One of the fastest roads to dizzying anxiety is what Dr Russ Harris has termed the “Struggle Switch
.” It’s when we try to deny an element of living — any element of experience — pretending like we don’t need to deal with it.
It’s not the painful experience itself that’s most difficult — it’s our resistance of it that makes us miserable.
Alternatively, when we can learn to embrace and walk forward through every part of what it means to live, we find groundedness. We find the depth of experience.
Taking this approach also keeps us thinking clearly and openly, no matter what comes. While everyone else is preoccupied and consumed by a problem, the ability to recognize it for what it is at a high level and to step into that reality courageously will set you up for more fruitful engagement with it.
👉 It doesn’t eliminate the pain or difficulty, but it does keep that pain in its place (as opposed to letting the pain take over everything).
Sometimes, life ebbs: it pulls back away from you, and things get hard.
And sometimes, life flows: it moves in your favor, creating ease and comfort.
There’s a time for the ebb, and there’s a time for flow. And both are good. The cycle, specifically, is very good.
The cycle is where life happens. It’s the substance of life.
When we learn to embrace every part of life’s cycles is when we find depth of meaning. As an added bonus, with this also comes true adaptability.
The Ancients seemed to understand this better than we do.
Below is a Hebrew teaching that digs into the cycles of life, in all their variation.
It calls to attention the need to acknowledge the polarities of existence, even the difficult ones.
We can’t ignore some elements of existence and wish them away. We can’t plug our ears and blind our own eyes. This text calls for a healthy embrace of the fullness of what life really is.
Note: Everything in blue is from the original text. The interpretations are mine.
For Everything, There Is A Time
There is a season for everything, a time for every activity under the sun:
There is a time for the birth. There’s a time to be new. To be weak, vulnerable, unfamiliar, reliant on the goodwill of another. … There’s also a time to push through the pain of labor. To see the potential that’s coming, and to fight through everything that needs to be fought through to bring it into reality.
There is a time for death.
All things come to an end. You will age, and you will die. The things you’re fighting to build — and the people you love — will pass from your life. (But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth fighting for or loving anyway.) Life will change. You will change. Old things will be replaced with new. The good things you have will pass, and other good things will replace them. Death can serve as inspiration
There is a time to plant. There’s a time to attempt. To take something small and to let it loose in the world, on the hope that that small thing may blossom into something fruitful one day. The time to plant is distinct from the time to water and the time to prune. …Choosing to invest in seeing something grown and developed can also be good — and it has its time — but sometimes it’s simply time to plant.
There is a time to uproot. In every good thing that grows, there’s a likelihood that the garden in which it’s sprouted will one day no longer be the right fit. As the plant outgrows its early home, at some point it needs to be moved in order to give it — and the whole garden — the best chance for flourishing. There’s a time for starting over. There’s a time for cutting loose.
There is a time to kill. There’s a time to destroy. There’s a time to recognize a significant pathology and to put an irreversible end to it. And there’s also a time to recognize the less-obviously damaging distractions and to end their reign on your attention — to eradicate their ability to interfere with the things you care about most.
There is a time to heal. There’s a time to separate from the demands of life and to focus on healing, on seeing what’s good in the world. A time to focus on acknowledging and confronting sorrow or loss — and on letting those things go for a new adventure. A time to refresh, rejuvenate. A time to give space for, and a time to be vulnerable. To release. To breathe. To rest.
There is a time to tear down. We can’t only always go upward. There’s a time to deconstruct what’s been built. To take something that is — and to either destroy it completely or to dismantle and dissect it for the purpose of reconstruction. There’s a time to recognize pieces of the structure that are outdated or unnecessary — and to remove those pieces so that what remains can thrive.
There is a time to build. There’s a time to take the scattered pieces and infant ideas that lie in front of you, to stop seeking more, and to begin to build. It calls that you move from divergence to convergence. It calls that you choose to invest, that you choose to say no to everything else. It calls that you let go of the impulse to prematurely optimize. It calls that you work with what you have — limited and imperfect as those materials may be — and commit to the building anyway.
There is a time to weep. There’s a time to let know your sorrow. To share the pain. To not withhold from the eyes of others the difficulty you’re experiencing. To fully lean into the physicality of struggle.
There is a time to laugh. No matter how bad things are, there’s always the right time to find laughter. In the darkest places, laughter can be the medicine that reminds of something better, something beyond this moment. Laughter connects us. Laughter heals us. Laughter makes us brave.
There is a time to mourn. The pain of loss should never be denied. There’s a time to acknowledge that pain — to feel every ounce of it, to accept its influence. There will also be a time for moving on, but not yet. There will be a time to end the mourning, but this isn’t that time.
There is a time to rejoice. The joy of abundance should also never be denied. Even if that abundance is comparatively small, even when there are others who have more — there’s a time to be grateful for what is had. No matter what problems are still around, there’s a time to celebrate what’s been gained. There’s a time to celebrate achievements. There’s a time to celebrate the good things you are privileged to have, no matter what other circumstances are around — there’s always worse, and the good must be rejoiced in.
There is a time to embrace. There’s a time for arms wide-open: vulnerable, inclusive, warm, unquestioning. There’s a time to be generous in unconditional openness — with reckless abandon. To receive without reservation or precondition. There’s a time to bring into oneself, to accept.
There is a time to refrain from embracing. (obvious pandemic-transmission aside…) There’s also a time to withhold unconditional regard. There’s a time to require trust — to require proof. There’s a time to deny generosity of spirit, to tighten the prerequisites, to call for a higher standard, to ask for more.
There is a time to seek. At times, we need to break from the familiar and to go out looking. We might seek specifically, or we might seek non-specifically — there’s a time for both. You might be looking for something specific, weighing all the things you find against what you’re looking for, and discarding most of them as you continue your search. Or you may simply go out looking, open-minded and curious. Sometimes, there’s a call to reach out for more — to reach for things that are beyond yourself. Sometimes, there’s a call for dreaming, for ambition, for searching for answers.
There is a time to give up (as lost). There’s a time to let important things go. Sometimes, what is will start to diverge in a new direction — we might fight to pull it back, to fix it, because there’s a time for that. But there’s also a time to choose not to fight, to choose not to fix. To choose to let two things go separate ways — to look ahead at what is still in front of you, and to walk toward that, letting go of other things lost.
There is a time to keep. There is a time to treasure and to keep. To regard something as of high value, and to make space for it in your life. To hold onto it. To let it influence your days and how you spend your time.
There is a time to throw away. There’s also a time to discard and to let go. Whether it’s a new thing that you don’t have room for or an old thing that needs to be released — you have a finite capacity. You only have a limited amount of space to give to the infinite possibilities that are vying for that space. Many things need to be thrown away in order for a few things to fully flourish.
There is a time to tear apart. Sometimes, distinctions need to be made. Lines need to be drawn. Units need to be disconnected. Something that exists needs to be separated into its component parts — maybe for the purpose of developing each of those components separately so that they can flourish independently. Maybe for the purpose of reconstructing the whole, after some component diagnosis has been applied. Maybe for the purpose of pruning what needs to be left behind and growing what remains.
There is a time to mend/sew together. Other times, singular objects should be unified. They should be brought together and integrated. Connections should be made, bridges built; individual units absorbed into the whole, larger entity.
There is a time to be silent. Not for the sake of silence… but for the sake of curiosity, openness, humility. There’s a time to thoughtfully receive whatever is on offer. A time to assume that the person speaking to you knows something you don’t, and to search intently and expectantly for those insights. We often stay silent out of insecurity (…and there does seem to be some qualitative overlap between insecurity and humility, in that they’re both rooted in insufficiency…) but the time to be silent is the time to listen intently and to learn. Shut up, pay attention, learn. You never know when it’s you who isn’t doing this (but everyone else sees it).
There is a time to speak. Even when you’re not sure. Even if it might not go well. Even if you doubt your own insight. There’s a time to step into the spotlight and to let your thoughts be known. There’s a time to have an opinion and to share it. Regardless of imperfect circumstances — you’ll never know everything you need to know — there’s still a time to speak (with humility).
There is a time to love. To prioritize. To sacrifice for. To choose. To make the most important thing. To recognize the value and to pursue its flourishing. To regard as beautiful, as worthy. To water and to support and to protect and to prune. To call out and to cut way — to do the difficult things that no one else will do. There is a time to walk side-by-side. To merge. To blend. To give all.
There is a time to hate. To actively reject. To deny value. To not allow room for. There is a time to see when wrongness moves and to despise its essence, its very soul.
There is a time for war. There’s a time for confrontation. There’s a time to challenge. To call out problems and to stand firm in something that’s right. There’s a time for protecting against falsehood. There’s a time to fight. There’s a time to go to war with yourself — to fight through and cut away the things that need to be removed. War must be tempered with humility and an open ear — but when lies encroach, good must be fought for.
There is a time for peace. There’s a time to bridge the gap. There’s a time to smooth the waters, to cover wrongdoings. There’s a time to keep everyone happy — despite differences — and to invest in maintaining tranquillity. There’s a time to be at peace with yourself — to accept things as they are and to be still and quiet.
Note: I removed one pair from the original text. It states that “there is a time for casting [or scattering] stones, and a time for gathering stones.” This seems to be an unknown cultural reference from the time. None of the interpretations I could find presented a convincing argument on what the line means, so I simply left it out of this article.
The Dynamic Paradox That Is Truth
There’s a lot of truth in paradox.
There’s no singular, utopian state to aim for in life — there’s only a deep and rich life that integrates every phase and every quality of life fully.
- What do you do when things are ebbing and pulling back away from you?
- And what do you do when they’re flowing and moving in your favor?
- How do you handle each season, and how do you handle when there’s an abrupt transition?
Know where you are, and lean into it fully, openly.
And never forget that the contra is coming. For every experience you walk through, there will be a transition. Every yin has a yang, and they keep each other in check.
It was fascinating watching myself write this.
Through the process, I was challenged in my own ideas about each of these reasons, and I was forced to think more deeply about what each one really means and how it applies in my life.
You may find value in setting aside some time to do the same.