Here in Colorado it’s a typical spring day…
There are eight inches of snow on the ground with more on the way. But below that heavy, white blanket, there’s a garden just waiting to spring to life.
Let’s pretend that your life is a flower garden. You know how flowers are supposed to work—you plant a seed or a bulb where it will get the right amount of sun, you water it, and ouila! The plant pokes up and grows into something beautiful.
Now, imagine that there is a layer of plastic just below the soil’s surface. You plant your seeds and water them, but nothing comes up. You know that you were supposed to get beautiful plants, and you still want to have them, so you start to manufacture your garden. You draw a plan of your ideal garden, and you get plant-looking materials and launch yourself into a big project of cutting, gluing and sticking your creations into the ground. It’s hard work, but you want the flower garden, and you make it happen. All shapes and sizes, just like you planned it.
One day, a storm comes in and blows away half your flowers. What a pain! But, you get back to work, repairing and recreating. You enjoy it for a while longer, but another storm comes in. This time, heavy rain and hail take their toll, and you have to put it all back together once again.
As storm after storm comes in, you start to get really tired of all the work it takes to rebuild the garden each time. You explode in anger each time with growing intensity, furious that something always comes to wreck your pretty garden. But, you always get a hold of yourself and rebuild, always before someone else can see that your garden isn’t always like your ideal. No matter how exasperated you are, when people visit, you smile and say, “Everything is great with my garden!” But, it’s exhausting and you’re sick of how much work it takes to maintain it.
This is the picture I use to help some of my clients understand their survival mechanism, the one I call the Idealist pattern. To survive, they feel like their life has to look a certain way, conforming to whatever their ideal “pretty picture” is. The success of this pattern is built on keeping negative feelings under control, which doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But there’s actually a big problem with keeping negative feelings under control, because there is just one pipeline feelings come through, so positive feelings are blocked also.
The positive feelings, which I call natural well-being, are the core of who we are as humans, and this well-being is meant to be the automatic, generating force behind the moments of our lives. So, burying or controlling feelings is equivalent to laying down the plastic sheet in the soil, keeping the seeds of well-being from growing naturally and effortlessly into the garden of a fulfilling life.
Idealists come to me when their manufactured garden has been destroyed one time too many and they just don’t even have the capability to put it all back together again. Often, their manufacturing processes don’t even work, anymore. The ways they’ve put their pretty picture back together now fail and they are having a hard time getting their negative feelings back under control. They may have a relationship that has fallen apart, some health issue that spirals out of control, their career has tanked, or there is some other aspect of their life that just doesn’t get back in line in after “the storm.” That’s OK with me, because it’s actually the point at which their brain will allow really deep change to happen.
When Idealists remove the plastic sheeting and let their well-being generate their lives, it doesn’t always look so different to people around them. Their “garden” has always looked great. But, if you walk into the middle of each, there’s a huge difference between a manufactured garden and a real one. Not only is the real garden much more vibrant and resilient, but it generates itself!
So, Idealists say things like, “The thing that just happened at work was life changing, and I didn’t do anything at all to make it happen. Nothing good has ever happened this easily in my entire life.” And, since the previously blocked well-being is now uncovered, they feel much different. So, they also say things like, “I have never felt this happy or at peace before. I feel like I can relax and enjoy things for the first time in my life.”
Have you ever felt like you were manufacturing the good in some part of your life? Relationships, health, career, self expression? While you may have been very successful at creating a pretty picture, there is a more natural and infinitely more wonderful “garden” that your well-being can create for you. It can take a lot of courage to clear out the plastic flowers and dig out the plastic sheeting, because it involves delving into the negative feelings that have so carefully been blocked, but there is an incredibly wonderful surprise waiting to spring forth when you do.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel
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