Fear and the Fertile Void

treating_dog_bite_injuries

When I was five years old, a neighborhood dog escaped his yard and chased me, jumping up on me, in what was probably a friendly attempt to play. I was traumatized and fearful of dogs for many years after this.

Today, during my early morning run, a dog out of his yard, barked at me and moved in my direction. I looked at him and said, “good morning!” At that moment, his owner called and the dog turned away from me. This incident reminded me of how far I’ve come in my reaction to unknown dogs (and unknown incidents).

child-and-dog

Two thoughts came to mind about this. First, early childhood events profoundly affect how we make contact with the world in adulthood. These events are usually buried deep in our subconscious and often do not surface until we intentionally work on self-awareness. Second, that my fear of dogs was a metaphor for many fears. The root of my fear was not the dog itself, but what might happen with the dog.

In Gestalt therapy, we call that place of uncertainty, between the known and unknown, the fertile void. It is the chasm we cross when we leave behind what is certain and safe, but perhaps not always productive. The fertile void is the creative possibility for something different and potentially powerful.

crossing_the_chasm

It is the willingness not to know. The dog might bite me, yes. He might be friendly and lick my hand. Crossing the chasm is done with choicefulness and the understanding that risk is involved. I don’t want anyone to be stricken with rabies because they reached out to an unknown dog who bit them!

And, I am advocating a visit to the chasm. To entertain the possibilities of the unknown. To be okay with not knowing.

Peace, friends.

Expand your range

Stuart_Range

I recently made a change in my vocabulary that has affected my range of experience and how I make choices in this life. I decided to eliminate, as much as possible, using the word “but” in my speech. Example: I want to go to yoga class, but I don’t have time. Or, I want to go on vacation to New Mexico, but I need to work on my writing.

 

Using the word “but” implies a duality that mirrors much of our culture, where something is either this or that. Often this is played out by the ideas of good or bad, love or hate, beautiful or ugly, work or play.  Although they seem to be, these ideas need not be understood as complete opposites. It is possible to hold two seemingly oppositional ideas in the same space. From my perspective, the word “but” is limiting, the word “and” is inclusive.

 

So, I want to go to yoga, and I am short on time. Do you see how the meaning of this statement has just greatly expanded? It includes an entire range of activities between the yoga and the time. Framing the statement this way frees me to prioritize my activities. When I allow that both possibilities exist, I also allow myself more choice about what I actually do. I don’t have time for yoga because I choose to do something else, whether it is dishes, laundry, coffee with mom, or writing.

 

The “and” is the empowering word that allows my choice. My decision to include both sides of the spectrum has helped expand the range of my choices and thus the decisions that go along with them. I am much more at ease when I accept the “and” parts of a situation.

Choice photo

The word “and” also helps expand the range of understanding about a person. People are usually not only good or bad, beautiful or ugly, naughty or nice. They fall somewhere along the continuum of both ends. Allowing both ends acknowledges the range and nuances of human existence and, for me, helps me find compassion in all situations. For example, my partner was very late the other evening, and I learned later about the care and effort he put into a project that contributed to his tardiness. I chose to accept both realities and hold space for them without reacting just to the time element. There are thousands of variations around the “and.” And, some may work for you, and some may not. The key is you may choose. What works for you and what does not?

I believe people are much healthier and ultimately happier when they realize the power there is in being choiceful. And all from a simple substitution of words.

See what happens the next time you substitute the word “and” for “but.” I’d love to hear your comments below.

 

Peace, friends.