"Wait a minute," Susan said. "Are you saying the best way for me to become successful is to feel more like a failure?"
"At first, yes. Because that sense of failure is what you've resisted for so long. Opening to it is the only way out."
Susan hesitated, then realized there was little to lose. She settled back into her body and the sensations that failure elicited.
"There's sadness," she said, "mostly in my throat. And I feel young. Really, really young." Soon Susan was crying, at first just a few tears, then big, racking sobs. Eventually, the crying subsided, and for the first time I could feel Susan's vitality, her presence. She could, too.
"Okay, now I get it," she said softly. "No more pushing it away. I still feel sad, but also hopeful. More...real."
"What about the job issue?" I asked. "From this place, could you meet your career counselor friend?"
Susan thought about it for a moment, nodded, and we both knew she was on her way. A few months later, I checked in to see how she was doing. "I'm still searching for the right job," she said. "But the sense of failure lifted quickly. It's like I can finally accept my own worth. So, to be honest, the job change doesn't seem as pressing."
For most of us, the first time we shift from resistance to expansion just by accepting what's already happening, there's a similar "aha." Once that occurs, and we're motivated to continue with self-inquiry, we see that we're in some degree of resistance almost all the time. A pounding headache, money woes, other people's opinions—there's no end to what we resist. Everywhere we turn, there's another opportunity to inquire and open.
While no quick fix, Living the Questions is self-inquiry at its most practical and immediate. After a few days of practice, the questions begin to function at a level deeper than language. We no longer need to recite them. Instead they become our essential attitude.
There are, however, three subtle ways to undermine the process. The first is by analyzing—instead of asking what is happening right now, we get stuck trying to figure out why. This creates a false expectation, abetted by our cognitive culture, that understanding feelings will make them go away. Sure there's a time for analysis, but only after we've embraced our emotional reality. Otherwise we struggle to untangle that hose while stepping on it even harder.
The second way to undermine the process is by judging—we decide something is wrong with what's happening. Whether we find fault with others or ourselves, judging is an impediment to presence.
The third way is by bargaining, pretending to be with what's happening in order to make it change as quickly as possible. This attempt to outfox reality bars us from genuine acceptance.
Once we're able to steer clear of analyzing, judging, and bargaining, the questions become a powerful tool for navigating life's challenges. Regarding my marriage, the decision to end it came with complete acceptance about two years after the initial separation. The timing allowed me to take full responsibility for my role in the trauma, gave Lynda the opportunity to find her own healing path, and helped us remain the closest of friends.
Everything I learned on my journey turns out to be nothing new. I stumbled onto an insight at the root of the world's great wisdom traditions: What we resist persists. When we summon the courage to release that resistance, we find joy that endures not in spite of our sorrows, but paradoxically right along with them.
Face Crisis, Change Your Life: