When someone beats a rug,
the blows are not against the rug,
but against the dust in it.
I just sent this quote to a client who reminded me today how little he likes talking about Learned Distress—the feeling we absorb early in life that “something is wrong with me“—which is at the core of our negative moments.
Talking about the negative stuff feels like a big downer to him, and he would rather talk about strategies to move forward in life. That would be okay, except that identifying Learned Distress and unlearning it are the most effective ways to really move forward freely and joyfully. However, I know it can seem like a convoluted, indirect, and sometimes painful route.
There was a time when I was actually concerned about how much I tend to focus on people’s negative stuff. But then, I realized that I’m the rug beater who Rumi is talking about.
My whole purpose is to bring out the beauty and vibrancy of the rug, but to do that, I end up focusing nearly all of my attention on the dust. The rug, itself, doesn’t need my help. It’s gorgeous and complete all on its own. It just needs to be freed of dust.
In human terms, the rug is the uniqueness of someone’s natural well-being.
Well-being is the energy at our core that is the source of our creativity and joy of being. When Learned Distress covers it up, we have to work hard at creating what matters to us and feeling good. We have to push through all the dust just to express our unique voice in the world and make good things happen.
Now, doing all that work is better than the alternative of giving up and letting ourselves be buried in the dust. But, Learned Distress makes hard work the only alternative.
And, some patterns of Learned Distress make us feel that it’s unsafe to even acknowledge the presence of the dust, much less really look at it and address it. Hence, my client’s discomfort with talking about Learned Distress and his desire to stick with the safe pattern of coming up with strategies to move forward (i.e. more hard work). Unfortunately, the dust keeps building up and at some point, overwhelms our ability to work past it.
The reward for continuing to beat the rug and remove the dust is uncovering the incredible, unique work of art that each of us is at our core.
And, the result is always different and surprising, even to those who have been most effective at working past their dust. Well-being always brings about some unexpected good that we never imagined before. As a bonus, it happens effortlessly, unlike the toil or even struggle that has been our default way of moving through life.
A great example this week was from a client who is an editor and has been looking for new projects. She was hired to edit poetry, which she doesn’t even like or feel like she understands. But she made her comments and suggestions, and the poet loved them and found them so helpful that he’s recommending her to all of his colleagues. Without even trying, she’s tapped into a whole new market that she never expected nor would she ever have pursued through the “work hard” method.
Are you feeling how hard it is to work past all your own dust? I’m never a fan of just beating the rug to examine the dust and then let it settle back in.
But, when you can actually remove the dust, you allow your own uniqueness to shine and work for you in ways that make your life more and more a series of unexpectedly joyful moments.
Ed: Lynn Hasselberger