Practice of the Week
Put Out Fires
Put Out Fires
"There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there." (Bill McKibben)
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Rick Hanson on putting out fires:
Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing. [Order a copy for yourself: HERE]:
In your heart, right now, you know if there are any vital matters that you're not dealing with: a harm or threat that's not being addressed, or a major lost opportunity. These are real alarms, and you need to listen to them.
For example, there could be unpaid bills on the verge of harming your credit score, a teenager who's increasingly disrespectful and defiant - or caught in the undertow of depressed mood - month after month without much exercise, a marriage that's unraveling thread by thread, abuse of alcohol or drugs, a co-worker who keeps undermining you, chronic overeating, or a nagging sense that there's something wrong with your health.
Quickly or slowly, "fires" like these will singe a life, and sometimes burn it to the ground.
If something's urgent - such as a clogged toilet, a letter from the IRS, a lump in an armpit - most people will get after it right away. But what if it's important-but-not-urgent — an issue or goal that you can always put off dealing with for one more day? It's easy to let these fires smolder — but in the end, they're the ones that usually cost you the most. You still know they're out there; they cast a shadow you can feel in your gut. And eventually their consequences always come home — sometimes during your last years, when you look back on your life and consider what you wish you'd done differently.
On the other hand, when you come to grips with important things, even if they're not urgent, that unease in the belly goes away. You feel good about yourself, doing what you can and making your life better.
Open to an intuition, a sense, of whatever you may have pushed to the back burner that truly needs attending. Consider your health, finances, relationships, well-being, and (if this is meaningful to you) spiritual life. Notice any reluctance to face significant unmet needs — it's normal to feel guilty or anxious about them — and see if you can release it.
Ask yourself: what gets in the way of you addressing important-but-not-urgent matters in a typical day? What do you finesse or manage each day but never solve once and for all? Or what do you keep postponing altogether?
What's not actually getting better no matter how much you hope it will?
Write down the name(s) of the important thing(s) you need to address. Tell a trusted person about this. Make it real for yourself that this issue matters. Face it. Keep facing it.
Bring to mind some of the many benefits that will come to you and others if you tackle this issue. Help them be vivid in your mind. See how your days will improve, how you'll sleep better, feel better, and love better. Open to your heart's longing for these benefits. Let the benefits call you, drawing you like honey does a bee.
Also bring to mind the short- and long-term costs to you and others of this issue continuing to smolder away. Be honest with yourself—willing to feel guilt, remorse, or shame in order to do the so honorable, so hard thing of looking squarely at these costs.
Feeling the benefits, and feeling the costs, make a choice: Are you going to put out this fire? Or wait another day?
When you choose to confront this issue, open to feeling good about that.
Then get to work. You don't need to have a complete plan to get started. Just know the first step or two—such as talking about the issue with a friend or therapist, gathering information (e.g., assessing a health concern), seeing a professional, doing one or more small positive actions each day, or getting structured support from others (e.g., a buddy to exercise with, a regular AA meeting). If you're stuck, you don't need a more perfect plan; you need to take imperfect action. The breakthrough will come when you commit to addressing an issue and then structure ongoing support and action toward that end.
If you find yourself procrastinating or getting bogged down, imagine that you are looking back on your life as you near its end. From that perspective, what will you be glad that you did?
Write down the names of important things you need to address. Write about the benefits of tackling the issue, and about the costs of not tackling it.
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Previous Practice of the Week: "Don't Be Alarmed."
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"