“If we hope to go anywhere or develop ourselves in any way, we can only step from where we are standing. If we don’t really know where we are standing… We may only go in circles…” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
A handful of years ago, long before Reboot, work felt undeniably crappy. My health wasn’t great and the doctors kept saying it was just stress. I would come home after work and lay on my floor, that’s all I had left in me. My single-hood had me down then, too. So, I booked a trip to Spain for a wedding. I was excited to leave it all behind–the work yuck, the stress, the un-enlivened spark that was flickering in me–and venture east for fresh sights to feed my weakening body and soul. I hoped, too, that I’d also meet Mr. McDreamy there, have a reason to stay, and leave the rest behind.
That plan sounded good at the time. While I had a good adventure overseas, the trip yielded none of the hoped for results. I returned home in the same state or worse since my feet were sore from walking all over Barcelona (mainly by myself).
I left wanting to get myself out of the cage I found myself in. Instead, it was the perfect example of “Wherever you go, there you are.” While I didn’t want to pack those messy parts along with me, they came anyway, persistently demanding inclusion. I couldn’t separate all that I was feeling, all that seemed so messy about being human at that point in life, from … me. Or, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, I didn’t know where I was standing, so I didn’t know where I was stepping from. Hence, I found myself going in circles.
This pattern inevitably shows up in our own lives when the moves we make to change up the lackluster norm and do something different find us not moving too far from what we wanted changed. It can feel like an M.C. Escher sketch of staircases that are going neither up nor down as you traverse them round and round and…. We see this clearly when we leave one job, for good reasons, and find similar scenarios following us into our next gig. It’s like we’re in another dimension. Or, perhaps we’re missing a dimension.
We must know where we are standing–I mean really know all that’s going on in us in this place in space–for real transformation to happen. Cognitively knowing and understanding our situation, quick fixes, or the best way to transition out of a role and into another [insert the awful self-help advisory, “10 Best Ways To…” headline here], don’t change much. These are superficial layers in any situation. Diving into the relationship with one’s self is when things really start to shift. Those who live and seek one and two dimensional answers to life are missing out on a huge opportunity. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find something more fulfilling: what this life is asking of you and how that will fill you up in ways the latest buzz on the internet simply cannot touch.
In this latest episode with Rob Symington, CEO of Escape the City in London, he talks about leaving the stress and burnout of one job to create a startup for people to escape these same stressors in their workdays only experience for himself (again) burnout and depression. I talked to Jerry about what happens that we keep circling around in our stuff, even as we try to change.
“Those who look at only one or two dimensions in their life are going to fail to execute that deeply-desired transformation because they will fail to appreciate messiness of human beings. You have to look to the venn diagram of the entire self. If you look just at at the external self, first, by asking: ‘Where I’m working?;’ ‘How am I working?;’ and ‘What are the conditions in which I’m working?,’ without looking at your soul with questions such as ‘Who am I?,’ ‘How have I been formed?,’ and ‘What are my beliefs about the world?, and your spirit–’What are my desires, my wishes, my wants, and dreams?,’ you will fail to have the life you want.
“If you don’t look at those three things–soul, spirit, and the externalities–then you’re ignoring not only the potential for transformation, but you’re also falling prey to the belief system that human beings and the human experience is not inherently messy.
“That in and of itself isn’t a problem except that when the searched for solution, whether it is a stoic style of analysis (for example, ‘It’s simple. Just follow Marcus Aurelius’ belief system to do [X]”) or a life-hacker approach (go on a paleo diet and only drink bulletproof coffee), is solely adhered to. This is problematic because these are only one-half or one-third measures which cause massive disappointment, massive self-loathing, and self-criticism, because those measures fail to produce the transformation that we seek.
“You have to approach transformation in your life, willing to lose everything, willing to change everything, willing to have everything be messy. It’s the fear of messiness that drives us to these simplistic, singular, one dimensional approaches to transformation.
(I had a healer tell me years ago that I had to get messy. “Get in the mud,” she said. I looked at her in horror, wished I could punch her in the face (this was long before I knew how to box), and wanted to run out of there. To this day I still want to deny the mud of life. I see it in me when I look at the complexity of life in those around me and feel fix-it’s and judgments come up–all ways to make things more clear, clean, efficient–and less “messy.” I want to organize and package it and throw out all the “useless crap” in spring cleaning fashion year round. Geez. Hear my resistance to see the rich permaculture of life? I’d rather have a manicured lawn…of delusion which takes a lot to mow and maintain.)
As Jon Kabat-Zinn writes in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are “You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.”
When we find ourselves in these patterns, we are also excluding parts of ourselves that need to be included for our wholeness. When it comes to all the parts of ourselves and psyche, we can’t spring-clean them out entirely. We escape situations and in turn escape parts of ourselves that got us there in the first place. But we can’t drop parts of us like lizards can drop their tails to flee a predator when in distress. We pack it all with us onto the plane, into the next gig, wherever we end up. Rob in this episode may have changed his job and launched the startup the purpose of which was to help others change their jobs and change their life, yet he, like all of us, brings forward all of himself in all of the messiness.
And there, we look at it. Jerry notes, “Once we look at the messiness, we have the opportunity to see the messiness and transform the messiness into something that is really beautiful and powerful. True growth, true adulthood, means meeting the full messiness of who you are.”