Lately I’ve been feeling that I’ve been using all of my energy in running around between lanterns and changing the bulbs.
Let me explain.
I’ve been talking about a few different things in counselling. Pretend they’re colours. I’ll spend two or three weeks talking about green, then something will happen with red, so I’ll push green aside for a while and talk about red. Green is still there, but I don’t have the time to think about it while I’m dealing with red. Then, just when I think it’s time to get back to green, my attention is taken by purple. Purple! I completely forgot about that. How can I think about red or green when there’s all this purple?
I was trying to explain this to someone the other week, to explain my frustration with it. I said it’s like I have a string of paper lanterns with dud bulbs, and I spend my time rushing along the string changing the bulbs so that they all keep working. As soon as I get one going again it’s time to run down to the other end of the string and change the bulb there that’s gone out. It’s exhausting, and often confusing because I have no idea which bulb is likely to go next.
Tonight I was doing some journalling and thinking about this lantern string. And I realised that it doesn’t look like this:
This lantern string only has three colours, and not very many lanterns. As a metaphor, it’s a string with only the things I talk about and work on in counselling. But that’s not what my string looks like. Really, it’s more like this:
This string has lots of lanterns, in many colours. It doesn’t contain just the counselling stuff. There is also God, friendships, work, relaxation, holidays, hopes, dreams, plans… all the things that make up my life. My whole life. It’s a huge string. I can’t see the end. I can’t even see all the lanterns. But they’re all connected. I can’t look at one and ignore the others.
My life is not about exhausting myself by running from lantern to lantern, frantically changing bulbs. Counselling isn’t about that either. It’s about… looking at the lanterns. Appreciating the colours. Caring for them – all of them. Looking at how each lantern fits on the string with all the other lanterns. Standing far back and looking at the whole string. Standing back and seeing the beauty of the whole, even though some of the individual lanterns are dented or need special attention.
This analogy doesn’t change any of the lanterns that need my attention. I still have a lot of work to do, and maybe I’ll need to throw out some of the lanterns completely and make new ones. But there is not such a sense of urgency and frantic haste about it now. I don’t need to kill myself running around changing light bulbs. Sure, one or two (or more) might be out. They might need replacing. The whole string, however, is what matters. When I stand back, it’s still light and bright and colourful. It’s still beautiful. For now, I’ll walk along the string slowly. Sometimes I’ll sit down and just look at it, without changing anything. I’ll get to those dud bulbs when I get to them. There’s no hurry.