Writings

Wide Spot: Don’t Kick

I had a list a mile long, I did, of plans for July. Not only family visits, but writing space, study time, a week-end board planning meeting, a personal retreat week. My overall longing for this month was for big blocks of quiet reflection time, something that’s felt sorely lacking during the last six months.

Well, those plans are shot to hell right now. Some of what caused life to blow up is difficult, some of it is exciting. But nothing—not one single thing—will happen the way I’d planned.

And I’m left pondering a phrase I saw online: What’s in the way is the way.

It rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? It’s so easy to say. I’m sure I’ve said this to others on occasion, when I thought they needed to accept the way things were rather than pine for what wasn’t going to happen.

If I have ever said it to you, you have permission to slap me upside the head next time you see me. 

I know, I KNOW, we need to accept life on life’s terms—there is no use trying to “kick against the pricks,” as the ancient Greek proverb goes. (The pricks in question were jabs oxen received from a metal-tipped goad, intended to cause them to turn; some animals would kick back, which resulted in the goad digging into them painfully.) I know that when I resist the way things are, I end up making things worse. But to go as far as saying that the thing which is my primary obstacle is also my primary teacher—well, some days that simply seems impossible. For sure, I can’t THINK my way into accepting that. 

But I can feel my way there. I can breathe; I can sense and then release the inner clench in my chest and gut. I can soften my jaw and my shoulders. Maybe even lift the corners of my mouth. Lo and behold, I feel calmer. Nothing has changed; no urgent issue has been resolved; no fairy godmother has relieved me of the tasks ahead. I’m simply less cramped physically, less stressed mentally, and better able to deal with what life is offering.

A friend of mine with life-long stress-related problems has always worked hard to stay in her comfort zone. She recently told me that she’s been re-thinking that: her goal now is to get friendly with her discomfort zone, to learn to feel discomfort without being overwhelmed by it. It’s a physical practice, not mental, this finding of serenity in the midst of seriously non-serene situations. We breathe, we feel, we let go. Maybe we smile.

Get friendly with my discomfort zone. Don’t kick against the pricks. Let what’s in the way be the way. There’s a reason for two-thousand-year-old proverbs and modern memes: to be human has always been about letting go and letting go again. Human maturity has always been about doing this with grace and compassion for self and others.

It starts with a breath.