When you open your eyes and are staring at the ceiling (and you are not lying in bed) it probably means you have fallen — unexpectedly. More specifically, it may mean that someone has pulled the rug out from under you.
For each of us it is a different degree of tragedy, sorrow, or pain that sends us to the mat. It could be bad news about someone close to us, the sudden end of something we aren’t ready to end, or perhaps something as simple as a paper cut on a day that is weightier than most. Inevitably, we all find ourselves on the floor sometimes.
Now with the rug pulled away, not only are you on the floor, but you are lying in a bunch of dirty fluff and crumbs — the crap you didn’t bother to sweep up sooner, or hadn’t noticed had accumulated under your rug.
While lying on the floor, you have three options: fight, flight, or do nothing.
There is a lot of research and literature on the first two instinctive options, fight or flight. There is less on doing nothing or being still, though it is covered in business and religious texts.
When analyzing any situation in business, you can also fall back on the ever present option to maintain the status quo. I’ve never been one to do nothing, especially in business. I’ve always thought it was better to be moving forwards, or at least moving, to not lose momentum — so that left me fight or flight.
I typically have chosen flight, even if some see it as cowardly. (The opinions of others, when you are lying on the floor looking at the ceiling, are often more important than usual, so have to be taken into account. However, you have to do what is true to you and what will help you get off the floor as undamaged as possible, even if it is the most ungraceful, spastic way to get to your feet as viewed by spectators).
I have booked many an airplane ticket when the world has thrown me lemons and have made lemonade off in some far away destination. Notice I did not say I booked a vacation. These are not vacations. I am leaving the “scene of the crime” to get perspective — to think.
This is the journey — not the destination. In seeing the world, I can reexamine: who I am and what I am made of; what I like and what I don’t like; assume new traits or shed old ones. Travel, for me, is more about the exploration of self than the exploration of a place, and this is not cowardly.
Fighting is another option. But you have to ask yourself what you gain by hurting someone who has wronged you. You won’t feel any better in the long run.
Gandhi preached non-violence. He is quoted daily for his phrase “Be the change.” He did not recommend fighting those who perpetrated a cruelty against you with your fists. He would say fight them peacefully, only if it is worth fighting at all.
I would say that conflict is good if it is with the intention of resolving an issue. Few interpersonal problems fix themselves. When you feel like you have no one to talk to, it is time to find someone — fast — even if you pay them to do so.
The only thing worse than a difficult conversation is a difficult silence.
Back to the religious texts, I am no scholar of world religions, but have seen many a contemplative monk, guru, or life scholar around the world enlisting the third option of doing nothing. Like water off a ducks back, they handle everything and are still.
Should the rug be pulled out from under them, they would be lying on the floor, in the dirt, keenly aware of their surroundings, accepting and transcending the fact that the carpet is gone, that they are hurt, that the floor is dirty, and they are lying in it.
“What can we learn from that?” you may ask. Perhaps lying still, looking up at the ceiling, we can enjoy the view of our worlds from a different angle. We may wriggle to ease the discomfort of the floor on our pressure points. It may hurt a little, because those pieces of stuff on the floor are digging into our backs. We may fall asleep to pass some time.
Eventually, in our stillness, our gaze turns inward to the only place we can find any real truth.
When we dig deep enough, we recapture our belief and the faith required to get back on our feet. It is then that we realize that both the instinctual fight and flight reflexes wouldn’t have helped, because you can’t fight or flee from reality.
This does not imply a defeatist attitude, a la sci-fi”resistance is futile.” But it does lean towards “don’t sweat the small stuff,” “live and let live,” “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em” attitudes of acceptance.
Next time I find myself on the floor, gazing up and then gazing in, eventually I’ll get up and start dusting myself off.
Unless I’ve found a housekeeper by then, a lot of the crap from the floor will undoubtedly still be stuck to me. I think I’ll leave some there to wear like a badge of honour, to remind me of my faith, our inevitable falls, and of my humanity.