- Jonn Kares
Refusing the Messenger Is a Real Pain
When I was pretty young I used to spend countless hours trying to find that place between on and off on a light switch. I'd flick the switch up and the light would go on. Flip it down and the the light would go off. Back and forth between only these two options, on or off. But midway on the switch's journey up and down there was this invisible middle area where nothing seemed to happen. I couldn't help wondering "what goes on THERE?" The more I tried to find this illusive between-spot the more curious I became.
I ached with curiosity. As I flipped that switch I became more and more taunted by this possibility defined so sharply by the inexorable reality of there just being only the two visible worlds of on and off. And the more the days passed, my curiosity and wonder transformed into frustration and contempt. I felt increasingly violated and disempowered being prevented from learning the secret of this tantalizing space between the two opposites. I grew to hate that light switch.
I of course was curious about a lot of other things at that time of life. Five-year olds are nothing but balls of wonder. As I moved on to explore other mysteries my interest in and feelings about the mystery of the light switch faded, ultimately allowing myself to simply benefit from its pure utility. I noticed all the other light switches I tested all worked the same way, just on and off, all delivering the same message of there being no in-between space.
I finally let that message get through. And that light switch no longer hurt me.
That happened because I changed what I thought about it. My painful feelings about it faded as I focused on other things to study capturing my attention.
The purpose of discomfort is to get our attention. To make us aware of something we might need or want to change. If we allow it to serve its purpose, allow it to completely deliver its message, discomfort fades back into nothingness, being replaced by a whole new set of feeling messages. It is the blocking out of these in-the-moment messages that is what we get to experience as pain. We are mistaking the messenger for its message, and by resisting the message we make the messenger more and more of a fixed undesired unwelcome guest.
Have you ever hit your thumb when hammering a nail. Yup, it hurts. Very loudly. It really gets your attention. And the instinctive reaction is to try to block out this sudden burst of feeling energy (not to mention the blow to your pride for being so stupid). We grab the screaming hand with other and thrust it away from our body, trying to exile it from our experience. And the more you thrust it away the more the intensity of the pain continues. The last thing we think to do is allow ourselves to fully accept what it is we are denying. It just hurts too much.
But a funny thing happens when you do. When you force yourself to relax and focus your attention on the pain and allow its moment to be experienced the hurt instantly begins to subside. All the flashing lightening bolts in your head disappear and you can begin to calmly assess what the damage to your thumb might be. You realize not trying to feel your throbbing thumb had only made it hurt more.
One of the first acts of Self-Leadership is choosing where to put your attention. And choosing to not pay attention to messages coming your way you want to refuse is a way of leading yourself to pain. No surprise Self-Leadership gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list when this self-protective habit of refusing the messenger is allowed to run your life.
Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable and your world can, and will, change. In the most unexpected ways.
Including doors opening to renewed curiosity and wonder.
To this day, from time to time, I still hope to ultimately discover that magic place between on and off. Don't you?