I have a client, Max, who in this moment finds himself in a life that is unmanageable. Regardless of where he is – at work, at home, in his truck driving between home and work – he is facing what feels like cataclysmic consequences. It is like he is attempting to walk through a field of land mines: whatever step he takes, regardless of the direction, it will inevitably result in a Ka-Boom!
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It is the end of pre-season for football. The athletes who have put their careers on the line to be chosen as one of the 53 players for any one of the NFL teams, face either a new beginning or the end of their dreams. If he fails to prove he is the best, he then faces the agony and anguish of defeat.
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A woman on the Island died of cancer last week. Her husband was left with unmanageable grief. He died three days later. It is not uncommon for people who have lost a spouse to die within months of each other, for they, like Max, face the depth of their humanity they perhaps have never experienced before. It is enough to drive one into what feels like insanity. It isn’t insanity, however, it is just a place that has been avoided and ignored. No one wants to face such unutterable loss.
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As I write this, my friend Bryan joins me after taking a wonderful walk on Orcas. He shares with me that his family in Houston is about to experience flooding in their homes – that the waters are rising three inches an hour. The idea of life becoming unmanageable has now become a reality for close to six million people in Texas, and perhaps surrounding states. In this moment, just like for Max, there is nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. It’s just one big fat be-with!
I could go on mentioning a plethora of examples where people meet themselves, perhaps for the very first time, in the devastation of life and their dreams as they have been known. At some time or another in the process of aging, everyone of us reaches such a state, where life is unmanageable. You recognize it by the degree of anguish you experience, the degree of resistance to accepting the isness of what is, and the degree to which you consternate about how to get out of both the experience of powerless-hopeless-helpless and the circumstances which trigger it. When your home, car and business are flooded, how the HELL do you be with all that?
As we age we inevitably face certain life crises that effect how we experience both our humanness and our spiritual-ness. There is no way out of the many life-transitions that are incurred over the decades of being human. It just is part of the isness of being in a human suit. No one is given the Rand McNally Maps of the Universe. Inevitably, each one of us gets lost. Each one of us comes to the chasm and the abyssness of their life, where there is no way out and nothing left to do but surrender completely to the truth that: “This is bigger than me and I, in this moment, am powerless. I surrender.”
Anyone who has attended a 12-step program knows the reality of this moment of experiencing powerlessness in the midst of the truth that life has become unmanageable. It’s the first step out of the field of land mines. Max has been here before and is here again, and being that he is only in his 40’s, he may have more opportunities to find himself in the unmanageable reality of land mines. He laments: “Why is this happening to me? I must have done something bad and very, very wrong.”
No one has done anything wrong, though we have been trained to think this way. It’s just that we forget that we are human beings having a human experience – one that stretches our courage and faith to acknowledge when life feels too big, too hard, and too scary to face. It is not a bad thing at all to admit defeat, powerlessness, and that life in this moment is unmanageable. I know for myself and for thousands of people I’ve spoken to who’ve admitted that this is where they are, there is relief in giving up the belief that they are in control. In this moment there is a shift, and in this shift there is an experience of returning to sanity.
What to Do When There is Nothing to Do
Our culture is one of doing. In the midst of any circumstance that creates a sense of crisis, emergency, or cataclysm, we look for what can be done to feel empowered and in control in the midst of a disempowered reality.
Max and just about everyone else on the planet face tremendous resistance to letting go of the doing in order to surrender into the moment of being human – nowhere to go and nothing to do. It goes against all the training we’ve ever been given. To admit defeat is devastating to our egos. To admit defeat is an opening to our humanness. It expands through the experience of humility and humbleness. Empowering oneself to admit defeat and powerlessness allows the human being to be recognized and experienced fully. To our ego-self, this is death. To our human-spirit it is a wha-hooo!
It is empowering to admit that you are at the end of your rope. To surrender control and one’s will to have things turn out the way that “it’s supposed to” is tremendously difficult, especially if there is no one who we believe we can trust, who we can turn to, and turn things over to. Though the U.S. is founded on the principle of “In God We Trust,” it isn’t how we orient ourselves in everyday life in the midst of ordinary cataclysms. This is indeed a dilemma. So many of us feel stuck because we are afraid to admit defeat and to actually have the human experience of defeat and powerlessness.
And so we sit in a field of land mines hoping someone will come to rescue us, when the truth is that, perhaps with the support of others who are familiar and comfortable with these life experiences, we can learn how to rescue ourselves from ourselves. Life isn’t always easy and it’s not always fun, but oh, what a brilliant opportunity to learn to be you!