Being the Best at your Worst
How interesting and difficult. In these times, if we are really the kind of person who desires to grow, the coronavirus may be bringing us a wide variety of response and reaction. It’s been easy to think of ourselves as good people, the ones who would do the right thing or have the right state of mind in times as these. Now we have the opportunity to see what’s true about that and where we’re falling short. When the tides of stressors- political, economic, environmental, social- converge to give us the impression that the dreaded apocalypse may have always been nearer than we thought, how will we respond?
A modern Zen master said, “See your practice as the celebration of your neurotic potential!” It is powerful to take the stance that today the ultimate revelation of who we are- the good the bad and the ugly- HAS arrived. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, our manifest day of redemption. Why else would we have spent our whole lives so obsessed with coming into our own power, goodness, sense of safety and wellbeing?
Many times we will falter back into our habituated ways of self-protection in some combination of continuing to complain about the wicked world “out there” or shaming ourselves “in here” as we bottom out in our revealed cowardice. So whether we’re an activist on one hand or trying to clean up our own act on the other, there may be no better time to test our best by getting to know our worst!
When we welcome the fact that we are not as awesome as we privately thought we were, or our bubble has burst when we discover how violent the universe can actually be, we’ve been given a moment of “Neurotic Potential Practice.” This is none other than our life. How would one choose to treat such a decrepit person or such a broken world? Would we continue to beat up on it, shame it, allow it to collapse, keep turning away or even arrogantly pretend that we’ve already done enough work on ourselves?
This is our time. The good news of facing our lot this squarely is we don’t need to settle for our own mediocrity any longer. Today is the day, the day that our practice, our philosophy, our house-of-cards belief systems are tested in a moment-to-moment “celebration of our neurotic potential”. Our lives were always messy and it is what we do with it that counts for anything.
In short, Neurotic Potential Practice is working with what we see as our worst qualities to become stronger under pressure. See Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book,Antifragile. Below are some examples. The point is not that these are accurate for you but to present an opportunity for each of us to take on a less fragile philosophy, which may be a revolutionary way of working with ourselves and others. The invitation is to stay aware to our own habit patterns- generating fear, sadness, anger and numbness- and to form a practice of seeing a fresh antifragile potential in them:
· You complain about petty losses and inconvenience even though you are well sheltered, clothed, fed and you don’t have the coronavirus!. The neurotic potential here is to see how you have shielded yourself in a fragile and untrustworthy system of protection, comfort and convenience. Tenderness and care in being vulnerable to an uncertain and impermanent world may arise.
· You secretly and arrogantly say “I knew this was coming, I told you so” and hold on to a self-image that was always on the superior side, or distance yourself from things as they are right now. The neurotic potential here is to see and integrate your own contradiction. For you are, at the moment, not acting on the good side. Perhaps humility and interconnectedness may arise.
· You collapse into Netflix (or whatever) and disengage from yourself and others. The neurotic potential here is to see that even in a collapse or disconnection, there are moments you actually want to reach out for connection. A wish to exist more potently and to act may arise.
· You rush in to help others including your family and forget to eat, drink water or take care of your own health. The neurotic potential is to see your self-image as a caregiver is a manipulation to get love, or that you’re terrified to be alone. Perhaps self-care and a willingness to ask for help or connection may arise.
· You perpetually read the news and obsess with watching the coronavirus map become covered in larger patches of red. The neurotic potential here is to see your addiction to rational information as a form of salvation or at least to remain in control of what you can. Perhaps letting go of control may arise.
This is not going to be easy and it never was. There was always war, shortage of resources, loss of loved ones, a world of impermanence. The only difference today is that in spite of our losses, turmoil, and self-protection we can now take joyful ownership for the war and shortage of resources within, which may bring a whole new power and meaning to our lives.