Friday, January 8, 2010

Real Ways to Go Into an Unsure Future

Let’s face it, there’s a lot to be worried about…

“I have these moments
All steady and strong
I’m feeling so holy and humble
The next thing I know
I’m all worried and weak
And I feel myself
Starting to crumble….”

-- Dan Fogelberg

Let’s face it, these days there’s a lot to be worried about.

In fact, though I don’t have any figures to prove it, I would wager that among the only growth industries left in the country a few have some connection to increasing levels of dread and anxiety and loss. To pretend or behave otherwise may be tempting, but ultimately not helpful.

Certainly, in times like these, we can be attracted to and overwhelmed by those almost delusional, and most definitely absurd, claims that riches are ours if only we maintain what is a bizarrely packaged and described “positive attitude”: consult our crystals and our new “positivity” gurus, and invite affluence in. No wonder ads and claims for such things are growing like weeds.

While maintaining a level of positive regard for what we are capable of is not to be sneered at, there is a level of the unrealistic that is seductive but ultimately disappointing and even addicting in these claims that flood the media waves and those opportunistic self help info-mercials during rough times. Still, with or without them, we must push forward… we must persevere.

Still, we must go into our futures with our sense of meaning and purpose intact, in spite of losses that, for many people, increase daily and are measured in sometimes extreme and heartbreaking ways. No amount of ungrounded positive thinking will change this.

Nor perhaps should we try to force a positive spin on happenings that range from loss of income and home to the tragedy of the event of chronic illness or the death of close loved ones. Even the constant barrage of negative news about our government servants that seems to place them in a range from inept to purposefully malfeasant adds to the ingredients in a recipe for a sour soup that we have little choice but to eat. It is fed to us daily and may often directly relate to our own very personal losses.

So how do we go forward? How do we keep our sense of self from faltering into unrelenting despair and clinical depression? How do we count our blessings when they are being smothered or stolen? What is the recipe for keeping our heads above water, appreciating the shrinking part of the happiness pie that is ours, and refraining from passing on an intolerable level of gloom to those who are close to us and who are passing through their own dark times? How do we create and maintain a small light in this tunnel of dark?

I’d like to propose a few ways that might help.

These are not the tricky self-spin invitations into the inane world of cheap public relations sloganeering that so often infects self-help discourse. These admit and hopefully guide one through the grief of bad times, while using that grief to start to build a new structure of meaning. Because, often, what we have lost will truly never be regained; because often we must work hard and traverse an empty cold field after a series of losses before we even start to recognize and appreciate the way life presents us with reasons to go on: a deeper meaning, even love, to rely upon… a realization that what helps us persevere is always with us and will not forsake us even in the worst of times.

In fact, I’d propose that if what we have placed great meaning and purpose in has abandoned us, it may serve us better to come to a more workable, deeper understanding about what it is made of; it may serve us better to recreate it rather than try to force it, leaks and all, across the deep rough water of the difficult periods in our lives.

1) When you are scared of the future due to things beyond your control do a quick life review.
a. What has helped in past difficult periods of time?
b. How does this rough time measure up to those past times?
c. What deeper, even spiritual, wisdom did you gain?
d. How much can you trust yourself based on your past?

2) Can you actively devise a method to help yourself refrain from judging your pain and just focus on feeling it without the multiplying effect of guilt or shame?

3) What have you enjoyed in the past day or week that has delivered you for a time outside your grief? Can you duplicate it? If not, can you look forward or cultivate openness to another time in which something similar might occur?

4) What jobs do you absolutely have to do today that relate directly to the source of the loss? Can you schedule a time for that work and stick to that schedule?

5) Assuming there are a number of ways to cry (some sob, some do not shed tears but feel it in their bodies, some need space to shout and be angry) do you think you’ve been able to do enough of it to help heal?

6) How much time do you need to make for people?
a. How much aloneness helps?
b. How much aloneness reinforces your feelings of isolation?
c. Who can be trusted and relied on?
d. Who has proven to be a fair-weather friend?
e. Who makes you laugh?

7) What activities are soothing without turning into damaging crutches or addictions? If you have a history of addictions, how can you get support for and maintain your current level of recovery?

8) What spiritual practices (and I interpret the term “spiritual practices” very very broadly) feel empty or lack connection to your current predicament? Are you willing to let them go at least for a time? Which spiritual practices, new or old, assist in the deep tasks of inner reconciliation and healing? Are there people or places that facilitate or encourage those spiritual practices? When and how often do you plan to share time with those people in those places doing those things?

9) Can you devise a simple, quick way to keep track of and measure your progress through your difficult time? Marking a calendar on a day to day basis with a simple three level measurement system (G=good, M=medium, B=Bad) or keeping a journal of short entries specifically about your progress can be a help as time goes on.

10) Assuming that you have always been able to traverse bad times in your life without the professional assistance of a coach, counselor or therapist, when would you know that you might benefit from such an intervention? And if you have benefitted from such professional help in the past, when do you think you would seek it out again?

Many of these ways are not pat activities or answers that claim to solve or fix a part of life that is difficult, sad and seems not to have easy solutions. I propose that is largely because, sometimes, life is not fixable or solvable in that way. To pretend otherwise is dishonest and can multiply the nature and difficulties inherent in these dark times. We are often simply unable to see far enough into our futures to know what will happen, nor are we blessed with any magic keys that unlock the problems inherent in a life that is inextricably attached to other lives, other circumstances and streams of events that we truly have no control over.

Sometimes the challenge is just to ride the terrible roller coaster as best as we can.

I am more than willing to arrange for exploratory coaching sessions to discuss these things further. We can start with a conversation that my list above has brought to the forefront and then decide if more sessions would be helpful. Look elsewhere on this blog for contact information or send me a message via the comments to get in touch.


Iris Arenson-Fuller said...

Bob, I have been meaning to comment on this very good and helpful piece. As you know, I do a lot of work with those who have experienced losses of different types and your words are wise and meaningful. Your questions will promote much beneficial reflection.

I would also recommend Barbara Erenreich's book, Bright-Sided. She contends that the bombardment of our society with relentless and superficial positive thinking has in fact, undermind the strength and substance of our country.

Bob Vance said...

Thanks Iris.

As you and I have discussed before, it does little good to gloss over the nature of bad fortune and how it often cannot be considered to be the fault of those who suffer it with superficial, too-bright, demands for a positive spin . If the earthquake in Haiti isn't a prime example of this I don't know what is. It's been a great pleasure of mine to be able to coach high functioning people with positive outlooks through decidedly sad and tragic times. The places where we are able to relinquish responsibility for the negative occurences in our lives are often the same places we can then feel confident enough to take our first steps forward through them. Always great to hear from you!