Typically, when one says that we should have a “can-do” attitude, s/he is talking about a mindset oriented towards possibilities. It is an optimism that one can do whatever s/he sets their mind to.
The shadow side of this mindset is that we run the risk of burnout: If we go beyond healthy optimism and are no longer grounded in reality, then we think we can do more than we actually can. We may take on too much.
A healthy can-do attitude honors limitations. It realistically establishes the place from where we are starting in order to get a sense of how far we can go, AND it has us saying that, at the end of the day, we can only do what we can do.
Stress seems to be a regular occurrence in this hyperstimulating age of instantaneous connectivity and constant (over)working. That our bodies have developed a capacity over millennia of evolution to deal effectively with stress underscores that stress has been a facet of human existence for a while.
And yet, as ubiquitous as stress might be for an organism with the capacity for conscious thinking, stress is still a matter of perception. It is a reaction to the perception of threat to our being, regardless of whether a rabid dog is truly running us down or we think that we’re being followed down a dark stress. Either way, the heart starts to race, the breath quickens and shallows, and the neck and shoulder muscles tighten up. The extent to which stress is great or not depends on how much we are convinced of the reality of the threat.
One way to begin to address stress effectively is to check our assumptions. Are we jumping to conclusions? Are we reacting to reality, or are we reacting to our story of reality? Are we processing through what was said, or are we processing through what we think was said?
By checking our assumptions, we can begin to move from the stress of perceived threat to the peace of reality in the present moment.
Yet, at this stage of the journey – the beginnings of what the “dark night of the soul” most closely associated with St. John of the Cross – there is a tendency to want to wipe the slate clean. Either, we seek to invalidate the past, beating ourselves up for things long done: “If I had only done this, …” or “I should have done that. …” Or, we think the only way to evolve the Self is to rid ourselves of any and everything that has the appearance of not working in the present moment: We begin to cut out relationships, purge our homes of photographs and old letters, erase contacts from our smartphones and Facebook.
Neither of these approaches is wrong per se, so long as we remember that it is all in the name of creating space. Forgiveness isn’t about rewriting the past or the present; rather, it is about letting go in the present so that there is space for a new future to be birthed.
“The gig is up! I feel like I’ve been found out, and I don’t know what to do with it.” I slumped back into my chair, as the rest of my men’s group sat in awkward silence. “What do you mean ‘found out’?” someone finally asked. “I feel like I’ve been lying to myself about myself, and now I see the truth for what it really is. … And I don’t know what to do with it. …”
And when we see the reality of something, we must be prepared for the eventual breakdown. We should expect that it will be disruptive, if not painful, to cease to see something as we have seen it in the past. Yet, it is the breakdown that leads us to something stronger, something truer.
For it is only in accepting the delicateness in our lives that we are able to find our way back to that which endures.
So I have a new affirmation posted around my apartment. As I was looking up at the one on the bathroom mirror, I thought to myself, “It’s not working.” Then, I heard myself say, “What does it working actually mean?” And it dawned on me: If the statement on my bathroom mirror were already a reality, it wouldn’t be an affirmation. It would simply be “what is.”
The power of an affirmation isn’t in whether or not it’s true. Its power comes from who we become when we take on changing our lives in pursuit of making the affirmation true. Its power comes from the ways we stretch and grow in order to have that affirmation be real.
I continue to be gripped by the irrational fear I have of abandonment. I want to let go of this fear. And yet, I’m clear that I’m holding on because doing so allows me to hold on to the sense of Self that I’ve created for myself over the years. We forget that identity is malleable, and in many ways, a function of the choices we make to survive in the world. That is the irony of identity. We construct a sense of who we are as if it is real; yet, to grow, we must let go of our hold on who we think we are in order to move towards another level of being.
Holy wisdom holds that we cannot serve two masters. We cannot hope to become the person we wish to be if we cling desperately to who we are. Eventually, we have to let go.
The price demanded of us for complete and total Transformation is all of us. …
“It is what it is.” This has been a phrase that I’ve used, usually to convey a sense of resignation and giving up. Yet, it is also a statement of fact: It is what it is, and it is not what it is not. Consequently, it cannot be what it is not.
This isn’t arcane philosophizing. This is profound acceptance of reality. This is taking Life, with all its joys and messiness. It is recognizing that the path back to our natural and essential Wholeness begins with, not shying away from, but embracing where we are broken.