There is a poem by Rumi about a chickpea. Every time the little seed believes itself to be cooked it rises to the top of the stew and declares its readiness to the chef at which point it is thrust back down into the bubbling liquid with one lusty thrust of the ladle to keep on cooking for a bit longer.
I sometimes find myself wrestling with old demons, ones which in the past would have been so powerful they might have led me to some form of self abandonment, eating poorly, losing sleep, wasting time. The invitation to feel bad and smaller than we are, however irrational, can be irresistible.
Once, during a particularly stormy period of my life, I developed a habit of becoming so distressed that I would have to physically leave the house even if it were only me at home anyway. It was, I understand now, an act of literally trying to get away from myself and from the discomfort and depletion which flopped across me like a wet duvet held down with rocks at each corner.
When we slay dragons we expect them to stay dead. Once the effort to extract every last breath is made we think that life will surely be full of peace and tranquility, but it rarely is. Change is a journey and not a destination, it is, by definition, a life’s work. Change is motion and motion is constant.
Change is just a route we take to with a view to arriving at recovery, but we might never get there because it never stands still, but it doesn’t matter that we don’t and here’s why.
You are not a blank page.
You are already a fully formed version of yourself, just not one you find acceptable right now. You cannot make the world the way you would like it and your insistence upon it will maintain your misery, so whatever happens you have to accept that you can only control that which is controllable. You cannot turn back time, remove experiences already experienced, undo that which is done. This time travelling is worthless in every way other than to derive learning which can make the future different, better, richer. You are not a blank page, you can’t start again and you don’t need to and to try and get back to something you were will be fruitless. Recovery cannot begin from where you were, only where you are.
Self development doesn’t have a completion date.
No matter how many books you read, how many therapists you talk to, miracle potions you take the reality is that change is usually hard and there is rarely a shortcut. When I think about all of the people I have worked with those with the deepest scars come through to a more comfortable and fulfilling existence only by accepting that once something has been broken it might always feel fragile, especially when it bears your full emotional weight. These scars we bear are not ugly, they are what makes us beautiful if we would only accept them instead of relentlessly trying to cover them up and pretend they aren’t there. Self development is not a house you are building, it is story you are telling, the story of your life, and as such it only ends when you do, so recovery continues too.
Fear will fuck you up.
When we are afraid, when we expect to feel pain we are immediately controlled by a need for significance and security. We want to feel valuable, loved, protected, safe and we want to feel assured that we are, but unfortunately this often makes us indulge in behaviour which worsens an already fearful and uncertain situation. If you expect that little voice undermining you to stop you’ll probably be disappointed. The challenge is to hear it but carry on anyway despite its protestations. Sometimes the most helpful response to our insecurities is to let them flow and carry us temporally until we can use the strength within us productively rather than wasting it fighting an impossible battle. If you are caught in a torrid current no matter how hard you push against it you’re unlikely to make progress, whereas turning around and waiting until the vicious flow brings you to calmer waters is almost certainly a more sensible strategy.
Hiding from truth doesn’t make it less true.
Truth hurts sometimes and there is no way to sugar coat it. In her wonderful book “Tiny Beautiful Things” Cheryl Strayed gives sometimes brutally honest but wonderful truth to people in the midst of struggle. When we are at our most vulnerable we need honesty, clarity and to know that, however rough the sea, we are the captain of the ship and that avoiding the rocks can only be achieved with our own eyes open. We can become adept at standing in places which hurt and complaining about it rather than standing up and moving somewhere else. There will always be truth and there will always be pain emanating from some of it no matter how far you have travelled, no matter how dedicated you are to recovery.
Growth is uncomfortable.
We all have a need to grow and learn and it’s easy to forget that we learn not when we are comfortable but when we are uncomfortable. A life without learning is an empty one indeed and learning never stops, so prepare for periods of discomfort in a life truly worth living.
Rewiring is a messy business.
Did you ever have the wiring replaced in your house? Do you remember the mess and upheaval this can cause with pieces hacked out of walls and flex trailing across every floor. Rewiring takes a lot of time and adaptability and rewiring your brain is just the same. It doesn’t happen in an instant just because you suddenly experience a moment of illumination. You must repeat repeat repeat repeat and accept that you might still feel unsure, accept that there might still be situations and feelings which stop you with a jolt as if you’d never made any progress at all. But you did, you always do, it’s just that you’re never finished.
Believing your unhelpful thoughts will hurt.
To really create sustainable change you often have to keep telling yourself the opposite of what comes out from inside you. You must resist the urge to fall and lie down however weary you become and however sustained the seeming onslaught. You must remind yourself of your own strength and durability, your own goodness and love, your care for yourself and your undoubted capacity to grow and thrive. You might need to say it out loud to yourself, you might need to write it down in many different ways , you definitely need to speak and behave like you know it is true, and you need to look in the mirror and remind yourself. You need to fly in the face of self abandonment and accept that still, still there will be days when you think, “oh, I will never beat this” and know that you might not fully, but that neither do you need to. A constant tiny strengthening and improvement will do, just a little more “cooking”
Becoming complete and content might be a myth.
You may never arrive in a position of “together” if you have woken up. Once you are aware of yourself truly with all of your imperfections you have taken on a lifetimes work of improvement. It is a marvellous thing to be truly aware of yourself but it comes with the responsibility of growth and an inability to ever go to sleep on yourself again. Whilst this might mean periods of difficulty it is also the route to unimaginable beauty.
Rumi’s chickpea is of course a metaphor for life. No matter now many times the chickpea believes itself to have suffered or “cooked” sufficiently it pleads to be hauled out of the stew for a well earned rest, but what if we’re never done? What if the essential point of our lives is to keep cooking? If that’s the case then perhaps we can relinquish the imperative to feel permanently comfortable and instead realise that even when the difficulty and heat and pain are exhausting we are taking on new flavour, absorbing the depth of experiences and lives around us. In the end we might achieve a succulence we never dreamed of.