“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”
– Khalil Gibran, poet
“…his goal was to “have fun every day at work!”
Ed was a big man physically. He stood easily over six feet and tipped the scales at about 200 pounds. He was about 30 years old, a jovial guy, friendly, positive, upbeat and engaging. Ed owned a small, successful construction business.
Ed boasted he had a stable of long time, loyal customers who kept him, and his staff of five, busy year round. His company took on just about anything that came their way from building a house to building a shed, from repairing a roof to repairing a window.
One of his closest, and life-long friends, Eugene (Gene) had worked closely with him for years. It was almost like they ran it together. But not really, Ed said because he was the guy who had to pay the weekly salaries and monthly bills.
But, Ed didn’t seems to mind that part. He said he loved his work and his staff were like family. Ed said he really enjoyed the strong spirit and camaraderie of his group. He said his goal was to, “have fun every day at work!”
Ed also bragged a bit about a new relationship which he was really excited about. He had been in others, he said, but none had worked out for him. He said he was one of those ‘old fashioned’ guys looking for someone to settle down with and thought he had finally found someone to do that. Her name was Ebonee and they had been dating for several months.
“… now he is at it again and I don’t know what to do!”
When I asked Ed how I might serve him, his bravado disappeared and he said,
“Ken, I’m not sure! But, I do know I’m confused with a situation at work and need to get a fresh perspective on it.”
“Tell me about it, Ed.”
“I’ve known Gene since grade school and we have worked together for over 10 years. He’s been married for most of those years. His wife, Gloria, has also been a close friend for just about as long. They have two beautiful kids who are like family, too.”
“Sounds like you have two very close friends! What is going on with them that you find so upsetting, Ed?”
“About five years ago, Gene had an affair. Eventually he ended it, and he and Gloria worked it out and stayed together. But, now he is at it again and I don’t know what to do!” he said, his concern etched deeply on the contours of his face.
“Since it is Gene’s family and Gene’s problem why would you get involved at all, Ed? I know you care about them, but I bet you also know, you can’t save them, either. Is there something else going on that is impacting you about Gene’s problem?” I asked, knowing one of his highest values must be in jeopardy for him to be so off balance about his friends challenge.
“I’m past frustrated, I’m pissed off!”
He looked surprised, yet not, by my question. He paused briefly before saying in frustration,
“Yes! Ken, it’s affecting his work, and so, my business. Gene brings in a lot of business. These past months, he has been sneaking around, getting calls from her, not carrying his share of the work and my other three staff are even noticing and commenting to me. Both morale and my revenue are down. And, I haven’t had the guts to say a word to him about it. I’ve been trying to ignore it and that isn’t working!”
“You look and sound really frustrated, Ed!” I offered.
“I’m past frustrated, I’m pissed off! But, I don’t know even how to start to deal with it…that’s why I’m here, Ken.” he replied, displaying some relief in his voice having perhaps, at least, been able to finally say it out loud.
“Ed, if you’re ready to learn, I can help you! But, it will require you to resolve some of your illusions so you can see the truth of life. Are you willing to have that kind of discussion?” I asked, knowing optimists are just as handicapped as pessimists.
“I’m ready to do whatever it takes, Ken, because something has to change right away or I will be out of business!” he said, with resolution softening his voice.
“The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain.”
– Aristotle, philosopher
“Are you saying Ebonee is half pain to me?”
“OK! Let’s begin with three main ideas which will start serving you. One, you have a set of values which guide your life and are based on your personal past. Gene has a different set of values because his past is different. Two, when anyone or anything threatens your highest values, you will be fearful and want to protect what you value. Three, this fear is how you pay for your values throughout your life. With me so far?” I asked.
“So, I value my business, right? And, Gene is threatening it, right? And I’m scared he will destroy it? How’m I doing?” he asked, an intent look on his face.
“Excellent! So, your values, such as your work or your relationship to Ebonee, are a source of pleasure. But, they are equally a source of pain at all times. This is natural and normal, but many people doubt this idea. They think they can have mostly or all pleasure. But, it’s an illusion and not true in the natural world.”
“Are you saying Ebonee is half pain to me? And, my work, my team are half pain to me, too?” he asked, surprise and skepticism emerging, simultaneously.
“They have to be…it is a law of nature! My guess is you haven’t been noticing the negative parts, or perhaps ignoring them, and focusing on the positive parts. Could that be true, Ed?” I asked, wondering if he was ready to dissolve his illusion.
“That would explain why I have been so hesitant to confront Gene, wouldn’t it? And, that would explain why I am working so hard at my relationship with Ebonee as well? I’ve been trying so hard to be a damn optimist…it’s like it magnifies my pain, Ken?”
“… how did you cope with that specific second of your life…?”
“Sure does, Ed! The more we try to take a one sided perspective, the more we attract the other side from the natural world. That’s why depressing people attract support and elating people attract humiliation. Both are returning us to a natural balanced perspective.”
“Then, that means what’s going on with Gene has to be creating some pleasure for me to counterbalance the pain and frustration I been having, eh?” Ed offered, starting to play with the idea.
“I think that is what we need to uncover, if you are going to be able to deal effectively with this situation, Ed. Since the balance occurs at every second, I want you to find the second of the most pain so we can uncover the other side, OK?”
He jumped right in with,
“That would have to be yesterday when he forgot to pick up some tools we needed for a job we were working on. This was on his way back from his secret lunch with her. So, he had to backtrack across town to get them and it cost us over an hour and a half which put us behind on the job…and cost me time and money!” he responded, his frustration surfacing again.
“Go to that very second when you were the most upset…where were you exactly…what were you doing? And, how did you cope with that specific second of your life, Ed?”
“If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. – Rumi, poet
“…I didn’t embarrass myself in front of my customers.”
“He arrived back at the work site, all smiles. And, when I asked where the tools were, he got this dumb look on his face and looked down. Then, he said he forgot and would go get them now.” Ed, replied, his face beet red and distorted with rage.
“How did you cope with that specific second? What did you do or say, Ed?”
“Nothing, not a damn thing, Ken! I just turned and walked away…fuming inside!”
“Close your eyes for a few minutes and go inside your thinking at that very second. Tell me how it was a benefit to you to respond with silence and walking away?”
Ed sat back in the chair, closed his eyes and I waited patiently. The information is always there because natural law prevails at all times. A few moments passed in silence. Then, Ed sat up saying,
“We were in a new garage we were building onto an existing Cape Cod house. Everyone was there, my other staff, my customer and his spouse. I guess the immediate benefit was I didn’t embarrass myself in front of my customers.”
“… I controlled my temper…so I managed a stressful situation…”
“OK! And, what other benefits did you get at that second by not embarrassing yourself in front of your customers?” I asked, getting him to find the other connections by peeling the onion of his awareness.
“Well…I also protected our relationship and service contract with them…so I protected my business, didn’t I?” he replied.
“Sure sounds like it, Ed! What other benefits did you receive at that second?” I asked getting him to peel more layers of the onion.
“I also kept my work team tight by not embarrassing Gene in front of them. And, I controlled my temper…so I managed a stressful situation, too!” he added, finding more layers.
“Ed, you have mentioned the business, financial and health benefits to you at that second. And you can probably see how protecting your business impacts your spirit and your connections to family and friends. As you consider all these advantages, which one sticks out as being the most important for you?” I asked, getting him to notice a priority one.
“…almost grateful for that second of pain.”
“Ken, the more I analyze it now, I think the most important one, when I go back to that second, was I decided I had to do something about the problem. I decided to act…and, that’s why I called you for an appointment.”
“Can you see how the pain of that moment motivated you to act decisively, the pleasure, for your own well being?”
“Ken, I see it now clearly! And, seeing it that way feels different, feels more OK, feels more neutral …almost grateful for that second of pain. Because, now I know I’m going to deal with this! And, I am more certain I need to take control of this situation with Gene.”
“Ed, now you know what’s possible when you look carefully at an event. There are others you will need to analyze to be able to empower yourself forward into your future. Are you ready to continue this journey?”
“Let’s get to it! I have a business to run and a future to build!” he said smiling.
Then he added, as an afterthought,
“You know…I realize now Gene’s behaviour outside work is his business, I can’t save him…my job is to save myself and my business. And, he will benefit from whatever happens with his affair and so will his family. This balance idea is very useful and freeing isn’t it, Ken?”
“Pain is nature’s motivation for life, without it we are doomed to an illusionary existence!” – King Ayles, writer