High Definition and Defining Moments

As the first two months of the new year have passed in what seemed like a blur on steroids, many people become aware of unclaimed and/or unfulfilled resolutions. Scales are avoided as are various other instruments of measurement, stats, and accountability. We console ourselves with reviewing all the reasons we have depended on for years to justify all the behaviors and habits we medicate ourselves with in order to escape from the all the unpleasant conditions of our lives and our world.

As February quickly changes into March, I am also aware of all the warmth as well as frustration that is expressed around Valentine's Day. What becomes more noticeable each year is the amount of bitterness that seems to rear its wounded head. I continue to feel disappointed and upset when I hear of just how insensitive, neglectful, selfish, and hurtful men are to women who at one time or another they claimed to "love."

According to statistics provided by the website Avvo.com (where visitors can consult with doctors and lawyers), there has been a 40% increase in the divorce filing rate and it seems to spike around January and February over the past two years[1]. This is not surprising for several reasons: it is not a myth that divorce finds its way on many people's lists of resolutions for the new year to start off fresh; it is due to the continuing economic downturn - many couples find their evaporating financial situation putting the final strain on an already unsettled relationship; and, it also brings up the issue of how we define love in the first place.

People will not only rationalize putting off making changes, but also need powerful reasons to confront issues head-on in their lives. Based on some of the contributing factors to motivation listed above, these seem to be characterized as follows:

(1). appropriate timing;

(2). a sufficient accumulation of unhappiness and turmoil; and

(3). clarification of terms.

The saying, "If you don't do it now, you'll never do it" is misleading. Like many sales pitches, it pressures someone into making a decision and carries with it like many faulty arguments an assumption. The assumption is: if you don't change now when I think you should, you'll never change. Is this really true? Many of us are stuck in repetitive patterns and continuing in them does reinforce them. However, another dynamic being overlooked here is that some moments are better than others to make a shift. It doesn't necessarily have to be now.

This is why when individuals come to counseling, I try to measure their degree of readiness. Sometimes a person will be very ambivalent about attending therapy and their confusion and dependence on the therapist to fix their problem will cloud and undermine any progress. It is better to put it off for another day when the ingredients necessary to fuel one's resolve to fight and overcome the obstacles to fulfillment.

Like a good wine that needs time to ferment, change is not sudden. That is called being "impulsive." Some call it spontaneity and a healthy playfulness, and on a number of occasions, this is a wonderful way to show up in the world and gives life its flavor, color, energy, and joy. It is important to remember that spontaneity is nurtured by people in our lives who encourage us to be creative and are not hampering us with nitpicking restrictions because of their insecurities. It is also informed by our experiences of what worked and what did not.

The fermentation needed for change can be very dramatic when it finally does come to fruition. This is why we can misinterpret it as arising suddenly. Take for example the uprisings around the world in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere that have not spontaneously emerged all of a sudden, but have developed over several years, fueled by growing exploitation of the working class ripening with resentment.

Couples may be impulsive and sudden in their decisions to get together, while the dissolution of their relationship can take years as its edifice gradually hollows out from within and inevitably crumbles for all to see on the outside. A common expression that people who are reaching their limit of suffering find themselves giving voice to is: "I can't take it anymore," or "I've had enough," or one of my favorites: "I'm done." When these words are being used, people are close to the edge of a jumping off point.

The difficulty is when we arrive at this edge. It is an edge that borders on the very end of our familiar way of seeing the world. This is why when people come to therapy and will make very clear statements like "I'm done" and then follow it with, "but I don't know." The edge of experience is blurry and scary. It challenges us in two ways: it somehow causes the way we see the world to make less sense and it invites us to step into an uncertain space of transition into something different - a different way of looking at things and ourselves.

As we live in a time where things are being structured by political and corporate forces to suppress change in order to keep people compliant (with ever growing waves of suffering), individuals accept their lot in jobs and relationships while all the time noticing increasing percolations of misery and anger that seems to yearn to march towards rebellion and abolition of deteriorating conditions.

What we say to people in troubling circumstances is so vital. It can encourage, pressure or undermine them in their bid for freedom. Clarifying terms is a significant part of this. When we are at the edge of our experience and hang out with our "I don't know" long enough, what emerges is something new. And it is usually something revolutionary. The way we know for certain that something is revolutionary is by how it confronts those in authority - and it may not make those around us happy.

Defining moments require defining terms. Even though we like what we watch to be in high definition, when it comes to sharpening our focus on what matters, things get fuzzy. And when things are fuzzy we rely on quick fixes.

A person will tell me they are "bipolar" and need medication. When asked how they know they are bipolar, they will respond, "I'm so up and down." I universalize this by stating, "Well, we're all like that." I then ask them what it is that they want in life, and then it becomes more apparent that they have difficulty pursuing what they want because they struggle with commitment.

How we use our words makes a difference. This is demonstrated in how we choose to speak to people and issues. One of the incorrigible perceptions in our culture is "people never change." I will also encounter other phrases like: "He doesn't have it in him," "He was born that way," or "That's just the way she is."

We must keep in mind that this is the result of upbringing, associations with peers, and institutions like prison. Clarification of terms that help us to really and authentically embody what we value is learned through our interactions with each other. Some call it rehabilitation, and many around the world would say that it is possible in the context of a revolutionary community of people who share common goals and ideas built on a love that challenges one another's capacities for being done with a confining past and constructing a new and liberated future.

I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. - Harriet Tubman

[1]. Mark Britton, Happy Valentine's Day (or Not), Online Publication: http://avvoblog.com/2011/02/14/happy-valentine's-day-or-not/, Dated: February 14th, 2011.