Friday, January 19, 2007


After sinking deeper and deeper into a state of being that I think was starting to qualify as genuine depression, I've now had a breakthrough.

Having the breakthrough was not easy. In case anyone is wondering how to have a breakthrough when you need one, I do not have any ready advice, alas. But I can tell you exactly what I did.

First, I stewed for a while, in that way that people stew when they are sinking into depression. It's a dim, feeble kind of stewing. You fret. You get tired of fretting. You fall numb. You look for distraction. You get tired of distraction. You chastise yourself, saying over and over again, "I must face things, figure out what's going on!" You try to face things. When trying does not yield immediate results, you get discouraged and seek distraction again, etc.

My favored method of trying to "face things" is to journal. Sometimes this has an almost magical effect.

But I could tell that I was in a really bad way because it wasn't helping at all this time. I felt I was going around and around in well-worn circles. All I did was put my unproductive fretting on paper.

What did end up helping was talking with trusted friends.

Even this is not guaranteed to work, but the way I approached it this time was that I decided in each of the conversations I had to be perfectly honest about the exact nature of my despair. I gave myself full permission to be tedious and exasperating. I wasn't going to try to be positive, upbeat, or poetic. I was going to just lay out the full ugliness of my state of being, as awkwardly and messily as would do it true justice. If that meant grumpiness, long silences, or even (gasp) speaking unkindly of myself or others, so be it.

It is nice that I have friends I can trust in this way!

Both of the people I talked with recognized that this was new of me, and that it must mean that I am seriously worried, and they rose to the challenge. They strove with me. They entered into my state of being and explored it with me.

And that was what helped precipitate my breakthrough. Both told me that they sensed that I was blocked by something, and challenged me to really try to get to the heart of what was blocking me.

And in reflecting later (in my journal now again) on these conversations, I suddenly finally saw what I needed to see.

Here is my current crisis: In almost every dimension of my life right now, I am being challenged to establish a new kind of relationship with people -- a relationship of a kind that I resist with all my being. Almost everything in my life is stalled unless I can learn how more effectively to (a) ask people to do things, and/or (b) call people into higher levels of accountability. These are closely related.

I'd so much rather leave people alone to determine for themselves what they need to do. I would rather be patient, accepting, supportive, encouraging, and appreciative. I want to be the person that others come to for acceptance, kindness and inspiration.

But what is happening in my life is that this is not working at the moment. Right now, for me (I do not want to believe that this is the case in general, for everyone), my gentle patience and kindness are giving others a good excuse to ignore me and my requests. It is not really personal. They all like me well enough, and believe in what they have agreed to do. It's that their lives are busy and complex, and, well, they just haven't had time to get to what I've asked them to do.

But when I see how this same story repeats everywhere I turn, and is the explanation for everything that feels stalled in my life, I cannot help but notice that the common denominator in all of these situation is -- me.

This was how I realized that I am being called to a new challenge. Everything in my life brings me to learn this next new thing: how to command respect; how to get people to take me and my requests more seriously; how to motivate people to act.

This is so very hard for me. It's hard for me to ask for help. It's even harder for me to insist that others follow through.

I know that this is not hard for everyone, but it is almost impossibly hard for me!

I have tried every technique of motivation/inspiration that I could think of: appealing to noble ideals; pointing out the ways it would be good for them.

And now what I am brought to is to try one more technique that I have ignored and resisted: to try to persuade people by appealing to myself. I need people to help me. I am worth taking seriously. I need respect. My judgment about the importance and value of these projects is worth trusting.

It's not that it's really all about me. It's not.

And yet, somehow, I am being called to assert myself now in these relationships.

Like I keep saying, this is very very hard for me, but it feels important. I feel like I am being called to assert my presence in the world, and my importance, in ways I have tried to resist all my life. I have, in general, lived a fundamentally apologetic existence. "Sorry for taking up space on this planet!"

But the truth is, I am a gift of God.

So is everyone else.

For me not to live true to that truth about myself is just as bad as my denying that truth about anyone else.

Or, maybe it is even worse. We each have a special relationship with ourselves, and a special responsibility to ourselves. The person best qualified to know who you most truly are, and what you have to give to the world, is yourself.

As was pointed out in this link that Johan Maurer left for me in a recent comment, the world is not on its own going to make room for me and what I have to offer. I've reached a crucial point in my life where I need others to be working with me as I try to bring forth my own vision more fully. I have been expecting them to leap on board not only with the enthusiasm they in fact have shown, but with a willingness to follow through in helping me in the ways that they have promised. They mean well, but after the initial enthusiasm, the actual follow-through of doing the work falls away.

How to keep that energy alive and productive is what I need to learn to do. I need to learn a new way of keeping myself present in their lives in a way that calls them to higher levels of accountability.

Now that I see this clearly, even though I find it daunting and hard, I can see the value of figuring out how to do this. Seeing the exact nature of my present challenge helps me to know how to look for my way forward again.

Wish me well. I need all the help I can get with this one!


  1. Over on my blog I've been writing about vision and recently I wrote about how the source of continuing inspiration lies in sharing vision with others. The sharing of vision has to be renewed from time to time and that requires getting back to the source. We have to find and hold onto like-minded f/Friends and get them to tell us their stories and get them to listen to our stories. The bottom line is that we can never feel or be truly alive if we are not connected with others. This idea seems to be popping up all over the Quakerblogosphere at the moment. People are talking about how they need and are excited when they find real spiritual intimacy.

  2. Oh, Scholar! So many of your posts invite us into a deeper level of honest reflection.

    Here's how this one connected with me: In one of my social settings, several people feel put down by one particular other person. I've not had the same experience, but I can see how it could be possible for them. However, rather than simply sympathizing, it's been my leading that I need to challenge them to take up the space that they're entitled to.

    So, of course, I am now considering how my advice applies to me.

  3. Scholar,
    We are so often taught about it being more blessed to give than to receive that we do not recognize that selfishness can be a spiritual discipline. Not greed but the selfishness that recognizes our needs as important, too. The selfishness that does good things because they make us feel good or more connected. It is the selfishness that takes satisfaction in being faithful because that is rewarded in the heart, and does not look to the result because that is not in our hands.

    Will T

  4. I cannot help but notice that the common denominator in all of these situation is -- me.

    Yes, yes, yes! Glad you stayed with the despair, the fretting, and the depression long enough to get to some of these important openings. And I'm glad you stretched yourself to make yourself more vulnerable with a few trusted friends.

    These days, I myself am practicing affirming, "God, thank you for showing me what I need to know in a gentle, slow way that I can handle." I just have been feeling down and bleah, so I know something new is preparing to emerge. I just don't want it to knock me off my feet, is all!

    Thanks for taking the time to go into such detail... for taking up the (cyber)space you need!

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  5. Thank you all for your wonderful, reassuring, and encouraging comments! I'm about to post a new update...