Occasionally I read something that smacks me round the face in its power and its simplicity. That happened to me this week. I read four words that made me stop in my tracks. The message wasn’t new. But as I read these four words I was hit by the absolute truth and the absolute clarity they held in them.
This need not be.
I read these four words in A Course in Miracles. And as I read them I was hit by a feeling of release. A kind of knowledge, or certainty, that whatever the scenario, whatever the struggle, whatever the challenge – there is always choice about how you perceive it.
As a coach, I play with perspectives all the time, inviting clients to consider their lives through different lenses to shift stuck-ness. As a client myself, I’ve felt first hand the benefits of considering new perspectives in areas of my life where I feel stuck, or ready to grow. I already had a sense of what a powerful, transformative activity this can be.
But I’d never heard the message so clearly. I’d never heard the message with such weight, like a pronouncement – an unalterable truth, telling us – we have options. Always. Not necessarily in a physical sense. If the weather thwarts your plans for a day at the beach – you can’t stop the rain. Much as you might like to. If your whole family gets hit by a tummy bug – you can’t hold back the vomit. I know that for sure!
But the stories we choose to tell about these obstacles are absolutely within our control. We absolutely have options in the way we choose to perceive these events.
And this is not for one moment suggesting that we plaster on a fake smile/grimace as the shit hits the fan around us, and the tears pour down our face. That would be a hideous suggestion. In fact, that is a hideous suggestion I read a decade ago when I was struggling to adjust to new parenthood, and the challenges of settling a colicky newborn night after night. Some well meaning soul on a parenting forum suggested that we smile reassuringly at our screaming newborns, even if we’re dying on the inside. Needless to say, it never worked for me, or my newborn – and this is not what I’m suggesting here.
But we do have options. Even when the colicky newborn is showing no signs of relenting, even when life throws us an unwelcome curve ball that we are in no position to catch. It’s possible for us to remember that this need not be. Which is not always an easy option. Especially when considering this rubs up against a more well practiced narrative about how hard something is, what a problem it presents, and what struggle you must be in.
As a mother of three very small boys, all born in quick succession I was frequently told how tough my life must be, how “full” my hands were, how much of my energy they must take up. All those comments were true. My hands were full, my energy was depleted at times. But when you hear the same message day in day out, it starts to become your own story. And that’s what happened to me. That became my focus. And as I became increasingly attached to that version of my life, I don’t think I even realised that there was another reality where this need not be. I became increasingly disconnected from the other, equally true reality that these kids were a blooming miracle. They were an unimaginable blessing to me and my husband – in their vibrancy, their beauty, their vitality. My story became one of struggle and resistance – more often than not, a reality to be endured rather than enjoyed. And looking back with the clarity of hindsight, I realise that this probably took more of my energy than sharing my life with three unwieldy tiny humans ever did.
And that’s just one example from my own life. This is happening on a much larger scale right now. In the run up to the general election here in the UK a whole generation is being told repeatedly and unrelentingly about the struggles that lie ahead of them. The financial woes that will follow them into old age. How unfair their predicament is.
And as I sit and listen to this narrative day in and day out, and wonder what stories this generation are unconsciously becoming attached to, I can’t help but ask – what would happen if someone suggested this need not be? What if the conversation (even momentarily) changed from one of inevitable struggle to one of possibility, creativity and opportunity?
If nothing else it’s an interesting thought experiment.
But I have a hunch it’s something bigger and more powerful than that.
Give it a go. Next time you rub up against a familiar struggle in your life – just for a moment – consider that this need not be.
What happens? What opens up and becomes possible for you?
Surely its worth a try.
The alternative just looks like more struggle, so really you’ve got nothing to lose.
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Did this resonate with you? Are you interested in applying the perspectives here to your own life? Work with me, and we can really get into it. I love talking about this stuff even more than I love writing about it (and that’s a lot).