Years ago, a friend of mine taught me to ski. He started off with a technique called snow plowing. This involved pointing the front of my skis together in the shape of a v and painstakingly moving down the ski run. The technique was awkward and slow, and it put tremendous pressure on my knees and hips, but surprisingly, it enabled me to ski down the slope without killing myself. Since it was clear to all the more experienced skiers that I was a novice and that I was on the verge of being out of control, they judiciously stayed out of my way.
After several runs, spills, and periods of controlled terror, I achieved some level of confidence. It was at that point that my friend said, "Okay, now I'm going to teach you how to really ski, so forget all you've learned so far!" He then proceeded to teach me how to keep my skis parallel, to bend my knees, and to turn my skis to control my direction and speed.
I remember thinking, This doesn't feel right. Compared to snow plowing, which admittedly had very little control, I now had no control at all! I immediately went back to snow plowing. Real skiing was out of my comfort zone. From my point of view, there were no other options. Compared to the discomfort of letting go of the old ways and rising to a higher level, I decided that the pain, misery, and limitations of snow plowing weren't so bad after all. I held on to that kind of thinking until it finally became too painful to continue, which it eventually did. Then-and only then-did I finally learn to ski.
This is the same with all survival skills. We don't change them until it hurts too much not to. The Law of Accommodation states that what life requires, it creates. In other words, when we are repeatedly confronted with increasing periods of instability and mind-boggling confusion, a variety of survival skills materialize.
Emotional numbness, denial, avoidance, and isolation serve to protect us. A rigid defensiveness makes it difficult to even consider new information. When we're used to thinking wrong, what's really right seems wrong. Initially, that's why a change in thinking patterns will not change the way you feel. Recovery takes time.
Survival skills seem to be a logical attempt to cope with an illogical situation. No one really chooses these patterns beforehand. They just appear. Because they are developed in the midst of crisis situations, they become inextricably linked to, and require a continuation of, additional crisis situations. Life literally becomes nothing but one crisis after another. As a result, we tend to believe that our real selves are a combination of being broken, unlovable, abandoned, victimized, confused, and maybe even crazy.
When we're raised in an environment of instability and pain, we tend to accept these variables as normal, inevitably trusting the dysfunction and hesitating to let it go. The abnormal becomes normal, despair becomes reality, and the perception of helplessness and hopelessness creates the illusion that this is as good as it gets.
The ultimate goal in recovery is not to change yourself or anyone else. It's to make new choices that are more successful than the previous ones. When we make new choices, changes will occur on their own.
Big changes will not occur all at once but will come in bits and pieces. We only change what hurts. Until it hurts long enough and hard enough that we can't ignore it, numb it, or run from it, we tolerate it-because we really don't know how to change it to start with. That's not an excuse. That's just the way it is.
Crossing the boundaries of belief and going beyond the paralysis of fear and anxiety are difficult. Life is filled with a wide variety of choices, so live your life in such a manner that you always have a choice. If you don't recognize your ability to choose, you will lose that ability by defaulting to poor choices.
It appears that this world is accomplishing the purpose for which it was created. It's full of joys and sorrows, successes and failures. This opposition prepares us to withstand the storms of life, both the ones we're experiencing now and the ones yet to come. The challenges we're facing now are simply part of the preparation for us to handle the bigger ones that will come-and come they will. That's what life is all about-growing, experiencing, and rising above our previous self. There really is a purpose to life, and there really are reasons behind opposition.
The painful elements in life-such as fear, anger, and sorrow-are things that we all try to avoid. In fact, sometimes we're so successful at avoiding them that we never develop the life-management skills necessary to cope with them, so we continue to be victimized by them.
Ironically, these painful elements are some of the integral components in the equation of life. Instead of running from them, make the attempt to face them and embrace them-both for the lessons they teach and for the strengths they give you. Take charge of your survival skills!
As the years come and go, a natural change occurs, and we invariably become either our own warmest friend or our own greatest enemy. In either case, given our limited knowledge, vision, and experience, it is clear that we are usually doing the best we can at any given point in time. If we could do more, we would, and in the future we will! We're stronger today than we were yesterday, and tomorrow we'll be even stronger than today.
In this manner, we determine not only our destinies but also the very essence of our existence. This is where perception becomes so important; in spite of the people or situations in our lives, our perception is the most important factor in determining who we are now and who we will be in the future.
To paraphrase the philosopher Goethe: "When we see ourselves as we are, we make ourselves worse than we are. But when we see ourselves as if we were already in the process of achieving what we are capable of, we make ourselves what we should be."7
Unfortunately, worry and complacency often complicate things. Where worry creates tension and stress, complacency creates lack of tension and stress. This is where the problems begin.
On the one hand, we often worry about things that are beyond our ability to control. When we do so, we become dysfunctional. Sometimes we can become skilled at being dysfunctional.
On the other hand, complacency's message is just the opposite of worry. It's one of satisfaction with things as they are and rejection of things as they might be. "Good enough" becomes the acceptable standard. When we are complacent, we avoid the unknown, mistrust the untried, and abhor the new. In this manner, worry and complacency go hand in hand.
The solution seems to be fairly simple-learn from the past, but don't get lost in it. Plan for the future, but don't become preoccupied with it. Live only one day at a time, but live each day to the fullest. Finally, in the midst of all the confusion and uncertainty, take consolation from the fact that it's possible to adjust to changing times and still adhere to unchanging principles. Seek to learn what they are, and then live them!
The Benefits of Confusion
Leo Rosten wrote, "In some ways, however small and secret, each of us is a little mad. . . . Happiness comes only when we push our brains and hearts to the farthest reaches of which we are capable."8 What does this mean for us? First, it means that no one has all the pieces of the puzzle put together perfectly. Life is a challenge for each of us. Second, happiness only comes from putting ourselves into motion, taking all that we have known and experienced, and choosing to grow beyond where we are.
The way we choose to see the world creates the world we choose to see. In essence, we create our reality by choosing our beliefs. We are the deciding factor in defining both ourselves and the world we live in. Regardless of the pain and problems inflicted upon us, and in spite of the fairness or unfairness we encounter in life, we ultimately choose how we interpret and respond to this world.
Eventually we learn what Viktor Frankl must have meant when he wrote that the greatest of all human freedoms is the ability to choose our attitude in spite of the overwhelming situations and circumstances we encounter.9 This may sound confusing for those who have been immobilized with or overwhelmed by the challenges of life. In reality, when we exercise the responsibility to choose our attitude, it prevents the negativity of confusion from dominating our feelings. As this change in perception settles in, we begin to see the world from a different point of view. The negative becomes more positive. The pessimistic becomes more optimistic.
It would appear that there is purpose in confusion and design in imperfection. Because of these dynamics and the discomfort that results from them, we are forced into reorganizing the way we look at the world. We are encouraged to go beyond our old comfort zones, to think outside the box in terms of perception and personal expectations, and to recognize we're not defined by our weaknesses, our mental illnesses, our family dysfunctions, or our culture. We begin to understand that we're part of something much bigger than we may have previously understood and that there really is purpose, reason, and wisdom in life.
There is meaning in distraction and value in irregularity. Unless we are confronted with problems that distract us, we tend to follow the path of least resistance, allowing our old, limiting patterns to continue. It's only when things become irregular that we are finally able to recognize that we require a change in course.
There is correlation in turbulence and order in distortion. Correlation refers to the process of managing the instability of life in a manner that results in a reorganization of how we see ourselves. Who we really are doesn't change with time, but who we think we are is in a constant state of revision as we move from one transitional stage to another. Turbulence and distortion allow us to continually redefine ourselves throughout life. As we do this, we gain a greater understanding of who we really are.
There is benefit in turmoil and certitude in uncertainty. The combination of these dynamics enables us to develop an assurance and a certainty in this world as we gain a greater appreciation for where we fit in. It's only in facing these challenges directly that we develop the ability to carve out a niche for ourselves. Just as water purifies itself when it's in motion, the combination of turmoil and uncertainty results in an emotional cleansing process.
There is orchestration in disorder and understanding in aberration. There is no chance for life to become boring and colorless-not with the great abundance of disorder and aberration that we consistently encounter. They keep us on our toes. They remind us that nothing in life should be taken for granted, because things seldom ever remain the same. Just about the time that we get ourselves organized and think we're one step ahead of the game, our house of cards invariably comes tumbling down.
Fortunately, no type of confusion is ever wasted. It forces us to redefine what we really believe and to stretch beyond our old comfort zones. Once stretched, the discomfort of confusion encourages us to never return to our original dimensions.
Eventually, confusion illuminates, simplifies, and clarifies. When we understand and appreciate it, confusion enables us to rise above our previously accepted levels of infirmity and deficiency. The key is to recognize confusion for what it is and not be overwhelmed by what it appears to be.
1. Monson, "Sailing Safely the Seas of Life," 2.
Faust, "Woman, Why Weepest Thou?" 52.
3. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine, 51.
Maxwell, "Testifying of the Great and Glorious Atonement," 10.
5. Whitney, http://josephsmith.net/josephsmith/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=f73f001cfb340010VgnVCM1000001f5e340aRCRD&vgnextfmt=tab2.
6. Maxwell, "Hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ," 62.
7. Goethe, http://www.randomquotes.org/quote20312
8. Rosten, http://www.freepress.net/note/40764
Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, 75.