“A bit beyond perception’s reach
I sometimes believe I see
That life is two locked boxes
Each holding the others key.” Piet Hein.
BEYOND PERCEPTION’S REACH is a collection of brief thoughts and reflections on the complexities and challenges of life’s mysteries. The inspiration comes from Piet Hein’s short poem suggesting that the answers to many of the “big” questions we have about our lives may be unattainable.
Piet Hein was a Danish Mathematician and Poet whose short poems or “grooks” mused about our search for meaning and purpose beyond the superficial and external trappings of existence. Is the meaning of our life just like the puzzle of those “two locked boxes”? Ultimately, could the key to life’s mystery be locked away in another box, in a different dimension, beyond human reasoning?
Every week the BEYOND PERCEPTION’S REACH blog will explore some of the questions and personal challenges we face in our uncertain and confusing world. How do we bring a bit more joy and fulfillment to our “one wild and precious lives”? At times it seems we are so busy making a living, that we lose sight of how to make a life worth living. Many of the blogs will be based on my Personal Development courses, which have been running at Queen’s University Belfast since 2007 as part of their Open Learning Programme, and my experience as a professional business and life coach.
They aim to help readers live their core values; develop their skills, abilities and potential and clarify their broad life purpose. The blogs seek to be thought provoking and inspiring with the emphasis on taking practical and achievable steps towards living our best possible life. The purpose is about discovering what makes us come alive and about responding to that discovery, by aligning our life with what we love and value. They are intended as a practical guide for learning some of life’s important lessons such as: Gaining Clarity; Identifying Priorities; Setting and Achieving Goals; Mindfulness; Self-Care; Managing Fear; Developing Courage to Cope with Uncertainty and the Resilience to get back up, every time we fall down.
Fragility and uncertainty are woven into the fabric of every precious life.
Every day is a journey into things unseen and unknown, yet we rarely think about what is beyond the reach of our senses and understanding until the unforeseen and unexpected happens to us. Deadly viruses, like coronavirus, are not visible to the human eye and until recently it was unknown to us. But uncertainty is ever present in all our lives. It lurks in a place, beyond perception’s reach, giving rise to fear and worry. Worry is a bit like a rocking chair. It gives us something to do, but doesn’t get us anywhere. There is no feeling that can take over our lives more suddenly or more completely than fear. Fear is entirely natural and shouldn’t be denied, especially in these uncertain times. Fear has evolved, in our brains, as a threat-detection system to help us survive. It is like a “warning” light that appears on our car’s dashboard. It alerts us to take action and address issues, while proceeding with caution towards our destination.
In times of uncertainty, the first step is to acknowledge and validate our fear, rather than avoiding it.
A useful way to acknowledge any fear is by personalising it. Talk and reason with your fear as if it was a friend or colleague. Start by facing up to it by establishing an assertive, adult working relationship with the voice of fear. Assure fear that you recognise and value the important role it plays in your survival. But also recognise, fear can be a terrible liability when left to its’ own devices. It often gets carried away and instead of motivating, it ends up terrifying us! Fear never really goes away and wants to control and dominate. It is always there, looking out to keep us safe and seeking to motivate us. But if we allow fear to run the show, we end up in a state of panic. The secret is to learn how to use fear, instead of allowing fear to use us. This requires the inner qualities of hope and courage. Fear will hold us prisoner, but hope and courage can set us free.
Step 2 is acceptance. Accept that many things are beyond our control and bad things happen. The mystery of pain and suffering is beyond our understanding. In the words of Paul Simon ” God only knows. God has a plan. The information is unavailable to mortal man”.
Accepting things we cannot change is difficult, but acceptance is needed for us to move forward.
Acceptance does not mean resignation or that the situation won’t change or can’t be changed.
Although we cannot change what has happened, we can choose how we respond.
Rather than wringing our hands in despair, it is better to wash them carefully and often!
Acceptance allows us to heal, recover and grow from whatever life throws at us.
Step 3, in coping during uncertain times, is showing resilience and adapting to changed circumstances. Perhaps facing up to difficulty with resilience is one of the most defining attributes of the human spirit. We need resilience to survive the storms of life. It is the quality that enables us to grow through adversity and become stronger. Resilience is an inner quality that we can only really develop during the difficult and uncertain times. It is impossible to become resilient without challenge or when everything is going our way. Unfortunately, resilience cannot be ordered online. Instead, uncertain times present the ideal opportunity for us to develop a resilient mind-set, not the good times. History proves we are immensely resilient. Our survival instincts are very strong. Bad things happen, That’s the way it is. But we are also designed to bounce back and grow in strength.
There are always opportunities and positives in challenging and uncertain times if we can use fear rather than allow fear to use us; accept there are things we cannot change and develop the courage and the resilience to change the things we can.
(c) Dr Denis McBrinn