy and lets us get a lot done in an organised and efficient way. Independent of clocks, there is ‘being time’.
If you’re one of the lucky people who has ever shared your life with a pet or an infant human (or indeed a wild creature) then you’ll know that they live completely in ‘being time’. If you’re very lucky indeed and you’ve connected with them deeply and at their level, you’ve probably experienced the bliss of being.
In ‘being time’ you’re able to encompass thinking, but not react to it, you’re able to exist in that brilliant, fluid stillness that we in our impoverished spoken language just call “now”.
Once we give ‘being time’ a name, your giant brain tries to take over again and it interferes with experiencing the now by thinking about what it is that you’re doing while you’re being. Notice those thoughts too and let them go. What you’re after while you’re in ‘being time’ are gaps between thoughts and, if possible, letting those gaps become longer because it is only in those gaps that your being can blossom up into bliss.

The bliss of being

There is a vast something inside you that is brightly alive.

Let’s not give it a name today that will just set your giant brain off again. This aliveness is the source of true bliss in your life and it is always with you.
For a long time I thought that buying (and stockpiling) books would make me happy (at some point in the future) by filling a hole I felt inside of me. I thought that if I knew more, I would feel full but it wasn’t a hole, it was the ‘giant brain’ and the ego keeping me distant from Being. That’s how central it is to us, we know that we need it and yearn for it constantly in the background of our busy lives, our worries, fears and cluttered rooms. We can find freedom from that hurting chasm by re-uniting with our own being, with our aliveness in our center.

It is one thing to know this, but the magic is in feeling it. Seek and ye shall find.

Ten years living with ulcerative colitis

Janine Prince March 2015This week marks ten years living with ulcerative colitis. Not an anniversary to celebrate. No. However a moment worth marking nonetheless and I’d like to bear witness to my experience. My intention is to do so as a recognition of all the other people who are living with a chronic illness or for those who might find these words when they are first diagnosed, and search (as I did at the time) for some hint that life goes on.
I haven’t learned enough in life yet, but I have learned that my burden is not the heaviest nor the only burden being carried. So many people suffer every day, and that’s the normal part of their day. Many of them are brave, they are courageous, generous, loving and all those things that people are and to me they seem to be saints because they do all of that without ever asking for pity or a special deal for their own personal situation.
I’ve never been like that. I grew up a self-centred, petulant and ego-driven individual who coasted through life enjoying good health and generally easy successes. If something didn’t go my way, I threw a tantrum. I was bad mannered and basically, if you’ll excuse the expression, a pain in the arse.

The fall

Like many people I was misdiagnosed in the early stages and also like many people, the arrival of this condition was extreme. I won’t bore you or try to shock you with the tedious and grotesque details, but if you are interested, by all means read about ulcerative colitis on Wikipedia and be warned, it isn’t pleasant and there are pictures. The first months were a traumatic roller-coaster of denial, endless specialist visits and a cocktail of anger, fatigue, loneliness and humiliation.
Anyone who has a chronic illness has probably had a similar experience in the broad sense. It is something that undermines your sense of identity, worth and optimism. I came to my knees and the landing was hard. Nothing was fair, and no amount of tantrums would change the physical facts. I kept fighting, and I kept not getting anywhere. Chronic illness does not have any obligation to get better or ease up or otherwise change itself just because your life is falling apart.

I can’t go on

For me, it got a bit worse psychologically even while my physical symptoms began to stabilise. Due to the large blood loss sustained on a daily basis, I had a lovey delicate pallor that was visually appealing. I didn’t have anything bandaged, or in a cast, or visible bruising – I looked pretty good. Inside I was in constant pain (no suggestion at that time from any specialist that I seek or simply be given some support for this, other than more drugs) and questioning if this might be a good time to make an informed decision to exist the great stage. Not only was I not confident that the daily regime of drugs would ever restore me to functional operation, but I felt that I had lost my place in the world. Who would ever want someone this broken?

I’ll go on

Thankfully, I didn’t have the energy or the requisite escape-velocity of self-loathing to finalise the exit at that time and urgent practical matters took my mind off the subject in the long, dark nights. If you’re in the first year or so of having been diagnosed with a chronic illness, please get support as soon as possible for managing your physical and emotional pain. Much as you may think it, you’re not currently in a position to make an “informed decision” about what to do with yourself. In hindsight, I can see it was my ego throwing a pretty big tantrum. A bluff I wouldn’t wish on anybody to call.
The sun rose in the east, arced through the sky and set again to the west. The tides of the moon and the wheel of the year swung around me while my bubble of self-protection and self-pity got cramped and ever lonelier. People have different experiences. I was slowly to learn that I was one of the lucky ones. For a long time I kept a list of illness I was grateful I didn’t have and it got longer as I began to listen to other people’s stories. The burdens I was unequal to carrying slowly lightened as I was able to return to work and also to listen with empathy to what others were carrying. It was still unfair, and so little in life was, that the bleakness never wavered. Days trudged by and the game became one of fighting boredom. I was still fighting, still not winning, still pushing people away as much as begging for closeness. It was a life, but it felt hollow. The fight had been to stop the illness from taking over, from changing things, from taking the freedom of choice away. Laugh if you like, it had done that from the moment it appeared, would I ever come to my senses and stop fighting something that had already won?

The serpent

The trouble was, chronic illness is so easy to see as an enemy. For years I thought of it as a great coiled serpent where my bowel should be. A serpent that in some nightmares ate me whole from the feet up. My powerful enemy could bring me to my knees at any time it cared to flex and coil, raise and strike. My feeble body was a warzone of drugs, fear and fatigue.

What if it is all ok?

Thankfully there are a lot of wise and giving people in the world, some of whom planted seeds of wisdom and compassion in my stony skull. I still had some long dark nights where I wondered if all this effort was for nothing, yet at the same time I slowly began to understand the incredible power of helping other people. I began to see a third way between the fantasies of freedom and total annihilation. The endless confrontations with nightmares opened my other eyes to the shadows I held within. Most importantly, I accepted that sometimes the pain was horrible and I stopped trying to anticipate that or wish it away. I held a rock and took it one breath at a time. I checked in every few breaths, maybe changed the rock to the other hand. Breathe. Right now. This is what is happening. Time helped the reality replace the fantasy. I could live in the cracks. Maybe I could bloom where I was planted too. What if I was ok enough?

It is what it is

There’s no snake now, no enemy, no answer either. I have a thing, like you might, or someone you know does. I manage it as best I can and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I forget I have it, other times, well, I still have that rock to hold. My road in the last ten years has been hard work, and followed a river of tears. Along the way I’ve changed and (hopefully) grown. I wish you all the best on your journey, just remember, we’re all in this together.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

Ask and accept

hands askingSuch a simple act, asking, a transaction we take for granted … until we need it. Then it is hard to ask for help and even harder to accept it. When we need it most, our life is contracted and fearful and we shy from asking for help. Partly because we feel alone and partly because we believe we’re meant to do it alone. Somehow it is ‘cheating’ if you get help or you’ll diminish your eventual standing as a hero.

The Hero’s journey

Our culture venerates heroes. The cult of the individual, of the “self-made man” and “supermom” those who seem to have endless amounts of time and energy to be focused, ‘together’ and successful. They battle uneven odds, villains, entropy and all manner of hurdles to win out at the end. Those stereotypes make it hard for normal people like us to feel adequate, to feel ok about wanting someone to help us. We want to be a hero. We want to be Sam or Frodo, off doing deeds that bards will sing about when in fact we’re at home in Hobbitton dealing with overdue bills, an infestation in the crop and illness in the family.

Part of the bigger picture is that it is too easy to slip into thinking in binary. This kind of “win or die” sloganeering that suits the need marketing firms have for dramatic impact is not helpful for general living or for remembering the infinity of possibilities that are available to us. The pervasiveness of hero-based entertainment distracts from our emotional development in respecting our connections and relationships. That is fairly fancy-pants way of saying that when we want deeper, honest, trusting and intimate relationships, we’re ready to learn more about dealing with conflict and about asking for help. Here’s a tip for advanced players – they’re the same thing.

Fighting for your life

When our world contracts to difficulty and we tighten up around the hurt, we’re likely to feel very alone. That perspective is defensive in nature, it is a way of protecting what little we have left and our claim on what was taken away. We aren’t open to a lot of possibilities, normally we attach or even fixate to a single outcome “I want it back the way it was” and moving through that is a hard road. Some people can never find their way out of that grief and anger.

Maybe it isn’t you, maybe you’re standing by someone’s side as they face a dreadful outcome. Maybe you feel useless, or rejected, or attacked as the person you most want to help lashes out at those closest with blind pain or fury. We’ve all been both of those people at one time or another. Did you find the courage to love them through that time, understanding that their actions at that time were a symptom only? Were you able to accept the unknowing of that time and stay committed to standing by them, no matter what? I bet you did. You’re probably thinking that was a no-brainer. Maybe in hindsight you wish you’d done more or been stronger. Rarely do we consider what transformations might happen if we are softer.

Softly does it

If we can soften (sweeten, gentle, trust, surrender – whatever is the word that makes sense for you) in that time of need we can use a different type of power to create possibility and transform our relationship to need.
Imagine you are looking for a chance to help someone every day, that you decided to do this for your own needs or atonement – in that instance you’re actively looking for someone who needs some help. It might be some spare change, or directions on a busy street corner that you can give. It might be listening over lunch to someone’s problem and remembering that there’s an ombudsman who handles appeals or using your personal network to find accommodation for a friend out of town during a medical emergency, or that as your friend’s house floods on the night of her big birthday party you offer to host the party at your place so that guests who are arriving from all corners of the state and city can still gather to celebrate. Those last three are all real, by the way, and from the last week or so. There are some truly wonderful people out in the world (and the ombudsman reclaimed a lost $9 000 so this is not just hand-waving).
But why softness? And what does this have to do with conflict? For a moment think back to the last time someone was unexpectedly nice or kind to you. Did you just feel your shoulders drop a little or your breath deepen a bit? Think of someone who has been endlessly kind to you, and supportive – can you glimpse that warm and fuzzy feeling then? If you can visualise that feeling, feel it, magnify it, this glowing sensation is compassion, it is a type of love.

Not sex love and not alone

Now that you’re a grown-up, you’ve begun to realise that there are all different types of love. Not just lust and adoration, other types too (the love as a friend or as a parent for example). When you can feel that love for strangers (and it is possible) or from an outside source, you’re experiencing divine love. You can learn it if you like (search for “compassion meditation”) it is not hard to get a handle on. One of the amazing side effects of doing simple compassion exercises is the immediate shift in your perception of being alone. Within the concept of divine love, or universal spirit, or cosmic unity (once again play around until you find the words that work for you), how can there possibly be such a thing as ‘alone’? There isn’t. We are, literally and figuratively, all in this together.
Even at a practical, basic, functional level you’re not doing it alone. Someone grew the food you eat and someone else drove it to the store. There’s lots of someones keeping the internet running, making your clothes, building the trains and plumbing and selling you a ticket at the cinema to see the films that other people made. In every area of our life we are part of a vast and interconnected web of people. Don’t be confused by all this talk about economies. Money is an agreement between people – it is the people who really matter. We are fundamentally interdependent and our culture’s veneration of heroes and of ‘individualism’ is an epic case of ego. Like so often with the ego, it leads you towards a less useful place to be in (thanks for nothing ego!).

Gentle hands

Sometimes it is only when you get knocked badly and your knees slam into the ground that you surrender enough ego to open up to grace. You don’t have to make it that hard for yourself, but if you do, try something different and soften up to ask and accept.

Holding a space for someone else (some with whom you may be in conflict) to not be ‘wrong’ in their actions or behaviours means there’s an opportunity for both of you to grown through the experience. It us a challenge to the ego and it does take a high-quality energy but the results are wonderful, they’re transformative. Try it. Call out bad behaviour or bear witness to your own conflict from a position of compassion that gives both of you respect.

When you are in the other position, or being tight and needful, remember that you are part of a whole that includes the possibility of expansion, inclusion and grace. Sometimes it is only when you get knocked badly and your knees slam into the ground that you surrender enough ego to open up to grace. You don’t have to make it that hard for yourself, but if you do, try something different and soften up to ask for help and accept that which is given.

We are all in this together.