Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cheating Chaos

Why are some people weakened by stress, while others gain strength from it? Basically the answer is simple: those who know how to transform a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled will be able to enjoy themselves, and emerge stronger from the ordeal. There are 3 main steps that seem to be involved in such transformations:

1. Unconscious Self-Assurance. One common attitude shared by such people was the implicit belief that their destiny was in their own hands. They did not doubt their own resources would be sufficient to allow them to determine their fate. In that sense one would call them self-assured, yet at the same time, their egos seem curiously absent; they are not self-centred; their energy is typically not bent on dominating their environment as much as on finding a way to function within it harmoniously.

This attitude occurs when a person no longer sees himself in opposition to the environment, as an individual who insists that his goals, his intentions take precedence over everything else. Instead, he feels a part of whatever goes on around him, and tries to do his best within the system in which he must operate. Paradoxically, this sense of humility—the recognition that one's goals may have to be subordinated to a greater entity, and that to succeed one may have to play by a different set of rules from what one would prefer—is a hallmark of strong people.

A good pilot knows her skills, has confidence in the machine she is flying, and is aware of what actions are required in case of a hurricane, or in case the wings ice over. Therefore she is confident in her ability to cope with whatever weather conditions may arise—not because she will force the plane to obey her will, but because she will be the instrument for matching the properties of the plane to the conditions of the air.

2. Focusing Attention On The World. It is difficult to notice the environment as long as attention is mainly focused inward, as long as most of one's psychic energy is absorbed by the concerns and desires of the ego. People who know how to transform stress into enjoyable challenge spend very little time thinking about themselves. Their attention is alert, constantly processing information from their surroundings. The focus is still set by the person's goal, but it is open enough to notice and adapt to external events even if they are not directly relevant to what he wants to accomplish.
An open stance makes it possible for a person to be objective, to be aware of alternative possibilities, to feel a part of the surrounding world.
In a threatening situation it is natural to mobilize psychic energy, draw it inward, and use it as a defense against the threat. but this innate reaction more often than not compromises the ability to cope. It exarcebates the experience of inner turmoil, redues the flexibility of response, and, perhaps worse than anything else, it isolates a person from the rest of the world, leaving him alone with his frustrations. On the other hand, if one continues to stay in touch with what is going on, new possibilites are likely to emerge, which in turn suggest new responses, and one is less likely to be entirely cut off from the stream of life.
3. The Discovery of New Solutions. There are basically two ways to cope with a situation that creates psychic entropy. One is to focus attention on the obstacles to achieving one's goals and then to move them out of the way, thereby restoring harmony in consciousness. This is the direct approach. The other is to focus on the entire situation, including oneself, to discover what alternative goals may not be more appropriate, and thus different solutions possible.
Most of us become so rigidly fixed in the ruts carved out by genetic programming and social conditioning that we ignore the options of choosing any other course of action. The moment biological/social goals are frustrated a person must formulate new goals and create a new flow activity for himself, or else he will waste his energies in inner turmoil.
How does one go about discovering alternative strategies? The answer is basically simple: if one operates with unselfconscious assurance, and remains open to the environment and involved in it, a solution is likely to emerge.
The process of discovering new goals in life is in many respects similar to that by which an artist goes about creating an original work of art. Whereas a conventional artists starts painting a canvas knowing what she wants to paint, and holds to her original intention until the work is finished, an original artist with equal technical training commences with a deeply felt but undefined goal in mind, keeps modifying the picture in response to the unexpected colors and shapes emerging on the canvas, and ends up with a finished wor that probably will not resemble anything she started out with.
We will never become aware of other possibilities unless, like the painter who watches with care what is happening around us, and evaluate events on the basis of their direct impact on how we feel, rather than evaluating them exclusively in terms of preconceived notion. If we do not discover that, contrary to what we were led to believe, it is more satisfying to help another person than to beat him down, or that it is more enjoyable to talk with one's two-year old than to play golf with the company president.

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