A coyote cuts across the foggy highway a life held inside indecision, a moment's hesitation could be a violent end of everything all at once Sulfurous air that once shrouded out the sun a sudden impact that swallowed the earth in many decades of dark, lifeless winter Time has a way of emphasizing the absurdity of right and wrong when final outcomes are impossible to predict Half the suffering I've known has been an inner upheaval of moral outrage resistance to the evils of this world My stormy turmoil subsides if only I can learn to surrender all judgement and accept my place as a humble passenger Who am I to hold dominion over the way life is supposed to unfold? I prefer the role of patient witness anyway To watch with curious eyes and an open heart ready to embrace all of life with equanimity a grateful submission to existence beyond understanding To play my small part with a soft hand extending a gentle, hopeful intention of pure love prepared to let go of any and all expectations Tender feet along the balustrade, balancing between engagement and surrender too often falling into indignation and anger The perpetual repetition of life can be tedious but it offers endless chances to keep trying precious lessons linger behind a door that is always open Every failure is an opportunity to find grace there is no permanence, perfection, or wasted effort everything is as it should be, everything is as it should be
Coping with the End
Total disassociation, fully out your mind. Googling derealization, hating what you find. That unapparent summer air in early fall. The quiet comprehending of the ending of it all.Funny Feeling – Bo Burnham
The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Over the past six or seven years I’ve gone through all of these stages. Now it feels like I teeter back and forth between depression and acceptance. Seven years may seem like a rather long time to grieve, but it’ll sound more appropriate when I explain that I am not grieving the death of a loved one or a romantic relationship. No, I am grieving the earth, my own life, all life. I am grieving the slow, steady death of our planet and all that it holds.
When I first discovered just how close we already were to the end of everything, I was furious. How could those in power and those that came before me ignore this, and even worse, continue contributing to it? The bitter hatred for humanity I already harbored sharpened like a knife’s edge, cutting me deeper than it ever had before. Then I felt passionately compelled to stop our frenzied descent toward destruction. In desperation, I implored people to share my concern about what leading environmental scientists were saying, to do all that they could in a personal capacity to make a difference, even if it was hard, even if it still might already be too late.
Naively in the beginning, I really thought the issue was that people did not know the information that I knew, and that if they did, they would understand and take action. Depression and despair quickly set in when I realized that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t only that people didn’t know. They refused to know. As I passed through the stages of grief alone, the rest of the world hangs idle in the “denial” phase. Even though I desperately want others to be by my side through this process, I’ve come to accept that they won’t be. I’ve even begun to feel it’s a mercy that they don’t believe the things I tell them. While I want my friends, family, and community to understand the dire situation we are in, I don’t want them to suffer with that knowledge like I have for all of these years. However, in case there are people out there that feel the weight of this impending doom like I do, I want to at least share a few of the ways in which I’ve been managing to cope.
One: Historical Perspective
One of the hardest parts of all this in the beginning was feeling robbed of the long life we are implicitly promised as children. It seemed so unfair to know that I would never experience old age, that I would live only half as long as I had anticipated. Sometimes I found myself wishing that I had been born in a different time so I wouldn’t have to see the world go up in smoke one day.
I soon realized that this isn’t really something I would want. For the vast majority of human history, my life would have been far worse and perhaps even shorter. As a woman I would have had no rights or freedom. I would have likely died by now in childbirth or from some horrible misunderstood disease. The average human life expectancy for a large portion of history was roughly 30 years.
I’ll still hopefully get to live for a decade or two more than that. Not to mention the quality of these 30-50 years of mine will be far superior to the quality of billions of peoples throughout history. I’ve experienced more novelty, luxury, comfort, and pleasure than the vast majority of humans that have lived. And that I am truly grateful for.
Two: Life Will Go On
It’s no secret that I don’t care much for humanity and it’s consistent habit of committing atrocities against other beings and each other. The idea of the human race ending, pretty much means nothing to me. We are a plague on this earth and all her other creatures. But the idea that because of our stupidity, greed, and selfishness the rest of the life of earth would also perish with us was unbearable to me. I look out at the complexity, the diversity, the staggering beauty of the world around me, and I can’t cope with thinking it will all disappear with us.
Learning of the animals that are still thriving in the ghost town that is Chernobyl gave me some hope. Yes, a huge portion of the life we now know of on earth will surely be wiped out by the effects of manmade climate change and the resulting wars over the remaining resources. Yet, life in general, is more resilient than I once believed. All life will not end. Some creatures will survive even this. And in time they will grow and evolve and repopulate this decimated planet until it is vibrant and flourishing yet again. One day there will be a beautiful, new earth free from the tyranny of humans. That thought brings me some peace.
Three: Purpose is Relative
When the heavy thoughts of our fast approaching end cloud my mind, one of the main themes becomes: What’s the point? Why should I continue on knowing that the end will be suffering and annihilation? I might as well just give up. Nothing matters.
These thoughts, while poignantly felt, are puzzling to me. Why should the end being sooner rather than later effect the meaning I find in life? Whether I die at 40 or 80, there will be immense fear and suffering. That isn’t something that I would escape if the world weren’t dying with me. Besides, life is not a guarantee. I could have died in my sleep last night. I could die in a car accident tomorrow. I could have developed leukemia as a child and not lived past the age of 7.
Purpose and meaning are not dependent on the length or last sentence in this book called life. I get to decide my own purpose. I determine the meaning behind all of this. The significance of my life is not forfeited due to the sudden realization that it will be much shorter than anticipated. My life matters, my happiness matters, the love I have for others matters, regardless of when death finds me.
Contemplating and combating these discouraging, depressing thoughts is what I am tasked with now. My greatest lesson in life will be learning how to be present and grateful for where I am now, regardless of what may come in the following moment. I’ve fought and screamed. I’ve begged for the world to stop this. I’ve surrendered to my sadness and helplessness in the face of this calamity. Now all that’s left is acceptance. The severity of my fate is not what I had ever expected, but it isn’t something that can be changed or avoided. There is peace in accepting that. Through acceptance I will salvage the time that I do have. I still have time to fill with joy and love and awe, and the gratitude I feel for that fact is enough to get me through anything. It’s enough to carry me into the end.
The older I get the more I find myself conceding to the inevitable fact that life is a balancing act. No matter how much I strive to categorize everything into neat, tidy, consistent boxes, I’m never able to find even a single concept or scenario that doesn’t fluctuate or look utterly different from every angle. Part of my personal practice is trying to make peace with this amorphous, ever shifting, middle ground I’m constantly finding myself in.
It’s especially frustrating trying to find a place to rest when there seems to be no truly solid ground to land on. There are no definitive truths or unshakable facts. Ultimately it is always a choice that I have to make in every moment how I want to view things or where I’d like to focus my attention or perception. We can drive ourselves crazy trying to find a perfect answer or a single solution. With time everything changes and in response we must embrace that fluid nature within ourselves and move with the ebb and flow of life and consciousness.
I have a natural tendency to gravitate towards extremes. I’d even say a defining characteristic of mine is black and white thinking or an all or nothing mentality. I think to a certain extent we all fall into this trap from time to time. It feels unsafe, unstable, and unsatisfying to acknowledge that there are no hard and fast rules or concrete perceptions. Part of the balancing act is sitting with the discomfort of that truth, understanding that most states in life are not mutually exclusive. We have the space inside us to hold it all simultaneously. We can be both happy and sad. We can believe we’re right and understand why others may view us as wrong.
Another difficult aspect of balance for me particularly is when it comes to knowledge. There are some questions that we must accept never finding the answers for. We must cope with the possibility that we are not even asking the right questions. Living side by side with the unknown, the unknowable, is uncomfortable, to be sure. Any missing pieces sow seeds of such doubt in me that I can at times lose faith in my ability to perceive or know anything at all. If I don’t know everything, I quite likely know nothing. This is a duality I battle with constantly.
Balance itself implies that it cannot be held permanently. The idea of balancing evokes a sense of movement. It may create an image of someone slightly wavering or suddenly jerking in an effort to reclaim equilibrium. The quest and the pursuit of balance is a life long battle. This too we must learn to accept. A day will never come when the fear of falling will be absent. The pendulum of life will continue to swing both ways indefinitely, perhaps growing smaller in its repetitive arc, but never finding perfect stillness. While the impermanent and shifting nature of reality and consciousness can be overwhelming, discouraging, and frustrating at times, it is also something to be grateful for. The give and take of the universe is what makes it so alive, so fascinating, so engaging, so worth being a part of. You’ll continue to wobble and fall, but you’ll also find moments of exquisite peace and clarity made all the more poignant by the contrast. Don’t lose heart. You’re doing just fine, even when you find yourself falling.
Safety in Darkness
The colorless, odorless, sunless expanse of this long winter slouches over me, obscuring my heart, shrouding me in icy darkness. Happiness is supposed to come from inside, but if we are all one, doesn’t that mean this bitter cold is also inside of me? Freezing over a joy that only spring can defrost? There is a duality in my very nature that pulls me apart. It is never more apparent than when these alter egos emerge in the face of the changing seasons. I’ve learned my rising/ascendant sign is Gemini, and I feel it.
I can’t reconcile these two sides of myself into one cohesive whole. One version of me is optimistic, playful, lighthearted, full of light, laughter, hope, and joy. This is the me that fell in love with yoga, that weeps at the cruelties I’ve inflicted on myself, that finds blissful stillness in a meditative state, that breaths deep and easy, that finds comfort and safety in gratitude and compassion. This is the me that I was as a child, friendly, curious, open, loving.
When I became a teenager, I thought this part of me was lost forever. I saw it transmuted into a deep inky darkness that bled out and stained every part of my snow white soul. I anguished in the face of the life I saw before me. I learned to hate myself and nearly everyone else too. Reality seemed too unjust, too wretched, too heavy to bear. Many days I cursed myself for being a coward and not bringing it to an end all together. Living and dying both seemed unacceptable and I felt painfully caught in between the two. This self found comfort only in nihilism, in darkness, in the thought of burning it all down some day. I wrapped myself in this darkness and lived in it for years, believing it would be my home forever, or at least as long as I could last.
When I found yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and other self-love practices it was like the sky cracked open and the bright light that shined on me in my early days had returned to me. I couldn’t believe it was possible. I had never thought I would set down the heavy weight of my inner burdens again for even a moment. Each breath was taken into brand new lungs, supplying oxygen to a transformed mind. I was so grateful to be freed from myself, to come back to who I had always hoped I might have been. And just like before, I thought this too would be a permanent and lasting shift.
It is so hard to slip back into the darkness again from that place of peace and light. I feel myself grasping for it even now. In this black, starless night, it is impossible to believe that the sun will rise again, to convince myself to keep moving forward. Harder still is understanding the strange pleasure I derive from the very darkness that plagues me. Part of me enjoys this thick, inky hopelessness. Somehow there is comfort in the weight pressing me into the dust. I find sick joy in the nostalgia of it all, in feeling like this helpless, worthless thing.
It feels nice to indulge myself, to let myself be crushed. I am repelled by my uplifting, spiritual practices, by the very light that I desire. I cradle my wounded heart in sad, despairing songs. I savor the salty taste from licking my long jagged wounds. Despite the pain, it feels more right in the darkness than it ever has in the light. It feels more true. There is no more imposter syndrome. I belong here it seems. It’s easier to identify with my suffering than with my joy in many ways, an energy flowing downstream instead of against the current.
Despite this odd sense of coming home to myself, I’m afraid of resting here. Even though it feels nice to nestle into my inner darkness, I fear if I stop here, I’ll never again find the light that I know I still need. Even so, for now I think I’ll lie my head down for just a moment and give myself permission to rest.
Unlikely Lessons From Charles Dickens
Reading in the evening has become a very meditative and often insightful time of day for me. It has been a great joy and comfort to snuggle into a nest of pillows and blankets after a hearty meal with a warm cup of matcha tea and forget myself for a few hours before bed. Novels are a medium for self-surrender, an opportunity to lose yourself in the plot of another’s life. They are also a chance to gain fresh perspective once we reemerge to take up our own life once again.
Particularly for people like me who suffer from social anxiety, it is a good way to get a feel for the way others think, feel, and act. Observing the real people in my life or analyzing my own relationships has always felt a bit too close for me to understand objectively. It’s rather hard to learn from or concentrate on what someone is saying to you when your entire body is in a state of utter panic. Novels provide a safe cushion of distance and detachment that creates the perfect environment for personal growth and self-discovery.
Even when I think I’ve already learned a lesson many times before, there are always instances that present the essence of this knowledge in a new and penetrating way. For instance, one of the common themes that stands out to me in the works of Charles Dickens is the resilience and near stoicism of his characters. They encounter unbelievable hardships day after day, yet seem to be unmoved by them. They bravely face whatever fate lies before them with dignity and acceptance. Whether they be robbed of all their earthly possessions on a filthy street or arrested and sentenced to death for a crime they didn’t commit, never have they added to their suffering by lamenting the injustice of it all. It’s almost as if they move through the world with no expectations whatsoever. Whatever comes upon them in the course of their lives, they take it without complaint.
As a yogi, I am constantly confronted with the idea that we prolong and worsen our own suffering when we pile our own rejection and stubborn indignation on top of it. This truth that I’ve carried with me for years now felt all the more poignant when I experienced the living example of it in the form of Dicken’s colorful characters. Even thinking of it now, in David Copperfield, there is one character that is constantly in a state of depression or distress. They moan, “I am a lone, lorn, creature, and everything goes contrary to me.” They agonize over their belief that they just “feel things more” than everyone else. Despite a relatively decent existence compared to many of the characters, she suffers immensely. It is primarily her own perception of herself and said suffering that is the cause of it though.
Sadly enough, in spite of myself, I find that I tend to identify with this character. I get upset, then am upset and ashamed of being upset. I want to be comforted, then am embarrassed for needing constant comforting and being a burden on my loved ones, and the cycle continues from there. In contrast little David Copperfield himself is a shining example of how I would rather face the world and the difficulties that come with it. In addition to not resisting the unfortunate events of his life, David also does not blame himself for them. I’ve found that if I am not blaming the world for being against me or being unfair, I am blaming myself for being naive or foolish whenever something bad happens.
Because of these simple lessons and many others, I truly feel that reading these books has been healing for me. Although they are fictional, the truth behind them remains. We can gain a new perspective of ourselves and our situation through reading. We can also find powerful examples of how we might choose to be instead. When I see these characters accepting their lot in life, suffering, injustice, and all, I feel more capable of accepting my own life and all it entails. When I see these characters making “mistakes” that I would have torn myself apart for, I am able to view them with compassion and understanding. It fosters a willingness to forgive myself for not knowing what I didn’t know. Often the hardest hurdle to face with our problems is not knowing an alternative way to respond to them when they arise. Reading is the opportunity to find that alternative.
Releasing Ourselves from the Burden of Bitterness
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As I was getting ready to leave to go get another Covid test, which I finally managed to schedule after my exposure last week, the phone in my office rang. I smiled in spite of myself as the caller announced herself to be the very person who was responsible for my exposure. I felt a tightness in my chest as I battled internally with the decision of whether or not to go through with the unfriendly, short way I had decided to treat this person after the incident.
I’ve found myself in this predicament quite a number of times throughout my life. I am wronged by someone. I decide that I will no longer be happy and agreeable with them, but maintain a cool distance. In some ways I suppose I expect this to “teach them a lesson.” It is a personal consequence I like to deal out to people who have betrayed my trust or friendship. Usually when the time comes for me to enforce this inner law, however, I have already gotten over whatever the issue was that inspired it. Sometimes I stick to my guns, other times I forgive and forget. Although when I do choose to let my anger go, there is a pang of guilt and self-criticism. I feel weak or foolish for not “sticking up for myself” or something. Even when I know that my plan was likely immature and would be ineffective anyway.
I felt that twinge of unease today as I happily took this woman’s referral and was very pleasant to her on the phone in my usual way. There was something different about today though. My unease quickly dissipated and was replaced with a swelling sensation in my heart space and a nearly tearful self-pride. This feels much better than being spiteful, I thought to myself. So what if I don’t “teach her a lesson” by withholding my kind nature? It would do little to no harm to her, yet it would be a shadow over my soul for the indefinite period of our future work acquaintance. I was so happy and relieved to be freed from that burden of anger and revenge that I had been harboring for nearly a week now.
Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
To forgive someone is not only a gift we give them, it is even more so a gift we give to ourselves. The gift of letting go. The gift of unbinding the tethers we have wrapped around our own heart. Sometimes my ego tries to snarl “they don’t deserve forgiveness.” And sometimes this is able to sway me back towards anger. But today it only caused me to reflect on all of the many time in which I had not felt worthy of the forgiveness given to me by others. I felt honored to be able to pay that kindness, that compassion, forward. In this way, forgiveness is also a means for us to repay those that have forgiven us.
Human nature is not so simple that it can be reduced to positive and negative reinforcement. When I feel I have earned rejection and scorn, but am instead offered understanding and unconditional love, I am not emboldened or spoiled by this generosity. I am healed by it instead. I am inspired to be better and prove myself worthy of it. I’d like to think that we all share this hunger for redemption after a mistake.
It is not foolish or weak to offer kindness and love in the face of indifference or hatred. It is one of the most beautiful things that we are capable of. It is with this thoughtful, compassionate, patient energy that the great men and women throughout time have turned the tides of history and earned their place in our collective conscious. We cannot allow ourselves to be concerned with the personal motivations or inner growth of others. We may hope for the best, but ultimately it is a waste and a shame to darken our own experience in an attempt to shape or control another’s.
Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Give yourself the gift of letting go. Don’t concern yourself with what someone else may or may not deserve. This is not for us to determine, nor is it our burden to carry. We are not the grand arbiters of justice in the universe. I’ve let myself believe such matters were my “duty” for quite long enough. Now I see that truly my only duty in this life is to give back all of the love, kindness, acceptance, compassion, and understanding that I have received (with interest).
Anger, Compassion, and Not Knowing
I struggle with anger nearly every day. The smallest things can set me off in an instant. A pattern has begun to emerge from these occurrences. The common denominator for my anger always seems to be a sense of “not knowing.” For example, I’ve been getting extremely frustrated with my dog the last few days. She goes through spells of refusing to go up and down the stairs. I try to carry her, but she won’t allow that either. She makes me chase her around in circles before finally she goes on her own. This has been happening on and off at random intervals since we’ve moved here, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what it’s all about.
I’m obviously not mad at her. She’s just an innocent animal who is clearly scared or in pain of some kind. (I’ve wondered if it may have to do with arthritis inflammation that comes and goes.) Regardless of what the explanation is, I think what it really comes down to is the fact that I don’t know. As someone who prides themselves on their quick wit and intelligence, not knowing anything is a threat to my ego. It’s not as if I’m consciously aware of this in the moment though. I make lots of excuses for myself to explain why I am actually angry. Normally it has something to do with believing the whole situation to be utter nonsense. If I can’t understand it or find a good reason, I assume that it’s impossible to understand, that there is no reason.
I realize that this isn’t true. There are many motives and reasons that guide people that I cannot fathom or understand from the outside. It’s a bad habit of mine to assume they must not have a good reason, and they are just being difficult. I guess it feels like deep down one of us must just be stupid, and since it absolutely cannot be me (because I am so very smart *eye roll*) it must be them. This is yet another way my black and white thinking causes problems for me. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that two people can just misunderstand one another. One person doesn’t inherently have to be of lower intelligence.
I’ve been trying to practice compassion in the face of anger recently, but it hasn’t been going as well as I might have hoped. I think the missing piece is that, while I’ve been trying to foster compassion for the other person, I have not offered myself the same compassion. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to not understand. It does not mean that I am any less intelligent for acknowledging that. You don’t have to know absolutely everything to be smart. No one knows everything. We all have our blind spots.
I think if I afford myself the grace to not know, I will finally be able to relax enough to get curious again. The double edged sword of intelligence is the ego’s desire to protect and prop up that intelligence. Sadly, if you never allow yourself to not know, how will you ever be open to learning something new? Learning, coming to new understandings, and finding new perspectives are some of my favorite parts of life. How boring it would be to think there is nothing left for me to discover.
By turning to anger so quickly in any situation I don’t immediately understand, I am robbing myself of the opportunity to learn something new. The next time I find myself overcome with frustration, I am going to try my best to pause and ask what is it about this situation that I am not understanding? Can I allow myself to not understand for the moment? How might holding space and staying open allow me to benefit and grow in this moment?
Maybe if I were to resist my anger, I may notice something new about the periods of time when my dog appears afraid to go down the stairs. Maybe I can help her more effectively if I give myself the space to discover her hidden reasons. And ultimately, even if I never understand, can I offer compassion anyway? Can I have the humility to accept that there are some things I may never understand? Can I acknowledge that compassion does not always come from understanding? Compassion and loving kindness are mine to give freely and are applicable and beneficial in any situation regardless of personal comprehension.
In the same vein this mindset would do me good in regard to the way I feel I’m perceived by other people. I tend to think that if I am not fully understood by someone, then they cannot truly love me. Now I am beginning to see that isn’t true. I’ve certainly loved people that I may not have understood 100%. I don’t think we can ever understand another, or even ourselves, fully. But that does not lessen or cheapen the love that we can offer. The best love is unconditional anyway. I don’t have to reserve my love and compassion for only people and situations that I understand. Perhaps it is even better given in those instances. Love and compassion transcend understanding, and that is part of what makes them so poignant, beautiful, and worthwhile.
Rise to the Challenge
I have met tons of people that identify themselves as competitive. I’ve been told that is a natural part of human nature, and I suppose all living things must have a certain competitive drive in order to survive. I, myself, however, have never considered myself competitive. I’ve never been very interested in sports or even playing cards or board games. There is nothing inside of me that drives me to win. Winning a game or a sport means little to nothing to me. Yet losing still makes me feel badly about myself. Therefore there is really no benefit to me participating in competitive activities.
I’ve wondered about this aspect of myself since I became aware of it. I do think a lot of it stems from social anxiety, but there is another aspect I think might be relevant. Growing up as the youngest sibling, you learn pretty fast that the chances of you winning anything or outperforming your older sibling are slim to none. I got used to always losing every single game we would play growing up. One particular incident stands out where I was playing “Mouse Trap” with my sister and grandmother. When I lost I was so distraught and unwilling to surrender my cheese game piece that I cried and shut myself up in my room. From all of these experiences, I think I have internalized the idea that challenge and competition inevitably means failure and disappointment. This has become so ingrained in me that I feel no more likely to win games of chance than I do ones that involve skill.
To this day, I still don’t enjoy playing games at parties (drinking games are a bit more acceptable) and even the video games I play are much more about casual, steady progress and creativity than winning and losing or being challenged. Until recently this was all the further I really thought about this mindset of mine. So I don’t like games very much, that’s no big deal. I dug no deeper into the matter.
The other day, however, I realized just how much this aversion to challenge has skewed my entire worldview. After all, competition and challenge is something that we all encounter each and every day in our careers, in our relationships, and even within ourselves. How you choose to perceive and respond to these challenges has a huge impact on your self-perception and your overall quality of life. Only very recently did it occur to me that not only do I anticipate failure in games, but in the challenges I face in life as well. I’ve come to view any type of challenging situation as inherently negative, foreshadowing only failure and embarrassment, never as an opportunity for self discovery or personal growth.
I think one of the ways I can start to change this mindset, is by allowing myself space to fail. There was a wonderful example of this practice in the yoga class I did yesterday. Vrikshasana or tree pose, as well as all the other balancing poses in yoga, are a great place to start playing with this. Once a balancing posture becomes second nature and relatively easy to hold, it’s time to start pushing the limits of our balancing ability. Often a cue is given to try closing your eyes. If you’ve never tried this, it is exceptionally difficult to maintain your balance with the eyes closed. Normally, I ignore this option. I inevitably fall out of the pose and get upset with myself.
Yesterday the cue was given in a slightly different way though. Because of this, I was able to let go of the expectation or even the goal of maintaining my balance perfectly and staying in the pose for any length of time with my eyes shut. It wasn’t about how long I could manage to stay still, but simply what it would feel like to try. Once I released the pressure of perfecting the pose, I actually was able to do better at this challenge than I ever have been in the past. Not only that, but I didn’t feel any irritation or disappointment when I did fall out of the pose.
Whether you enjoy challenges or not, the fact is that you are going to be faced with them regularly. It’s not an option to avoid all challenge for the rest of you life. Rather than trying to avoid challenges, perhaps we can try to look at them in a different, healthier way. Sometimes it even helps me to imagine what it would feel like to be someone that is competitive or excited by the idea of being challenged. Despite my initial reaction, I do admit that there is a certain pleasure and even peace in being challenged. When I’m doing something new or difficult, I am usually more focused than usual. And the only thing I really have to fear is my own self criticism.
In order to let go of the outcome and my expectations for myself, I find it helpful to start off by viewing failure as a likely and acceptable option. It’s almost more pleasurable if I assume I am going to fail from the beginning. Success or failure was never the point most of the time anyway. The point of life isn’t to do everything perfectly all of the time or even most of the time. Life is about trying new things, being curious, and growing through adversity. Failure is a natural part of these things and what’s most likely holding us back from them. Once we realize that we have the choice to live happily with our mistakes and failures we can finally be free to explore and blossom as we were meant to.
It’s Not Fair
One of the most common and recurring whines I’m sure we’ve all uttered in childhood is, “But it’s not fair!” Only once we’re older to we really realize that life isn’t fair. As children, though, we are told to “play fair” to “share” and things of this nature. We learn the moral value of justice and fairness, expecting the world that taught us these values to actually embody them. It’s no wonder that there is such friction and frustration when we go out into the world only to find that these lessons were all just talk.
I’ve always felt like most people make peace with this inconsistency more easily than I have ever been able to. I constantly feel victimized and cheated by small injustices we all face every day. I become especially exasperated when I think of the injustices of society as a whole. Even when I know that this period in history is a lot more just than it has been in the past, I can’t seem to let go of the idea that it should be better.
I constantly catch myself playing little mind games to even the score when I feel like I’ve been cheated out of money or have been treated unfairly in some way. The absolute madness of Comcast charging me $15 for a “self-installation” fills me with so much anger that I instead force myself to look at it as if the “free” product was what was $15. If something bad happens to me, I think of all the reasons why I must have deserved it. I’m always tallying up the score in strange ways like this in order to make myself feel a situation is more fair than it actually is.
For the longest time, I thought this was an excellent way to handle the injustices of the world. If I can play around with the facts in my head enough that I end up finding some sense of peace then all the better. However, just the other day I began to question this process of mine. Why must I make everything fair? After all, I know full well that life is not fair. Is it really doing myself any favors to pretend otherwise? Maybe instead I should be working on learning to sit with that unfairness.
It also occurred to me today just how hypocritical I have been in this regard, as we all tend to be honestly. We never scream “it’s not fair” when the scale is weighted in our favor. If I find myself on the beneficial side of an unfair arrangement, I feel rather pleased. I don’t feel any need to examine it or balance everything. Yet, if I’m the once short changed I am appalled and outraged. I feel helpless in the face of the big, bad, corrupt, unjust world. When I do something well, I expect to be rewarded in some way by the world. Yet when it comes to all the terrible, selfish things I do, I don’t expect punishment.
Most if not all of our suffering in this life is brought about by reality not living up to our expectations. By finding a way to make things always seem fair in my head, all I’m doing is subtly reinforcing my believe that the world should be fair. I think it’s time that I work towards accepting things even when they aren’t. Eventually there will come a time that no amount of mental effort will allow me to balance the scales of my life. It may sound depressing, but one of my new mantras is going to be “life isn’t fair.” I want to learn to accept this fact so that I am not crippled by my reaction to this part of reality when I inevitably encounter it in the world. Not only will practicing this new mindset of surrender and acceptance help me mitigate my anger at personal as well as societal injustices, it will also help me avoid internalizing a lot of the bad things that happen to me. Just because I experience some type of awful loss, doesn’t mean that I deserved it, nor does it have to be the end of the world, when things don’t go as I think they should.
All my life I’ve admired people that are seemingly comfortable in any situation, amongst any group of people. In my experience these individuals are extremely rare. I’ve never met more than a handful in my whole life. Yet these are the people I feel myself gravitate towards. There is an indescribable energy around them that soothes me, that makes me feel seen. My inner most character unfurls before them like a flower, that somehow I know they will appreciate and understand.
I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that these people possess. I’ve defaulted to describing them as charismatic and leaving it at that. My attraction to and preference for these individuals has come at a cost though. I seek them out to the exclusion of all others. I feel guarded and uncomfortable around most other people. Rather than pushing past that and making an effort to connect, I close myself off with the belief that they’ll just never “get me.” At times I even begin to judge and dislike others for lacking this charismatic quality that I so desperately need.
I’ve often confided to these charismatic friends and acquaintances of mine that I feel like there are not very many people with whom I am able to have a deep, meaningful, insightful conversation as I am with them. Occasionally they will agree, but just as often I’m met with a look I can’t quite place. It makes me wonder exactly what these people are capable of. Maybe there are not special souls that read one another’s energy and their innermost unspoken qualities in an instant. Maybe there are just special people that can open themselves to anyone, thereby receiving that transparency and comfortable vulnerability in return. Are the wonderful conversations I have with these select individuals the types of conversations they have with everyone they meet? What a life that must be.
This also makes me curious how I might learn from these special people how to improve my own ability to connect with others. How, if possible, I might become more like them. I think I’m pretty good at winning over a room. I can crack jokes and make pleasant conversation with just about anyone. However, the difference is the level of sincerity behind my words and actions. There is an undercurrent of energy betraying my strenuous effort. I’m working very hard when I do this little dance and I believe that bleeds through a bit. While I’m funny, I’m not exactly genuine. While I’m friendly, I’m never vulnerable. Therefore these encounters of mine never go far beyond the surface, nor am I able to transfer this act into one on one conversations where I feel even more pressure to perform rather than be present.
I think the secret ingredient in interacting with charismatic people is their unflinching sincerity and transparency about who they are. There is just something refreshing about dropping all the charades and really being fully in the moment with another person who isn’t pretending, who isn’t judging. Perhaps that’s one of the things holding me back from creating this energy on my own. I’m a pretty judgmental person. It can be hard for me to accept everyone just as they are. I can’t even accept myself most days. And while I would never express these critical, possibly hurtful thoughts, they still have an influence on the interactions I have undoubtedly. Yet when I perceive that someone else sees and accepts me for exactly who I am, I finally feel unafraid, and I can’t help but become endeared by even their faults.
Charisma has a quality of bravery and curiosity. I hope that with time and practice I might come to embody some of those qualities myself. In general, I’m not very fond of people, but when I see the way my charismatic friends bring out the best and most interesting aspects of everyone they meet, it inspires me to look deeper. I’ve gotten into the habit of forming opinions and writing people off fairly quickly. I want to learn to keep my heart open to people so that their true character may reveal itself to me. It saddens me to think how many fascinating, lovely, interesting people I may have carelessly overlooked.