When we think we’re unbreakable

For a long while, we think we’re unbreakable. We convince ourselves that what we’re doing – how we’re working, how we’re living – has no impact on us, really.

And for a while, as we try to do more, our level of stress goes up and our performance (or capacity to do what we’re intending) goes up too. We conclude that the move to make when things aren’t working out the way we intend is to push harder. And, for a while, it brings us exactly what we’re looking for.

But only for a while.

There comes a point where, for each of us, the body’s capacity begins to fray. It loses its ability to renew itself, to retain its coherence, to store energy and regenerate. Beyond this breakdown point, more effort not only results in less capacity, but in the breakdown of bodily systems themselves.  We get exhausted. We get ill. Our bodies show us what we have been committed to hiding from ourselves.

All too often, right at this moment where rest, recuperation, support and self-care are the only way back, we conclude that our dropping performance is because we’re not doing enough. And as we scramble to address the shortfall between what we’re ableto do and what we think we should be able to do, we make things worse.

Much worse.

This is no trivial matter. Study after study has established the link between sustained stress and heart attacks and other serious and life threatening illnesses. And yet in so much of work, and our lives, we act as if we’re invincible, even when the signs are right in front of us that we’re not.

It’s time we took our bodies seriously. And it’s time we considered rest, renewal, and support from others as a fundamental requirement to do anything well. Not an optional extra. Not a nice-to-have. And not some silly distraction from the ‘real work’ of business, or leadership, or parenting, or making a contribution.

Love is a Verb

Photo by David Mao on Unsplash

Love isn’t a feeling, though there are many feelings that come with love – joy, longing, delight, anguish, frustration, heartbreak. And when we take love to be a feeling we rob ourselves of any agency when it comes to loving. The feeling has gone we say. I don’t love him any more.

”But, as the psychologist Erich Fromm teaches us, “Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision?”

When we start to see love as a verb, we are given the possibility and responsibility of loving free of our demands that we must feel a particular way. And, in doing so, we allow ourselves the possibility of loving not to get something, but as a gift to match the gift we receive by being loved. This is the path that allows us to love strangers we have never met before, people who are wildly different from us, and to love those close-in without needing proof of our lovability in return.

It may be that this path – loving as a verb – is what will eventually help us humans take care of those who we cast out, and those parts of ourselves that cast out also.


Lizzie Winn and I take up exactly this topic in this week’s Turning Towards Life, titled ‘They Just Look Like Love‘. In it we talk about Erich Fromm, and a wonderful quote from Stephen R Covey, and about the magical properties of simple practices for loving one another (like making a morning cup of tea for the person you live with who for whom you don’t feel love). And we begin with an excerpt from Rebecca Solnit’s new book ‘Cinderella Liberator’.

You can also catch our prior episode, ‘Walking Away During Supper‘, in which we talk about men and women, our stories about what men are supposed to be, and how the choices both men and women make about how to be men ripple out through our families, workplaces and community.

Love, Hate, Inner, Outer

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It increasingly occurs to me

That my relationship to the parts of the world

(most significantly, others)

Is most often a reflection

Of my relationship to parts of myself.

 

And that until I learn how to give up

Hating, despising, fearing and judging my interior world

I can expect to have a tricky time

Loving the outer world, in which I live every day,

As fully as I could.

Justin Wise, June 2015


 

We’ve been having a productive time with the ‘Turning Towards Life’ project, continuing to take up questions about how each of ourselves might bring ourselves most fully and truthfully to our lives. Perhaps most pertinent to the question ‘how do I give up judging and splitting apart my inner world?’ that’s addressed by the poem above, is our episode ‘Hokusai Says‘, which takes the work of the Japanese painter Katsushika Hokusai as its inspiration.

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We have also considered the possibilities for our encounter with life and with one another are born when we cross the thin divide between ‘image’ and ‘realness’ in ‘The Call to Live Everything

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And, one of my favourites, what happens when we start taking ourselves just a little bit less seriously, and start to look at ourselves as if from a distance, in ‘One Thing Among Many‘.

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You can find the whole project over at www.turningtowards.life, and also as a podcast on all the major podcast platforms.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash