Thursday, June 25, 2009

When Your Way of Seeing Blocks Your View

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 (presumably 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 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.

Where in your life are you saying with a sigh, "this is just the way it is"?



Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say a big and still slightly stunned Thank You to you for the tip-off about Steven Pressfield's book The War of Art in your comment over at Wil Wheaton's blog. I've read SP's Gates of Fire and liked it, but didn't know he'd written anything of that nature.

The reason this is so meaningful to me today is that I'm self-employed and not doing too well financially right now, along with a lot of people I guess.

I've been sitting on a creative business idea that may or may not sort me out for a few months now, but the last couple of weeks, as my savings are vanishing into the black hole of rent and groceries, analysis paralysis (and straightforward Resistance in all its guises) snarled my gears and left me by this morning able to do little other than surf to distract myself from the oncoming storm.

In that mode, reading first off Wil's piece, then his link to the article by Lennon, THEN following the link from your comment to find extracts and reviews of The War of Art - which spoke to me and kicked my butt just on that short and incomplete acquaintance - well, just wow!

Because of that I've already broken the shackles (and yes the book's on order as I type) and synchronicity and all that good stuff aside, I have your comment to thank for that.

Which tells me if nothing else that your genius is alive and well, and doing its thing even in a passing blog comment!

And then coming here, the rest of your blog looks great as well... think you just got yourself another regular reader! ;)

Thank You.

Michael D. Warden said...


THAT is freakin' awesome. Thanks.

And welcome to the war. :)