It’s day two in the ‘It’s an Illusion, Michael’ series. While I’ve brainstormed quite a list of illusions that have affected or currently affect my life, I figure the best way to start the conversation the on specific deceptions we believe to our detriment is to settle in and be very authentic. So, I’m jumping in with the illusion that has been the bane of my existence for the past week or so: the illusion of ‘supposed to be’.
Pat Jobe, a UU minister and the author of some incredible books, once told me to remember that in a fight between me and reality, reality will win 100% of the time. What he meant by that is I can whine, and cry, and wail, and shake my fists in anger that reality didn’t match up with what I thought should happen, but my fit is never ever ever going to change the fact that reality is what is regardless of my feelings on the subject. While I have worked to espouse and embrace this truth, last week I got caught up in one hell of a fight with reality. I found myself repeating “This isn’t how it is supposed to be” in my head and sometimes out loud as tears streamed down my face. Although my higher, wiser self kept whispering to me, “You cannot fight reality and win,” I wasn’t interested in listening to my higher, wiser self. I nursed my pain and anger over the loss of what was ‘supposed to be’, refusing to accept what actually was.
This battle between ‘supposed to be’ and reality was what sparked my interest in doing a series on the illusions we often unwittingly cling to without realizing how much pain they cause us in the long run. In my situation last week, there were two kinds of pain present. There was the pain actually caused by what happened and then there was the pain caused by me consistently comparing what happened to what I thought should have happened instead. I was compounding the problem by spending my energy fighting reality instead of accepting it and working on solutions. It was perfectly normal for me to feel sadness, loss, and bewilderment when I was not-so-happily surprised by a drastic turn of events. In fact, I believe embracing those feelings and admitting I felt them instead of hiding them was emotionally healthy. Even the disappointment I felt was natural and understandable. Where I went wrong was in the wallowing, the bitterness, the anger that life had dared to throw me for a loop.
As I witnessed first-hand, ‘supposed to be’ is a poison that will creep in and steal from us. It will steal our time and the energy we need to accept what is when what is is unexpected. It will rob us of the gift of authentic relationships if we decide we know who people are ‘supposed to be’ rather than loving them for who they are. ‘Supposed to be’ will swindle us out of a joyful life if we don’t learn to recognize its whispers and counter its sweet words of self-pity with the truth that reality wins every time and so we might as well stop fighting against it. This doesn’t mean we will never feel pain, anger, grief, loss, or disappointment. Those feelings go hand in hand with being human. But learning to let go of ‘supposed to be’ will guard us against bitterness, defeat, and that self-indulgent pity we so easily recognize when we see it in others.
Why do we cling to ‘supposed to be’? In my particular case, I think I held on to it dearly because focusing on how it was ‘supposed to be’ kept me from having to deal with the scary side of my new reality. Tough decisions had to be made, decisions that meant my comfortable life was about to get a whole lot less comfortable. I used ‘supposed to be’ to delay those decisions, to protect myself from the unpleasant tasks at hand. But hiding behind ‘supposed to be’ was cowardice and, if I had continued to do it, I would have been miserable. What I used for protection was actually hurting me and my relationships. In giving up ‘supposed to be’ and accepting, even reluctantly embracing my new reality, I discovered a sense of peace in the midst of upheaval. I became part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I’m still scared and I still don’t like the changes that had to take place, but my disillusioned spirit feels strong, capable, and even joyful.