In a recent interview, a famous and prolific author was asked whether he wrote only when he was inspired, or if he wrote on a regular schedule. He answered that of course, he only wrote when he was inspired. “However,” he commented, “fortunately, inspiration comes every morning at 7:30.”
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have to write. On one hand, it would be nice to enjoy an income from my work, but, on the other hand, it’s somewhat frightening to think of what life would be like if my livelihood depended on inspiration showing up on a regular basis every week or — perish the thought — every day. But it doesn’t, so, when inspiration decides to take a brief vacation, so do I! In fact, I’ve only published one article for the whole of last month.
But now, inspiration has returned, and it’s time to make sure that it sees the light of day. I was thinking this morning about what an incredible wuss I was was I was a boy. I remember once running out of the doctor’s office and locking myself in my mother’s car when they told me I was due for a booster shot. I wouldn’t let her back in until she promised not to let that happen to me. Pain (or the mere prospect of pain) scared the hell out of me. Telling a kid like me to “buck up” or “be a man” would not have helped: I would still have locked you out of the car. So what happened that took me from that terrified little boy to a guy who can walk barefoot over gravel?
For me, it all started with my allergies. In order to be able to breathe in the open air, I needed desensitizing shots. It was amazing that, after the first couple of weekly injections, I quickly became familiarized with the sensation and it lost its capacity to scare me. Once I was no longer afraid of it, I realized that the mild discomfort that I experienced from the needle was really not much of anything at all. I changed my mind about the experience, reinterpreted the sensation, and now, when I have to get a shot or have some blood drawn, I no longer think of it as pain, but as just a momentary discomfort. The experience was transformed by how I thought about it.
Could this transformation have happened by force from the outside: for example, being told not to be such a baby or being called a wuss or a coward? No, that sort of ‘encouragement’ would only have made things worse and driven the fear up to the level of terror or panic. Using the ‘boot camp’ approach might yield some results with some kids, but God knows what results it would have hielded for me: it would only have made things worse. Could I have benefited from some outside help or encouragement? You bet! What most likely would have worked for me as a child would have been coaching: being encouraged to change my mind about what I was experiencing.
As an adult, we gain the potential for self-coaching. We’re able to acquire the capacity to change our world by changing how we think about our world. We get to ask ourselves the critical question (that I was not yet capable of asking myself as a boy): “Is what I’m experiencing really physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain, or is it fear? To be honest, I was just tempted to write “just fear” a second ago, but, fear is never just fear. It always has the potential to hurt and to cause unbearable panic (what we call an “emotional hijacking”). We must never underestimate the immeasurable power of fear, even while we’re creating measures to deal with it.
Here’s what I learned as an adult in midlife transition: it’s all about how you define your experiences. At around age 50, I realized that what other people thought of me was none of my business. Years before, I had spent almost an entire year shoeless — something I never got enough of as a shy, over-protected boy. The positive effects of going barefoot are only now getting some general acceptance (more and more people are running barefoot even in marathons: something I’ve been doing for over a decade), but these benefits were just icing on the cake for me. It gave me physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pleasure: something that I had lived much of my life trying to avoid. There was one issue, though: what about walking on hot surfaces, cold surfaces and gravel?
First of all, let me say that it makes no sense to do anything that would certainly cause physical harm. Blisters, frostbite and cuts are always a possibility. However, after many, many years of walking and running barefoot in all kinds of weather and on all sorts of surfaces, I have not (yet) experienced any of those things. I take care of myself, even though I wear shoes only about as often as I wear a tie. Staying aware is the key. Certainly getting acclimatized to different environments is important, but not neraly so important as your mental attitude.
I read a book by a full-time, long-term barefooter who introduced me to the idea of sensation as texture. Reinterpreting my sense of hot, cold, and sharp allowed me to set aside the fear (the same kind of fear I had of needles as a boy) and sense only what was really there: texture and, at the extremes, some discomfort. This means using my awareness to avoid letting discomfort turn to damage. I was then able to translate those lessons into the rest of my life. I have learned to discern the difference between discomfort and fear and I’ve learned to experience my life at a much deeper level than ever before and to see what I experience as it really is, rather than through a fearful lens. Should you become a full-time barefooter? Of course, I think that would be wonderful. However, you don’t have to do that to learn a very important life lesson that will serve you exceptionally well at midlife: You can change you world by changing your mind.
Reactive decisions get us into trouble. We make reactive decisions out of fear. Fear comes from a mental confusion between discomfort and disaster. Regardless of what we may face in this life be it illness, joblessness, financial ruin, unendurable relationships, loss of loved ones, even death itself — all of it is just another texture of life. We want to use our awareness and discernment to make the wisest choices possible and avoid real harm, yet pain is unavoidable. It comes to us as an invitation to make changes and to do things differently. Or, in the guise of death, it comes to invite us into the next phase of our personal adventure.
What are the “textures” that you’re facing in your own life right now? Do you trust yourself and the love of your Higher Power that, regardless of what happens, you’ll be OK? If so, what are you afraid of? What are you doing right now that’s like locking yourself in the car to avoid a shot in the arm? What are you avoiding that a simple change of attitude could transform into a moment of grace? I know of people who get out of bed into slippers and then sit down on a chair, take off their slippers and immediately put on their shoes; only to reverse the process at night. Their feet never touch the ground. They never get to experience the texture (and the self-awareness) that comes from full-contact walking. How about you? Wanna get your feet dirty?
H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
Copyright © 2010 H. Les Brown