Escape From the Ideal

I always believe the ideal is waiting just over the horizon.

 

All the places you ever wanted to escape to

are always

Here

in the end.


 

I published this poem on my “professional” blog a week or two back just to demonstrate that, yes, I actually am a writer… in the unlikely event any of my “serious” work is ever accepted for publication by any (established) journal. But I also wanted to talk about it here on this blog, which is much more interactive/conversational.

First off, a shout-out to valdelo of Silently Screaming for the simple encouragement to keep writing. That little nudge prompted me to see if I had anything in me tonight… and voila. (More about the power of nudges in a future post!)

Anyhow. This poem popped into my head as I was contemplating my pronounced tendency to look to the horizon for salvation. I have the *worst* time practicing mindfulness–i.e., focus and attention fixed on the present, experiencing and appreciating all it has to offer, not lingering in the past or endlessly planning out the future. The Yercoviches refer to this tendency as “reviewing and rehearsing,” a behavior practiced by vacillators (such as myself) who tend to devalue or idealize events (this is just the link to a summary of the “core pattern” handout where they describe these tendencies, which you can also find available for purchase on their site). I.e., I tend to feel that the past could have always played out better, so I rehash it endlessly trying to “troubleshoot” for future improvement–or I believe that a future event can be perfectly managed if I only plan it out carefully enough, so I overthink constantly (and heavily).

This leads to endless annoyance or discontent or discomfort with a new place or relationship or experience or accomplishment once I’ve finally arrived at it and it has become familiar. All of a sudden, my daydream of freedom and hope and life and possibility has been replaced by obstinate reality grounded in simple, uncomfortable, less-than-ideal facts. It’s not even that reality is really that bad–it just doesn’t match up completely with my daydream. For a vacilator, this loss of the ideal is crushing.

So I have to learn not to value the ideal so darn much.

This is made easier when I realize how many downright stupid, unimportant things I idealize (like not having crumbs on the floor, or having clean bathrooms [honestly, isn’t it far more significant to realize the incredible blessing of HAVING a fully functional bathroom–or even more than one?!], or keeping runny toddler noses off all the furniture)?

It’s harder when I’ve idealized things that *seem* more important, though–like having firm, stable, relationships with loved ones. But firmness and stability don’t look or feel exactly like my imagination tells me (since I don’t have a lot of experience in those areas compared to some, idealized imagination sets my hopes and expectations–not reality). Letting go of these imaginings and finding the courage instead to emotionally experience the reality I’m in–good, bad, and everything in between–is a huge challenge.

It’s deeply intimidating particularly because the reality I experienced for so long taught me *not* to trust, feel, or seek communion with others when relationships have even a whiff of going south about them–in large part because it was never demonstrated to me that doing so *could work*. I also had basically no idea where to start: what does trusting, feeling, and seeking communion look like in a relationship that’s actually worth it–where it’s safe, advisable, and even necessary from a mental health perspective?

However, finding myself in truly worthwhile, long-term relationships has shown me that the old way of relating isn’t going to work here; I need to develop a new skill set.

Fixing all my hopes for happiness and security on the imaginary ideal place, situation, or companion will only leave me despondent when I finally reach my destination–and realize it’s not *everything* I made it out to be.

It will always end up being the experience I’m left to engage with in the present–the current, immediate moment–the one place I’ve had small confidence and found little comfort in for so long.

I will continue to do just that–as long as my expectations are that my ideal *should be* the reality.

The truth, however, is that I can’t change the reality in front of me–but I can, gradually, change my perspective on it and how I interact with it.

The details of this elude me constantly, but I’ve found one mantra from the How We Love website quite helpful. To paraphrase:

“It’s not as bad as I think it is, and it’s not as good as I want it to be.”

Accepting this as unchangeable truth helps me to regulate my expectations and, thus, avoid getting too working up one way or the other. It requires me to let go of my own demands upon reality and exchange them for trust, instead, that my needs will be met–perhaps not how I’d like them to be, but they will be met–by the people who really *do* love me, as they have tangibly and consistently demonstrated over an extended period of time, through the providence of a God who has demonstrated enormous care and love for me over a much longer time frame.

This is the proper way to reflect upon the past: to search it for all the good and love I’ve received, practicing a new, unnatural approach to reflection–rather than picking through it for the parts that didn’t match my original skewed ideals and ruminating over the uncomfortable bits.

And it’s the proper way to envision the future: with calm, simple confidence that my idealized plans will not come to fruition, and are not worth the time I spend on them, but that whatever else happens instead will still be manageable and even full of blessing from a divine agent I can’t possibly anticipate or control–which terrifies me, which reminds me that I need to sink deep into reflections of his steadfast, unshakeable love once more. Because “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18, NKJV).


 

Lord, well over a decade ago I wrote about this, seeking to experience the unfathomable love you have for me, because I needed to be free from fear. I still do. I fear constantly–big things, little things, imaginary things that feel too much like the actual reality of times past to be ignored. Lord, please–free me from torment. Free me from fear. Cast me into perfect love: love based in reality and well-founded expectations, that it may cast out every fear caused by unmet, idealized expectations. Exchange my broken mindset for your healing way of thinking. Help me to be patient with the process (avoiding unrealistic expectations yet again!); lead me to all the tools I need, and bless them with your presence. Thank you for loving me, even when I can’t fully sense it. Especially then. Amen.

 

11 thoughts on “Escape From the Ideal

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, considering all of the op-ed and creative writing I consume, your style, flow and use of language is about a 9.5. I’m an agonistic, having been previously churched for 20 years in a so-called ‘Christian’ church that turned out to be corrupt within, and a big scam and which disintegrated out from under us when the charismatic founder died. But I am drawn to your blog and that of Mitch Teemley because of the pearls of wisdom and the lack of ‘hard-sell’ regarding religion. Best of luck in finding a good agent or publisher. If you do, please recommend me. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Cheers,
    Vern
    PS, If you could comment on the 11 Chapters of my SciFi novel on my blog. I would appreciate it. I get no feedback and have no idea if it’s complete crap or is worth continuing. I’m especially interested to hear if my depiction of God is not offensive to Christians. The protagonist is me and he finds the advanced race of beings who have abducted him are just as curious and confused about the ‘God’ issue as he is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vern, I am SO sorry it has taken me SO long to get back to you! I was extremely touched by your comment. I wanted to do a reply real justice, and it’s been an absolutely nutty last few weeks, and I haven’t had time and mental energy overlap enough to make it happen. So first of all, bless you for your patience. Secondly, your praise is *very* kind. I’m honored. Thirdly, that’s an absolute crying shame Christianity did nothing but pull the rug out from under you. It’s truly deplorable those people used Jesus’s name to do what they did to you. I know it happens a lot in so many religious circles, but it just makes me sick every time I hear of it. I can’t identify such people as actually being Jesus lovers/followers, so I don’t know how to apologize on their behalf for Christianity… but I am definitely terribly sorry that that’s the only “Jesus” you ever knew. That’s not the Jesus I know. I hope someday you discover a good reason to have a civil sit-down chat with the real deal, as opposed to the counterfeit. And I appreciate your appreciation that this is not a “hard sell” blog. I grew up with hard-sell Christianity, and I can’t swallow it anymore either (I made a habit of it for decades; it just made me sick). My church played this video during the service just yesterday, actually, and I really appreciated it; it relates to all this, so I think you might, too. https://youtu.be/GsL75n0SSWg

      And I am absolutely *fascinated* by the premise of your novel! I have no idea if I’ll have any time to sit down and even skim it, but if I do snatch a moment to do so, I will be sure to let you know what I think. Either way, keep writing; the crap quotient doesn’t matter; getting what’s in your gut out into the open, where it can stretch and grow and breathe and get to know itself well for the first time, is ALWAYS worth the time and effort. It’ll leave you no peace otherwise. ๐Ÿ™‚ …that metaphor sounded a lot less like childbirth in my head. LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Humbled and grateful for your nice reply. I have one Christian friend who read the dialog between protagonist and abductors and found it non-offencsive. I’m thinking now that perhaps the full-blown atheist might find it offensive though, since it leans toward a conclusion of intelligent creation. Thanks again, and I reaffirm my statement about the ease-of-use factor in your writing. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s a fascinating observation; I suspect you’re right. Of course, there’s a difference between offense and dislike, or even mere disagreement. In my experience, a simple difference in perspective will often cause the latter two, but in order to generate offense, a harsh mockery or overt rejection of disparate ways of thinking is required… by either party (author or audience). I suppose I’ll have to see if I sense that anywhere in your work… though even if I don’t, that’s not a guarantee against offense… but then, nobody has that. Not even Mr. Rogers. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Like

  2. “Fixing all my hopes for happiness and security on the imaginary ideal place, situation, or companion will only leave me despondent when I finally reach my destinationโ€“and realize itโ€™s not *everything* I made it out to be.”
    Great post. This portion especially stuck out to me. Thank you! ๐Ÿ’—

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So glad a gentle nudge turned into the epic post of self-awareness. I recognize putting the ideal on pedestal in myself, too, and it’s hard to make a clean break of that habit. Today I listened to Oprah interview Tim Storey who said, โ€œYour life isn’t about the big break, it’s about one significant life transforming step at a time.โ€ Of course Oprah called this “a tweetable moment.” I, on the other hand, had to stop what I was doing to write it down as a reminder to live in the moment.
    Keep on typing,
    valdelo
    PS – I’m not ashamed of loving a clean bathroom.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, what a great quote! It’s so true. Thanks for stopping by–and for your continued encouragement. ๐Ÿ™‚ (And ME EITHER, on clean bathrooms… it was a profoundly strange moment when I suddenly sunk into thankfulness for the privilege of peeing indoors… inexplicably, despite my squeamishness over the mess, just for a moment. It was a good, foreign feeling. …and one I was unable to reproduce the next day. Ha!)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This post resonated with me so much, because I too recognize similar tendencies in myself. I have trouble just “being” in the present moment, and I always find myself either reviewing the past or rehearsing for the future. But I’ve come across one mantra that is helping me deal with those tendencies better — “The past is gone. The future is not yet here. Now, I am free of both.” Wish you well. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for that! Man, I *wish* I could internalize that truth. Trying to do so is my current moment-by-moment struggle. All the best to you as you tackle this, and thanks for showing me that I’m not the only one on this road. The company for the journey means a lot. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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