The voices of shame and fear are persistent and numerous. They claw and squawk at you until you gently put them to rest. The only way to do that is by listening to the Strong, Still Voice – the voice that calms and loves you. You long to listen to this voice, but you do not know it because the voices of your anxiety draw such urgent attention to themselves. They are “what you need to do” and “what you need to be” for others. You fear that if you stop listening to them, you will not be worth anything or you will not live up to what you are supposed to do and be, but the opposite is true. If you stop listening to them, you will suddenly be able to hear who you are and what you truly need to do and be.
As relational beings, we are in relationship to everyone and everything around us. That means we get “organized” in a certain way – in our culture, in our family (of course), in our beliefs and in the roles we play with those around us. We don’t even notice how we are organized really until something changes or is taken away. When the thing that organized you is taken out from under you, you may have a feeling of disorientation or even grief. You will soon reorganize yourself, but for the time being, there is usually some protest – even if the thing that was taken from you was the thing that was killing you.
Think about it – what can you not live without? Your family, your coffee, your job, your dreams for the future, your home? Think about giving any of those things up. You may feel like you are in free fall. Yes, even with your coffee. There is, many times, a desperate search to find something else to organize you. The whole of life and development is about having those things taken from us (many times against our will?) and then reorganizing ourselves in a different way. Sometimes we do not grieve the loss very well and we are organized around the loss rather than reorganizing around something that will continue to give us life. It is not that those first things were bad. It is just that they do not always last forever and we usually learn that they are not the things that truly give us life like we thought they would.
It is healthy for us to be connected to and to have a sense of ourselves in our own stories. This means we have “at hand” everything, good and bad, that has happened in our lives in the past and present and we can see ourselves moving into the future with a coherent sense of who we are. This is another way of being “present”.
When bad things happen or our anxieties are raised, things tend to get fragmented. We disconnect because those things are frightful, allowing them to sink into our subconscious. Most of us have done this with the painful past and we keep on avoiding anxiety-producing things in the present (which tend to be similar to the painful things in the past), hoping they will just go away if we avoid them.
But these things we have buried keep affecting us in a subversive manner. It is not that we need to dredge up every single painful thing, but it is helpful to stay connected with our emotions and memories and move toward them rather than away. We must make sense of them in order to produce change in ourselves and our relationships. How do we allow these things to be incorporated into our stories and redeem them? There must be some mechanism that helps us absorb and sublimate them: forgiveness, kindness, hope, love. Our stories cannot be without pain, but these latter things are what make them worth living. My hope is that we can find redemption in our stories.
At each moment, we are making a decision to either be in relationship or not. This could be called “turning toward” or “turning away”. Even if we make a decision to be in solitude, we can do so with deeper connection in mind, or to avoid connection and truly be alone. Furthermore, even if we choose to be near others, this does not necessarily mean we do so with deeper connection in mind. Sometimes, we choose to be with others in a way that breeds loneliness. In that case, maybe we are just using others to avoid real intimacy which could be better achieved in solitude.
This is to say that the whole introvert/extrovert dichotomy is probably overdone (especially in our culture recently). We all need our fair share of separateness and togetherness. We need solitude (separateness from others) to achieve deeper connection with ourselves and others and we need togetherness even while we think that we are “independent”. These “temperaments” are really just two sides of the same coin. Maybe our “introversion” and “extroversion” are also just different modes of alleviating our anxiety. Some of us use others to achieve a sense of security. Others of us need to avoid others in order to achieve the same. But in truth, none of us can really achieve true security and peace outside of real connection with Another.
There are so many things we anxiously avoid because we do not really want to know. We do not want to know the answers to our questions, so we do not ask, we do not search, we do not try. When we do search, we many times find that what we were fearing is not real. Other times, we find that our fears are well-founded and then the job is to overcome the fear by facing it. Either way, we must move toward the stress, toward the details, toward that which evokes anxiety. We must figure it out, see it, examine it, admire it, accept it.
As we become adults, most of us gain the ability to have self-awareness – being able to look at ourselves from the outside, the equivalent of seeing ourselves from another’s perspective. And many of us know that when you do this sort of self-analysis ad infinitum, you can get lost inside yourself. This is partly because when you are doing your own self-analysis, you don’t need the perspective of others. It causes a serious drag on our processing, though, and it fatigues us from over-thinking (also called anxiety).
There is effort, then, put into trying to “live in the moment”. When our brains are the most occupied (in a good way), it is when we are in the moment and also outside of the moment at the same time. This is when we are fully present and engaged with what we are doing and doing just enough self-analysis to correct our behavior. Most of us aren’t able to maintain that balance for extended periods. We tend to be either too self-analytical or too impulsive, not giving any thought to our actions. Here’s to finding balance.
In order to love and accept our life and those around us as they are, we must learn to grieve what we thought they would be. Without doing that, we will always love our ideals more than we love the actual thing. This does not mean we have to stop wishing for things, for hope is a good thing. In fact, if we do not do this sort of grieving, we will not be able to hope. We will only have depression – the kind that follows when we do not get what we thought we should have. Everyone goes through this kind of disillusionment – mostly in our adulthood (there is a normal developmental idealism that carries us through our youth). Our marriages, our careers and our lives in general undergo this disillusionment and it is totally normal! Maturity is the consistent “surrendering” of our ideals to attempt to love what is, rather than what we hoped would be. Again, the hope is good. Our demands for what we hope are what are dangerous.