Your Pain

Finding a different way to interact with your pain is hard. People have the most difficulty embracing the paradox of acceptance. Our instinct is to run as far away from our pain as possible, to be as safe as we can be. Making a decision to step into it rather than trying to get rid of it can be excruciatingly difficult. Feeling the intensity of those difficult, painful emotions and sensations can feel very dark and very lonely. I see it in all forms of suffering. The depression that never seems to lift, the drink that has to be drunk, the highway we cannot drive on, the hands that must be washed over and over and over. The reality is that most people are willing to embrace acceptance only when they have run out of options – when what they have been doing, often for years, simply doesn’t work anymore. This is a dark place that feels like there is no light to guide you out. It can be devastating. 

To be able to connect and embrace a lifetime’s worth of suffering in service of a valued end, that – in its very essence – is acceptance. 

Joseph Trunzo writing in Aeon 

The Vulnerability Myth

The perception that vulnerability is weakness is the most widely accepted myth about vulnerability and the most dangerous. When we spend our lives pushing away and protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable or from being perceived as too emotional, we feel contempt when others are less capable or willing to mask feelings, suck it up, and soldier on. We’ve come to the point where, rather than respecting appreciating the courage and daring behind vulnerability, we let our fear and discomfort become judgment and criticism. 

Our rejections of vulnerability often stems from associating it with dark emotions like fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment—emotions that we don't want to discuss, even when they profoundly affect the way we live, love, work, and even lead. What most of us fail to understand and what took me a decade of research to learn is the vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual eyes, vulnerability is the path.

Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

It's a never-ending cycle

You start a project determined to execute it perfectly. You avoid it until you can “do it right,” but then you don’t do it at all. You feel frozen, stuck, incapable. You are paralyzed by the fear that you will be bad at the thing you want to accomplish. Which, of course, makes it impossible to accomplish anything.

It's a never ending cycle: perfectionism, procrastination, paralysis.

At my best, I am an efficient and organized person. I thrive off of hard work and high pressure, always ambitious, always reaching for the next thing to do or make or achieve. I am productive and full of ideas. I take charge and take action. I keep a clean house and read at least a book a week.

At my worst, I am flighty and frazzled. I spend far more time thinking about how I want to do something than I do actually doing it. I doubt every choice I make, every thought that flits across my mind. I let my apartment get increasingly messy, even though I know how much I need a clean space in order to be happy. I just can’t confront the glaring imperfection of a sink full of dishes, baskets of dirty laundry.

I recede further and further inside of myself.

Jenni Berrett writing in Ravishly

Open Arms

Perhaps because your father questioned you for so long, you question yourself.. just out of habit. Despite the fact there's plenty of evidence to show that you are usually on the right track, a vague nagging feeling persists.  You may not measure up to your father's ideals.

Compare these expectations to those who love you; They don't ignore your inadequacies. Instead, they are willing to pitch in. They cheer for you. They don't run away when you fail. Their arms remain outstretched in acceptance.

Stephen Goforth

Throwing Good Money after Bad

Imagine a company that has already spent $50 million on a project. The project is now behind schedule and the forecasts of its ultimate returns are less favorable than at the initial planning stage. An additional investment of $60 million is required to give the project a chance. An alternative proposal is to invest the same amount in a new project that currently looks likely to bring higher returns. What will the company do? All too often a company afflicted by sunk costs drives into the blizzard, throwing good money after bad rather than accepting the humiliation of closing the account of a costly failure.

(This) fallacy keeps people for too long in poor jobs, unhappy marriages, and unpromising research projects. I have often observed young scientists struggling to salvage a doomed project when they would be better advised to drop it and start a new one. Fortunately, research suggests that at least in some contexts the fallacy can be overcome. (It) is taught as a mistake in both economics and business courses, apparently to good effect: there is evidence that graduate students in these fields are more willing than others to walk away from a failing project.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Walls and Masks

We need to be able to express ourselves, to talk ourselves out without fear of rejection by others. Too often the problems that we keep submerged within us remain, in the darkness of our own interior, undefined and therefore destructive.

We do not see the true dimensions of these things that trouble us until we define them and set lines of demarcation in conversation with a friend. Inside of us they remain as nebulous as smoke, but when we confide ourselves to another we acquire some sense of dimension and growth in self-identity and the capacity to accept ourselves as we are.

It may well be that our walls and masks will make this difficult. We may instinctively try to rationalize that there is really no one near to whom we can talk ourselves out. Many of us practice the self-deception of believing that there is no one in our supposed circle of friends that can be trusted. Very commonly these excuses that we have rehearsed so often are merely excuses. Our real fear is that we would be rejected, that the other person would not understand us. And so we wait and wait and wait behind our wall for the sufficient sound of reassurance in another or we gaze out of the windows of our towers looking for prince charming to come and rescue us. We excuse ourselves from all initiative seeking truly human interpersonal relationship with another on the grounds that the time is not ripe or the circumstances right. In the meanwhile, we can only perish.

John Powell, Why am I Afraid to Love

True Friendship

If friends relate to you only on their terms--or see you as just a means to an end (that is, they are trying to turn you into little versions of themselves) then they have created a barrier to true friendship. The irreligious actually honor God more than the professing believer when accepting people for who they are, as means in themselves. This does not mean you don't try to help friends grow and learn and move into truth. It means you start by acknowledging they are made in the image of God and worthwhile and valuable--simply for being themselves (Psalm 139:13).

Stephen Goforth

Imperative Thinking

While imperative people may not have their list of regulations typed on a legal document to be signed, they have a mental agenda that they apply in a wide variety of circumstances. They know how others should behave, speak, and feel, and nothing else matters to them but meeting that standard. In the meantime, the relationship is lost.

(They are) in essence stating, “I’ll accept you only after you meet my conditions.” And since each of us responds negatively to this kind of emotional blackmail, we become angry or tense. There is a hidden message of conditional acceptance. It’s as if (they are) saying, ‘I don’t think you can be trusted to make good decisions; you’ll probably foul things up… If you’ll fit my mold and be what I think you should be, we’ll get along okay; but if you don’t, I’ll have to hound you until you shape up.”

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

Engineering Spiritual Growth

One of the problems people encounter when they discover "spiritual growth," and first fully realize they are on a spiritual journey (is that) they start to think that they can direct it. They think if they go off to a monastery for a weekend retreat or take some classes in Zen meditation, or take up some Sufi dancing, or attend an EST workshop, then they’ll reach nirvana. Unfortunately, that is not the way it works. It works only when God is doing the directing. And people can get into a certain kind of trouble if they think they can do it on their own.

If you think you can plan your spiritual growth, it ain’t going to happen. I don’t mean to discount workshops or other forms of self-inquiry – they can be valuable. Do what you feel called to do, but also be prepared to accept that you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to learn. Be willing to be surprised by forces beyond your control, and realize that a major learning on the journey is the art of surrender.

M Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled

A Pardon in the Pocket

A prisoner in 1830 named George Wilson was pardoned by the President. They brought Wilson the pardon, but he refused to accept it because it would mean admitting his guilt. So he walked to the hangman’s noose with the pardon in his pocket. That’s what each human is like. We have pardons in our pockets. But most people ignore their guilt, ignore the pardon, the new life, the love and power..

Harold Myra, The New You

Conditional acceptance

Too often we claim that we accept others for what they are when we truly mean that we accept them as long as they do what we want them to. When we truly accept others the way they are we no longer have to take unnecessary responsibility for others’ emotions an behaviors, we maintain emotional balance at a time when it is most needed, and we encourage the other person to be more responsible for his own emotions and behaviors.

Les Carter, Imperative People: Those Who Must Be in Control

When Things Go Wrong

People need to recognize that life can be unfair, that accidents will happen. None of this is to say that people have to acquiesce to the threats of life, to lie down and not attempt to change anything. There is nothing wrong with positive thinking and the hope that today will go well or that people might repent and treat others better. But (you) should not be shocked and angered when something does go wrong… cultivate the attitude that life is something to work at and that problems are normal. Learning to laugh at normal failures and irritations has been shown to be effective in defusing anger.

Mark Cosgrove, Counseling for Anger

When Things Go Wrong

People need to recognize that life can be unfair, that accidents will happen. None of this is to say that people have to acquiesce to the threats of life, to lie down and not attempt to change anything. There is nothing wrong with positive thinking and the hope that today will go well or that people might repent and treat others better. But (you) should not be shocked and angered when something does go wrong… cultivate the attitude that life is something to work at and that problems are normal. Learning to laugh at normal failures and irritations has been shown to be effective in defusing anger.

Mark Cosgrove, Counseling for Anger

Seeing music

When Julie Landsman auditioned for the role of principal French horn at the Metropolitan Opera of New York (Met for short), the screens had just gone up in the practice hail. At the time, there were no women in the brass section of the orchestra, because everyone “knew” that women could not play the horn as well as men. But Landsman came and sat down and played—and she played well.

But when they declared her the winner and she stepped out from behind the screen, there was a gasp. It wasn’t just that she was a woman, and female horn players were rare.. And it wasn’t just that bold, extended high C, which was the kind of macho sound that they expected from a man only. It was because they knew her. Landsman had played for the Met before as a substitute. Until they listened to her with just their ears, however, they had no idea she was so good.

When the screen created a pure Blink moment, a small miracle happened, the kind of small miracle that is always possible when we take charge of the first two seconds: they saw her for who she truly was.

Malcolm Gladwell, Blink

Behind the Curtain

The world of classical music—particularly in its European home—was until very recently the preserve of white men. Women, it was believed, simply could not play like men. They didn’t have the strength, the attitude, or the resilience for certain kinds of pieces. Their lips were different. Their lungs were less powerful. Their hands were smaller. That did not seem like a prejudice. It seemed like a fact, because when conductors and music directors and maestros held auditions, the men always seemed to sound better than the women. No one paid much attention to how auditions were held, because it was an article of faith that one of the things that made a music expert a music expert was that he could listen to music played under any circumstances and gauge, instantly and objectively, the quality of the performance.

But over the past few decades, the classical music world has undergone a revolution.

Many musicians thought that conductors were abusing their power and playing favorites. They wanted the audition process to be formalized. That meant an official audition committee was established instead of a conductor making the decision all by himself. In some places, rules were put in place forbidding the judges from speaking among themselves during auditions, so that one person’s opinion would not cloud the view of another. Musicians were identified not by name but by number. Screens were erected between the committee and the auditioner.. and as these new rules were put in place around the country, an extraordinary thing happened: orchestras began to hire women. In the past thirty years, since screens became commonplace, the number of women in the top U.S. orchestras has increased fivefold.

“Some people look like they sound better than they actually sound, because they look confident and have good posture,’ one musician, a veteran of many auditions, says. “Other people look awful when they play but sound great. Other people have that belabored look when they play, but you can’t hear it in the sound. There is always this dissonance between what you see and hear.

Too often we are resigned to what happens in the blink of an eye. It doesn’t seem like we have much control over whatever bubbles to the surface from our unconscious. But we do, and if we can control the environment in which rapid cognition takes place, then we can control rapid cognition.

Malcolm Gladwell, Blink