This is a Guest Post by Gunhild Lorenzen
The gap between your bar and your ground level is the space where you suffer.
We suffer when our expectation and our lived reality mismatch. We suffer when we expect a certain behaviour from another person or from ourselves and the reality is a different story. This space that lies between expectation and experienced reality is the place where suffering resides.
Take a moment now to imagine you are standing in a relaxed way, both feet flat on the ground, the weight of your body well posed, and you are breathing deeply and regularly. No thoughts. Wouldn’t you agree that this sounds like a blissful moment? You are fully in the “here-and-now”. You are able to experience rootedness and belonging.
Now conjure up an imaginary bar, two meters above you. This bar represents all of the expectations and shoulds in your life. Do some of these sound familiar?
I should be making more money.
I should be a better wife, son, sister, friend.
I should have a functioning relationship.
I should have a nice family with children, pool and dog.
I should look better, taller, slimmer…
I should be more calm and relaxed
How do you feel when you look at the bar you’ve set yourself? I’m guessing not so good. Why? Because your ‘here-and-now’ reality, and the impossible bar you’ve set yourself may be significantly different. They form a gap. You can even see the gap when you look up. The gap is between your body (here-and-now) and the expectations of your mind. I would say the gap is the difference between the situation as it is and the situation as you expect it should be. The gap is created between what is and your thoughts of how the world should be.
The bar is what you aim for, what you long for, what you think should be “right”. If you are driven and very ambitious, the bar is probably very high. Sometimes it is so high that you don’t know where it ends.
Instead of feeling your feet on the ground, enjoying ground level, you expect something out of your reach and get nervous or anxious.
It is not as black and white as it sounds, as nothing is in life. Allow me to delve into the grey. Let’s say you are a competitive sports person. You want to run faster, jump wider or push stronger. So far, so good.
As a sportsperson you know what is achievable, you have an idea of your capabilities and you have a workable plan for how to reach your goal.
Despite the fact that, as an athlete your bar is high, its height is determined by your knowledge and experience of your sport and your own body and this knowledge is used in a strategic way to help you to achieve your goals. This is very different from what I was referring to before.
As a sportsperson you have clear and achievable goals. And your goals probably do not sound like: “I should win a gold medal at the Olympics”. They might be “I aim to win the gold medal.” You want to win, that’s why you set your goals. However your effort is calculated and based on experience.
In the same vein we can set goals that are in tune with our system, i.e. we want to write a book, travel to the jungle or walk the Camino de Santiago. We need to prepare for those activities, in order to reach our goal. Having a goal is great (as long as it’s YOUR goal and not someone else’s goal for you) I’ll assume, as a reader of this blog, that you even like, at times, to push yourself to the edge of your comfort zone. Well, I’m here to say go for it!
Suffering comes in when you have the bar too high for yourself with expectations that sound more like orders or dictates and most of the time stem from other significant people in your life (parents, teachers, etc). “My son should become a doctor.” “My daughter should be beautiful and marry a successful businessman.”
Suffering is experienced in the body when your bar is set from a place of striving and expectation and/or is set by others or from societal pressures of who we think we should be, what we think we should have or what we think we should do.
Let’s take the cliché of your mother-in-law. Would you expect for her to jump higher, run faster or win a medal at the Olympics? I didn’t think so. Even if you did, she would not be interested. She probably doesn’t even like sports. What would you do in order for her to achieve running and jumping against her will? If you told your mother-in-law “run faster” she would only laugh. “Why should I run faster?” “Because I need a mother-in-law who can run fast.” Ridiculous, right?
You know, it would be a wasted effort. Really. Give up on that. She has no interest whatsoever to run faster for you. If she wanted to do it for herself, okay. But for you, not a chance?
You would say to me at this point that your mother-in-law doesn’t need to run faster, or jump higher. But instead you might say, I don’t need her to run faster, but I would like her to stop giving me her unsolicited feedback and advice.
Here we go. Wouldn’t it be lovely if she would hold back her opinion on everything you discuss with your wife or your husband? She keeps telling you that your car is too small for the family. You should wear different clothes, clean the house more often, work harder, work less and so on. How does that make you feel? It makes you feel bad, less than, inadequate. You might even wish she would stop coming to your house.
Let us compare for a moment an expectation that she should compete at the Olympics and an expectation that she should share her opinion less. Both are expectations and both our ridiculous. And the killer is that it is in your longing for her to be different from the way she is, that keeps you in suffering.
YOU expect something of HER. You want her to be a nice person, smoothly merging with the family, agreeing with what you say, and not having opinions that feel critical and that make you feel uncomfortable. If only she would change, you think.
But wait a minute. Why should SHE change? What does she have to do with your wishes and wants?
Let’s look back at your imaginary bar: This expectation of your mother-in-law lives there too. You expect her to fulfil your needs.
But, my dear, your mother-in-law is allowed to say what she has to say, whether you like it or not. So, please, lower your bar down to ground level. Ground level says: “It is what it is.” Ground level equals acceptance!
If you could embrace an it is what it is attitude, I can assure you that you will feel good, no matter what your mother-in-law says and remember that she has her own bar and mark on the wall, and her own expectations. You are not responsible for those and she is not responsible for yours.
Taking care of your own world means to bring your bar to ground level. Accept what is. You can still set goals but base them on reality and experience of what you can do.
If you suffer from stomach-ache, sleepless nights, regular headaches or other similar symptoms (that are not related to a physiological illness), then have a thorough look at your bar. It wouldn’t be so bad to lower it a bit, or even bring it all the way down.
Remember! The gap between your bar and your ground level is the space where you suffer, because you do not experience reality as it is. Your body is here, and your thoughts are above. Ground level is where acceptance lives and we can experience peace and harmony with what is.
Gunhild Lorenzen is a licensed transpersonal psychotherapist, master of creative transformation, inspirational life coach, artist and published author. To explore some of her creative soul exercises, read her new book – 21 Soul Questions – Empower & Transform Your Life Through Creativity. This book is an excellent tool to explore yourself deeply and find a new sense of purpose and direction.