There are several ways of being in the world, I suppose. We all choose in every moment how we will interact with the world around us.
This morning, I emptied a container of one of the two chemical-laden delicacies I allow myself–flavored non-dairy creamer (the other is processed cheese…because it melts so beautifully and reminds me of my grandmother, which is probably another story for another day). Do not fear! I was at Costco the other day and have a pack of three more bottles in the back of the fridge. But the crux of our story is not the creamer itself, but that little foil seal that covers the bottleneck to ensure freshness and no leakage. That little foil seal can open up worlds of understanding.
You see, in general, I stand for several minutes pulling on the tiny flap of foil that pretends to be the secret to removing the seal. You are just supposed to pull that flap, and voila, it opens, right? Wrong. I end up pulling with my right hand, then pulling with my left, then pulling with my right again. Then I begin what we will call the “pep talk stage”, where I begin to offer myself encouragements: You can do it! Just hold tightly and pull steadily. You’ve got this.
The next stage is called “pep talk two” and shifts my encouragements to self over and begins encouragements of the bottle seal: C’mon! You are almost there. Just peel back a little more. You can do it!
And then, finally, we reach “frustration”: Why in the fuck can’t I open this thing? Is it so hard to make a seal that opens? We can send people out to live in space, but we can’t invent a seal for the coffee creamer that you can open! AAAaaahhhhhh!
And there we have it folks. This is the way I interact with my world, on the regular. This is how I live.
There are myriad reasons why I turned out to be a person who fights at a thing. I was sort of born a fighter. My mother realized this early on, and it plagued her for many years to come. I needed a “why” to stop my fight—a really good explanation or reason for the end to my search or struggle. Another person’s word that it was easier to tie with “bunny ears” than in the convoluted way I was approaching tying my shoes was never good enough. I needed to struggle with those shoes for years to get to the way I discovered was easiest (which turns out to be bunny ears).
I think the two most affecting reasons for my struggling attitude, however, are stubbornness and intellect. One is usually seen as a positive, and the other as a negative. But, often in life, I see them conversely to the way many might. Stubbornness, which is usually considered bad or wrong or unhelpful has gotten me through many a difficult situation. When you are oppressed or captive or addicted or overwhelmed in any way, stubbornness can be your savior. Being stronger in will than my opponent got me through not only debate team, but through years of abuses and marginal living. I kept up the fight some days only because I was too damn stubborn to lose—too damn stubborn to die there in that bad space. And the other reason, my intellect, is definitely often a positive thing. I am so glad that I am capable of abstract thought and love to dive deep into research and just tend to be smart (sorry for the horn tooting there, but it is true that I am smart). But, the desire to know is often the desire that gets me into trouble as well. I want to know how that feels or see how that works or decide for myself which is the best way to approach an idea … so I have to do all the things and explore all the ways of approaching that idea on my own, which has gotten me in spaces where I would rather not be. If people could have said to me, “drugs are bad”, and I could have accepted that as true without further investigation, I wouldn’t have found my great joy and deep struggle with cocaine. But because of my intellect and that desire to explore ideas to their conclusion, I did find that joy and that struggle. Lucky for me, the stubbornness to not be controlled by a substance has won the day for about 5,500 days in a row now. (One day at a time!)
So, today when I needed to open the coffee creamer, my stubborn and smart started getting together to fight the fight and open the foil, once more—because this is obviously a regular occurrence.
But, something about the way that I have interacted with the creamer for the last 25 years suddenly seemed ridiculous. Suddenly, I was tired of fighting the foil. And I said to my self aloud, “Don’t struggle, just stab.”
Don’t struggle, just stab.
Where did that come from?
I’ve spent every foil opening experience in the same way. I’ve always tried until I succeeded. I’ve always kept up the fight. But not today. Today I chose a different way of interacting with my world. I chose a different way of being. I chose a knife to the foil.
Now, this choice might seem insignificant to most. But it isn’t. It is significant because this is a core way of being for me. It is deeply ingrained in my psyche to fight. A core belief is that fighting is the only way out. And it is coupled with other core beliefs, like you have to make it on your own because others won’t help, or not engaging shows a weakness, or life is a series of conflicts, or only the strong survive. All false beliefs, by the way, but core beliefs are not quick to change. And mine were shaped in some terrible circumstances, so rooting them out and finding them so that you can change them takes years of facing those terrible circumstances again. It pretty much sucks to do that.
I am doing exactly that. I am facing years of terrible circumstances and trying to find ways to interact with those things differently, and to see myself and my world in a better way.
Stabbing the foil embodies the change that is happening in me. Don’t struggle, just stab. Take the easier route to your desire. Give up the fight. Yield. Do the smarter not the harder thing. Win by letting the foil win.
Learning to engage life and thought and people and things in new ways is really difficult work. But, the foil is evidence that I am learning to do just that. I am doing that difficult work, and after years of doing it am seeing results. I like those results.
I took a knife and stabbed that foil—killed that shit. And it took mere seconds to accomplish. And I don’t feel like I lost the fight. I feel like a winner! I am patting myself on the back (figuratively, not literally, because the neighbors may be watching)! I am looking at all the ways that offering myself the easy option might change the world for me. Finding Mr. or Ms. Right Now, rather than keeping up the struggle to find Mr. or Ms. Right, letting Luke lift the groceries when he knows I am exhausted rather than trying to be stronger and less tired, realizing that swimming and bathing and eating and writing a bit can be my weekly activity rather than trying to return to the concept of “better” that causes me to strive for more strength and more strength of will than I am able to obtain in this disabled body. I choose how to interact with the world, and I am starting to choose letting it all go. Don’t struggle, just stab.
Unfortunately, this mantra won’t literally work in all situations. When I am frustrated with my brother, I can’t just stab … at least not in the literal sense. (No killing relatives, people! I am in no way promoting actual stabbing in all situations!) But maybe in the figurative sense, I can just go the direction he wants to, even though I am aware that he is going the wrong way. I don’t have to convince him he is going the wrong way, but can let him figure that out on his own. I’ll just turn up the radio and enjoy the scenic route. And that way I haven’t lost anything. But I’ve won on the inside, just like I did with the foil, and can figuratively pat myself on the back for not engaging in futility.
Don’t struggle, just stab.
And I know that my stubbornness is still a gift that will get me through the tough times. And I know that my intellect is still a gift that will bring me joy and difficulty. But I know that I get to choose when to fight and when to not fight. And I get to leave behind any of those core beliefs that are false, as soon as I am able. And I am changing on the inside, and learning to be a better form of me. I’m letting go of some of the instinct to approach the world with anxious striving, and learning how to approach it with a quiet knowing—seeing the chaos but not being drawn into it.
I don’t need to react in the ways that society expects me to react. I don’t need to react in the ways I did before, even when before was just yesterday or earlier this morning. I don’t need to react at all, if I don’t want to.
We choose the way we interact with the world around us. And I am choosing more wisely and in ways that help instead of harm me. I am choosing not to struggle and fight and churn and flail through life. I am choosing to just stab at the foils of life—deleting that Facebook friend, or ignoring that comment, or choosing joy in the moment, or letting my inner child be my outer adult, or sliding down banisters instead of tiring on the stairs, or smiling instead of scowling as I walk through the subway tunnel, or offering peace instead of lecturing when my daughter is having a bad day, or offering myself kindness instead of chastising my lack of productivity.
Don’t struggle, just stab.