Obvious. Clearly. Yet this had never struck me as deeply before.
I was speaking to a client recently and we were talking about how we are all hard on ourselves, thinking that we should be further along than we are, or moving faster than we are moving.
Take my client recently. In the middle of an argument with his spouse he had the idea to slow down, listen and try to understand what was being said instead of the defense/attack strategy that was in play at the time.
As we talked about how this had happened it was obvious to me that he was underplaying the importance of what he had done. I wondered why. "It really wasn't going very well" and "I could have done this sooner" were threatening to wipe out the significance of a momentous occasion: in the middle of a deep quagmire, he'd actually found his bearings, had a fresh idea flash before him, acted on it and turned the conversation in a more positive direction.
Amazingly, with no provocation and in the worst possible conditions for a new idea to arise, it did. And he listened. Yet what I heard as a sign of success, he was viewing as a near-failure.
How was that possible?
Along the course of our lives we seem to have (most of us, me included) picked up a nasty habit of thinking we should be better than we are in any given moment. This keeps us from knowing what to look for and from perceiving what is happening on a deeper level.
Ruminating over our performances we often judge them to be less than successful ("I could have prevented that" / "I never should have got there in the first place). We compare ourselves to standards no one really ever lives up to: "I should have been able to create an open space of pure listening."
Really? No you couldn't have done that, because you didn't. Are you missing what did happen, however?
No wonder people head in the wrong direction -- thinking they need to double up their efforts, or be even harder on themselves, as if the point of life were to eventually be perfect. Or nearly.
That's not to say one can't do better next time, but surely we are missing the point. The point of self-awareness and self-observiation is self-understanding -- not self-condemnation. Seek to understand and what you see will change. Judge something and you cannot see it at all.
Let's give ourselves a break. This self-flaggelation thing has really run its course. There is so much research out there clearly showing that the carrot and the stick do not work.(Just watch Daniel Pink below on Motivation)
Personally speaking I think it is amazing that I can even have a change of perspective in the middle of a near-brawl, much less to act on it. Compared to the number of times I've ignored by own voice of reason!
Why not look at our lives from the gentler -- yet equally true -- perspective?
Not only does that mean recognizing the significance of our small triumphs, but realizing that they are not just one-off anomalies.
Take our example as a case in point. Consider for a moment just the fact that he got this new idea in the midst of a bad moment between two people. What does that tell you about what human beings need to do to have new ideas?
If you or I, or my client, can have a new thought in the middle of an argument, then surely there are no conditions to be met for us to "get grounded" or "be good listeners" or anything of the sort.
What it suggests is that our ability to hear afresh and to change is natural. Or as my client put it, "something you can count on."
This implies you don't have to be "good" or spiritually advanced, deserving, forgiving, listening attentively or any of the other pre-conditions we sometimes set up.
Imagine. You can just be going about your business and you can count on your ability to see anew just being there.
Regardless then of how badly we think we are doing when we play the game film, there is always the basic movement from: "now you don't see it / now you do." And this movement is always happening in us. We aren't making it happen with our self-development programs. Or better said:
We might be becoming more aware of how it's working; but we are not making it happen.
I know it's common to consider the self development pathway as one in which we get progressively better at this thing we call life. But really, everything we will ever do will always be something that one day, perhaps just the day before, we could not do or had never thought of doing, so I think this whole notion of "progress" and preconditions only gets in the way of that natural flow.
Every person on the planet knows how to shift from not knowing something one moment to knowing it. We did it with walking, talking and eating with spoons. We've been doing it for our whole lives and we'll continue doing it.
Let's start counting on it.