Moving from Avoiding to Facing

Updated: Nov 9, 2019




START CLOSE IN by David Whyte

Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.



What happens in us when we avoid things? And when we avoid particular things chronically? And why do we avoid things? And what happens when we shift our energy from avoiding to facing?


I believe we avoid things or people because we anticipate the situation to be too complex and sometimes overwhelming to face. Sometimes we are prioritizing something else, because realistically we will never be able to do it all. And yet the problem with avoiding, I will venture, has to do when we are evading something that IS a priority.


What I've discovered, to my delight, is that when I face something that's important, that I've been avoiding, I feel energized! This is also true with people.


I remember once, prioritizing my work tasks, and then what came to mind as a priority (that I had been avoiding) is having a crucial/difficult conversation with my boss. I took a deep breath and realized that actually this was the top-of-my-list priority. I prepared for the conversation, had the conversation, and even though we weren't agreeing on things, I felt so energized afterwards! I had gained some empathy for his situation, I clearly stated my position, and we built a shared understanding of our present situation that was clearer than before we talked. Afterwards I thought, "If I could do that (the hardest thing I'd been avoiding), what else could I face?! Everything else felt less daunting, because I had had a visceral experience of facing.


So why do we avoid?


We are storytelling creatures. And our past deeply influences the stories and meaning we create in our present. We make up stories. For instance, if my boss and I don't see eye-to-eye then that's "going to be bad". (Yes, sometimes it's that vague sense of dread).


In my last blog post, Agreement vs Acceptance I talked about the freedom we can discover when we can experience the reality that we don't have to agree with others. What's critical is that we accept their offer. Rather than wishing they didn't feel or think the way they do, we accept. Yes, that's your perspective. And here's mine. Giving others space to think and feel the way they do is foundational to having civil dialogue and a skill we need to recover in our society.


So what's a new story we can tell? Or as Rosamund and Benjamin Zander state in The Art of Possibility: "What's something new I can invent that will give me other choices?"


We can tell a story of curiosity and we can focus on what possible good can come out of it. Because even if you do all you can, but your boss is a chronic jerk, the invitation to you may be to face the truth that you don't have a future with that organization. Or even just that you are building your skills of having difficult conversations.


What I'm wondering currently is if we avoid from a subconscious primal survival instinct of asking ourselves (tho we aren't articulating this question) ''Is this energy expenditure worth it?"


And what I'm discovering that most of the time it is.


And this is because it is energizing to face things and people. Because we are beginning to enact a new story.


And this dynamic self-propagates. When we face one thing (that we've been avoiding) we realize, Wow, if I can face that, I can face other things. That dynamic, as David Whyte says, ''becomes alive in our body."


A Visceral Experience of Being in This Together


When we feel alone, life can feel overwhelming at times. However when we have the visceral experience of belonging, connectedness, and giving/receiving support, we can feel much more able to face what's before us.


This is the power of the workshops that I lead. Staff teams say at the end of our time that they feel much more connected than they usually do. They feel more joy. And I would add - they have collectively had the experience of facing something together (doing applied improv for instance) and finding they are more than capable, and so they leave energized - fueled to work together on the mission to which they are facing.



Try this: I've found that when I quiet myself, take deep breaths, allow the ''sediment to settle'' things will rise to the surface. Often things I need to face. I encourage you to try this. What's one thing you can face that you've been avoiding? What happens when you face it? How do you feel before, during, after?



** excerpt from David Whyte poem Start Close In - from River Flow New & Selected Poems Many Rivers Press © David Whyte


©2019 by David Westerlund. Photo credits: Ramona Laird, Alvin Shim, and David Westerlund.