I was on a 2 1/2 week project and had 10 days left to go. At the beginning of the project, the client has asked me to do a few things for free. Things I hadn’t agreed to do. I wanted to give great service, so I did them. It only cost me a few man hours as a gesture of goodwill. Mistake.
Each day after that he would ask for more. When I would say, “that’s not really a part of our contract,“ he would assert that I had told him I would do it anyway. I hadn’t. I felt like I was being coerced and manipulated. When I started to push back and say no, or say yes if he would pay me, he out right called me a liar and told me I was trying to take advantage of him.
I was miserable. I wanted to give great service, but I also needed to keep my timeline and be profitable like any business does. And I didn’t like the way he was treating me.
After a week of dealing with this, one afternoon about 30 minutes before another scheduled conversation with him, I was ready to walk off the job. To just quit and try to give it to someone else, or just take my losses and move on. I desperately needed some relief from his criticism and demands, but I hated myself for how I felt. I was tearing myself apart inside, and I needed help. So I reached out to Spirit.
“There are moments that the words don’t reach. A grace too powerful to name. We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable. “
– Angelica Schuyler from Hamilton
We live our lives divided inside. We are split. You want to feel free, but you have responsibilities. You want to be happy, but others are counting on you. There was a time when you were on purpose, but may have lost that power underneath the stack of bills, unreturned emails, and all of life‘s mandatory busyness.
You want to shed that extra 10 pounds, but you really need a glass of wine and some truffle mac & cheese!
I get it. Me too.
The promise of spirituality, or spiritual work, is one of unity, connection, and freedom.
“Do this, and you will be liberated!“, they say. But then they don’t tell you how hard it’s going to be.
Doing the work of liberation, finding freedom in the circumstances of your own life, that is the work of Spirit. And to do this you have to align these disparate parts of yourself.
If you’ve ever pushed away desert at dinner, only to find yourself raiding the fridge 2 1/2 hours later at home, you know what I’m talking about.
It’s a catch 22 problem. And we don’t like problems, unless we get paid to solve them, or if it’s wondering if Daenerys Targaryen will ever sit on the Iron Throne.
For some reason—maybe it was the challenges of missing my dad and trying to help my mom after the divorce, or maybe it’s just because underneath my gregarious, fun-loving exterior, I often find myself in situations that seem so much bigger than me, stuff that I just don’t think I can handle— but whatever the reason, I’ve always reached out to Spirit for help.
Since I was a little kid in Sunday school, around age 7, I’ve always believed that this mysterious, almost ineffable experience we call God, Spirit, the Divine, or Source… It would always be there for me. No matter what, I could take comfort in It.
So that’s what I did again, on this day when I was ready to quit and throw all my personal needs and values down in the mud, standing in front of this client’s house.
As I reached out for help, part of me gave up. This, too, was bigger than me. I have found, though, that when you ask, there’s always a response. Sometimes it’s harder to hear than others, and sometimes it’s easy. Spirit is so much smarter than me, it’s crazy, but I’ve learned to trust It.
As this defended, afraid part of me let go, I had a thought. A thought about what I didn’t want.
I didn’t want to be a quitter, I didn’t want to be a victim of this man who is being so critical of me.
And then seconds later, came what I did want.
Something broke open inside of me as I reconnected with some qualities of my essential nature.
I wanted to be integrous. I wanted to be the kind of man that was trustworthy and reliable. Someone you can count on. And I wanted to want to do good quality work. And I wanted to do that because it is who I am. Having integrity, doing my best, and providing a good service are all qualities of my essential nature. (Yours, too, I bet.)
In trying to please this man, and honor his demands, I had forgotten who I was, what gave my work meaning.
When I aligned with these qualities I immediately saw what was missing: healthy boundaries.
Just because he made assertions, I didn’t have to agree with them. Just because he made demands, I didn’t have to do them. I did have to honor my agreements, the ones I had already made with him. I wanted to do that.
As I let this experience settle into me, I came alive with the possibility of completing the job with integrity, doing great work, and ending on as good a note as possible. I was back in the driver’s seat in my life!
Now you might just call that a reframe, but for me it was a visceral experience. It wasn’t just in my head. Something inside of me lined up. I felt tingles run down my arms and back as the relief flooded in. Weirdly enough, I sorta felt… happy!
There was a way out, and it was to stay in. But now I would take care of myself in the process. I didn’t have to even like or trust him, but I did have to honor what was true for me.
I found I could express my truth with compassion. While he did not like some of what I said, I wasn’t doing him any harm, and I was creating a space in which I could act in alignment with my values, and do what I said I would do. With great quality and service. I just stopped letting him walk all over me.
I did complete the job, and we did end on good terms. I won’t work for him again though. Our values don’t align, and that’s OK. No hard feelings, lesson learned, time to move on in gratitude and greater clarity.
That work I did to get clear about the kind of person I was being – helpless, miserable, and a victim—and who I wanted to be—integrous, trustworthy, and reliable—, and then aligning with that deepest truth inside of me, is the process of spiritual work. I aligned with what was meaningful, valuable, and important to me.
Doing that I gained greater capacity. The capacity to say no. The capacity to love myself a little more. And the capacity to have more compassion for someone I disagreed with and did not like.
Why is this a spiritual process?
Because it’s a process of self-discovery, a process of chipping away the hard crusty shell that you set up to protect your sweet chocolatey pleasurable center, your essential nature! It is a process of not only discovering, but of creating meaning.
Something bigger than you know yourself to be comes in and supports you, gives you aid in time of need. It may sound woo-woo, but it’s real, and it works. This is my experience of Spirit. You will have your own. That’s as it should be; we are all so unique, how could we all have the exact same ways of experiencing the Divine?
Contrast this experience with what had been my likely future before I did the work— one of frustration, divisiveness, and just trying to survive— and I’ll choose the second way of going every time, even though it’s uncomfortable.
Spiritual work is about finding out what’s important to you, discovering who you want to be, and then summoning the courage to take the risks required to know yourself newly. Doing it changes you from the inside out. The essential, vital, eternal You bubbles up out of the mess you are in, and lends a hand.
“Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.” —Goethe
What to do when you are stuck
Is there a part of you that can feel like a victim in certain areas of your life?
Is there a part of your life where you feel like there’s nothing you can do to make it better? Like you are trapped?
If so, ask yourself what’s really important to you in those situations, and who you want to be? Ask Spirit for help, for a sign post to lead you down a better road, or for a clear billboard that you cannot miss! And then listen and trust.
Something so much bigger than you know yourself to be will come to your aid, and probably in a way you least expect it. It will well up inside you if you invite it. It’s a practice.
There is no guarantee that you will get what you want, or that your circumstances will change, but you will give yourself the option of changing who you are in relation to them. And that’s what makes the difference.
If this touches you, please let me know. And if it challenges your current understanding, shout it out in the comments. I love hearing your wisdom, and your struggles. And please share this with others on the path so they can join the conversation.
Blessings to you as you create the capacity for change!