The worst spirals my brain drags me down are when I believe someone is thinking poorly of me either because of something I did or said. I have full dress rehearsals in my head all day and all night about how I will defend myself against their ire. If I’m alone, and sometimes when I’m not, I will start verbalizing entire one sided conversations as I deflect each of their points about how and why I am totally lame.
But when I come up for air from these episodes of drowning in my own thoughts, it hits me: No one is actually thinking about me. Not really. Perhaps they are thinking about something I did or said, but that’s not really me. Me is not equivalent to one conversation, one mistake or one win. Me is so much more than any one thing I might of said or done, and Me is certainly so much more than how others perceive my words or actions. So, they are actually thinking of themselves and how life, and perhaps my guest appearance in it, is making them feel and think.
No one’s thinking about me, not really. So if they’re not thinking about me, if they are instead reacting and responding to an infinite combination of experiences, innate natures and external nurtures, then it really doesn’t matter what I do in regards to other people. I can do what feels right for me...goodness gracious, banana waffles, this is amazing!
Legit not worrying about what other people think is not the same as dismissing the safety and needs of others. Instead, it’s turning inwards and being really honest with ourselves. It’s about not hiding our true natures behind the busy work of things that don’t really matter like trying to impress others. If we actually stopped worrying about how other people perceive us, then we could get to the good stuff of living an authentic life of love, compassion and kindness.
Working on it.
I grew up in a single parent household racked with financial stress. I ate, I had clothes on my back, but it wasn’t unusual to hear my parents fighting over child support or to find my mom crying over a pile of bills she wasn’t quite sure how she was going to pay. Many families live precariously on that tightrope of paycheque to paycheque, and this state of constant fear leaves some marks. One that I am currently struggling with is a bit of a surprise. I feel bad for living well.
My partner and I have made decisions, professionally and personally, that have left us financially okay. Not Scrooge McDuck, swimming in a pool of gold bullions okay, but comfortable. It has also gifted us the opportunity of choice. I don’t love my job, the one I worked hard for, and now I am at a crossroads where there is a possibility to do something else. And I feel really shitty about it.
I am getting better every moment at acknowledging this potential shift as a gift to be thankful for, but old habits are hard to break and I am having trouble believing that this is real and that it’s okay to go for it. It’s like there’s a nervous cat in my chest that keeps hissing and spitting for me to just let it alone in familiarity and security. Then there’s the rusted fork wielding troll in my head that keeps telling me that my current lifestyle and profession ticks all the boxes, and that I’m being an ungrateful cow.
So what I am supposed to do with this? I have a spastic feline in my chest and a troll in my brain, and all I really can do is make space for them as well as that wiser, kinder part of me that knows these visitors are fleeting. I can only notice when I decide to wallpaper my brain with guilt laden sticky notes marked “should”, so that maybe I can let these self-imposed expectations go. I am choosing, moment to moment, to be okay with living well.
This isn’t a post about letting go of your inhibitions and trying out Tinder or sneaking a little rum into your baby’s bottle so he’ll sleep more soundly. This is a post about letting go of your refusal to be terrible at something that you actually want or need to do.
I have very little tolerance for what I have labeled my own personal failings and because of this, I can sometimes shy away from trying new things. Even when they are things that I am passionate about or would like to be better at, the temporary feeling of being totally lame at it is overwhelming.
We don’t want to force ourselves to do things that would make us unhappy just because they may lead to some kind of a benefit down the road like admiration or security. But we also can’t let fear of looking incompetent, stupid or just plain ridiculous stop us from living our lives. So how do we find the worthwhile sweetness when sorting through a mountain of salt? We ask for our ego’s opinion and then promptly tell it to shush.
I learned recently that the mind is made up of a bunch of monkeys, including the ego and the intellect. The ego’s job is to label things. I like this. I don’t like this. I hate that. Anytime you feel a reaction against something or someone, it is your ego pulling the strings. And this is fine, except for the fact that our egos can be nasty little gremlins who are shifty and wholly unreliable. That is where our intellect takes over...well, it’s supposed to at least. It is rational and objective, and able to reason out the benefits and drawbacks of a certain situation. But we as humans have let our egos run amuck and they are quick to boot the intellect to the back of the bus. Before we know it, we’ve marathoned every season of STNG in a disturbingly short amount of time, feverishly responded to several internet trolls, and eaten half a Costco sheet cake.
Our egos are little maniacs when they are allowed to run the show. The ego is constantly searching for what makes us feel good and is quick to throw away anything resembling discomfort. And it sucks to suck at things, so when our ego is in charge, it hits every panic button in sight. But the intellect is there to help us reason, provided the ego can stuff it long enough for the intellect to have its say.
So that’s how we do it. We notice the urge to chuck experiences into the Hate It/Love It piles and we pause. And we give ourselves a little space to listen to what we really want and need. And it is rarely eating half a Costco sheet cake.
Gratitude practices like making lists of things we are thankful for can provide a sense of lightness and hope. Taking a moment to pause and reflect on what is going right in our lives rather than focusing on what we are missing can be a beautiful practice...until it isn’t.
Gratitude practices have an undercurrent of shame for those times that we just can’t summon genuine feelings of thanks for what we have.
Years ago, pre-mindfulness, I was in a slump. A pretty nasty one too. I had heard about gratitude practices and I tried them. For a brief time, the novelty of the activity sparked a few extra neurotransmitter doses but eventually I came crashing back down into my depression, except this time I had a crappy list about how great my life was. All it did was make me feel like a spoiled, useless piece of garbage. I mean, there are people without enough food to eat and I couldn’t muster a smile for my safe, privileged existence.
There is a line we walk when we practice gratitude, and it's important that we don't use this practice as a righteous means to stomp out grieving processes or as a way to deny ourselves and others the freedom to feel angry or sad.
Genuine gratitude comes from within. It can never be bullied out of us. Forced gratitude is based in fear and shame, and is often used as a means of control or to feel superior over others and, weirdly, also over ourselves. We think that maybe, if we are grateful enough, we can conquer the dreaded downer within.
And that’s the litmus test for genuine gratitude: if it makes you feel shamed, guilty or scared, it’s probably bullshit and you don’t need to be grateful for it.
For a short time, looking at how another person is living with a downcast, judgmental gaze can be extremely satisfying. Unfortunately all this does is build up a false sense of our own self-worth.
We can never say with certainty that had we been handed another person’s lot in life, including their genetics and their lived experience, we would have turned out any differently. We are such complex creatures, and we never know what will push one person to make a choice that we may consider just plain wrong. There is no such thing as righteous condemnation of another person’s choices.
But what happens when another person’s choices start to affect our lives? What if we just would unequivocally be better off if this person would just make a different choice?
First of all, tough shit. We cannot make other people do what we want them to. We cannot accommodate, punish or judge someone into changing in any authentic way. And if we love this person, this realization sucks. We actually have to love this person where they are, and sometimes this feels impossible.
But there is a silver lining here. When we are repeatedly hurt by another person’s choices, we can choose to change ourselves. Perhaps we learn to let go of our need to control the situation. Maybe we can part with the heavy load of shame that sometimes spurs our desires to change another person. Or maybe we can let go of the relationship altogether.
Not out of anger, or rage, or as an ultimatum, but out of self-preservation and, believe it or not, respect. We can respect another person and the journey they are on enough to give up our hold on them. We can respect others enough to give them the room to make their own decisions, even if that means we can’t be there with them as they do.
My credit card was recently scammed. Boo. Then I got a notice saying my fraud claim had been denied. That old, caustic comfort of wanting to hate absolutely everyone and everything was threatening to stink up the whole day.
It can be hard to see the good in the world when life hands us a turd. This was a relatively small one but it was enough to sprout a bloated rain cloud over my head. I mean, how was I supposed to get on with my day knowing that everyone else was so stupid and just plain wrong?
And that’s how a negativity bias works. We experience something upsetting, painful or downright traumatic, and our mind works like crazy to analyze the situation so it can keep us safe in the future. Then it builds up stories about other people’s intentions, all to corroborate what our hurting and scared minds need to believe in order to cut others down to disposable bits of human garbage.
Thanks brain, but I’m pretty sure not everyone is out to get me.
It can be so freaking hard to believe in people’s own basic goodness. But we can and we should. So how do we start?
We start by trusting our own basic goodness. Not our righteousness or that we are more intelligent, thoughtful or just plain better than other people. Not any of those things because that is our ego trying to carve out a decent spot on the totem pole for us.
Trusting our innate goodness is about tapping into the part of us that can appreciate a sunset just because, or feels really good about a stray dog getting a new forever home. These examples don’t benefit us in any tangible way but we still feel great from being exposed to them because they are the active form of this innate goodness. It is the warmth when our souls get a much needed bear hug.
Believe in the bear hug for the soul. Accept the bear hug for the soul. Be the bear hug for the soul...especially when life hands you a turd.
I got a text message telling me where to pick up the best pork and subsequent plans to take a trip there shortly. Evidence was mounting that this person had mistakenly messaged me. For starters, I didn’t recognize the number but the clincher was that I’m vegan. I replied to the message, letting them know they’d contacted the wrong number. I received a prompt Ok sorry to which I replied Oh no worries, take care. A minute or so later I got a text back: You too, have a great day.
The message took little time and effort but I can tell you that this person’s wish for me to have a great day turned up the love. I felt a bit safer and a bit happier to be in a world where a stranger took the time to wish me a great day.
I am a compassion crazed nut about little interactions like this. They make me light with gratitude. I’m not suggesting we start sending random well wishes to whatever phone number we can dream up. Not at all. This would quickly fall into the realm of disingenuine. But when we do get a chance to be a little sweeter, gentler and more thoughtful to others, regardless of what we will get in return, then a craving for compassionate living starts to boil.
The driver that waited so another car could pull out into heavy traffic. The clerk who noticed the eggs were a little worse for wear and pointed it out before they were taken home. The person who made eye contact and gave that little nod of recognition: Hey other human being, I see you.
These tiny, fleeting interactions are nourishing for the souls of such social creatures. They remind us of how interconnected we are. And the reminder can be as simple and lovely as letting a stranger know you hope they have a great day.
I was reflecting on the solemn agreement made in a wedding vow. These promises evoke a sense of undying love so solid that nothing could ever break it. I mean, my partner is dope and I feel so fortunate to be with him, but let’s say he suddenly changed and started lying to me or cheating on me. I have developed expectations of him that exclude this kind of behavior, and this has made my love grow rigid and therefore fragile. It is the continuous choice we make each day to treat each other with respect that keeps our love and the life we’ve built together from shattering.
Our love for each other is conditional.
I think a more accurate wedding vow would say I feel a great deal for you at this time in our lives as we both currently are, and hopefully we won’t change so much so that I no longer feel this way.
Maybe it’s not as romantic as reciting Corinthians but you have to admit, it’s a lot more honest.
Conditional love can be found in any relationship, including between friends and even between a parent and a child. We have a certain set of expectations of another person and how they fit in our lives. And I think this is a good thing. We need boundaries. The trouble is that we often look to others for unconditional love and it is painful when they fail us again and again in delivering it in the way we think they should.
Only we can offer ourselves truly unconditional love. And this is so hard. Just like in relationships with other people, we have learned to put conditions on the love we give ourselves. I will love myself when I lose ten pounds. I will love myself when I get a better job. I will love myself when I am perfect. The difference here is that we can learn to let go of these conditions because we are the ones who have developed and enforced them. They are ours to burn down with gratitude for who we are. We are the only ones with the true ability to love ourselves fully, no matter how we grow and change.
Have you ever said something harsh or judgmental to another person and then, upon seeing their hurt or anger, quickly retreated behind the free pass of just being honest? I’m pretty sure most people have and it’s a sticky spot to be in. On one hand, we are told that honesty is the best policy but on the other, we also know that if we don’t have anything nice to say then we shouldn’t say anything at all.
Between these two conflicting adages is a middle ground of the social responsibility to be kind without lying. We shouldn’t have to hide or deny our values, ethics or concerns just so we don’t upset another person. But how important is it that your friend knows you think her makeup skills make her look like a second rate drag queen? What outcome are you seeking in giving a voice to this catty opinion?
The only person with whom complete honesty is the best policy is ourselves. In doing so we save ourselves and others a lot of unnecessary pain. This means questioning our reactions to other people until we have had time to wade through the swamp of feelings, past experiences and their present day biases, and our true intentions so that our words and actions can be thoughtful, kind and genuine.
Consider the following updated and non-contradicting proverbs to guide a more authentic existence: Seek the kindest option and Don’t bullshit yourself.
It’s easy to blame others for our own feelings of discomfort, especially when it seems as though another person’s inconsiderate or poor choices are directly the cause of our suffering. The frustrating truth is that these feelings and reactions are in actuality our own doing and therefore our own responsibility.
That is a tough pill to swallow.
Especially when another person’s words or actions are offensive or cruel. And we as humans can be terrible to each other at times. But in these moments when we feel hurt or hard done by, it is wasted effort to try to transfer or infuse our own pain to the person we have decided is the cause. It will never work. We may succeed in making another person feel some guilt, shame or even remorse, but this is not the salve to heal our own wounds.
This is an important topic to me. I’ve wasted precious time and energy on fighting for the principle of the matter. And even the few times where I could say I won, I lost. I lost my time and a bit of my sanity, and I got nothing truly valuable in return.
If there are people in your life that constantly leave you feeling angry, hurt or betrayed take this as an invitation to lovingly let go of the relationship as it is. You can and should continue to love those dear to you but it’s okay to stop putting yourself in positions where you constantly come out hurt and frustrated. It’s okay to take a hard look at your relationships and say, it just isn’t working. From this point comes the real opportunity for growth and reward. The relationship can now end or it can evolve. Either way, we get to sit in the driver’s seat of our own emotional wellbeing and this includes cultivating loving and equitable relationships that are worth our energy.