Do you know where the word "dither" (being indecisive) comes from? In Shakespearean times they used what they called a dither-board to help make decisions. Like a chessboard, the dither-board had sage advice ("do nought for two days", "consult thy mother", "listen to thy dreams", "speake thy minde this day" and so on) on each square and the "ditherer" would toss a stone or favourite piece of jewellery on the board to see what they had to do that day.
Dithering had always been a human trait - the Romans used to toss dead leaves, the Norwegians tossed runes and we toss coins at consultants. The main reason for dithering is that we are caught between two sets of rules - the rules for survival and the rules for living. Though the rules are sometimes similar, they are usually poles apart and we run between them, not knowing which are real and which are a part of the game.
So, how does dithering arise? As a baby you were quite helpless. Everything you needed came from the big people around you and, to survive, you learned what to do to be fed, cleaned, comforted, admired and loved. You developed a repertoire of actions that got you what you needed (crying, screaming, smiling, looking endearing etc) and so you learned some survival skills. As a baby you also learned that you could do nothing wrong - you could scream at 2.00am, piddle on people and vomit on vicars and you were still seen as funny, beautiful and wonderful.
Then, quite suddenly, all that changed. Without being told, the rules changed and you realised that you weren't unconditionally liked as you were before. To get the same measure of affection you had as a baby you had to do certain things in a certain way. You had to say the right words, eat properly, be quiet at particular times, not be demanding, be helpful etc. - and the love you received became conditional on you performing in the "correct" manner. These were the new rules of survival.
Then you went to school and, to be a part of your peer group, you had to learn words, wear clothes and act in ways that your parents didn't like. The rules for survival with your peers were different from the rules of survival with your parents and these were both different from your teachers' rules for survival. Then you got a job and had to learn the unspoken and unwritten rules for survival there.
Your "work clothes" were a particular dress code, behaviour code, language code and attitude code and it had to be adopted or you wouldn't fit in or succeed. And so you'd go to work, put on your "work clothes", go home put on your "domestic clothes" and then go out with friends in your "peer clothes". Soon you learned that when you met someone new, you'd hold much of yourself back, while you sized them up and found what particular "clothes" they might like you to wear. Without realising it, you filled your mental and behavioural wardrobes with clothes chosen by everyone else and, very soon, you forgot what your own taste in "clothes" really was, or that you even had any ability or right to choose your own "attire". The rules for survival are not written down anywhere, they're just realised when you make an honest statement and embarrass someone, when you admit weakness or failure and people are surprised or when you express your power and competence and people turn away. You learn not to state the obvious. You learn not to lean on others. You learn not to flaunt your greatness. You learn not to be you. And, because the rules for survival are not written or obvious, we absorb them slowly and subtly, unaware that we're doing it.
Minute by minute, in our daily lives, we change to survive and we stop being ourselves - we stop living. And yet, amazingly, we never actually lose our own essence, the "clothes" we'd really like to wear, though it seems like it. If we look in our mental, emotional, spiritual and behavioural wardrobes we'll find, right at the bottom, the crumpled but beautiful clothes we'd really like to wear, the clothes that feel so good, so right and so empowering. As we stand before our rack of clothes we dither - do we wear this attitude today or that one; do we wear this behaviour or that one; do we wear a smile or a grimace; do we say "yes" to please others or "no" to please ourselves? Because we've been trained from birth that we should always look to others for our needs, we take on the truths, beliefs and attitudes of those we meet and, very soon, we forget that we have our own truths, beliefs and attitudes ... and value. As we put on the clothes of others we forget who we really are until, one day, for whatever reason, we stand up and say, "ENOUGH!"
Somehow, we realise that we don't have to play the game we've been playing (and losing) at all. We were born for more than survival. We were born to LIVE which, spelt backwards, is EVIL.
We realise the evil we've been doing to ourselves and in that passionate and pitiful "ENOUGH!" is the permission for our real self to emerge. Instead of our Mission Statement of what we want to do, we start writing our Permission Statement of what we want to allow ourselves to be. When we start to say, "ENOUGH!" to those in our world, we give ourselves permission to experience our midlife opportunity (not midlife crisis as others see it) to empty our closets and to give others their clothes back. As our closets become emptied, we find we have fewer choices and our dithering stops.
For, eventually, there is only one choice to make - the choice that makes our hearts sing, the single choice that gives us real joy. However, like other changes, it will not happen overnight and that which we've taken a lifetime to learn will probably take time and others to help us unlearn. Whatever people, courses, books and other things you use on your journey home to yourself, just know that however hard it gets, however long it takes, it is worth it - for you are worth it. The greater and more dither-free you can be, the greater I can be so thank you for saying "ENOUGH!"
And the story at the start... did you believe it? I actually made the dither-board story up, which just goes to show how easily we believe in the stories of others. Perhaps it's time to start believing in your own brilliant story!
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