Emergence and Sustained Poise


In Where Should We Look for Our Own Emergence?, I began the search for our emergence in our self-pity, “Our worst enemy,” as Helen Keller said. Feeling sorry for ourselves about certain elements of our lives, we invent victim stories that place the blame for our anger, irritation, impatience, and wounded self-importance on other people or outside forces. Victim stories are always lies, a life stance that avoids responsibility for the life we are creating. These victim stories are bad explanations for what is going on, and they keep us circling in an eddy. We cannot emerge.

Our emergence requires that we sustain our poise, embracing life no matter what is happening. When we live in the sublime state of sustained poise, we are present, connected, grateful, creative and light-hearted. Our cup is filled to the brim, as Carlos Castaneda said, and anything you give us is more than we can take.

So, how to move self-pity into the background where it doesn’t play a role in our lives? How can we accept responsibility for the life we are creating, say yes to everything and everybody that comes along, and emerge into freedom and a vibrant life of joy and practical advantage?

The Need for a Learning Partner

We need a partner or partners to learn about deconstructing our self-pity and to develop good explanations for what is happening. The best partner may be a spouse, or another person who has a stake in our growth and development, a friend, counselor or therapist. With your partner, you begin to examine what is blocking your emergence, the times when your self-pity leads you into victim stories. This learning dialogue will take courage and commitment, but you will have the support and love of your partner as you test new life responses.

Here’s an example of how understanding one’s self-pity can lead to emergence: Judy, a friend of mine, volunteers for six weeks each summer in an impoverished Kenyan village hospital as a nurse. As one of only three white women in the village, strangers on the road constantly besiege her for money. Since she must finance her volunteer work herself, she cannot help with every request, but often provides cash gifts or small loans. Toward the end of her last trip, two Kenyan men she knew well—one her driver and the other her Swahili teacher—asked for substantial loans, to be paid back before she returned home. As the time neared for her departure, she asked for repayment as agreed and was told by both men that the money would be delivered soon. The teacher made promises, then stalled and avoided her. The driver told her on the way to the airport that he couldn’t pay her back.

On the trip home, Judy was furious, deeply disappointed by what she considered a betrayal. As soon as she got home, she got the shingles and was incapacitated for one month, living in constant pain and unable to work. In a phone call she told me that she had suffered “a meltdown” over this incident—a complete loss of poise. She was getting over it, but still felt full of self-pity, even though her family and friends were very sympathetic and supportive.

The Victim Story

Here’s the outline of the victim story she told me: as a white woman in Kenya, I’m marked. Part of Kenyan culture is not to do what you promise. I trusted the men and they betrayed me. I cannot forgive them. I was suckered. I am going to cut back from 12 weeks to 6 weeks my volunteer time in Kenya from now on, and I won’t be lending money to anyone when I go back.

I suggested that this is a victim story, a distortion that blames others for the life she is creating. I said the story pushes away her responsibility as it explains why she feels so bad. To get our exploration started, I wondered if the men represent something in herself that doesn’t pay back, a part of her that takes more than she gives. “Oh, no,” this very loving woman responded, “I’d hate to think that’s true.”

Something Has to Die before We Can Emerge

After many hours over many days of our dialogue, Judy let the victim story go and tried to develop a better explanation for her self-pity and loss of poise. She was able to develop a good explanation for what happened, an explanation that gave her full responsibility. In our conversations, she came to see that her years of volunteering in Kenya have allowed her to be the generous star of her missionary story, Saint Judy, a role that has won her praise and accolades from over 100 of us friends and family who have been providing financial support, interest and praise for her work. But the hidden story was her growing realization that her work was doing very little good. The hospital administration was corrupt, nothing was getting better, and her own service was not directed at the true problems. She now felt something of a fraud in accepting the love and praise of her little army of supporters.

She revealed that she had wanted to die during her painful bout of shingles. She supposed that she wanted to shed her old skin. Something has to die before she could emerge.

What had to die was her false story about herself.

When We Emerge, We Have Full Access to Our Love

She came to see the two men as messengers of a truth. She didn’t get paid back because she had already been paid more than she gave. Suddenly, she was able to stop playing Saint Judy to emerge into a larger capacity to love. She no longer feels sorry for herself. She easily forgave the men. She began to pull political levers in order to address the hospital corruption. She saw that the entire melodrama was her own creation, as all of our life melodramas are. Judy emerged, more poised and more self-aware.

Because letting go of self-pity is so difficult, it’s not possible to emerge alone. We need each other. We need to be challenged on our self-pity and bad explanations. We need a committed learning dialogue. We need someone who sees our potential and wants to go after it, shining a light into our dark corners. We need to be loved into emergence.

We can be poised participants in an emergent universe.

This is part two of two-part series. Part one was Where Should We Look for Our Own Emergence?

Photo by Steve-h

10 thoughts on “Emergence and Sustained Poise”

  1. Wow! What a great article. This is for sure one to grow on. Thank you Gary. This gives me a lot to think about.

  2. It’s interesting to see how the corruption and her surrounding environment in general started to change as she let go of her victim mentality.
    The outer world, the entire universe is merely a reflection of the inner world, and our thoughts. Change our thoughts, change the world!

  3. Thanks for sharing Gary,I actually live in Nairobi,Kenya. A great reminder that as long as I blame people and circumstances,I will never know what it feels like to be free and victorious and the cycle of self pity will keep repeating itself.

  4. Cindy Carrington

    Why do I not understand this statement…”She came to see the two men as messengers of a truth. She didn’t get paid back because she had already been paid more than she gave.” What does this mean, does it mean that she was so gratified in the work that she had been doing and feeling like she was a hero that she had been “paid” enough?

    1. Cindy, Yes, she realized in the end that she had taken more from her Kenya mission work than she had given. This was a profound insight: it wasn’t that she had not given a lot of herself in Kenya. She had been generous. But she realized that she had kept her mission’s focus more on herself than on the people she was serving. The two men were messengers of truth, she saw later, by letting her know that the giving and taking was out of balance. They didn’t mean to, but they said to her, in effect, “You’re not giving enough.” In my book, Poise, A Warrior’s Guide, I tell about how Judy realized that this pattern of taking a bit more than she gives was also plaiying out with her partner at home.

  5. We are forever learning lesson in life. For the volunteer she needs stronger boundaries and needs to realize that it is not her job to help every individual that comes to her. Helping a larger cause will be of more benefit than helping people one at a time.

    Not everyone is as honest and ethical as us. We tend to believe because we would pay the money back as an example everyone else will too.

  6. Cindy Carrington

    Thanks! I think I am understanding it now, a little bit better…maybe I am not ready to accept the message???

  7. What a great story – thanks for sharing! I really like the idea of a “learning partner” – it’s so much easier to work towards change when we’re all doing it together. That’s why it’s so important in the business world for change to happen on every level – from the overnight janitor to the CEO. A mission is best completed when a team mentality is at play. Changing the laws on your lens and changing your thoughts is always the key for moving from a place of unhappiness to ultimate success.

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