What do we do when we can’t find an answer to life’s puzzles? Nicole Law offers some tips.
We are hardwired to want to complete, to put the full-stop, to achieve a neat resolution of tasks we are engaged in. It’s the satisfaction we feel when we strike a task off the to-do list or attain a goal we have set ourselves.
While goal-setting in itself is a positive practice, there is also another prerequisite life skill some of us perennially struggle with. The art of leaving a problem, conversation or situation unresolved.
It plays out every day in our lives and we struggle with it, some of us more than others. Waking up and realising an argument we had with a friend or family member is still not settled. Going through the day realising that, despite our best efforts, we may not be able to convince someone to see things from our perspective. Realising we may never be able to establish the type of dynamic we would like, due to factors outside our control.
A lack of resolution or even closure in a given situation can leave us feeling conflicted too. Some of us have the tendency to please others to ‘keep the peace’ at the price of our own autonomy and emotional health. That nagging feeling is normal. Anxiety is a response to a lack of control of our surroundings.
But it becomes unhealthy when it starts to consume us and impacts our ability to make our own choices, even if this might also involve making mistakes. It’s not surprising when people describe anxiety as ‘crippling’. It robs a person of his or her capacity to make conscious decisions without the fear of letting someone down, making them unhappy or triggering displeasure.
While it may be tempting to want to mend a ruptured relationship or give in to an unreasonable demand, I have come to realise that the first step to conscious emotional health is to create and maintain necessary boundaries.
To others, it may seem like a fence or wall but the truth is, boundaries are necessary for all types of relationships, whether it be friendships, family bonds or the love of a romantic partner. Instead of thinking of boundaries as a wall, think of boundaries as a glasshouse which creates the necessary conditions for any relationship to thrive.
There is a protection of one’s inner space and a sense of creating a shared experience which allows both parties to ‘bloom’ under optimal conditions. A greenhouse allows one to adjust the temperature and humidity to enable the plants that reside within it to thrive and flourish. This in effect mirrors our ability to make conscious decisions to preserve our own emotional landscape.
It is difficult to begin, I know. But we start small, through leaving a conversation or argument unresolved. This saves us from being control freaks and can leave some space to God: there are disputes only he can put right and wounds only he can heal. We adopt necessary self-soothing mechanisms to calm our minds and hearts, by taking our mind off the issue at hand. We turn outwards to trusted friends who hold space for us instead of retreating inwards.
The discomfort we feel in this liminal space is perfectly normal. We will wrestle with it and try to make sense of it. The truth is, we may not always be able to come to a satisfactory answer for why things happen the way they do.
The ability to continue to move forward in spite of uncertainty and unanswered questions in our hearts is not innate. We desire to know the deeper reasons behind how events in our lives unfold. I understand what it means to yearn for an answer or a sense of closure. But sometimes it doesn’t come immediately. Sometimes we won’t know for sure in this present life.
I think of all the people who have come and gone in my world and I wish I had a clear answer for what their purpose was within my life’s narrative.
Yet what we can choose to do is to continue to treat others and ourselves with compassion. To understand that the unknowable may intrigue and consume us but learn also to loosen our mental grip on how things should be. Loosen, or at times, simply let go …
Perhaps the challenge today is to sit with the discomfort and to learn to trust ourselves and try to recognise that the winds and waves which buffer our comfort zone also drive us constantly forward.
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