In the paper last Sunday there was an advert on the back of a supplement detailing a number of workshops, one of which caught my eye, “How To Launch And Run A Successful Food Business”. It made me laugh and I wondered if page one of the syllabus might say “Have a good idea, be passionate about it and courageous in executing it”. That’s most of the curriculum covered to my mind. £249 please.
There aren’t any answers. At least not the ones we hope for.
In longer term therapy there is an energy pattern I have noticed. At first a solution to the problem is sought almost frantically, urgency is in abundance until the penny drops that the most empowering and similarly most terrifying truth is that it all starts and ends with you. Once accepted a kind of peace can descend in settling for the absence of a solution from outside, and the tougher work of finding it within.
There really are very few valuable and clear answers.
I wonder how carefully we consider the questions we ask, whether we might make life more difficult by asking questions which either don’t really matter or which direct us in a way we don’t really want to go. “Do you still love me?” is a question where the wording will feel far less important than the answer, but is it?. What weight there is in those four words, what expectation? In asking I may look for confirmation of something I already know, or I may be genuinely uncertain. I will almost certainly mean a particular kind of love and, most of all, I will mean the love that I want rather than the love that you are able or willing to give. Even here, with such a seemingly simple and direct request there is no answer which can possibly take into account all the myriad variables. In simply asking the question I have provided a piece of insight which renders the answer somewhat irrelevant. The fact that I do not feel sufficiently “loved” is my most valuable realisation.
Questions trip off our tongues so easily and one of their great attractions is that they shift the responsibility somewhere else. If I ask you something I am moving the problem until you provide something which helps me to continue on my way. “How can I get better?” “What shall I do now?”. “Why did you do that?” “How will I survive this?”. In times of great personal crisis or depletion we tire of carrying the load, we genuinely believe it will pull us down until we literally cannot take another step, but these questions are not ones that can be answered looking outside ourselves, and so the question makes progress harder not easier.
Questions are everything because they choose the path. Once you have set about finding an answer you are on a journey and there is either a complete answer to be found or one which is incomplete. But a complete answer to a poor question is far less valuable than an incomplete answer to a great one.
“What is getting “better”?”
“What do I want to do now and why?”
“How do I expect people to treat me?”
“What can I do to make myself content?”
“How can I create joy?“
All of these question switch the focus back onto oneself. There is no control any of us can exert on other people, on events that happen, on the way that world turns, but our influence on the way we move, we think, what we do and therefore how we feel is far greater than we imagine.
Nobody can save you. That’s a fact. Ask any addict in recovery and they will tell you that in the end the turnaround came when they themselves decided that it was enough, that they must step in and save themselves. We confuse support with rescue and they are very different. We hamper our attempts to get better by waiting around for someone to make us better. We render ourselves weaker and we doubt our own remarkable capacities.
Over the years we have come to expect instant gratification, and this serves us very poorly when it comes to good mental health. We may have struggled with low confidence, dysfunctional attachment, anxiety, depression, debilitating stress for years and we hope, understandably, that someone “out there” has a magic formula to change everything, but they don’t. “Can you make me forget?” No I can’t, because it isn’t necessary to forget, it is necessary to accept. Forgetting is a sticking plaster, a pill, a distraction. Forgetting is closing your eyes and hoping it will go away, it is a protection mechanism our subconscious might sometimes employ to keep us from the darkest memories of our lives, but freedom comes in the opening of the box and the sorting through. Release is not an erasing it is a settling.
Questions are what direct us, give us momentum and keep us moving forward. Answers are full stops at the end of rambling sentences and investigations. We might do well to consider that there is often far more interest and enlightenment in the journey than there is in the destination and then, quite suddenly, we find we have arrived and we didn’t even know it.