When you want to solve an intractable problem, you probably do what I do: dwell, ruminate and obsess. Yet I’ve noticed that when I’m frantically seeking a solution to a difficulty, I rarely receive one. Yet this does not translate to: “Since I don’t know what to do about my [job search/medical condition/insane schedule], I’m going to do nothing.” Giving up gets you nowhere.
But if madly scrambling for a solution isn’t helpful….and giving up won’t do…what’s left?
There’s a middle way between striving and passivity. It’s called active receptivity. It means that you work toward a solution while opening yourself to receive the unexpected. Problem-solving is an art, and art is a receptive process. It is akin to conceiving a child…one part science and two parts mystery.
Let’s talk about how you can cultivate active receptivity in your life.
First and foremost: “Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.”
(Because if Liz Gilbert puts it on the first page of Eat, Pray, Love…then baby, that’s the first thing I’ll say.)
The foundation of many a problem is a failure to acknowledge your truth in a given situation. Deep down, you know your truth…yet hearing it requires listening. To wit: when I was in an annual planning meeting with Paul* (a member of L’Arche who has intellectual disabilities) I heard a whisper of truth that has stayed with me since.
A bit of background: planning meetings are held to create an individual’s support plan (ISP). ISPs are required for people with intellectual disabilities who receive Medicaid Waiver services. The ISP helps a person sets goals important to and important for them, and ensures they’ll get support to reach those goals. Behind the bureaucracy of the format, it’s actually a very cool process.
Before the goal-setting starts, the person shares how they’re feeling about each area of their life. Paul was asked, “What do you like about living at L’Arche?”
“The freedom,” he said, very softly. “I like the freedom.”
Paul needs significant social supports, and his caregivers limited his freedom in the past. We do our best to support him at L’Arche, but there are days when Paul’s problems seem to loom larger than the love we have for him. I hoped L’Arche had been a place of freedom for him, but until that moment, I honestly wasn’t sure.
But when he spoke his truth, I had no doubt.
I challenge you to sit quietly, while holding the problem you’re struggling with lightly in your mind. Listen for whispers of truth.
Next, try a different route.
At Paul’s planning meeting, we brainstormed different possible jobs for him. It was clear that he wanted something new, but he wasn’t wedded to one type of employment. He was open to possibilities.
An attitude of experimentation empowers you to be patient, waiting for one small action.
When faced with a challenging conundrum, give yourself time to think, process and breathe. In our fast-food, fast-track world, a little patience goes a long way. Patience (with the universe and with yourself) puts you way ahead of the pack.
As Roland Merullo writes in A Little Love Story: “…If you just let your mind scamper around the fences for awhile, you see one small action you might take– a word, a shift in tactics. You tug on the knotted-up ball of string once, here, and things begin to loosen.”
For you, this might mean making an appointment that you’ve been putting off, or taking an honest look at your schedule and saying no to some things.
Let me tell you about a “knotted-up ball of string” that loosened in my life.
I’ve been wanting to connect with you, my readers, on a more personal level. To give back. To help you take care of yourself.
But for the longest time…I. had. no. idea. how.
I wrote down ideas and rejected them. I did idea-generation exercises, and…nada. So I:
- told the truth: I don’t have an idea now, and that’s hard to accept
- kept my mind open, and brainstormed with friends
- put the lists aside for a week, and waited
It was as though this idea had its own hatching time, one that I couldn’t control. I could only hope to facilitate the process.
Then, this past Saturday, I woke up full of energy. I sat down at my computer. I wrote about self-care for caregivers, and working 1-on-1. I wrote about my experience at L’Arche. As I wrote, the outline of an idea emerged from the fog of frustration.
I wrote until I was sure. Until a new page materialized, until the excitement within me was brim-full. Then I went out and ran four miles. And went for a walk. And a bike ride. (Oh yes, I was sore the next day.)
The idea, in a nutshell: I’m going to facilitate a support planning process for you, my readers. I’m going to utilize my experience to create unique plans for you. I’m going to foster the process that helped Paul speak his truth.
This idea-generation process has been messy, painful and a bit out-of-control…
but then, I hear, so is giving birth.
*Names have been changed.