Wherever you go, there you are.
I have no idea who first said this, and for once, Google is no help. It’s the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, first published in 1994, but a friend of mine used to use the phrase in high school in the late ’80s.
But where it comes from really isn’t as important as what it means.
When I was a kid, this was a mildly funny phrase loaded with cynicism, a not-quite-clever statement of the obvious. Today, though, I understand it in a much different way:
Wherever I go, however far I run, whatever I drink or eat or smoke or take to deaden the pain of life, I can’t escape most of my troubles. Because most of my troubles don’t come from my environment.
They come from within me. I am their source. I am the only one who can overcome them.
There are, of course, problems that don’t come from within: abusive spouses, job layoffs, car trouble, theft, terrorism. Plenty of folks try to tell us these are somehow the product of our mindset, but I won’t go there with this post.
I can’t control what other people in my world choose to do. I can control how I choose to respond to their actions.
And that control, that choice, never expires. Even if the event is years in the past. Even if I’ve been repeating the same unfortunate response since then.
But changing my choice is painful. It’s hard. That’s where courage comes in.
It takes courage to leave an abusive spouse, or to forgive him–and yourself–when you find his behavior still controls yours years after you last saw him.
It takes courage to find a new job after a layoff and decide you’re going to do your best work even though it didn’t help you last time.
It takes courage to recognize that racing the engine and going 10,000 miles between oil changes might not have been good for your car, and to decide to accept the expense of more frequent maintenance.
It takes courage to look back at a mistake, own it, and make plans to do it better next time. Sometimes, it’s so hard we can’t do it on our own; we need the help of a friend, or a pastor, or a counselor to help us through it. Sometimes we can’t work through it until we’ve separated ourselves from the mistake or the problem by miles or years. Sometimes–most of the time–we need those miles or years to help us see our part of the problem clearly so we can move on.
But even if we need help or miles or years, the hardest part of working through our issues falls to us. The greatest share of the pain is ours, because the issues are ours. And the only way to escape them is to work through them.
The good news is: that means the victory is ours, too.