We keep busy, run around or numb ourselves to escape the unbearable now, even when we don’t know what we are running from…
The wish to escape
I don’t know about you, but I have had many moments in my life that I wanted to escape. Escape my own mediocracy, escape from feeling stuck or having the feeling I wasn’t “living my potential”, as the saying goes.
Change of scenery
Escaping the unbearable now for a brighter future is something the mind loves. It is thrilled to point out the promise of a change of scenery, and all the goodies that will be available for you once you have arrived there. It is just what you need! A change! The drastic visions that come to mind fill you with adrenaline, numbing the humiliation of feeling unable to be the person you want to be.
When life seems dull…
For some of us, it is hard to be in the now when the now carries no promise, no light in it. When life seems dull and predictable, and you feel trapped in its continuum like a hamster on a wheel. This may sound a bit melodramatic, but I know that’s how it used to be for me. I needed a new plan, some inspiring story to keep me going. I even thought this was because I was full of creative ideas that needed expression. This may have been partly true, but in time I started to recognise most of these plans as being a little too bright, serving merely as an escape from the not-so-special-and-bright beliefs I deep down had about myself.
Don’t get me wrong, being inspired and having ideas is fantastic and necessary for your well-being. But when they become an escape route, and you find the messy, boring, confronting side of your plans hard to bear, there is something out of balance.
That’s what I noticed in myself: whenever I felt stuck in exercising my idea, I came up with a new plan, simply changing the scenery. And it worked… Until it didn’t. Until I realised I was fleeing from something that I was actually longing for: resting in being my self, including all my imperfections.
Walking on quicksand
I believe the longing for this sort of escape towards a more special and livelier momentum has its root in the assumption that being where you are now is somehow unbearable. You need to keep looking at the horizon and not look down. You need to keep moving. It is like walking on quicksand: once you stop you will sink away in the deadly embrace of what is below. It will drag you down and you will be lost in something dark and gloomy, or so you think you will be.
Escaping what we don’t want to feel
This escaping can take on many forms, like not being able to sit down and do nothing, making endless future plans, being a workaholic, moving to another location (preferably to the other side of the planet) or disappearing into oblivion (another planet altogether). Some people feel the need to escape the unbearable now by driving to the airport and take the first available plane they can catch or clean their house incessantly.
We all have escape routes
When you think about it, we probably all have escape routes, one way or another, to keep away from something we do not want to feel. We move, plan, eat, drink, forget, keep busy and leave. That’s how we do it. And as long as we do not suffer too much from it, we will continue doing so. When you do suffer from it though, it may be helpful to muster your courage and look at what is below and face that quicksand underneath, ready to swallow you. What is so unbearable? What are you running from?
The thing with escaping is, that we obviously feel we have no other solution but to leave. In other words, we feel powerless to deal with the situation or the emotional state we’re in.
Are we really that powerless?
Or is this just an old imprint, programmed in our childhood, seen from a child’s perspective?
Can we rewrite the idea of being powerless and having the need to escape, now that we are grown ups and can take care of ourselves?
Being a little boy or girl, we had to cope with the messages, hidden or overtly, that we got from our parents or caretakers. Messages on how to behave, what was “good” and what was a no-go zone. These messages may have been reassuring and warm, but also may have been emotionally or physically threatening, leaving us with a feeling of being unsafe and unloved.
Imprints of powerlessness
A child is too young to stand up for itself or understand emotions in a broader context. This is why painful feelings, experienced when we are very young, are often combined with the idea of being powerless, of not being able to cope with these ‘big’ emotions: they seemed too painful, too unsettling or too unsafe for a small child.
Imprints that are still active
As adults, we still carry these imprints with us. Even though we might have learned to deal with many situations in powerful ways, some imprints of powerlessness and fear may still be active in our daily lives.
What we escape even now is the imprint of being in danger and unable to rescue ourselves. So we keep running to stay safe! Until we stop, turn around (or in this case look below) and have a proper look. We may then find that the imprint is based on old beliefs that serve us no longer.
In my case, for example, I discovered that making new, exciting plans was my escape from the negativity of my mother. Being a child, I couldn’t bear the weight of her depression, so I turned to light and loving things, away from what I felt as difficult and dark. Later in life, I still acted on this imprint, as if I would be swallowed by darkness if I had no inspiring idea to save me.
Becoming powerful instead of powerless
Of course these imprints are powerful but at the same time they are changeable. Powerful because these (traumatic) imprints are emotionally strong. Changeable in the sense that once you start facing it, you realise it was just a child”s perspective. And that you are capable of becoming powerful now instead of powerless, by understanding the emotion and being more able to deal with it.
Transforming the imprint
Not only did I find out where my need to escape came from, I also realised I had disconnected from my own negativity and anger in my attempts to stay safe. With that, things started to change. My weakness became my strength in a way. Times of frustration in which I felt trapped, attacked or misunderstood became important invitations to stay and not leave. They offered an opportunity to discover that I was not threatened by these emotions anymore.
Over time, I could allow myself more and more to feel angry or moody, which was quite a relief. The initial restlessness was transforming into becoming more present and grounded. I did not need the light to save me anymore. (Although I must say I still have my preference ;-))
It may be interesting to investigate what you may be running from, and perhaps discover some treasures in yourself that you have been running from up till now.
Explore this in class with Esther Teule
Escaping the unbearable now, meditation, 20 minutes, all levels