So, we live in this amazing new house!
Well, not really new, it was actually built in the 1920’s. But, new to us.
It’s a central move for us in a reconfiguration of our lives as a response to our emerging commitments. So far, we are really enjoying our new home, the neighborhood, and living in town near our grandson and ice cream and fun things to do.
It’s a very different kind of place for us. In our early years of being together, we lived in a very rough cabin with no electricity or running water. In winter, we kept the toilet seat next to the wood stove so that if the urge came during a ten degree night, we could take the seat with us and have something warm to sit on!
Now, we live in a rather grand, comfortable, large house in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Asheville. In between, we have lived in our artisan owner-built home and a remodeled 1950’s farmhouse.
It was never the plan to live in a grand home. Yet, here we are. While living here is enabled in a real way by having achieved some measure of financial success, we don’t confuse our home with who we are. We can see how living in a grand house could produce a narrative of superiority, just as living in a rough cabin could produce a narrative of poverty. Yet, those are just narratives. Ultimately, every situation is simply a context for experiencing ourselves.
A context evokes us, it does not define us. While I have lived in very different houses, who I am and whether I am fulfilled or not is not determined by those circumstances. I enjoy my hot shower in a tiled enclosure. And, I enjoyed building a fire under the old cast iron tub in the back yard for a hot bath outdoors in a snowstorm. While I can appreciate that flicking a switch on the wall turns on the lights, it is liberating to know that my happiness is not derived from, or even related to, that convenience.
I often speak with clients about the multiple roles in their lives. A client can be a leader, a husband, a father, a member of a community. Yet, it is helpful to be in the perspective that each of those roles is simply a context for practice.
When we confuse our context with our identity, the range of our seeing narrows and the perceived importance of any given event becomes artificially large. Our mental processes assume that our performance is a reflection on who we are; our well-being has become equated with our perceived success (or lack of it) in a particular context. This constricted way of inhabiting our roles makes us more anxious and less creative and resourceful; performance becomes existential.
As an alternative, we can build the awareness that we are not our roles. We are, in fact, a consciousness that expresses itself through the various roles in our life (wife, mother, professional, farmer, daughter-in-law, etc.) as needed, but doesn't identify itself as any one of these. Like a hand inserting itself into any of a series of gloves, the hand animates the glove, but is not the glove.
In this metaphor, the hand is our animating awareness, and the glove is simply what we’re doing at any given time. We can practice, and build, the perspective of ourselves as this larger awareness, and then each role simply becomes a context in which to see and witness ourselves as a contributor and a learner. (For those of you who have read The Mindful Coach, this is the idea behind the construction of the Seven Voices. The Master awareness (the hand) chooses the distinct and most appropriate Voice (glove) for any given moment in a coaching conversation.)
With this awareness comes freedom. I can love living in this house, but I don’t attach to it. Even in this grand house, I’m also a guy with nine goats.
I can play the role of a coach, a teacher, a father, a grandfather, a husband. And, there is a larger view of myself that abides, that is always available, that witnesses myself in each of those roles. In this view, I am contributing what is mine to do in each role, yet with a spaciousness big enough to encompass all of them.
- What situation is maddeningly unknowable?
- What, specifically, is impossible to know about this situation?
- Accepting this not knowing, what opens for you?
Yesterday was a strange day.
Our beloved grandson, age three, had oral surgery under general anesthetic. For the doctors it's all in a day’s work. For his parents and us, cause for anxiety. How could this happen? How could this perfect kid need surgery? What is going to happen next?
The other day, a dear colleague pulled out of a joint project for health reasons; I had been very excited about working with her, and was upset that she pulled out, while also completely understanding her choice.
I notice my own body feeling more fragile, my sense of physical assuredness shakier than it used to be. Walker’s health is up and down; while she is more stable than a few months ago, there are more questions than answers. Last night was a bad night. There is no predicting what any given day will bring.
Moving into town has produced big change. And, I am seeing that risks beyond simply relocating will be necessary to create the new integration that I say I seek. I don’t yet know how to do this.
So, what to make of all this? I spent yesterday feeling off, ungrounded, vulnerable. I am experiencing a flux of events that don’t fit the world I construct in my imagination, the world I seek to live into. Yet each of them is a request for my attention, presence, decisions, and actions.
As I move into my later years, supposedly a Wise Elder, I still often feel singularly unprepared, and sometimes have the sense of my world wobbling on its axis.
In the scheme of things, my life is pretty smooth, and the perturbances I mention are relatively minor. Others deal with much more difficult and challenging circumstances, every day. Yet, in the midst of fragility and unpredictability arise precious moments of clarity and gratitude. When I get anxious about my grandson or my wife, right on the other side is the joy that comes from loving them. I worry. And, they’re here. And, I’m here.
We can’t know whether a decision or a course of action will turn out to be fortunate or unfortunate. We do know for certain that things are uncertain. Much is beyond our control, from our spouse’s health to the cast of characters running for President. Yet, in this context, we ourselves create suffering through craving a certainty that is not to be had. The acceptance of our not knowing provides a reassuring orientation in the inescapable ambiguity of our world.
For example, much of my suffering around Walker’s MDDS came from my fears about where it would lead. When we accepted that we simply did not and could not know what the trajectory of her symptoms would be, we could let go of that part, and simply be present with each other, in this moment. And, that is worth a lot.
Yesterday morning, all there was to do was to be present in the waiting room, being with the unknowable.
As coaches, we can ask ourselves, and our clients, “What can’t you know? What is unknowable? And, where is there liberation in not knowing?”
This begins as an intellectual inquiry. It becomes a somatic experience after the realization of how we ourselves spin unhelpful narratives around the inevitable uncertainty of life. Our body relaxes, simply being present right here, right now.
This doesn’t change the circumstance; it changes us.