I often have the experience with clients, or participants in the workshop, that they “already know” pretty much anything relevant to a situation they are struggling with. “I’ve looked at this from every angle,” they tell me. They can even demonstrate their knowledge, raising every consideration for why they should or shouldn’t leave their marriage, or change their job, or start school, or raise a difficult issue with a family member. I know that I have little to add in the way of further considerations. If I venture to raise something, the response is, “I’ve thought a lot about that, and …”
So, what to do? How can we support people who already know everything relating to their situation and their possibilities?
It is helpful, of course, simply to be there, to listen to them without judgment or any attempt to “help.” In the mirror of that listening, folks sometimes find the “solution” for themselves. As they hear themselves rehearse, perhaps for the hundredth time, the pros and cons of various possibilities, they may see something different in the mirror than they heard just talking to themselves. “As I hear myself describing this,” one might say, “I see that I can’t stay in this marriage.” This may be progress, if the insight holds and translates into action, but that is not a foregone conclusion. The next line may be, “But I’ve come to this conclusion dozens of times before. Then I don’t do anything.”
One of my teachers told me once that this kind of insight and understanding is the “booby prize” in the realm of personal work. So many people learn so much about their childhood dynamics, their fundamental spiritual needs, or the fine points of their ambivalence. Then they stop, thinking, I suppose that they have gotten what they were seeking – insight and understanding into themselves. Don’t get me wrong; this is a wonderful thing. But it is not the point. The point is to grow and change, and this requires action, not just insight and understanding.
Shifting our attitude so that we are looking to take action, not just to gain insight, opens up possibilities that are otherwise invisible. One dimension is to identify actions that are steps in our process. I may not be able to get a new job or change career, but I can strengthen my referral network. I may not be able to raise that issue with my mother, but I can reach out for support. Once we take some kind of action, we see new possibilities.
I am recently appreciating the value of intention in motivating myself to action. People often think of intention as much like understanding or insight, a kind of idle wish. But that is not intention. When I intend an action – to find a new career, or make a new friend or improve relations with my siblings – I do not just wish these results. I engage my energies, change my focus, and look at my situation differently. I am committed, and ready to recommit as necessary. I am already on a path of action. If I am not, I am not really intending. This is clearer for me when I consider its opposite. Consider what it means to live unintentionally …
Perhaps you are resisting my emphasis on action. Perhaps you want to defend the value of insight and understanding, of awareness and discernment. I won’t contend against these values. Yet, my sense is that many of us are out of balance. Our insights and understandings may be only intellectual, disconnected from body, heart and action. For those of us suffering this imbalance, a reminder about the importance of action, intention and commitment may be timely and important.
I know it often is for me.