When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. – Victor Frankl
A few years ago, a wise friend told me a story that has stayed with me every since.
More than twenty years earlier, while in graduate school, she sat in the university library, studying for a big exam.
It was a spring day, just weeks before the school year came to a close. My friend had opened all the windows in the room, she told me, hoping to make studying a bit more pleasant by bringing the outside in.
She was interrupted by a bee that flew into the room and began buzzing loudly around her head. She shooed it toward the large open window, but the bee flew right up to the top of the window frame. It began flying repeatedly into the closed portion of the window at the top, again and again trying to get through the glass.
My friend tried to shoo it downwards toward the wide open space, but to no avail. The bee kept banging itself into the closed sliver of window at the top– no more than a few inches of glass, while an opening thirty times that size was just below.
She told me, “I finally just stood back, and observed the lesson. When I find myself in that striving, banging against the wall place,” she said, “I remember that, for me, just as for that bee, there is a two inch shift, a tiny adjustment I can make, that will move me from constriction to great spaciousness. From there, I can go where I need to go.”
I immediately resonated with this story. I thought of every time in my life I’ve been stuck, banging again and again against a wall inside me or a wall in my life, and how it was a subtle inner shift, one that came from spiritual connection, that moved me from pain to peace and that showed me a way out I couldn’t see before.
Again and again, I get stuck. I go off course. I find myself having fallen into a striving, willful approach to life. I find myself losing sight of the wholeness and goodness of life, and getting pulled into fear and worry.
And then it starts to hurt to live that way. I remember this isn’t how it needs to feel. I surrender. I get on my knees and ask for help. I do things that connect me to spirit – reading spiritual literature or praying or giving to another human being.
I’ve found that whenever I ask, relief is given. External circumstances may not change, but I am moved from that place of banging against a wall to spaciousness. I move from pain to peace.
If this story speaks to you too, here are a few ways you can use its teaching in your life.
- Come to recognize the signs and symptoms of being in that banging against the wall place—as they show up for you individually. Consider, how do you know when you’ve left connection and alignment with the goodness of life?
What are those symptoms for you: Resentment? Being short-tempered with your family? Excessive feelings of tension and stress? Thinking you have to figure it all out on your own? Becoming jealous or focused on comparing yourself with others’?
How does banging against the sliver of closed window show up in your life? Begin to become more aware of when you’ve moved into that place. You can’t consciously leave it if you aren’t aware you are there.
- Keep vividly in your awareness what the opposite looks like, what it feels like to be in that spacious, open window place, so that you remember this alternative exists.
Think back on your experiences and notice: What is life like for you when you are really in touch with life’s goodness and overflowing compassion? What is it like when you feel in the flow?
If you don’t feel you’ve ever had this experience, that’s just fine—please don’t judge yourself for it! Just continue daily spiritual practices that bring you peace and joy, and you’ll move in that direction.
- And perhaps most importantly, we all need a toolkit for making two-inch shifts. Identify what shifts you from stuck to in motion? What moves you from fear to love? What moves you from constriction to expansiveness? What shifts you from seeing the world as unkind to feeling its kindness? What moves you from judging to loving?
Building your toolkit
For me it’s surrendering a power greater than myself, saying humbly, “I don’t know. I need help.” It is spending time with great art that I experience as a reflection of spirit. It is staring at sometime beautiful for just a minute or two, and letting it enliven me. It is calling love into the situation, looking at the situation with the eyes of compassion and forgiveness.
Think about your life. What helps you shift? Particular spiritual practices? Particular texts or prayers? Particular activities? Particular relationships?
We all need tools that we can use when we have just a few minutes and have gotten stuck, as well as tools we can use when we have more time.
Build your tool kit for making two-inch shifts. Call on it when you feel like there is no way out, when you seem to be hitting a wall again and again, when you can no longer see the loving, wide open path that always waits for you.