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Dr. Cara Barker Headshot

Lessons From The Edge: Stages And StrategiesTo Reinvention

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'Beyond these shores, dragons and monsters be..." We are told that ancient cartographers were known to inscribe upon maps the aforementioned words, as warnings for those to come that ahead was unknown territory. Edges herald the uncertain. A part of us draws back from the unfamiliar. At least that aspect of our nature that likes things predictable, safe, easily controlled. This is our Monkey Mind. This little devil holds us in too small a box, before the time when we are placed 'in the box.'

Stage One, Strategy #1. Neither you nor I am stranger to living too small. Whether we admit it or not, we know when our lives have grown stale. We know when what used to interest us lacks all luster, be it our work, our partner, our children, our causes, our friends, our pursuits. We know when we are grinding away in the same way as yesterday, and will again, tomorrow. The nanosecond this dawns on us, we are a hair's breath away from noticing that we are on a ledge, of sorts. Should we press forward, things get a little dicey, at least for a bit. Think white water in rafting.

Rapids, aka Edge Places, come in many forms. You know them. Those tricky spots that suddenly show up on your radar screen, and now, despite your protest, there is no going back. Last night, a client told me of hers: signs of a failing marriage. Yesterday, another told me that her company is moving toward bankruptcy at full-throttle speed. This morning, I overheard the man next to me at the grocery, on his cell: "...and, added to that, I'm losing our home we've had for 23 years. My wife's healthcare isn't worth shit. We've got to sell our home, in this market, no less, for her to get treatment. After that, I've got nothing to sell. Not good at 71."

At these junctures, we tighten: our breath, our knees. Stage one of Edge Places has to do with entering. To not only survive, but thrive, the edge zone means a strategy of doing the exact opposite of what your Monkey Mind tells you to do, i.e., draw back, hide. Since the Edge will not just vanish because you're covering your eyes, however, you are now only in more danger. The strategy, then, has to do with leaning into the very edge you'd like to avoid.

Stage Two: Strategy #2. How do you do this? How do you advance when your head says 'run away'? Maybe it would help to consider that running will only lead you in circles. (Now, here, I do admit that the ostrich approach does have appeal for all of us who are part of the human species. The 'ictions' are famous self-soothers, for awhile. You know your own fave: drinking, gambling, smoking, shopping, gaming, whatever. They work until we wake up with a regret hangover.) Sooner or later, the piper gets paid. The life change before you must be confronted if you: a) don't want things to get worse; and b) would like to improve your situation, which means grow. Sooner, rather than later, saves a heap of even bigger trouble.

Stage Two has to do with accepting disparity. Here, if we are to progress through the Dark Night of change, we've got to 'face the music.' We've got to name, and lean into, that what was, is no longer. This is the grief-walk place. There is no greater tension than holding these opposites. In one hand, you've got the 'what was.' In my case, there was the life of my son. In your other hand, you've got the truth of 'what's happened.' For me, 17 years ago, the 'what's happened' category had to do with the fact that my only son, Matt, had been killed by a drunk driver. When we stand in the field of opposites, holding their tension, everything in us wants to collapse, or fight, or die. But, if we can 'hang in there,' if we can trust the process for just a little moment more, one moment after the next, until the pain passes through, at least for awhile for that 'go-round,' then there is movement which brings healing, if not redemption. It does not happen overnight. But, I assure you it can happen, for you, and anyone else willing to do the work.

The question is: how can we be most effective when confronted with the next unexpected twist and turn of events? The first strategy has to do with reconsidering just how we view the edges in our life. Which means, answering 'just what is your relationship to edges?'

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