6. How do I stay committed to my values, even during the difficult times?
The Bubble in the Road metaphor
Now we get to the toughest parts of living a life that matters.
It involves staying committing and recommitting to the things we love and value.
Take a look at the pictures below to see how this works.
Imagine that you are a soap bubble, and you are moving along a valued path you have chosen.
Suddenly, another bubble appears in front of you and says "Stop!" You float there for a few moments. . When you move to get around, over, or under the bubble, it moves just as quickly to block your path.
Now you have two choices. You can stop moving in your valued direction, or you can willingly touch the other soap bubble and continue moving forward. Have you noticed how two bubbles, when they contact each other, meld together and continue on as one? The same principle holds here.
Taking the bubble inside you is what we mean by "willingness." The ’bubble’ or barrier, in this case, consists largely of the difficult feelings, thoughts, memories, and sensations you may encounter when moving toward one of your values. The interesting thing about thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations is that they are not solid barriers, like a brick wall, that physically prevent you from moving forward. No doubt, they can appear very solid and very difficult to pass. But what if they can be carried with you while you move in a valued direction
Willingness is not a feeling or a thought. It is an action that answers the question "Will you have me inside you by choice, or will you not." If you continue to fight against or resist distressing thoughts and feelings, you are not being willing. If you allow them to be there on their own terms without fighting them, you are willing.
It’s important to remember all the lessons that you’ve learned about the nature of thoughts and evaluations so far in this program. Willingness involves having your experiences as they are, not as your mind says they are. Our minds throw all kinds of thoughts about our experiences at us. Some of these are descriptions (for example, “my heart’s racing”; “I’m sweating”; I feel afraid”), but many are evaluations like “I can’t bear this feeling any longer”, “I’m too anxious to move forward”, and so on.
So, when your faced with distress and trying to choose whether you’re willing to experience it, notice the thoughts your mind throws at you. Which ones are descriptions? Which ones are evaluations? How much of what you are thinking, no matter how compelling, is ‘just talk’, just words your mind is spitting out. You don’t have to accept the elaborate story your mind weaves around your experiences. You just need to notice the ‘fishy’ nature of that story and take your experience with you—as it is, and not as your mind claims it is.
The Joe-the-Bum metaphor
Willingness is tricky. Often people think that if you are willing to experience distress on the path toward a value, it means you have to like the distress. Other times, people think willingness is something like ‘just putting up with’ distress, ‘grinning and bearing it’, or ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’. It’s none of these things. As willingness is a complicated thing to explain, we’ll use another metaphor to try and get it across.
Imagine that you have just moved in to a new house. You've decided to have a housewarming parting and invite all the neighbors over.
The sign says "everybody's welcome." Well, this includes the neighbourhood bum, Joe, who lives behind the supermarket. Joe is smelly, dirty, loud, and rude.
If he comes into the party, he is likely to be disruptive and unpleasant.
So, you could decide that even though you said everybody was welcome, in reality Joe is not welcome. But as soon as you do that, the party changes. Now you have to be at the front door, guarding the house, and keeping Joe out.
In the meantime, life goes on, the party is going on, and you are spending all your time guarding the house.
The alternative option is to welcome Joe the Bum into the party. You don't have to like him. You don't have to like the way he makes you feel.
But take a look at the costs of not being willing to have him there. When this party started, it was all about living a life you valued. Being with your friends and family, really connecting with them and doing things you enjoy. The more unwilling you are for Joe to be there, the more time you spend trying to keep him out.
The problem is, Joe—like your own distressing thoughts and feelings—is really good at finding a way back in. So very quickly, this party can become less and less about doing what matters to you, and more and more about fighting a losing battle and keeping Joe away.
Try hard to imagine what it would be like to do something like this; “I don’t want Joe here. He really complicates things, and I never invited him. But, in the interest of making this party be about what I value, I’m going to stop spending all this time and effort trying to keep him out. I’m going to give up the fight against Joe---and live my life in a way that matters to me with Joe in plain sight.” This is what we mean by willingness. Dropping your resistance to distress that is already there (and that will likely come and go). Easing into it, and freeing up the energy you were using to fight it to start doing what matters to you.