Anyone can answer their own questions,
All you have to do is look inside, inside, inside,
You know it inside ...
Au Revoir Simone, 'Shadows', 2009
I had been talking with some friends about my frustration with knowing that I had inward issues that were holding me back, but being unable to get a handle on them. I remember one of them making a suggestion, which I found rather revolutionary: "Why don't you just sit with the problem?"
I was not sure what this meant, so I asked for more.
He said, "Find a quiet place, remove all distractions, then imagine your problem suspended in front of you. Don't force anything to happen just sit there and look at it in your mind. If questions come up then answer them as completely and honestly as you can. Once answered, return to doing nothing and keep looking at the problem. Keep doing this until something happens, then don't stop doing this until it stops happening. Don't rush this process. Sit down with it for as many hours as it takes until there's nothing more to see or do."
The approach seemed doubtful to me. I had complex problems I was trying to tackle, and this seemed like a simple and generic solution. Then again, I was stuck and didn't know how to move forward, so this seemed worth a try, so I sat down late one night to sit with my current state of frustration.
Why am I frustrated?
Because I don't enjoy being in college.
Then why are you in college?
Because I want to make something of myself and this educational opportunity.
So why don't you leave school.
Because I want to learn.
What are you trying to learn?
I want to better understand life and my place in it.
Is that your major?
No, there is no major for that.
So how are you studying a major that the college doesn't offer?
I'm trying to take the courses that get me closer to what I'm trying to learn.
Is it working?
No, it feels like school is getting in the way.
Would you learn more by not being in class?
Maybe, but then I'd be a dropout.
And why is that a problem? Lots of people drop out.
Yes, but I don't want to be a failure.
Does dropping out of college automatically make you a failure.
No, but staying in keeps me closer to success and further from failure.
But if you are not studying what you want to learn and you are not enjoying it how is that success?
I'm not a dropout.
So not being a dropout means that you are a success?
No, but it's closer to success than being a dropout, so it's moving in the right direction.
The direction toward what?
But you just said that you didn't know what success looked like, so how do you know you're getting closer?
What do you want to do?
Figure out what to do with my life from here.
Is school helping you do that?
Yes, it is keeping me in New Hampshire while I figure it out.
Do you need to be in school to be in New Hampshire?
No, but then I'd be a dropout.
But you just said that it's getting in the way of your doing what you want to do.
Yes, but it's keeping me in a place where I can do what I want to do.
But you aren't doing what you want to do, are you?
Then how is being in school helping?
Is there a way to be in New Hampshire, but not be enrolled in school?
Yes, but I don't know what you call that.
Does it need to have a name in order for it to work?
Then why not try that?
That could work.
What do you need to do in order to start this process?
I need to stop pretending that I want to be in college when I don't.
There was something maddening about the circular logic that went into this process, but that was exactly the point. I found that when I started to have this conversation out loud (in a private place) I was able to come to a conclusion much more quickly. Somehow statements that didn't make sense were easier to spot when they were said out loud. There was something audibly wrong with them which demanded more attention. I found that when I drilled down on those statements that didn't sound right I quickly got down to the assumption or belief that was tripping my thinking.
While this process was ridiculously simple it also proved ridiculously effective. When I felt the tension of some unresolved issue I would write down the trigger and the make time to sit with the issue. I didn't put an end point on the issue and sometimes the sitting went on for hours, or on and off over days before I would get somewhere. I just didn't let myself off the hook with answers that didn't make sense.