"Confrontation" is a highly charged word that stimulates that old friend of an emotion we label as "fear." Confrontation and fear seem to distract us from our spiritual path. Can we, instead, use fear to expand our spiritual growth and transformation? Is there another reality that is awaiting our attention? Is there an invitation that we have neglected to see? What if we dared to take a leap into another perception of how confrontation could be experienced?
Consider the possibility that confrontation can be a doorway to our freedom. Actually, it is more than just a doorway. Confrontation is a gift that has been given to us since the beginning of time. The purpose of confrontation is to set us free. To most of "normal" society, this could sound a bit strange, insane or even masochistic. Whether we like it or not, confrontations and challenges occur in life. So, how do we find the gift in the lesson? Webster says that the word confrontation comes from the Latin word confrontari, meaning "to face": not evade, avoid, or resist, but to face and come together.
When I ask students, "How many of you get up in the morning excited, knowing there's a major confrontation ahead of you?" rarely do people ever raise their hand. Instead, there seems to be a unanimous consensus that confrontation should be avoided at all costs. Yet when I ask, "How many of you have experienced an uncomfortable situation that you tried to avoid but couldn't and then after it passed, grew from the experience, and attained more compassion and wisdom?" almost everyone raises their hands.
People seem to experience a greater sense of self through experiencing life's confrontations. This intriguing paradox between the discomfort of confrontations and the gifts they bring us has always been the dance between the ego and the human spirit. This dance has kept the human race busy asking the questions, "When am I going to experience a life that no longer is plagued with pain, suffering, and discomfort?" and "'When is it finally going to all turn out?"
In an attempt to answer these questions, we must first examine who or what part of us is doing the asking. It appears that the part of us I call the "ego mind" is constantly chasing after something in order to bring this elusive peace of mind that everyone seems to be searching for. We want more money, a more fulfilling relationship, a better job, more growth and transformation, and less problems or confrontational situations. In other words, if we secure the things we think will bring us joy, there will obviously be less pain. Who does not want more of what brings us joy?
Ironically, though, I notice many people suffering along the path. It appears that suffering has been a companion to humankind since the adventure to self-realization began. Why have we attached so much of this suffering to the confrontations in life that we experience along the way? The question I have asked myself since childhood has always been, "If fear and confrontation is that which distracts us from our quest, then why are we presented with it at every turn of the spiritual pathway?" In fact, I have become aware that the more I expand my consciousness, the more I am presented with distractions and confrontations. It can appear that there are covert operations attempting to knock you off your path.
I have had the privilege of teaching, working, and associating with thousands of people who have chosen to go for their piece of heaven on earth. They report that once they begin taking action, they almost immediately get hit with obstacles that seem to distract or stop them dead in their tracks. Those who succeed just never give up and keep going through the temporary obstacles until they achieve what they want. They have been my greatest teachers. Although these people all have different stories and backgrounds, one thing remains constant: the overwhelming burning desire of the human will to forge ahead no matter what life offers along the way. These people express a willingness to see the beauty even in the challenges.
What did Buddha, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus, and Martin Luther King, Jr. know that we seemingly do not? They were all ordinary people who did extraordinary things. They all had dreams and took action on them no matter what distractions or confrontations surfaced. In fact, they seemed to embrace and consume confrontation like it was a powerful fuel. They all had fear, but they had a different perception of fear and confrontation than most people. Every leader from our past or present has had this perception and moved forward, not in spite of the confrontations but empowered by them.
The good news is that, like the people whom we so admire and respect, we have the same potential. They focused with burning, unshakable desire to move into whatever was in front of them. As Webster defines it, they "faced and came together" with everything that was in front of them, with compassion. They all performed what I call "natural" acts. While it is normal in our society to avoid confrontation at all costs, it is not natural.
The other good news is that our reactions to confrontation are a learned response and can be unlearned, thereby creating new choices. The physical sensation of fear has nothing to do with the thought patterns and pictures our ego minds create. We must learn to allow the ego mind to fulfill its purpose, which says, "Stay on the right path and watch out for that which can stop you." This is the foundation of separation and the creation of enemies to watch out for. The ego mind is like a child that has been given a job to do. True surrender is allowing that which is trying to take care of you to do its thing while staying focused on the job at hand.
Most of the time, the fear-based ego creates perceptions that are irrelevant to our spiritual paths. It has simply been programmed with outdated software that still runs on fear as a primary motivation. Time to upgrade! Sooner or later, through divine patience, the mind will catch up and recondition itself to focus on your new picture of reality. Every admired and worshipped leader had his or her share of obstacles and confrontations, and it was the confrontations they faced that keep them forever in our hearts.
"I feel the fear so strong and do not want to face what is in front of me" is something I hear every time I teach. The courage and fire of your will gives you the strength that is needed to take action. Our mind and emotions respond to confrontations either by hesitation or action. This is the ultimate choice.
Within all beings, there is a knowing that every pain carries with it the gift:
The choices you make will dictate the reality you live. The confrontation is the gift. It is the grain of sand called "confrontation" that irritates the soft tissue of the oyster to create a pearl. Within the DNA of the oyster lies the hidden sleeping potential to create the beautiful pearl. It is through the discomfort that the manifestation of this potential becomes activated. Without this discomfort, the potential remains dormant.
Experience has given us proof that in our own DNA, we have the same potential to embrace the irritations and unpredictable discomforts to manifest our own beautiful pearls of wisdom. The difference between an oyster and humankind is that the oyster embraces the discomfort and knows within its cells the purpose of the irritation. If an oyster could talk, it would probably not use the word "irritation," but possibly "anticipation" of something wonderful coming. I doubt seriously that an oyster would ever say, "Oh no, not another irritation! When are these distractions going to end? I have been a kind and good oyster. I do not get it! I need to do more affirmations, read more books, or meditate more." Of course, we would say that this oyster is suffering; it is not living a natural life.
Our emotions are linked to our thoughts. They, too, can be as unpredictable and changing as the wind. The purpose of our emotional body is to feel. That's it! Our feelings and emotional body never enlisted for the job as counselor and guide for our spiritual path. They are simply beautiful gifts, intended to allow us to feel the ecstasy of all that life brings to us, including the discomfort of pain. Remember that pain is an experience and suffering is a choice.
Within all beings, there is a knowing that every pain carries with it the gift: a pearl of unimaginable ecstasy yet to be experienced. If we turn away and avoid this window of opportunity, we will only be presented another opportunity cloaked in another disguise. Suffering is in the turning away. Joy is in the confrontation and coming together with that which stimulates the experience. Do this in your life day after day, and your ego-mind soon becomes at peace with a new realization that confrontation is really an invitation into the delightful unknown. Confrontations and challenges invite us to leap with trusting, open arms into a future that contains all the unlimited potential and unlimited possibilities imaginable.
The next time you experience what you used to call confrontation and the feelings associated with it, rejoice and join the ranks of the heroes that cut the pathway before you. You are about to embark on the road of living naturally, allowing your will and spirit to shape your own destiny. To turn away may give you the illusion of body comfort for the time being, but you will soon have another opportunity to create your own string of pearls.
Consider the possibility that your time has come. Consider that you have always known you were special, and you were capable of indescribable joy. It is your birthright. What if that which you thought was wrong with you is truly right with you? What if that which was a distraction was meant to be an invitation? What if that which stimulated fear in you was the doorway to your freedom? What you are afraid of, you are dead to, and whatever you are dead to will set you free if you only embrace it and are willing to step into the fire. By stepping into the fire, you will feel the coolness of the stream. To follow your spirit is to make friends with what you used to call the dark side. In order to come home, you must accept and embrace this dark side and confront all that lies hidden within. Then and only then will freedom be yours.
Dr. Alexander facilitates workshops around the world. Seattle classes this year are: a one-time only sneak preview of "The Ecstasy of Confrontation" Saturday, November 21, SeaTac Marriott Hotel, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (tickets $15 limited seating), and "The Leap of Faith," a profoundly transformational weekend program, December 3-6 in Tukwila. Information and registration: (425) 557-8148.