Do not neglect to hope. Hope is the thing that can draw you into your new life. I am not saying everything will be perfect, but so often we just settle for what we have, not being able to see past the dark, looming forest before us. Hope comes in handy especially when you feel like you are in a rut – in a relationship or in your job, for example. If you go to work everyday or just try to get by in your family everyday, putting up with the same old tired patterns, you will get depressed. On the other hand, you can craft new responses to the same old situations, thereby creating a new cycle that will hopefully lead you to a different and better place. Hope is the vehicle. If you have a dearth of hope, you will lack creativity as well, which is needed to design these new responses. Each of us carries this hope. The small flicker sometimes just needs to be fanned into a vibrant flame.
It is important to periodically step back and evaluate where you are going – to sharpen your focus, refine your course, gain some perspective. Without this, you are just a rudderless ship, floating and swaying every which way the wind takes you. One of the greatest gifts we have as human beings is the ability to get outside ourselves – outside of life – and look in, measuring and assessing, ever evaluating in order to choose the best course. Without doing this, you may end up somewhere you did not choose to be. It is not because you chose to be there; it is because you neglected to pay attention. The reasons we do not pay attention are myriad, but they mostly have to do with us not wanting to face the music – not wanting to take a sober look at ourselves, what has happened to us and what we have had a hand in creating. So much unnecessary damage can be avoided by taking this step back on a regular basis.
In the novel The Lonesome Dove (as related in The Spirituality of Imperfection), one character admonishes the other: “If you come face to face with your own mistakes once or twice in your life it’s bound to be extra painful. I face mine every day – that way they ain’t usually much worse than a dry shave.” It will be irritating, even painful sometimes, to look at the direction our lives are taking, but it is not going to get less painful the longer we wait. The opposite will be true. If we are wise, we will endure the small pain as opposed to the big pain that will eventually find us trying to pretend it is not there.
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.