And you can’t hurry anything else that you really want. You can try, but sometimes, it just has to take its time coming.
Have you ever felt, at some time in your life, like you want to fast-forward through a process which on some level you already know how it will turn out? I have a friend who, in her mid-30s, realized that she was doing a lot of stupid things [that she knew were stupid] because “she never got to act stupid in her teens and early 20s.” And yet, for a while there – she needed to continue doing such things – until the coin finally dropped. Or then there is the guy I know who lost a great girlfriend, because he was not ready to accept all of her goodness. He knew she was just what he’d always said he was looking for, and yet… he couldn’t accept her when she became real.
A lot of people [myself included] are tempted to get upset and disappointed at the missed potentialof these situations. How is it that people waste so much time and throw so much opportunity away, because what – because they’re not ready? Even when they know that their wish is coming true?
The thing I’ve re-learned recently, in some very strong ways, is that there is no substitute for “the right time.” Whatever, “the right thing” may be, if it presents itself at the wrong time, it is no longer the right thing. Even a chocolate lover would prefer a glass of water if s/he has just eaten nothing but 20 bars of chocolate.
In the realm of sex and relationships in general, when we aren’t able to get exactly what we want [at the time we want it], we have a strong tendency to substitute. One Elvis song, “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” contains a verse that exclaims, “I’d rather go on hearing your lies than to go on living without you.” Of course, this is an unfortunately pathetic train of thought, but it captures perfectly that desire that keeps trying anyway to attain the unattainable by substitution: his lover’s voice, her presence, her paying attention to him will hopefully be enough for him to feel intimacy with her, even as she is lying to him and thus in fact shutting off intimacy with him. People do this so often in love – they settle for the caricature of real intimacy that they are being offered, trying to “make the best of it” and keep the love alive.
Ahh, but this is also much deeper and more far-reaching than just relationships! What about all those extreme things people can end up doing? Dangerous activities, violence, obsessions, addictions, unrestrained sexual perversions, and the like? What is all that about?
So much of the time, as I have seen things, people get involved in extremes as a way of trying very hard to attain an intimacy that is elusive. We know this about the person who has sex as a way of trying to be loved (hello, been there!), the violent, controlling type who tries to intimidate people into respecting them (even though the true voluntary respect and trust they seek will never be earned in this way), or the person that turns to a drug or habit to feel a feeling that one would normally look for among their fellow human beings. Substitution is something we pass a major part of our time doing.
And then there are the things that don’t look so extreme, but still count as substitution for the intimacy and connection we are really looking for. How many times have you had a conversation that went on for a good while, and basically amounted to nothing meaningful? You know, those times you spend with someone during which you might talk about how the weather has been crazy, or which team is / was the better team, or how this or that celebrity looks different than they did two years ago … when truly – you really want to be talking about something else. You really want to talk about how you feel, how they feel, what you love, what’s not going so well and why, how it could be made right, how you could help each other, how you could connect, the things that are important to you, the things that burn at your soul and call out to your heart… the things that matter.
We substitute all the time – often without even realizing it. Sometimes it’s nice to just shut the inner mind chatter off and enjoy a superficial activity for what it is. I don’t have any problem with that. However, when substitution starts becoming the main way that one deals with pain and dissatisfaction, this is when it becomes unhealthy – especially if it continues happening over the long term.
Don’t get me wrong – sometimes, substitution is the best you can do when you are lacking what you really want. This I know very personally – I have consciously occupied myself with “filler” activities when I wanted to minimize the pain of a situation I couldn’t fast-forward. But that word – “consciously” - is the key: I knew I was doing it, and I knew not to fall in love with such substitutions, because they are not a long-term replacement for the real thing I was desiring.
Perhaps this is another roundabout way of saying “don’t get addicted” to something as a coping mechanism. But it’s so much more than that; it’s a call to look around and become conscious of your needs, and meet them healthily, with a dynamic view that allows you to grow and develop, rather than leaning on a crutch that keeps you in the same tired spot. When something takes you aback and you need to adjust, it can be hard sometimes to walk the line between adjusting in order to distance yourself from what knocked you around and adjusting in order to return to the normal you. Sometimes you may have to get further from the normal you in order to be better able later on to more efficiently get back to the normal you.
Above all, let’s not forget that some mental processes… have to take the time to process. Even if our intellect knows where things are going to go and can hypothetically fast-forward, still – it’s a process. Just as we get physically wounded from a fall and the wound needs time to heal, the same is true for our mental wounds. We may substitute all we like as long as we understand that such substitution does not change this process, and as long as we don’t expect salvation from pain as a result of such substitution. There is a difference between mere substitution and avoidance.
A fridge magnet at my home advises, ”slow down, calm down, don’t worry, don’t hurry, trust the process.” I love reading these words and remembering, when I’m stressed out about the course that something is going to take, that I can choose to “trust the process.” And, if possible, strive to go further – and love the process. I think that is when we are at our best, anyway – when we have learned to love the process. Even when it hurts.