I BELIEVE HARD WORK PAYS OFF IN THE END
The process of therapy - or any deep and sustained process of self exploration - it doesn’t get us where we think we are going to go. That’s a generalization of course. Some people start with a sense of openness to be found. Or more colour. And these things are certainly possible.
But all along the way - all along the way until the end of life I think - we are bumping up against reality and trying to make something of it.
Deep work confronts us with our magical thinking.
Magical thinking begins with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and all those specious causations our parents floated - if you don’t do this… if you do that… if you cross your eyes and the wind changes they’ll stay that way...
And then life happens.
And we encounter the deep ways in which our thinking isn’t serving us.
The depth at which magical thinking is embedded in us is staggering at times.
Life is fair.
I earned what I have.
I deserve what I have.
I am better than _____.
We all have our pockets of this. Our places where we believe deeply in some equation.
These pockets were bred out of the need to survive. And there is beauty to them.
But as adults they have the capacity to perpetuate violence, greed, and ripples of darkness - ouch - did the person in front of me really let that door slam in my face? And from her place of superiority I go into mine.
Magical thinking. Good and bad. Right and wrong. Deserving and undeserving. Does a kitten deserve a good home? Do you? What does it mean to deserve?
If I can earn love, happiness, prosperity and opportunity then I have some control.
And I do have some. We have some control.
But at the same we have to watch the ways that magical thinking impacts us. All the work in the world doesn’t get us what we want most. It can prepare us. Turn us in that direction. Cultivate the conditions for it.
But life itself is a gift. We can’t make it and we don’t get to choose when it ends.
We can enter therapy wanting X or Y or Z but good therapeutic work will transform our understanding of the question. Over years of work we come to understand that we are not owed anything. That it doesn’t get handed out. That feeling better doesn’t happen in a straight line. And that the ups and downs of life aren’t allocated fairly.
And that’s all alright but the limits of our magical thinking are stretched when we are confronted with tragedy and loss (and sometimes with good fortune although it takes a rare person to question the math in that case).
The truisms that we absorbed in our childhood by parents trying to make it day to day and keep life with small children manageable - these truisms that we absorbed into our cells don’t work anymore.
And our resistance to the truth of life causes us a literal world of pain.
This was my fault. This is because I am this way or that way.
We want reasons and hope and karma to work and sometimes they do. But when we are asked to just live with what is it is difficult. Oh so difficult.
What I think happens often is that we have these deep unrecognized beliefs - and they influence us constantly. And to slow down enough to feel them below and let them surface and then to allow ourselves to struggle with this. We’ll never finish but to struggle with the question of meaning and deserving and justice.
Instead of working towards things, we can, perhaps, work alongside things.
I anticipate this won’t sit well with some readers. I’m not going to make a definitive argument for lack of meaning. I’m not convinced there isn’t some - in fact I’m pretty sure there is. But I don’t think it is found in edicts from above. In “this happened because…” kind of sentiments. Or, “I’m grateful for what happened because it brought me….”. All this is justification - a kind of math that eventually comes up empty. It works for a while but over time these equations don’t add up. And then where are we?
We’re breathing. Thank God for the trees that produce what we need to breathe. They could say the same about us.
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