When Pathfinding clients begin working with me, they’re often in what I call the comma-dammit phase. You can tell if you’re in the comma-dammit phase if, whenever you talk about your own identity, you can hear a silent “comma dammit” appended to the end of each sentence.
For example, consider two different people saying the same sentence, “I follow my heart.”
Sharon says calmly, “I follow my heart,” her arms at her sides, as if she’s stating a fact.
Diane says excitedly, “I follow my heart!” as she points emphatically into the distance.
Diane’s got the silent comma-dammit. She’s basically saying, “I follow my heart, dammit!”
The subtle comma-dammit
Sometimes the comma-dammit isn’t obvious from tone or body language. Consider this conversation between Sharon and Diane:
Diane says to Sharon, “I heard you follow your heart. Me too! What’s your journey been like so far?”
Sharon says, “It’s been like a rollercoaster ride. Sometimes I’ve felt fully aligned, sometimes I’ve compromised, and sometimes I’ve journeyed off my path and didn’t follow my heart at all for a while. It’s a learning process, though, and it’s been ridiculously interesting for sure. How about you?”
Diane says, “It’s been the most amazing thing in the world. It’s been wild, crazy, and meaningful. Whenever I fall off my path I do my best to get right back on. Compromise is a slippery slope; if I’m any less than 100% dedicated to following my heart, I’ll go back to being the me I used to be, and I’d rather die.”
What’s the key difference between Sharon and Diane?
Diane is more hype and Sharon is more calm, that’s for sure. But that’s a symptom, not the root cause.
The key difference is that Diane is desperately attached to her identity as someone who follows her heart.
Sharon says, “I follow my heart,” but Diane says, “I am a person who follows her heart,” with the implied “comma dammit” at the end. In other words, Diane is saying, “I am a person who follows her heart, no matter what the cost.”
Gurdjieff’s Law of Three
Gurdjieff’s Law of Three teaches that personal transformation happens in 3 phases:
The Affirm phase of Diane’s life was “I exist to take care of others, and my needs are unimportant.”
When Diane changed her life, she moved into phase 2: Deny. The Deny phase always has a “comma dammit” attached to the end. Diane’s Deny phase is “I follow my heart, dammit.”
Diane is denying that she exists solely to take care of others. She’s denying that her needs are unimportant. She’s choosing to follow her heart to prove that she values herself.
The problem with comma-dammit
The problem with comma-dammit is that you’re just as locked down as you were in the Affirm phase. Sure, you’re locked into the opposite thing, but you’re still locked.
Diane used to be locked into taking care of others at her own expense.
Now she’s locked into following her heart no matter what the cost.
Her options are different, but they’re just as limited.
When Diane was in Phase 1: Affirm, her magnetic north used to be “I exist to take care of others, and my needs are unimportant,” and all her choices pointed toward north.
When Diane shifted to Phase 2: Deny, she chose to head south instead of north – directly away from the belief “I exist to take care of others, and my needs are unimportant.”
But that belief is still her center.
She’s heading away from it instead of toward it, but that belief is still at the core of her being.
Phase 3: Reconcile
Sharon’s Phase 1 and Phase 2 were similar to Diane’s, but Sharon changed her life a second time and entered Phase 3: Reconcile. Phase 1 and Phase 2 are polar opposites, so when Sharon reconciled them, magic happened. Sharon could not be a person who held two conflicting beliefs at the same time, so she ceased to be a “person who” at all. She broke her attachment to her identity.
Sharon is no longer Queen of the Nation of Sharon; she is simply Sharon.
Unbound from the chains of identity, Sharon now occupies a larger container – a container large enough to hold her soul, which no identity could possibly hold. Since she’s no longer a “person who”, she is free to make all possible choices at all times.
In other words:
The next step
But all that cool woo-woo stuff can’t happen until you first notice your comma-dammit with curiosity and openness.
How would you fill in this blank: