In an earlier article, I began writing about some positive adjectives that I want you to appropriate as descriptive of your practice. I started with the story of Atlas, who teaches us about endurance. And I wrote about four different elements of endurance for you to act on in your practice.
In this article, I will share about a type of endurance that is bigger and broader than what Atlas taught us. This type of endurance is thanks to Prometheus, who was Zeus's first cousin. Prometheus loved humanity. Zeus? Not so much. Zeus would have just as soon not been bothered by us; he would have just as soon wiped us out. But Prometheus was different; he loved all living creatures on the earth.
So, Prometheus gave some of the animals the gift of speed and he gave other animals the gift of extreme sight or extreme hearing. And then he got to mankind, but because he didn't really have an order to how he doled out all these gifts, he didn't have anything left.
Prometheus loved mankind more than he loved all the other creatures on the earth and he wanted to give us a very special gift, so he had a real problem. He went to the secret place of the gods where their secret power resides, and he went to where the gods stored their fire.
Up to that point, mankind did not have fire and without fire they couldn't forge weapons. Without fire, they could not branch out into new territories where fire was necessary for their survival. Without fire, they couldn't cook all kinds of food. Without fire, humanity would not have survived.
Thanks to Prometheus and his gift of fire, humanity endured. We didn’t endure because of our creativity or our ingenuity. Ultimately, humanity endured because of fire.
I need you to think fire. I need you to remember fire. And every time you think about fire, I want you to think about the Phoenix. I want you to think about what the Phoenix represents – the resilience that extends far beyond endurance.
Endurance means that I will sustain what I've already built, and I will sustain it in a way that endures beyond all of the obstacles. But what if everything seems to be gone? What if everything seems to fail? What if nothing seems to go right? Forget endurance. I can't even get the globe up off the ground and above my shoulders.
Have you ever felt this way?
Whether it's something from life or something from our practices, we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. We probably are dealing with situations our clients have no idea about. Sometimes, our family members have no idea. And under all of that weight, when we feel like everything is going to fall apart any given second, somehow we have to stay the hero. And the only way we can do that is if there's something inside of us.
I’m going to talk to you now not as practitioners, I'm going to talk to you as people. If there is something in you, the person who has chosen to be a practitioner, that is resilient, you can survive through all of the fires of life like the Phoenix survives the fire of its death. You can be born anew constantly inside of yourself and, as a result, endure and sustain as a human and as a practitioner.
Storms and Trials
Let’s talk a little bit about the fires. They come and they are inevitable. There are three places when it comes to the fires and the storms and the trials in your life. And you are in one of those three places.
First place, you’re in the fire. You are in one right now as you read this article. As a matter of fact, you don't know how you can possible read for one more minute, because you don't know how you possibly can with everything you are facing.
Second place, maybe you are just now coming out of one of those storms or trials in your life. Hopefully, that fire has been a Phoenix element for you and you have been rejuvenated.
And now I have a hard dose of reality for you. If you're not currently in a fire and you are not just coming out of one... here it comes... you're about to go into the fire.
Have the right expectations.
You need to set the right expectations for the whole of life on planet Earth. Humanity is messy; you are messy. Everybody that you interact with in your entire life is messy - your kids are messy, spouse, significant others, clients, coworkers. We are a bunch of messy people working with messy people. We hurt each other whether we plan to or not.
And some people are so messy that they plan their messiness.
If you recognize that this is not a pessimistic view of humanity and that it is an appropriately realistic view of humanity, then you will set the right expectations. I'm going to enter into a relationship with this person personally or professionally and they are going to hurt me. OK. Am I ready for that? I'm not going to be hypervigilant, not like I'm just waiting for the other shoe to fall. Instead, I'm going in with my eyes wide open and knowing what I've signed up for.
You're signing up for the scars. There's a really cool singer, Rich Mullins, who was challenged by someone who said they were tired of relationships because they got wounded so much. His answer was, “Aren't we supposed to have scars at the end of our lives?” He followed it up with this, which is even more powerful, “And if we don't, what kind of life did we live?
Set the expectation that life is messy, people are messy, and you’re messy. Sometimes you start the fire and sometimes somebody else starts the fire and then you just have to get in there and work the fire together. This isn't a pessimistic view. Instead, it gives you the tool set you need so that disillusionment, discouragement and surprise don’t overwhelm you when you're trying to get through that fire.
Give up justice.
Here is another thing to be a person of resilience, give up justice. It just doesn't exist in this world. I’m sorry, I wish I had a better answer. Our justice system is actually one of the best on the entire planet and look at it. I'm glad it's the best on the planet, but look at it.
Justice is elusive. Even justice in one-on-one relationships is elusive. You're never going to get the apology that person owes you. You're never going to get the money they stole. You’re never going to get the years back where they lied to you. NEVER. I'm sorry, but you're not.
We have a choice. How do I respond to the fire? Do I let it consume me or, like the Phoenix, do I let it refine me so that I emerge from it fresher, newer, more vibrant, more prepared to go into the next relationship? Because your scars aren't ugly things, your scars are learning lessons that allow you to be better in the next relationship, stronger as a person. It gets back to the old cliché - what doesn't kill me, makes me stronger. So cancel the debt.
Years ago, some men stole my car. We went to court for trial and as I sat in front of the judge, I looked at the men and I listened to them. They had been to AA because they were drunk when they stole it; they were trying to get their lives back together. Their wives were there; their little bitty kids were there. The judge was about to rule that they had to pay me a sum of money, which to me was large at the time. I knew they didn't have the money, but even if they had it, they were trying to get their lives back together and they had small children to feed. I said to the district attorney, “They don't need to pay me anything. You can handle whatever is between the state of North Carolina and them, but they don't have to pay me anything.”
When the judge ruled, he said, “Let it be known, the plaintiff forgives the debt.” And it occurred to me at that moment, that forgiveness is not an emotion. Forgiveness is a choice, because at that moment all I wanted was my car back. At that moment, all I wanted was for them to undo what they had done to me. My emotions didn't dictate my situation, my choice did.
Here’s the really interesting thing. Once I made the choice, the emotion changed. If you're a person that stops seeking justice and starts choosing forgiveness, then you will be resilient.
Be intensely others-focused.
The more inwardly focused you are, the more the fire burns at the core of you instead of burning off the outside bad stuff. It consumes the Phoenix from the inside and destroys the Phoenix. Instead, be others-focused.
You may say, “Joe, I don’t have the strength to even deal with my own problems and you're asking me to focus on somebody else's?” Yes. Because there’s something very strange that happens in human relationships.
No matter how bad it is, no matter how much time you lose to be able to deal with your own problems, something about choosing to focus on others gives you resilience. It rejuvenates you. It gives you energy. Take the time to step out of yourself for a moment and step in to the needs of others.
Live in the present.
There is this crazy, crazy thing where reality intersects my life. I've got a name for it - and you might want to copy/paste this, because it's a Joe original - when reality intersects life, I call that... “now.” The only reality ever is now. What happened yesterday is non-reality. What's going to happen tomorrow is non-reality.
The secret to resilience is to live in the present. You're not consumed with worry about the future. I've got a great little line for you, a little essential idea. “Worry is the interest paid on borrowed trouble.” That resonates well, right? Most of what we worry about doesn't even come true. We manufacture this whole pseudo-reality where the vast majority of it never even intersects our present; it never becomes now. But we have lived under the weight of it for so long that not only can we not endure, but we will never become resilient. Stop paying the interest on that borrowed trouble. Start spending the cash of now.
And as far as the past, guilt? Guilt is also not reality. Are you feeling guilty because someone else thinks they have the power to heap guilt on you? Their un-forgiveness of you does not give them the power to make you guilty. Don't give them that power. They don't have that power and your past doesn't have that power. Remember? It's not real.
You go, “Wait a minute, Joe. What about the hurt? Because the hurt I feel now from the past is real.” Yes, that hurt is real. And it's the stuff that scars are made from and we've already talked about those scars. Remember? Those are our friends.
So what is resilience?
Resilience is all about changing - not your circumstances, because often in life you cannot change your circumstances. But let me tell you what you can always do, if you have the will to do it. You can always change your perspective to your circumstances, and the resilient person keeps that perspective.