November 7, 2006

The Power of Willingness, Part II: "Yeahbuts" and "Whatifs"

"There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets
in." --Leonard Cohen

Resistance is a funny thing. Ultimately it exists to defend what does
not exist. It knows its days are numbered, and the reason it knows this
is because behind every resistance is the possibility of willingness.

People who are committed to knowing their own truth share in common a
willingness to be consider other angles...and
most especially to question their "yeahbuts" and "whatifs," the two
bodyguards of the mind whose job it is to keep the identified self from

When we are invested in wanting to be right, there is nothing to be
done. Thankfully, most of us have a breaking point, where we are willing
to seek relief at any cost. Some of my clients come to inquiry with a
huge arsenal of "yeahbuts" and "whatifs," and yet they come away from
sessions and workshops at least partially disarmed. Why? Because
willingness--even a tiny bit of it--is more powerful than any defense. Where
there is willingness there is potential for transformation

Lacey was a client of mine, a young woman who was in love with an
unavailable man. He claimed to love her, but he was married and had a family
and would not leave them. She, too, was married and was scared to
forfeit her financial security. For several sessions, I listened to Lacey's
litany of "yeahbuts" and "whatifs." "Yeah, but with my limited skills
set, I can't enough to support myself." "Yeah, but no one will ever
love me like he [Mr. Unavailable] does." "What if I make a mistake and my
husband won't take me back?" Lacey continually veered away from
answering the inquiry questions, yet she kept coming to sessions for months.
That told me that she had a tiny bit of willingness. People who know
they are right don't even attempt to question their reality. They don't
hire facilitators.

When Lacey and I worked together, I would ask her to notice each time
she used a "yeahbut" and a "whatif" to avoid seeing the truth. "You can
be right later," I assured her. "For now, let's see if what you are
saying and believing is really true."

Eventually, Lacey began to question her beliefs while putting the
"whatifs" and "yeahbuts" on hold. We didn't banish them; that never works.
We just asked them to hang back for a bit while we did our work. Lacey
came to see that she could not absolutely know that she needed the
unavailable man in her life, or that she needed her husband's financial
support, or that she'd never find another great love. She was willing to
consider being wrong, or at least to stop needing to know everything in
all certainty. Ultimately she gave up on the lover and separated from
her husband for awhile. She got a good job and gave herself a chance to
get to know the true love of her life: herself.

The mind really wants to know the truth, even as it fights for the
survival of its sacred beliefs. When we're out of integrity, we feel it,
and the pain is excruciating. So try this: the next time you encounter
great resistance, don't try to banish the "yeahbuts" and "whatifs," but
instead invite them to wait in the wings; you can pick them up again
later if you like. Treat your yeahbuts and whatifs with gentle
understanding; they're lovingly doing their job, trying to protect you from
dissolution. Then, allow Willingness have its life...and see what happens.
You may discover that what you thought needed defending is the very thing
that has held you back from what you really want: true strength,
authenticity and happiness.

Deepening Transformational Inquiry: "I know I should, but...."

Is there something you believe you "should" be doing? For example:

"I should clean out the garage."
"I should get started early on my taxes."
"I should work out at least three times a week."

One way to work with "shoulds' is to question them directly: e.g. "You
should work out three times a week; is that true? What is the reality
of it, do you? Can you absolutely know you'd be better off if you worked
out three times a week?"

Another way is to look at your reasons (or excuses) for not doing what
you "should" be doing. These are the "yeahbuts" and "whatifs."

"Every time I clean out the garage, my husband yells at me for throwing
out something he needed."
"With the holidays coming I don't have time to start on my taxes. I
should have started them earlier."
"If I go to the gym that often, I look better but I get so tired; then
how am I going to clean out the garage and do my taxes?"

We dislike our "shoulds" because they make us feel like we're doing it
wrong. We love our "yeahbuts" because they lead us to believe we are
right in not addressing the "shoulds."

The trouble is, whether we are "shoulding" ourselves to death or
"yeahbutting" ourselves into complacency, it generally doesn't feel very
good. That's because when we attach to shoulds and yeahbuts, we are not
living in the present moment. "Shoulds" are stories of a nonexistent
future. "Yeahbuts" are horror stories based on past assumptions. "Whatifs"
are horror stories, period.

The yeahbuts and whatifs underlying our "shoulds" are like the legs of
a table. The tabletop cannot remain stable unless it has four good
legs. While inquiring into the validity of a "should" belief, notice any
wobbly legs holding up the table and make a mental note or written
sidebar about them to question later.

©2006 Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

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