Leap Year

Leap at the chance. By leaps and bounds. A leap in the dark. Leap to conclusions. Leap from one thing to the next. Leap of faith. The number of idioms in English referring to the action of springing through the air from one point to another suggests the concept holds importance. Indeed, leaping is important to me these days, for this is my leap year. This is the year I take the leap into full-time private practice. Leaping with me are my thoughts and feelings about this change. Some of them are in favor of action, and some of them are warning me not to do it. I am tempted to buy into the thoughts and feelings, even though I know they are ill-equipped for this situation. There is a crowd of them, all clamoring for attention, all proclaiming to know the Truth. Fortunately, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy offers an alternative approach.

In order to leap, one has to be willing to leave the ground entirely. Leaping is exhilarating. The feeling of being aloft is what flying might be like. Leaping is also scary. The ground might not be there when you descend. At the least, you know you will land somewhere else than where you started, on new territory as it were. Exhilaration and fear, though, are equally unreliable measures of the worth of leaping. Each is in service of its agenda. If I choose exhilaration, then any experience that is not exhilarating has to be rejected. The same for fear–any message that does not support fear must be ignored. I might turn to the myriad thoughts my mind generates about leaping. Thinking about leaping, though, will only lead to my mind following its nature and making leaping into a problem to solve. My mind will start comparing, contrasting, judging, and so on. That will not lead to action either. The alternative, then, is acceptance–not giving in to the struggle, rather opening up to exhilaration, fear, thoughts, and all the rest of the glorious mess that is being human. Having the experience without getting stuck in the thoughts and feelings about the experience.

According to one of my favorite Buddhist authors, Pema Chodron:

It’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for that is freedom—freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.  
From Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, pages 6-7.

 This description sums up the Acceptance part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. There is freedom in leaving the ground, i.e., going into private practice full-time. The mind, its job being to protect and plan for problems, rails against leaping. “A regular paycheck is secure.” “You won’t be able to manage all the complexities of running your own business.” “This will be a lot of pressure and very stressful.” “What if you fail?” “What if you succeed and you have to keep up with it?” When I can accept that this is my mind doing what it is supposed to do, I free myself to choose to place my attention elsewhere, namely on taking action while having uncertainty.

In order to engage meaningful action, I use my values–the personal qualities that align with how I want to be in the world. For me, the primary value that guides my choices around career is creating genuinely. Work for me is an expression of who I am through what I do. When I sit with a client, pay attention to just that other person, show up without judgment and with an open heart, and honor the relationship by offering my presence, we create together. The therapeutic alliance between each client and me creates ground where the client can land safely. This reassurance frees the client to leap into uncertainty, to get unstuck. By leaving the ground, we discover how capable we are. By welcoming all of our thoughts and feelings about leaving the ground, we touch our own generosity. When we stop struggling to hold onto “good” thoughts and feelings and reject “bad” ones, and instead act based on the person we want to be, then we plug into our creativity. We know we have leapt when we are getting into our lives in ways that make us feel active and vital. By helping clients, I tap into the very stuff that I need to live my life fully, and therefore show up in an active and vital way for my clients. I have a self-charging battery. It does not need an external power source to keep me going. Material success, then, is a by-product, not the purpose. Living my life in ways that line up with how I want to matter in the world is the purpose.

Thoughts and feelings are correct–leaping is not worth the insecurity it produces. I thank my thoughts and feelings for doing their job, protecting me. I then turn my attention to the value of creating genuinely and act accordingly. Both can be true. The creative mind can accept this seeming contradiction of “no” and “yes” simultaneously. Willingness to have both frees up new options. I would ask you to wish me luck, but luck is not what I need. When success is defined as taking valued action, then all those other measures–money, status, possessions–become consequences of valued action instead of the goals. Luck is no longer part of the equation. I ask you instead to find out where in your life you need to leap. Find someone to be there with you–a therapist, the spiritual guide of your choice, a trusted friend or relative, a support group, etc.–and spring. Fly a little.

In peace–Darren