A friend of mine is facing a significant decision. The decision is essentially made, it just needs to be executed. As we chatted, something I said precipitated the response – ‘I am not sure’.
It made me realise that the idea of ‘certainty’ with respect to most decisions we make is simply not helpful. We cannot possibly know the trajectory which will be precipitated by choosing one particular course of action. We cannot know that it will be ‘good’ let alone ‘best’.
So seeking ‘certainty’ is setting up a useless ideal.
But seeking equanimity is useful. Equanimity in this context is that sense of inner peace which comes when I consider taking that particular path. Sometimes that comes with a sense of ‘rightness’. Sometimes it feels simply like the least worst!
Seeking equanimity in the midst of making a decision usually begins with noticing its absence. Almost always, a significant interior disruptor is fear. This way I can bring my fear into the light and see it for what it is. If fear is driving my decision it is unlikely to be a good one.
Take time, if at all possible to find a place interior peacefulness. It will change the way that you live in to the decision that you make, and that has the potential to have a tremendous impact on how your life unfolds.
There is real danger in investing one’s sense of identity in an external locus. It could be financial well-being; it could be career advancement; or something else. If my sense of self is located in being successful (however that is defined), sooner or later I’m going to end up in trouble.
There are several problems. Firstly, the external locus is a moving target. As soon as I have achieved one goal another almost immediately presents itself. And so I am ever in pursuit of something to myself feel valued. Nothing one attains is ever quite enough.
Secondly, life happens. Almost inevitably there will be bumps in the road which will slow one’s progression. And the system will penalise one.
All of us have areas which are slightly more externally located. For me a useful question for discernment is where do I over-react when someone sees me as less than successful? Or even where do I over-react when I am seen as being mediocre rather than excellent?
Those are the areas where I need to pray for the grace of freedom.
The pursuit of excellence is not the problem, it is my investment in being seen as being excellent which is the issue.
I’m not sure I should be writing this post. There are those who are so much more deeply affected by the death of the person I am grieving.
She was a very close friend of a good friend of mine. I had known her for 13 years, but because we lived on different continents I have seen her only three times in the last nine years. Her wedding, a visit to Cape Town, and a lunch in Manchester last year. We didn’t really have much contact in between.
She was terminally ill for some time, and I knew when we last met that it was likely that I would not see her again.
She was a wonderful woman; she was intelligent; she had a fantastic sense of humour; she was optimistic and adventurous; she was open and generous. The world has definitely lost one of its brightest lights.
I find myself wondering whether I have a right to grieve. Her death does not affect my daily life at all. And yet, and yet, as I sit and remember her wide smile and her generosity of spirit I feel tears welling up.
Grief is a strange beast – it seems to be that there is nothing to do but to be true to where I am. To offer thanks that I had the great privilege of knowing this extraordinary woman and allow myself to feel the sense of loss that I feel.
Some hours after I wrote these paragraphs, I sat with my grief as a colleague led a group in noticing the image of God that we had. Almost immediately I saw that God was weeping, as the picture filled out, I saw God was weeping as he held Catherine. And I understood that God too is weeping at a life cut far too short.
I am beginning to wonder whether our greatest challenge is actually honesty with ourselves.
There is a spectrum which runs between desire and fear. I’m using desire here in the Ignatian sense. Desire here is a tool which can ultimately lead me to my True Self and into union with God.
Too often though we cloak our fear based motivations in the guise of some desire for good.
Any choice made which is based in fear is far less likely to have a good and fruitful outcome.
The issue is not the deception of the other, but rather our lack of honesty with ourselves. We justify our choices in all sorts of convoluted ways, where we would really get so much further if we could just own our fear.
Sometimes our fear is so great that it seems that no other choice is possible other than the one we choose. That’s not a disaster, unless we try reframe our fear into some ‘good’.
The only way to diminish the power of the fear is to own it.
Last year I went through an interesting phase of undoing. The very ground within my being seemed to be changing. It was deeply unnerving and yet, at the same time I had a real sense of invitation in the midst of it.
My sense of where God was was also shifting, so the usual points of solace were not to be found, and yet, I knew God wasn’t absent.
I am tremendously grateful that I was staying with my sister at the time. In many ways her willingness to sit with me in the chaos, gave me both permission and courage to do so.
As I passed out of this phase of utter undoing, I was given an opportunity (or rather series of related opportunities) to live into a new way of being. The challenge was real enough – each ‘opportunity’ required facing into my deepest fear.
The combination of these things has been truly transformational. I don’t know how to describe the interior change that has happened except to say that it feels so much healthier.
So for those out there who are in the weird undoing of the chrysalis phase – take courage!
I came across a poem by David Whyte last week entitled ‘Start close in’ – this is the first stanza.
Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third
start with that first
you don’t want to take.
This poem, reinforced by life experience made me realize that we cannot delegate the step we don’t want to take. And it is usually fear which is driving the lack of desire to take the step.
It is so tempting to try to pass it on, and there will be those who are willing to assume the burden you would rather not carry. But ultimately it doesn’t work.
We can find good partnerships with those who complement our weaknesses and our strengths. But a healthy partnership will never be founded on the avoidance of a fear – I think they call that codependency!
So for me this week the challenge and the invitation remains to take the step I would rather not take.