(This series will be way better read from beginning to end, rather than end to beginning.)

A little context: I’m not mindlessly arguing for relentless, hurried personal change for everyone. That sounds awful. This is a naggy but loving pep talk for people feeling very stuck.

Life is Trouble

Life is a constant struggle between us and any random shit, little or big, that crops up. Some of these struggles are life choices though they don’t seem weighty at that moment. Small choices can be deceptively deep. A metaphorical Sphinx is checking in with you like: “Love or No Love? Past or Future? Fear or Hope?” hundreds of times a day.

The results are navigational data points along your personal trajectory. The important question isn’t what you chose but why you chose it.  Does it point up, down, back, or forward? If you win a fight to stay the same, you learn nothing new and win nothing except a temporary extension of the status quo. But the status quo will inexorably roll forward into change like an unmoored parade float. The change will come but guided by who? With what goal? Maybe we’re just taking our hands off the steering wheel.

In the context of your life struggle, rationalizing standing still is a choice to remain in the shitty room temperature shallows of life where it’s comfortable enough. This is the inertia of the weary, defensive human heart and we know perfectly well that our cover story for this kind of choice is masking something like “I’m rudderless and utterly flat inside”.

Everything better seems too high UP to reach from here. As enthusiastic as we may sound talking about a life choice, we’re often staging an official personal PR release simply to cover the truth: “I’m afraid and this was the least scary option”. Rationalizing downward is choosing to become a slightly worse and smaller version of yourself, moving forward. Slightly worse because you stopped hoping, slightly less because you’ve given up trying. You without hope or determination is you on a slippery slope.

We downward rationalize every day. Sometimes it’s healthy: Holding steady and keeping things together or maybe NOT accepting some exciting risk because it’s dumb and dangerous. More often it means incrementally settling for less and offering less. It gradually lets the air out of the bouncy castles of human hope. If you lack hope you may well conclude that this, this right here, this stupid mess, is as good as it gets, at least for you, then sigh and return to polishing the turd at the center of the problem.

Your life isn’t yet bad enough to get better

Spiritual growth is self-paced and unpredictable. It isn’t hiking up steep cliffs towards perfection. We aren’t machines or angels, we are flawed animals with deep, messy, spiritual lives. Growth is organic, earthy and uneven. It is on its own schedule and has many ups and downs. There are times to do nothing and times for us to explode. Whatever our pathway, we should always be listening to our intuition and emotions for messages from the hidden deep. These soulful messages have a way of getting through the filters, armor, and blinders that protect our self-story. Doing business with your soul is weird because you realize it isn’t identical to every-day you. A strange, independent thing, it chooses its own path and its own time. It is not directly connected to your agenda.

There is a powerful spiritual harbinger of change waxing and waning inside us like a supernatural Lava Lamp. It is Discontent.

Discontent is the pressure gauge of growth and change. It doesn’t come from merely negative, frustrating or boring experiences. Discontent is the count down to change. Discontent is the soul’s measure of how wrong this situation is for you. It is the lit fuse of your marriage, the sagging support timber of your work life. Our self-story about any particular discontent may be a defense of the status quo or a desperate bid to escape it. Whatever our opinion, discontent is like water filling the room, an independent objective fact. It comes with a unique breaking point, followed by the collapse of the unstable structure called your life.

Discontent arises from an insult to the soul’s purpose. It doesn’t always end with a bang, there are far worse things than bang. It might be the lights going out forever in your hope or the last increment of resignation rolling into place within you like a zero on the odometer while your spouse is complaining.

We can easily “fall asleep” within a relationship dynamic. Maybe some challenge we take on is really wrong for us but done in service to some higher good, so we suppress our struggle and find a homeostatic balance point for our discontent. Then we live with it like a dying whale gasping in the background. The frustrating problem is maintained at the “not yet awful enough to change” level. The insidious danger here is that we are so damn good at getting used to things that suck. Long after we gave up on that “higher good” goal we may still be maintaining the balance of our discontent by lowering our hopes and standards. Situations of holding on or staying strong can morph easily into mental slavery to a mere robotic pattern or a codependent story loop. Every time you just resignedly accept this pattern as your life, that’s your flat, dead robotic story kicking your real-life ass. You just got owned by a dull story.

There is only one expert authority on what is right or wrong for your soul. Unfortunately, it’s you: The person with the worst track record on this.

Our maintenance of a failed, ill-conceived, cursed mechanism holding a relationship together is sometimes heroic, even selfless. There may be numerous people quietly relying on you to keep this broken crappy thing working, blissfully ignorant of the fact that you are about to lose your shit for real. Maybe these people are your social circle or your family, maybe their approval matters. These people may look at you with shock and hostility on the day you stop pedaling the bike or turning the crank that powers this fucking mistake. They may judge you viciously. Later, though, some may even thank you, codependency can be all victims and no real bad guys like a human glue trap. From inside, co-dependency seems like a titanic battle of wills between two unique individuals, starkly silhouetted against an angry red sunset. From the outside, it’s just a couple of numbskulls trapped in a machine and too stupid to leave. It’s the Three Stooges slapping each other on an infinite loop.

Here’s what you need to know: Those who are furious at you abandoning your role in the pattern are defending something about their ego, convenience or comfort, something small. You are defending the meaning of your life. They are mad that you stopped sacrificing your life for these shallow, trivial causes. Fuck them. Those are the values of slave-holders. They see you as a means to an end, not as an end in yourself.

Loyalty to our people and guilt at the idea of letting them down can make saving your own soul feel disloyal. But finding a vantage point that reveals your life from a new perspective may even validate the worth of what you’ve been doing. If so you can resume your role with a joy and confidence you never could have had without the new perspective.

If the alternative is true, that you’ve been stuck too long, only this new perspective can truly release you. Imagine that you are Neo and your shitty relationship is The Matrix. Once you truly understand your freedom, the unbeatable Agents Smith, et al have no power. Suddenly, leaving Marvin forever is easy-peasy. Your collective impossibles are revealed as nothing but a cage where you’ve been keeping yourself. This is the moment when you have sufficiently doubted your own story. The only problem may be kicking yourself for taking so long to get here.

This is the time to celebrate, go wild but stay awake.

If you can be vulnerable, accept love, give love, and remain awake you’re golden. Why not be golden?