Saturday, June 19, 2010

Coping with the wobblies

When our new neighbors moved in down the street with their two little kids, the neighbors between our house and theirs offered them this sweet little blue dinghy, which now bobs gently in the waves just beyond our living room window.

It's a pleasing sight, and a soothing one. I love watching boats, because they have a balance of their own: I find their ability to stay afloat so gracefully -- despite the waves and currents that pass by -- quietly reassuring.

So how do YOU react when a hard wave hits? I am thinking about this today in particular because I am reading this morning about our own tendency to judge, not just ourselves, but others as well. And I see from my reading that the particular pattern that has haunted me most of my life -- get hurt, get angry, lash out, feel guilty, and turn the blame inward -- is actually very common; Byron Brown calls it "the judgment loop," and once you're sensitized to it, you can kind of see it everywhere, even in this simple picture of a boat.

The wave of criticism hits, and some part of us bounces away from it, and then hits its apogee and bounces back, but of course over-compensates and then has to correct... depending on the strength of the wave this bouncing back and forth between feeling attacked and hitting back can go on for a long time afterwards before things settle down -- if they ever do.

So what is it that keeps a boat steady, keeps her from getting swamped, helps her return to stability over and over again? It helps, of course, that she is designed -- as I suspect we are -- not for sitting still but for riding the waves -- all kinds of waves: events, disasters, health problems, relationship problems, job problems... We may prefer to be still and undisturbed, but the fact is all those opposing systems in us were designed as stabilizing features to help balance out our reactions to life's challenges. And now I see that we're back in the territory of the negative feedback loop: something throws us off-course, and we compensate. If we OVER-compensate, well, even though WE are the element throwing us off course, its still our job to correct for that.

The fact is life's just like that: like the boat, or that image I spoke of in an earlier post, about riding a bike, things can get a bit wobbly at times. But both the boat and the bike are designed for forward movement, and often it is that forward momentum that helps keep them -- and us -- stabilized; that sense of moving toward a goal can help keep us from getting sucked into the wobblies.

... which is not to advocate getting so caught up in the future that we miss the glory that is now. But perhaps the reason we have that odd tendency to focus on past and future is precisely because NOW can get a bit wobbly at times -- and without the confidence that we can weather the storms, we may not want to sit and feel exactly how wobbly things are.

Sorry -- I seem to be getting tangled up in this metaphor. Perhaps what I want to say is just this: I don't know about you, but there's quite a bit of wobbly in my life right now. If I sit and feel it, I can get a little scared and shaky -- which seems a bit counter-productive, since all the wobblies are pretty much out of my control. So I think that's why grad school seemed like a good choice: it gives me a goal, a direction, a sense of forward movement, and something to look forward to, all of which help to give me more of a sense of stability and purpose.

But the surprise I'm discovering, as I start to read for the courses that lie ahead, is that this choice, which felt like a stretch, and a little bit off the track I've been on for the past decade or so, is turning out to be in the direction of integration. It seems that in taking the time -- despite (or perhaps because of) the wobblies -- to listen to what I'm really feeling and what I really want, and then in choosing to act on that information, I've arrived at what turns out to be a course of action far more rewarding and productive than I had expected; a course which promises increased stability in my future.

And now I think I should close with this quote my friend Teresa posted on Facebook this morning: it seems amazingly relevant, though I read it after I finished the previous paragraphs:

"The old flood stories don't persist in order to inform us what happened before but to remind us of the project we came here to undertake now. The dream came, and Noah got hired to do eccentric things. Animals began to long for faraway places. Water dissolved familiar shorelines. The certainty of life began to slip away. Those who held anything too tightly were unable to shift when the tide changed. The problem wasn't that the end of the world had come; rather, the issue was how to act when it seemed that way.

"When The End seems near, old ideas return in order to be known again. Subtle voices hint at unseen designs. If we begin listening, as old Manu did, as Noah did, we become gainfully employed and find the exact projects and practices needed to keep things afloat for a long time to come. Secretly, each of us is a Noah sent on a distant and seemingly foolish errand that can help the world as well as fulfill us. If we listen, we add to the story of life; if not, we join those who become foolish in the wrong way." Michael Meade, as published in Spirituality and Health magazine, Summer 2009 issue.

See? It's all good!


Maureen said...

I think it can be wonderful, how life can surprise us with these realizations, that at some point things come together in the most unexpected way and work to our advantage because we took that one wobbly step that helped everything else to stabilize and fall into place.

Unknown said...

There is a ridiculous amount of wobbly in mine right now. Thanks for this.

altar ego said...

I had the extraordinary experience this past week of an absent inner critic. While writing my icon the work was so immersed in prayer that the only room in my head was for the voice of God and Christ. What emerged from my brush wasn't about my perfect work, but of being attentive to what was being revealed in the icon before me and the divine within me. I wasn't immediately aware that judgment was absent, but when I did realize it I felt such deep awe. If it is possible without asking for such a gift, imagine what is possible should we pray for that reality.

I'm still in awe, and enjoying the continuing freedom of the absence of that voice.

Louise Gallagher said...

I'm with ya' sistah in the "get hurt, get angry, lash out, feel guilty, and turn the blame inward" boat.

and reading this this morning -- well, my boat just got less wobbly.

And seeing your little icon picture in my blog roll this morning immediately soothed me!

Thanks. I really appreciate your beautiful and lyrical words.