If we had a boat, and it was leaking water, we would want to fix the leak rather than just bail out the accumulated bilge. For the same reason, when we are afflicted with too much annoyance, frustration, and other difficulties, we must eventually work to correct the core problem. Whatever we do to reduce our distress may be helpful, but the long-term solution must involve more than just treating the symptoms.
When we suffer from significant psychic self-destruction, we must look beyond the perception that we are irritated or disappointed. We need to find our “choke points.” Choke points are the expectations, intentions, and beliefs that strangle our ability to recover and move on. A common example would be people who obsess on the fact that they have made a huge mistake. Because they blame themselves for their “unpardonable sin,” they limit their ability to move on from these events. They keep berating their judgment and belittling their worth. Consequently, they crush their capacity to recover or grasp the next good opportunity to rescue what they can from these disasters.
Another common choke point occurs when we put too high a value on being efficient and accurate. This enables us to slip too easily into a judgmental frame of mind that becomes intolerant of mistakes, lapses of behavior, and the failure to complete our tasks perfectly. Such a habit magnifies the flaws in our character and failures in our behavior. Adding obsessiveness to perfectionism will cripple our confidence and ability to be productive.
Probably the most common choke point occurs when we become stuck in blaming key events and people for the great difficulties in our life. When we return again and again to condemning our enemies and adversities for why we are unhappy and less accomplished than we should be, we anchor ourself in resentment. The great block to our progress balloons into monumental proportions. Until we find a more realistic way to understand these events, we will continue to choke on them and remain deeply frustrated. Continual grieving over unmet needs and lost opportunities is another common choke point. When we feel deprived of what we believe we deserve, we can lose ourself in regret and self-pity.
In our imagination we conjure visions of the happiness and achievements we should be enjoying. We conceive of possessing great wealth, popularity, and recognition for our outstanding expertise—if only conditions had been different in our past. But because these circumstances never materialized, we are left with a ruined life and a greatness that cannot be recovered. By believing we are doomed and cursed, we also blight our current strengths and opportunities, and spend a good portion of our day worshipping our horrible past with despair and hopelessness.
The most subtle way to choke our progress is to ignore the Law of Consequences (or karma) that states we will reap the results of what we have done or failed to do. As a result, we often choke our progress by believing we can bypass the need to earn what we want—friendship, trust, money, or respect. Other common ways we ignore this Law is to assume that we can avoid the costs and penalties of our behavior. Magically, we pretend that our rudeness or indifference will not be noticed or held against us; our apathy or laziness will be well accepted by others. Of course, these behaviors will be noticed and will poison our relationships.
The most subtle way we ignore the Law of Consequences is to fail to recognize major ambiguities in our thinking. For example, we may want to be powerful and have lots of authority—but without the responsibility and work that goes with it. We may want to eat all the great tasting food, but not gain weight. Or, we can desire to have lots of friends but fail to act like a good friend to others. We might want to be trusted by everyone, but fail to behave always in a trustworthy manner—or hope to do whatever we want without paying the price for reckless behavior. Lastly, we do not recognize that our failure to act at key moments can have powerful consequences.
These are examples of huge blind spots. When we fail to connect the dots between cause and effect, we fail to recognize which problems are direct results of our own bad choices. This gap in understanding will injure our ability to learn and heal ourself until we recognize what must happen before we will be trusted, befriended, fulfilled, and successful.
When we decide that we have been damaged by all of the abuse, deprivations, and hardships of life, we become unable to appreciate the strengths, skills and opportunities that still remain. Our emotional wounds and shattered confidence dominate our beliefs about everything we attempt to do. Because so many situations have not been favorable to us and so many disappointments have filled our life, we just give up. We retreat into believing we are not good enough. We belittle our skills, knowledge, and other strengths. By being so sunk in despair and feelings of inadequacy, we no longer risk any effort that might fail again and bring more embarrassment and humiliation to us. These attitudes choke any remaining enthusiasm or hope we might have. Thereafter, we are likely to resign ourself to a mediocre life and chronic disappointment.
Many other choke points likewise sustain our suffering and prevent the liberation of the rest of our humanity and spiritual possibilities. However, these examples are sufficient to indicate the way we engage in psychic self-destruction and halt any further prog- ress and healing in our life.
There is an old saying that the bend in the road is not the end for us—unless we fail to make the “turn.” The bend in the road is any hardship we experience or mistake we make. All these events can either cause us to run into a “ditch” of frustration and despair, or cause us to turn our expectations, understanding, and attitudes in a better direction. Failing at an important task can stimulate new energy and creativity to try again in a more effective manner. Losing control and behaving rudely can precipitate a revolution in our capacity for self-control and stronger emphasis on appropriate behavior. The loss of anything important can foster a stronger capacity to appreciate what we have. Our illnesses can deepen our understanding of what we need to do to preserve and build health of mind and body.
“Making the turn” to avoid permanent disaster requires that we look for alternatives to giving up and merely nursing our wounds. Our failures will only be temporary if we learn something from them and keep looking for new opportunities. Our disappointment about mistakes and losses will also be temporary if we appreciate how we can still rescue something from what appears to be a disaster. We just have to view these events as part of our learning curve to know more about what does not work. Such insights clear our path for more intelligent and creative thinking, beliefs, and activities.
This is how we turn choke points into turning points and move on with ever greater insight, strength, and ability. Our greatest growth comes as we solve our problems and struggle successfully with our challenges. Our difficulties will not vanish miraculously, but we can work through them—or go around them or over them—by making full use of our creative intelligence, courage, and determination to do what we can.