Where are you going?

When we’re stuck and “down in the dumps” it’s an important question, what’s the point of all this, where are we going? Apart from the stock, usually religious, “answers” which are other people’s ideas anyway but which you get invited to believe in and which you’re perhaps struggling with, otherwise you wouldn’t be asking…and (huge, deep breath!), what’s your idea of where you are going?

That’s more pertinent, since it draws it in to you, and away from the abstract and other people’s perceptions and closer to home and your goals, plans, intentions, dreams and purpose.

Crises of faith test our resolve, and can expose our gaps and our lack of thought to what we’re creating individually and where we’re going. Upheavals and change have this effect, to lead us to question what it’s all about, and to create new meaning. Existentialists would say that that is what we do with life. It has, they say, no purpose or meaning except that which we choose for it. So it’s down to us.

This was powerfully tested by Viktor Frankl, as described in his classic book Man’s Search for Meaning. He was a survivor of Auschwitz and he describes in his book how he learned that a fundamental task of humans was to choose and make meaning. When, faced with the enormous privations they encountered, they ceased to do that in the camp, and gave up, they died.

That still might not deal with the crisis of faith. As St John of the Cross found, we can go through Dark Nights of the Soul, which can severely test us but have a healing benefit, since we can purge our ego and resolve long-standing obstacles to our growth. The point is to be able to see beyond the immediate to the bigger picture. Hence it helps to know where you’re going.

It also tests us to manage the mind and to teach us to “get off” the thinking pattern which is pulling us down. Which means you need to know what that is all about. Hence the vital importance of practicing awareness and witnessing, and finding these things out.

The art is one of exercising choice, to shift from anxiety about where you are going, to one of intention, purpose and action.

When you’re totally and utterly stuck

Psychological growth can occur after periods of feeling stuck. When we’re stuck it’s as though we can’t see a way forward or a way out. We’ve still got the problem and it continues to get to us and be getting in the way of our life. In Gestalt terms, we have some awareness and but are immobilised at the point where we’re seeking options and choices as to what to do. Stuck phases can seem enormously frustrating, if not depressing, but can have great potential for positive results if embraced and treated as a challenge. We need to find a way to take action.

Physically it can feel like we’re rooted to the spot, weighed down, lacking fluidity and ease of movement. There can be a tendency to go round in circles, going over and over the problem or challenge as if that’s all there is. It’s very hard to see the bigger picture. We’re down in some hole.

I once had great help from a friend over being stuck, when he helped me visualise being stuck in one such hole. In working on it, I imagined going all around this hole till I knew it backwards, so to speak. He helped me think of what the sides were like and I realised the sides weren’t as high as I had imagined and that there were sticking out bits and roots that I could cling to so that I might be able to climb out. I then had to learn to believe I could climb out. We didn’t talk of him giving me a rope and pulling me up. This was about me getting out myself.

Taking responsibility and realising we have power over our situation, and then actively doing something about it that changes it are vital components. Yet it helps to reframe the perception of the situation and then to find options to use. Vitally though, we very often need to go back to our awareness and find what else we might become aware of but haven’t yet. Then once we’ve done that, there’s a much more powerful energy at our disposal. Then effort is needed, tapping into the energy, to make the changes that are needed, even dealing with the part of us that is reluctant, and resisting becoming aware and making the change. Often the resistant bit is about a part of us we’re not willing to recognise, embrace and change. The resistance and the clinging on to the old understandings helps keep the stuckness in place. It’s us ourselves that need to do something about this.

Being right is a value judgement, not an absolute

How often have you had a disagreement with somebody where you have felt sure you were right? Or how often have you been faced with a choice over what to do, and you’ve asked yourself what the right course of action should be? And how often have people told you what the right thing to do is?

This is worth thinking about. After all, humans have a long history of fighting over it. Apparently it was right, according to the British Prime Minister, to invade Iraq in 2003: “I am right”, he said. We are not so sure now.

In the past I used to tell myself, in the heat of a argument, that “I’m right”, and felt the full force of righteous indignation and blame towards another whom I perceived to be wrong. And all the time, it was not worth all the negative energy. It was more powerful, and served me better, to let go of the need to be righteous so as to open up a space where both needs could be met, or a different, healing solution could emerge. “Being right” hid that space from view. The still space between thoughts, where there is no anger, no thought, is the space of true creativity. Meditators know this. That is why they focus on the space between breaths. When we pause and let go, something else can take the place of conflict and “being right”. Mindfulness helps us know this.

Getting it right

In a previous life I worked for a headteacher whose favourite maxim was, “Get it right”. And that might have been said when someone, somewhere had definitely not got it right. When a team of professional people, say, are closely aligned, they probably have a very clear idea of what that might mean. We certainly did in that school. There were the very clearly articulated and agreed principles for action by which we made decisions about the good education of our students. So, in this respect, being right may be about living by an agreed set of ethical principles. It can be useful.

An absolute or an opinion?

But what about when there’s disagreement? Who is right? It may be an issue of fact: “I’m right because the facts say this”. The trouble with facts is that there is no universal agreement even on facts. Scientists tend to prefer the word “probability” to “fact”. We all agree to call something a bus and we all agree that that is what it looks like. But as we learn more about the mind and how it works, the more it appears that what is really happening is that we are actually applying a joint perception that something is as it is. So, in that case who is right?

The trouble is, people treat “being right” as some universal rule, when in fact it is their opinion.

The social consensus

Then there is the whole world of the social consensus. What is deemed “right” is actually the rules of social consensus. We apply rules to our society and judge people’s behaviour accordingly. Yes, we might need it to be like that so that the society can function. Except that, as we evolve to become higher order beings, even those rules become less necessary as we become more autonomous, self-responsible, totally respecting beings no longer needing external rules to guide us. We have our own.

So, when we react to someone who says, “That’s not right”, it is worth appreciating how much we’ve become self-responsible beings who more and more wish to make our own decisions. Because we are more and more connected with one another, what we decide is also totally appropriate for the other as it is for us. Or we can listen to others and discuss it with them, and agree together what is needed. In this emerging paradigm, managers no longer instruct their direct reports. It doesn’t motivate them. Instead they find it works better to agree it with them after seeking their involvement in the decision.

“Being right” smacks of parentalism, someone older, better (who says?), wiser, more knowledgeable. In that paradigm, you are told what you “should” or “should not” do. Right away this slips into a right/wrong polarity of thinking, with judgement and blame not far behind. In the new paradigm, we seek to step above judgement. Here, each makes his or her own choices. As connected beings we are at once totally respecting of our need to make our own choices in life, and to respect the choices of others.

A legacy of a paternalistic age

“Being right” can take us into the thinking of fundamentalism, where one belief system is deemed right and all others relegated to eternal damnation. It is fascinating for me how many of us today are having a problem with this world-view. This is probably one of the most powerful inheritances from our common past, embedded deep in our consciousness from past ages, where religious and social systems enforced principles of behaviour on a God-fearing population. According to Spiral Dynamics, we are evolving fast away from that thinking and are poised to move en-masse to a far more respectful and inclusive, world-centric way of seeing things.

So, it is always worth pausing when you come across the word “right”. It can be useful, as in human rights, but it can also be an inheritance from a paternalistic age which no longer serves us. And you may be outgrowing it yourself. What would be a more growthful way of seeing the situation? Right/wrong thinking may also no longer serve you as an individual. Consider asking yourself instead, “Is this what I am choosing right now?” “Is this what I want right now?” “Will this serve me right now?” “Is this what I am seeking to create right now?” Here you can step into a far more empowering way of perceiving.

And, when you react to a perceived transgression by someone else, you can instead of leaping to judgement become aware of your feelings, take responsibility for them, let them go and see what other more creative possibility may exist.