The forceful reckoning with what is

Workaholism isn’t exhausting because we’re working all the time.

It’s exhausting because we’re running around playing defense all the time.

Medicating ourselves with all these tasks and projects as a way to stave off feelings of loneliness, insecurity, sadness, whatever. Protecting our auras, guarding our egos, armoring our hearts. Facing only inwardly.

That’s defense. It’s definitely comfortable and secure. And the upside to operating in this mode all the time is, it literally pays off. Society rewards us for being addicted to work, dangling that golden carrot in front of our face, satiating our hunger with every delicious bite, until we either burn out and hit bottom, or destroy ourselves and our relationships completely.

And when the bottom does finally fall out, there is what’s known as a forceful reckoning with what is. And we can either dig in our heels, or strip off our armor and raise a white flag in surrender.

Option two worked for me. If there was ever a reason to let go and start believing in a power greater than yourself to restore you to sanity, this would be it. Just the sheer energy of not having to play defense all the time is worth more than you can possibly imagine.

Firestone, a renowned author and cognitive behavioral therapist, wrote a compelling essay in my favorite psychology journal about living defensively. There are several passages worth sharing:

There is a core conflict within each person that centers on the choice between contending with painful realities or avoiding them. The question is whether to live with emotional pain or to defend ourselves and escape into an unreal world. We are all presented with this fundamental dilemma. And the resolution of this conflict toward a more defended way of life has a detrimental effect on our emotional health and overall functioning.

His contention is that when playing defense, desperately clinging to our addictive attachment of choice, our capacity for offering and accepting love is impaired.

Makes sense. No wonder I was so lonely all those years. Working all the time energetically interfered with my ability to develop genuine and satisfying relationships. How could I be emotionally close to other human beings when my defensive system never shut down?

My friends and loved ones deserved better.

This has been a conscious pursuit of mine for the past decade. Trying to deactivate those defensive maneuvers that once ensured my survival. In fact, the whole process of retiring from entrepreneurship actually meant retiring from the mindset that success would save me.

That was the real work. Facing outwardly. Learning how to actual feel my feelings of anxiety. Grappling with the complicated reality that is life. Connecting with others in a present, intimate way.

Becoming more porous so that things could actually come in, without my attempts to control them.

That shit is hard, still to this day. But you can’t do it if you’re playing defense all the time. To quote the psychologist mentioned before, people who are relatively undefended generally feel more integrated, are able to live more fully and authentically, and tend to be more humane toward others.

That’s the future we’re working for.

It may take longer to get there than we’d like, but it is possible. 

Are you using your mind as a defense system for your image of who you are, or as an instrument for creation and connection?


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