Run from what?
And where is there?
This past week I worked with a couple of different clients who have made remarkable progress in terms of their personal growth and maturity. Both men. One thirty-years-old, the other forty. Good looking to boot.
What they are both doing is slowing down and accepting, maybe even embracing, what I call the existential angst that’s part of life. They are no longer running from their pain, their limitations or their fears. They are no longer looking for ways to get around the discomfort that’s part of life.
For example, in the past year one of these men physically injured himself, stepped down from a position of authority in his work life, struggled with a health issue, broke up with a dear romantic partner, and then helped a friend die. And, today, he says, “I feel a connection, depth and calmness that I’ve never felt before.”
When I wrote, “The faster you run the longer it takes to get there,” the “there” I was talking about is where this man has gotten to—a deep level of connection and calmness within himself.
What makes things sacred?
He told me about a hike he just went on with his teenage daughter. It sounded beautiful, both in terms of the sights they saw, and also in terms of the insights they shared. Imagine a forty-year-old man sharing a weekend with his teenage daughter, sleeping under the Milky Way, talking about the origins and meaning of life, what makes things sacred, and pondering “why can’t people just get along.”
At the end of their weekend together this dad said to his daughter that he hoped they would return to the very same spot next year, but he also said, “a lot can happen in a year and we might never come back here together.” His daughter said she was pretty sure that they’d make it back next year, which is a very healthy way for a teenager to view the world—with hope.
But it was the dad’s acknowledgement of uncertainty and impermanence that impressed me (“we might never come back here together”). No pretense. And that’s one way that I measure his personal growth, there is no pretense in his life.
Ironically, when I stop pretending, stop hiding my fears—and instead I face them, which means facing myself—that’s when my anxiety quiets down. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it works. When I face my fears and address the incongruities in my life, I’m taking control. I may not immediately experience less anxiety, but soon after acknowledging where I’m at and what I have to do—my anxiety diminishes.
Fear of Failure
The other man I was working with this week—the younger one—was attempting to deal with his fear of failure. To quiet this fear he found a spiritual teacher who put forth a philosophy that “there is no failing.” The teacher said, “you will do your best and if you accomplish less than you hoped for you will come back in another lifetime and finish whatever you need to finish.” My client found this comforting, but the issue didn’t seem resolved.
So I suggested to my client that what he was doing may be a kind of spiritual bypassing. I was not commenting on the validity of the claim that we have multiple lifetimes, I was commenting on how this idea encouraged my client to walk around his fear of failure instead of walking directly into his fear of failure.
I shared my philosophy which is that I’m not looking to find a way around the human condition. Instead, I embrace the human condition, with all its fears—fear of failure, being alone, not good enough, growing old, dying. Doing this helps me work with people who are wrestling with all these, and other, fears. I wrestle with my own fears on a regular basis. And my goal isn’t to get rid of them, my goal is to conduct myself well (maturely) while wrestling.
My client responded to me by saying that he saw how living with this level of acceptance would give him more time and energy to work on whatever was immediately in front of him. As he began to embrace his own fears he liberated himself. He slowed down. He stopped trying to get from where he was to where he thought he should be. That doesn’t mean he stopped making progress, actually, his progress accelerated.
He slowed down and was immediately closer to himself.
Both of these guys are tremendously impressive to me. They turn toward life instead of away. They turn toward other people instead of away—even when there is conflict. And because they conduct themselves in this way, they live, largely, in a state of gratitude.
And both of these guys are Live Conscious graduates. I feel like maybe we should start a dating service — “Live Conscious Graduates Available”