This morning, while journaling, I found myself writing about identifying patterns – both healthy and unhealthy – in my life, and my efforts to change/reinforce/recreate them depending on their relative value. Later in the day I found myself chatting with an ex-girlfriend who was wondering at some of the repeating circumstances in my current “new” life here in Madison, WI (Been here not quite two months now without traveling, a new record!).
It’s a reasonable thing to bring up. As Rita Mae Brown said, insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you are in a situation where the variables aren’t changing, what are the chances that the results are going to be any different? The urge is often to simply chuck it all and start over – I’ve certainly done that more than once (to be fair, more than once in the past year) and I’m a firm believer that it can be the right decision. The only possible decision, in some relationships, especially abusive ones.
The Question of Commitment
Steven Pressfield has been exploring the concept of commitment, though more from a writerly than a relationship kind of way, and his most recent segment, “Committed to What?” he writes:
I’m not committed to any specific endeavor. Not a family or a cause or a field of enterprise. Not an ideal of service or sacrifice, not an art, not a people or a calling.
My commitment is to the spirit inhering within me.
I don’t know that I fully agree with the entire article – I do believe you can commit to more than just your own development – but I also believe that you have to first commit to yourself before you have the strength to fully commit to anyone else. It’s gotten to be a cliché, but the idea of someone going off to “find themselves” before they can come back to their families, partners, etc. may have some merit. To pull out yet another cliché, Not all who wander are lost.
That, in a nutshell, is why I think that sometimes it’s not insanity to try the same thing over and over and expect different results.
The Deliberate Groundhog
Think of the film “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray. The guy is stuck in the same 24 hour loop, reliving it over and over. It doesn’t change, ever. He does, in fact, go a little insane. But bit by bit, as he gets tired of the way things are going, he begins to change himself, his outlook, his actions. Gradually, as he does that, he becomes more and more graceful, achieving a kind of enlightenment by the end – and resigned to his fate, not expecting anything to change, he is happy.
I won’t give away the ending, promise.
The point is that you may be in a situation where things aren’t able to be changed externally. Or where external changes would be more traumatic than they seem to be worth. You may notice that the “repeating loop” you’re stuck in is a tendency to chuck it all and start over at square one. I’ve found myself in all three, now and again in my life.
In any of those situations, I stipulate that making a commitment to yourself first – to the deliberate practice of loving yourself, of cultivating your capacity for compassion towards yourself – you can gradually make a change in whatever situation you find yourself stuck in. Because there is one variable that you can change, one way or another: yourself. I’m not saying that the change will lead to a blissful state of enlightenment, a la Groundhog Day. That’s a movie. It may be that the development of your “inherent spirit” means that the traumatic change you feared has to happen after all.
But at least you won’t be stuck. Ya gotta love that, right?