“Faust complained about having two souls in his breast, but I harbor a whole crowd of them and they quarrel. It is like being in a republic.”
Otto von Bismarck
Every day, you are faced with conflicts. Have a donut or a yogurt? Take a few minutes to meditate or vacuum? Save your money or give in to that new iPhone? Such is the banality and ubiquity of inner conflict. You might think all that practice navigating choices while considering the emotional valence of each one would make it easier, but it doesn’t.
When the conflict is whether to take out the garbage or have another cup of tea, it is not such a big deal. But, when the raging ambivalence is whether to stay or leave, or some other equally big decision, it can feel torturous. If your inner conflict is like a tornado picking up all your emotional detritus on its path, it is best to aggressively do nothing. While doing nothing behaviorally is your safest option, this is a wonderful time to practice being with what is. Just sitting with the confusion, conflict, and urge to make a decision. Of course, it is not easy to be mindful when your mind feels like a blender. It is far more natural to desire ending the pain and limbo of not knowing, which is why forcing a decision can be quite compelling. Yet, allowing yourself to be with the discomfort is truly the path to greater peace.
This can be quite challenging if you are in the habit of scratching every itch and getting immediate gratification. By giving in to the call to decide, so the inner tumult of polarized parts abates, you “Act in haste and repent at leisure.” As seductive as it is, choosing short-term relief ultimately produces long-term pain.
Sitting with discomfort actually strengthens your emotional muscles, especially the one for higher frustration tolerance. Our brains are wired to avoid pain, so allowing yourself to sit with indecision can feel very awkward and unpleasant. With a little practice you will find you can handle it better, and may even start to feel some joy at being able to be with what is, especially when you don’t like it.
Allow yourself to be curious. What does it feel like to surrender to what is? Letting go of the urge to control your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors while settling in to the initial discomfort can be scary. It can also be a portal to a different kind of joy. The bliss that comes from believing you don’t have to do anything. Of course, there are times when you must make a decision, but mostly the pull to decide feels like a huge pressure because the ego wants to feel in control and intensely dislikes not taking action nor having the answers. If you can park your ego outside the door, even for a few minutes, you allow yourself to explore the peace that comes from letting everything be as it is.
It also helps to resist the urge to rate your experience and your reactions to it. Seek out any negative self talk that might be sabotaging your happiness. Not only will it harsh your mellow, it will trigger a flight or flight response from your sympathetic nervous system, making you feel even worse and creating a stronger desire for immediate resolution.
Are you thinking: “If only I could come to some decision and know what I really want, then I would be happy.” There will always be “if only…then” ideas trampolining through your cranium. When you notice them, think back to another time you believed you would be happy if only X, Y, or Z happened. Either it happened, or didn’t. Either you were happier or not; but, that emotion didn’t last. It never does. Feelings come and go. Here you are, again, magically thinking that solving this conundrum is so crucial it has the ability to make or break your joy for the foreseeable future. (Studies have shown humans have a set point for happiness. No matter what happens to us, we usually revert to whatever level of joy we are wired for within about five months.) Think of “if only…then” as idea sirens luring you to the rocks of dissatisfaction. As long as you find them beguiling you will risk your emotional balance. By lashing yourself to the mast of allowing things to be as they are you can successfully bypass the sirens’ call, switch from your sympathetic (fight, flight, or freeze) to parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), and wait for the right answer to come. It will, just be patient with the process. The concept may sound simple, but it is far from easy, or quick to learn.
Begin by challenging your old notions that:
Immediate resolution is best.
You can’t stand what you don’t like.
You must not vacillate.
Not knowing is a sign of weakness.
You are wasting precious time being in limbo.
It’s awful to be indecisive.
You are too afraid to take the plunge.
This decision determines the course of your future, so you better choose correctly.
It takes great courage to face your demons (see chapter on Facing Your Demons).
Only brave souls even attempt to sit with what is, let alone embrace it.
The very thing you try to shun is the source of your emotional freedom.
Forcing yourself to make a decision before you are ready often leads to unhappiness later on.
The pressure you feel to do something is usually an illusion. There is time, take it.
Whatever the outcome of your decision, you will make the best of it, even if it is just to choose differently next time.
Patience is an incredibly useful, and often underrated, skill. Trust that clarity will come, and wait for it.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang