What does it have to say

As I was lying in bed ready for sleep to come, I was thinking about what I read and wrote about last night from The Book of Joe.

I was thinking about how a first impression might be to think that Joe wants people to arm their internal observer for eternal vigilance. To forever stand next to oneself, looking over one’s own shoulder, taking notes and asking questions.

I don’t think that’s what he’s getting at, at all.

I think that’s one side of two extremes, and he’s advocating a middle path.

Consider this vigilance as one extreme. This is where you find folks who, when the grocery store is out of their favorite cereal, spend serious time in prayer and reflection looking for the “Lesson” that God has for them in that experience. No matter what happens, they expend a ton of energy trying to devise a systematic and definitive Lesson for everything.

On the other extreme, which Joe addressed more specifically in his book, is closedness, unconsciousness, avoidance of facing the meaning of things. Things happen to these folks and they avoid feeling their feelings, thinking about the things that happen, or doing anything about it. Life tosses them about and they do their best to ignore it.

I think what Joe’s getting at is openness — not striving, ever-vigilant, quick to assign a particular Meaning to everything, and neither closed, numb, in denial, avoiding reality. Openness is like mindfulness in DBT — it’s letting life in, neither chasing it away nor grasping for it. It’s feeling the feelings, as they are. It’s listening and looking, confident of meaning without fighting for Meaning and without fighting for Nothing.

I think it’s saying, when there’s feelings or other signals to pay attention to, saying not “what do I do about it,” but “what does it have to say?” Taking action shouldn’t be impulsive, and it shouldn’t be a way of trying to chase feelings away, avoid truth, or grasp at things. Action should be a response, not merely a reaction.

An example. I often have increased anxiety or depression around bedtime. Sometimes, like last night, my first impulse is like this: “Oh, I’m anxious and sad again. What do I do to stop that or fix it?” That’s not really listening. It seems like an attempt to solve a problem, but it’s too quick — it’s jumping over the feelings, trying to get away from them. Instead, I could do something like this: “Oh, I’m anxious and sad again. Let me sit in the anxiety and the sadness for a while and let them be with me.” In that, I can also remind myself of something I’ve learned: this increase of negative feeling, for me, is linked to time of day and is largely physiological, and thus doesn’t require much soul-searching. I can also remind myself that I also have good reasons, strong and deep roots, for anxiety and depression, and that the only way around them is through them, and that it’s okay to feel them.

I don’t know if my example clarifies or confuses the point I’m trying to make, but I’d better quit now!


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