Tuesday, September 28, 2004

It's All In How You Look at It

I had a couple of really interesting--and powerful--sessions with clients this week. I noticed something in those times that I've seen before (including in myself) and it's really worth considering. All the time I have clients coming to me who feel stuck. They feel trapped in a situation that they don't know how to get out of. There's no choice, or at least that's what feels real to them. It's "just the way things are" and so they do their best to muddle through, struggle against the onslaught of whatever it is that holds them back or holds them down. And all the while the resentment, the quiet despair, builds in the undercurrent of their souls.

So they come hoping for a way out. In some cases, they're desperate for it. And this really interesting thing happens.

You ever watch the Animal Planet channel--when they cage up a wild animal, haul if off somewhere else (presumbly somewhere safer) and release it back into the wild? Ever notice how lots of times when the handlers open the cage and step away, the animal for whatever reason won't come out? It wants nothing more than to be free and away from these meddlesome humans, but it just sits there on its haunches growling in the back of the cage! It's like the animal doesn't really buy it. It's got to be a trick. Only it's not a trick; the animal is free to go. But it just won't leave the freakin' cage (the cage it hates, by the way), and so the handlers have to shake the cage and freak the animal out just to get it to step back into freedom.

I've noticed that we can be a lot like that caged animal when we get stuck in certain (unfulfilling, unproductive, unpleasant, unhelpful) ways of looking at a challenge in our lives. We get stuck in a perspective, and it becomes very much like a cage we hate. Maybe the perspective is "this is hopeless" or "I've tried everything and nothing works" or "I hate this but I'm too tired to care anymore" or "I give up" or a thousand other self-defeating ways of looking at something. But even though we want a way out, when we're asked to step out of the cage and consider a different perspective (a different attitude or different way of looking at the issue), we often fiercely resist. The new perspective might be something like "I can beat this" or "I'll find a way" or "The answer is coming." And you can just feel the tension in the air rise. Our minds are instantly filled with all sorts of bold pronouncements: "That's just not the way it is!" or "You've got to be kidding!" or "That's just stupid."

The cage is open, but we don't want to come out.

Why do we want to stay in the cage of a powerless perspective? Well for one thing, it's comfortable. Even though we don't like it, at least it's not unknown...you know, like the space "out there" beyond the bars. And sometimes we also think it's all a trick. We're just much too smart for these ridiculous mind games. "Change my perspective? You may as well ask me to believe the sky is purple." We're not going to be fooled, no sir, not us. We know what's up with life out there. We know how it is. And nobody's going to tell us different.

And the truth is, that's your choice. Because that's what perspective is really about: the power of choice. How you look at a challenge in your life is totally up to you. Nobody's holding a gun to your head saying, "Think useless, powerless thoughts about this or I'll shoot you!" So if you want to stay in your cage, you absolutely can. But you don't have to. You really, really don't have to.

Marcel Proust wrote, "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

Oftentimes the reason we haven't found an answer to our struggles isn't because the struggle is too big or we're too small or dumb or whatever. It's because the cage we've chosen to sit in is blocking our view.

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