Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Q. I am in a difficult situation and uncertain of what to do. There are no good options and regardless of what I decide, at least one person will become irrevocably angry and hurt. If I do nothing the situation will be carried forward, involve more people, and more than likely worsen. Any suggestions?

A. It sounds like you are describing the proverbial ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’ condition. I feel for you! Like you I have, at times, found myself in unforeseeable situations faced with impossible choices. I’m still not sure how I got into or out of those scrapes, but
somehow I did.

One of the first things I try to do when things get messy or scary is to become very objective, which is hard to do if I’ve become lost in my story. We all have a story we tell others and ourselves. Our storyline often casts us as heroes and villains, victors and victims, wise teachers and lost souls. Our story is an important part of our myth-journey, and through its chapters and challenges we learn a great deal about life. But if we become mired in the maze of our own mind, and forget that we are both the story and the storyteller, we suffer. And those around us do as well.

If this rings a bell for you, try to insert a pause in your discursive thoughts. Discursive thoughts are lengthy, non-essential digressions that have little to do with what is actually happening. These thoughts may be rational and reasonable, but likely not very intuitive. If you can, recognize that you are acting out a role and so is everyone else. Describe that role to yourself and see if you feel comfortable with that character – really view it as a play that is unfolding upon a stage with you and the other actors reprising a role you have rehearsed. View the play objectively, including the script and the background scenery. Imagine that you and all the other actors will soon move on to other, more interesting projects. You might also imagine the possibility that you could turn down this role in favor of another.

Many years ago I knew a teacher who likened us to chess pieces on a chessboard; restricted to a grid of squares and the limited abilities of the chess piece we were assigned at birth. I disagreed. I believe we can transcend our limitations as we become aware of them, imposing fewer restrictions upon ourselves in the process. To do this effectively, we must encourage others to do the same – even when the outcome is not the one we would prefer. If we want freedom for ourselves we must make it available to others too.

Although you may not like your options, I see at least three: Do something, do nothing, wait for someone else to do or not do something. You indicated a strong possibility that others may become irreparably angry or hurt. Within the framework of our fragile human nature this is always a possibility – shadow likes to plays hide-and-seek with light. Remember this: Bridges can shorten the distance between even the most remote locations.

A longtime friend of mine spent many years sponsoring individuals in several twelve-step based programs. His wisdom was the kitchen-table sort and when he spoke everyone listened. Once, when life made a hard angle across my path he advised me to make only the smallest decisions; to think or move an inch at a time, and only if necessary. He called it “taking the next indicated right action”, a variation on first things first. For several weeks I lived and worked in a protective bubble of simple thoughts and small actions. I did not overthink or overact. His advice got me through a scary time and I have called upon it on several occasions. Maybe it will help you too.

The answers we need most are not elusive, and often nearer than we think. From what little you have shared with me, you sound exhausted. This is what I suggest you do next: Get Quiet. Find a quiet place for contemplation. In a pinch, even a closet will do. Then, find a similar space within. Think of the outer place and the inner space as one – open and available. Get Real. Observe the situation again, objectively and as if for the first time. Imagine that you are an impartial being assigned to oversee the shifting of energy. Let Go. Practice being more than doing. Allow whatever is beyond the rational/reasoning mind to act on your behalf.

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