Don’t Look at the Wall

I recently read that one of the most important tips given to new race car drivers is, “whatever you do, don’t look at the wall.” When I heard this, it immediately reminded me of one of my very first practice driving sessions with my mom when I was a teenager. As I was driving 25mph down a street in my dinky little home town, my sister yells out from the back seat for us to look at a house to our right. Without thinking, I turn my head to look. In just that one split second, turning my attention away from the road and just to the side, I had swerved the car and nearly driven up onto the sidewalk. Whether you realize it or not, where you place your focus is the direction you are heading.

We say something similar when teaching arm balances in yoga. In teacher training when we practiced cues for bakasana (crow pose) we were told to always make sure to emphasize the importance of our gaze. If you look straight down between your hands as you try to lower your body’s weight forward onto the backs of the arms, you’re inevitably going to tumble forward and possibly hit your head on the floor. The trick is to look a few inches ahead of you. Looking forward, but not down. Our gaze is a reflection of our focus and intention and a reminder of how important these things are.

I think these physical examples are an excellent demonstration of how this same principle applies in more abstract matters. If you look at the wall, you’ll hit the wall. If you look at the floor below you, that’s where you’re going. If you focus on the potential problems or possible ways you might fail, that is where you’re going to find yourself in the future. It seems so obvious when I think about it in this context.

My anxiety is always directing me to the worse possible outcome. It would be great if I were able to print out a pie graph of my mental energy expenditure from day to day. I’d be willing to bet that 90% of my thoughts are about what I’m afraid of or what could go wrong. Even when things usually go pretty well for me, I always immediately find the next fear to latch onto as soon as one disappears. Somehow my brain convinces itself that it is doing this to keep me safe. And to a certain extent, it is smart to contemplate obstacles that may come up and how we can deal with them in the event that they do. However, this is not really what my anxiety is doing. It’s not coming up with calm, rational contingency plans. It’s telling me that the experience will be inherently stressful and traumatizing and trying to find a way to avoid it all together.

It’s really helpful for me to remember the real life examples of the way our focus determines our experience and even has an influence on future outcomes. Yoga gives us ample opportunities to practice these principles before putting them into action in other areas of our lives. Getting into an arm balance is scary. You’re quite likely to fall down the first few times you try. But if we focus on that fear or how it feels to fall and hurt ourselves, we’re never going to master bakasana! Focus on what’s in front of you. Focus on where you want to be or what you want to see happen. If you focus on falling you’re going to fall or perhaps never let yourself try in the first place.

Realizing and reminding myself that my focus on fear is not helping me to avoid it, but instead propelling me toward it, is exactly where I need to begin. Normally when I contemplate shifting my thoughts to the positives and letting go of my anxiety about any given situation, I become afraid that by not looking at the scary bits, they’ll sneak up on me or something. It’s like trying to keep your eyes on a spider at the corner of your room so that it won’t suddenly appear on your arm. But what if staring at that spider was an invitation for it to come over to you? You’d probably keep yourself busy with whatever you’re doing and leave it alone.

It’s time for me to start giving my energy to the good things in life that I want to create, not the parts that I want to avoid. If I focus on the good, I’ll naturally move past or through the obstacles in due time. When I let myself focus on only the scary parts of life, that is all I’m going to experience, whether my fears come to fruition or not. I’ll have already lived the worst of them out in my mind anyway. It’s okay to let myself think about the good things that might happen too or the things I hope will happen. It’s safe to let myself be happy. It’s safe to imagine a future full of positivity and light. In fact, that’s the first step towards manifesting that future.

Trusting in Lost Memories

silencing the inner chatter
to hear the soft hum of celestial wisdom
lifting myself above the tumultuous tides
of my own mistaken mind

finding stillness in the radio static of consciousness
to tune in to the salient source of everything
surrendering the obsession for contemplating complex patterns
in favor of opening to the energy trying to be channeled in

life's challenge is a sweet irony
a call to remember what we are
amidst the chaos of time and space
to pause long enough to transcend them

humbling ourselves to the unknowable truth
to trust in forces we cannot control
to be guided by an unseen hand
down a foggy, confused path

learning to mirror the beauty of faith
reflected back in the eyes of the innocent
by the joyous confidence of children and small beings
with blindly open hearts

our trust will not be betrayed
only the temptation to doubt will mislead us
even so we are never lost
only learning new lessons

Playing with Your Personal Edge

Yoga is a mirror to all of life. All of our habits, thought patterns, personal beliefs, and doubts can be discovered and analyzed on the mat. One thing you may have heard before if you’ve taken a yoga class is the phrase “your personal edge.” This is referring to pushing yourself not into any particular shape or variation of a pose, but just to where you feel yourself reaching the edge of your body’s ability. More specifically the edge is right where you feel challenged, but not any pain or severe discomfort in your body. Finding that edge is a practice in itself. There are many challenges to keep us from recognizing it. Our ego may want us to go beyond that edge, to show off, or prove something. Our self-doubt and fear may want us to hold back and never meet that edge to ensure we don’t fall or fail or whatever other story it might be used to telling us.

A lot of people, myself included, spend a lot of their yogic journey, trying to master advanced poses as if checking them off some kind of yogi achievement list, or attempting to fill up a well of pride inside. Especially now, when we have all seen the impressive feats yoga can train the body to perform on Instagram, YouTube, or somewhere else online, it’s easy to forget that these physical forms are not the purpose of yoga. These magnificent, beautiful shows of flexibility, balance, and strength are a byproduct of showing up every day and meeting your personal edge. I’m sure the first yogis had no idea that the body would even be capable of these asanas in the beginning, they revealed themselves to be possible little by little as these seasoned practitioners slowly followed that ever moving edge.

At the same time, meeting your personal edge isn’t necessarily about “improving” yourself either. All of these outward results of doing so are just distractions and illusions. The real benefit of playing with that edge is what it feels like when you’re doing it. In yoga, as in life, if we push ourselves too far we become frustrated and disheartened. But if we never challenge ourselves, we will become bored and stagnant. Sometimes even after we’ve learned these lessons on our mat, it can take years for us to make the transition off the mat and into our everyday lives.

I’ve always had a hard time finding a healthy middle ground, in yoga and in life. I used to push my body a little too hard in my practice, aggressively forcing it into every more strenuous postures, occasionally even resulting in injury. Then I pulled back. For awhile, this was a welcomed relief from high expectations and pressure to outperform myself every day. However, now it has transformed more into a fear of testing my limits at all, in favor of easier, yet perfectly executed poses. I have this same problem in every aspect of my life. I seem to be in a state of constant fluctuation between frustration and boredom. I push too hard and feel awful when I inevitably fail or burn myself out. Then I pull back so much that I become bored and disinterested all together.

Watching “Is It Cake?” on Netflix the other night, I was in awe of the way these pastry chefs believed in themselves. I could not even fathom what gave them the courage to try things that I would have immediately written off as impossible or at the very least, far beyond my ability. I see so many people doing this every day. People starting businesses, creating their own products, writing books, etc. I envy their self confidence and bravery. At the same time, they’ve taught me that rather than lack of ability or external circumstances, I am what’s holding me back from achieving my own personal successes.

I worry so much about what the final steps will be and my perceived inability to reach them that I never give myself permission to start where I am and focus on the first step. I become so obsessed with the end goal, that I forget to enjoy the process. In life, as in yoga, the true reward is not the final product, it is the blissful focus and moments of flow that we experience along the way when we are teasing the limits of our own ability.

I’ve been waiting for something to come along and shake me out of this directionless boredom I’ve been stuck in for so long now, forgetting that I have the power to push past this whenever I want. Because I never feel “ready”, my growth is usually the result of unforeseen circumstances forcing me to go outside of my comfort zone. I think I comfort myself with the idea that “I didn’t choose this. I never said/believed I could do this. So if I fail, it’s not my fault.” In reality, I’m just afraid of my own ego. I’m afraid that if I believe in myself, if I try to do something great and discover that I can’t, then it will reaffirm my own self-doubts and cause me to face the tongue lashing of my own inner critic. Somehow it feels safer to expect to fail. Then if I do, at least I can say I was right all along. Ensuring that, if nothing else, I’m at least still smart.

Even though this is the way I feel, it sounds utterly ridiculous to read this rationalization back to myself. Yoga has also taught me to set intentions and use them as an anchor. For so long now, my unconscious intention has been “avoid looking like a fool.” Totally losing sight of my aspirations and goals, not even considering what exactly a “fool” looks like. When I really think about it, I wouldn’t call someone who tries to achieve something great and fails a fool. It’s far more foolish to live your whole life clipping your own wings in an attempt to save face.

As I move forward with this knew wisdom, I want to remember that I get to set the intention. It doesn’t have to be something so concrete as “publish a book.” An intention can be something like “to be curious” or “to search for my personal edge.” This leaves a lot of room for exploration, surprising ourselves, and unexpected forms of success that may not look like what we thought they would. When I become frustrated, it’s usually a sign that I’ve gotten distracted and lost sight of my true intention. All I need to do is slow down and remember what I really wanted out of this experience and letting go of what my ego tells me success looks like. Really success doesn’t look like anything. It is not a physical manifestation, it is a feeling. Something that comes about it all sorts of unique ways. Something we are all capable of experiencing.

Learning From Loneliness, Loss, and Stagnation

Focusing on the past and trying to make sense of my previous mistakes and experiences used to be a much bigger part of my mental landscape. I think when I was younger it was easier to line things up in a neat and orderly manner in order to create a story that made sense and gave me a sense of direction. Eventually it seemed like I had created so many memories, lived through so many years, met and lost so many people that I started to lose the plot. There no longer seemed to be a way to make all these seemingly random pieces fit together.

One of the good things about shifting my focus away from the past is that I don’t ever dwell on regrets. Someone asked me the other day what one of my biggest regrets was, and it honestly took me a long time to even come up with any. I’ve certainly made a lot of egregious mistakes throughout my time on this earth, but do I really regret those mistakes? I don’t know. I do regret the way I’ve treated a lot of people in my life. But even then, that’s more because of the way it affected them, not how it’s affected me. Although I feel guilty for being so cruel and selfish when I was younger, I never would have learned what I know now or become the person I am today if I hadn’t behaved that way in the past.

For instance, one of my biggest regrets is probably the way I treated my mother during my late teens. Part of me does wonder how I might be different if I had been willing to accept her support and love during some of my darkest, loneliest times. Still I think I wouldn’t have the perspective to appreciate her the way I do now if I hadn’t rejected and hated her all those years ago. Despite my coldness, I was able to feel just how much she loved me. Even when I basically threw her love away each time, she continued to offer it to me at every opportunity. She never returned my disdain or cruelty. She never left or gave up on me. Because of that time in my life, I now cherish her more than I think I ever could have otherwise. One of my biggest regrets still led to the discovery of truly unconditional love and the unwavering support of a mother for her child. And understanding just how lucky I am to have that.

Lately I have been feeling completely stuck and without direction in life. I keep struggling to move past this uncomfortable stagnation. At the same time I just can’t seem to envision how or when this feeling will change. Looking back at the past, particularly our own mistakes, can be painful, but there is a value to exploring our own story every now and then. There is a lot that we can learn from piecing together the seemingly disconnected parts of our colorful pasts. One of those things is refilling our faith that things might not make sense right now, but one day they will.

No matter how badly we might feel we have failed, or how irredeemable our actions may seem in the moment, you can never be sure the future benefits, knowledge, and value we may gain from them in the future. Just because we can’t see it right now, can’t even conceive how that could be possible, we can at least acknowledge that it’s happened in the past. By reflecting back we can recognize how some of our darkest moments eventually, without our conscious awareness, transformed into some of our greatest strengths, our deepest insights, our most valuable lessons.

Even though things have been confusing, difficult, and unsettling for me for what seems like ages now, it won’t feel like this forever. One of the scariest things is the feeling that I’m wasting time, years of my life, of my youth. But our time can never truly be wasted. No matter what we are doing, whether we want to be, or believe we are, we are always growing, learning, and changing. This time is not being wasted, despite how it feels. Periods of stagnation can just as easily be viewed as periods of incubation. This perspective might not make it go any faster, but it does make it just a little bit easier to keep going, even when you don’t know where you’re going or when it feels like you’re actually going no where at all. One day it’ll all make sense again. You’ll be able to look back and see that it was all necessary, that it was all worth it. An egg just looks like an egg from the moment it’s laid to the moment it hatches. Just because we might not be able to see or understand what’s developing within, doesn’t mean that tomorrow won’t be the day it’s finally revealed.

Suffering in Silence

I learned early on that tears and tantrums are bad behavior. Showing these emotions causes displeasure and annoyance in those around us. Our first subconscious lesson to swallow those big emotions and keep them inside, those first seeds of unworthiness, are planted when we are very young. A lesson that others don’t have time for us, are not interested in our distress. Some of my most painful and poignant memories from childhood emphasize this lesson.

Looking backward in my memory I see a tiny child retreat to her bedroom when the world becomes too much. Perhaps an easily disregarded issue to the adults around, but a great source of pain to one so new and small. I see her shut herself away the first few times with a confidence that her mother will come to her, show compassion and concern for her suffering. It seems like hours as the child waits in the darkness for someone, anyone to show her that they care, that her presence is missed. Fits of crying come and go, some intentionally exaggerated to ensure they are heard. Still no one comes.

No one ever came. Many occasions like this ended in crying myself to sleep, feeling utterly alone and unloved. Even though I now understand this was so as not to encourage this behavior (i.e. crying and sulking in order to get attention) it doesn’t make the internalization of the initial message any less harmful. Nor has it helped to have this message reaffirmed throughout life.

I had bouts of extreme sadness in my high school years. I’ll never forget the week my first serious boyfriend broke up with me. I fell silent, kept my head down, hidden in my arms as I fought back tears for days on end. I wasn’t looking for attention. I wanted to disappear. But the realization that this would be so easy, that I would be utterly ignored was a sobering one. I quickly learned the meaning of the term “fair weather friend” and that most friends fit this definition. My best friend at the time did not try at all to console me or hold space for my sadness. She did not even seem to look in my direction that week. It felt as though I could drop off the face of the earth and no one would notice or mind my absence. Understandably this response served to compound my sadness ever further.

It’s not as though no one has ever extended a hand to me in my darkest hours. The best friend I have now is always there for me, through laughter as well as tears. I’ll never forget the day one childhood friend of mine made her boyfriend drive over to get me as I sat on the sidewalk in abject despair. She took me with them to Denny’s and did all that she could to make sure I was okay. These instances have pierced my soul in the most beautiful way. I’m so grateful for them even now.

Intellectually I understand that being present for another person’s suffering is hard. It’s not always that those around me don’t care, but they don’t know what to do. They are just trying to avoid their discomfort. They may even feel guilty and ashamed deep down. That being said, it doesn’t change the way it feels, especially when I am already so low.

As an adult, I really struggle with expressing myself due, in large part, to these experiences. When I’m struggling, I usually suppress the urge to reach out to anyone. I shrink away from the whole world. I choose to suffer in silence and put on a mask for everyone. It’s simply too painful to feel people pulling away from me when I need them most. It’s easier to pretend I don’t need them. My inner voice whispers, “No one cares what you’re going through. Don’t burden people with your problems. You’re only worth anything when you can make other people smile and laugh. If you show them how you really feel, they’ll all abandon you. Just keep it to yourself. Stay quiet.”

Not only does this perception greatly increase my pain and sense of isolation, it also pushes the people that do care away from me. I’m always in a weird spot when a negative event occurs in my life. I usually can’t muster the courage to tell anyone unless I absolutely have to or they directly ask me. I’m so afraid of their reaction, I’m so ashamed of making myself the focus of the conversation, that I just pretend everything is normal. But then when/if people discover what’s happened and realize that I didn’t share it with them, it makes them feel like I don’t consider them a friend. Which is understandable. I like to be kept up to date on the important events in my friends’ lives too. It does feel like a slight when they don’t confide in me.

I never want anyone else to experience the loneliness and pain I have gone through. I never want anyone to feel like no one cares for them when they are suffering. That is what I must believe all of these moments have been teaching me. I’m definitely someone that has the tendency to panic and avoid people that are crying or going through a tough time. I don’t know what to say or do. I feel awkward and uncomfortable. But this feeling I know so well, let it be my inspiration, my motivation to push through that fear and be there for others in their time of need. It doesn’t matter what I say or do. Just being there is the greatest comfort, just acknowledging that pain, sharing it, holding space, that is one of the few gifts I can offer. Let my own suffering give me the courage to do so.

Lessons From Mr. Micawber

One of the funniest characters in David Copperfield has got to be Mr. Wilkins Micawber. We first encounter Micawber as a somewhat landlord/roommate of the young Copperfield. We quickly learn that he is perpetually in debt that he has no hopes of paying back. He is constantly on the brink of utter disaster for himself, his wife, and their large, growing family. Micawber remains a primary character throughout the novel. He is a character in which I think we can all stand to learn a lot from while still being someone exaggerated and ridiculous in nature.

Part of what is so humorous about this man is that he seems to drastically jump from one condition to another suddenly. One moment he will be on the verge of suicide, the next, Copperfield will find him skipping along the road, whistling an upbeat tune. He writes these dramatic, superfluously worded letters that at first glance make you quite worried for the man. Then the next day he is the epitome of high hopes and lightheartedness.

Even though I find it exceedingly funny in the book, I actually admire this quality in Micawber. It might make him seem silly, but he is none the less likeable for this trait. He is a heartfelt and honest man. He is true to his feelings even if they oscillate rapidly from one extreme to another. And he is unashamed of expressing himself. This is something I’d like to be brave enough to practice in my own life.

I’ve noticed many times, that if I share a strong negative feeling with someone else through behavior or actual words, I feel very reluctant to let it go even when internally, the feeling has subsided. This is especially true if it’s a mood that has come and gone quickly. I’m almost embarrassed to contradict myself by getting over something that I proclaimed to be so passionate about. Perhaps I’m worried people will think me a hypocrite? Or maybe I fear them not taking my concerns seriously the next time? Or maybe I’m even afraid they’ll chuckle and laugh at me, as I do about Mr. Micawber? I don’t know the exact reason, but something within me resists dropping a grudge that I’ve just vented to someone else about or allowing myself to be happy if the day before I was presenting myself as irrevocably depressed.

Mr. Micawber has shown me that even though it does appear silly to be crying one moment and laughing the next, it is silly in the best way possible. I don’t disregard his sadness even if I highly suspect it won’t last long. And my laughter at his sudden recovery is not done in a mocking way, rather a delighted way, out of wonder and surprise. Micawber is an excellent role model for the slogan: It’s okay to feel your feelings. Even when they might not seem logical to someone else.

It’s truly a shame how often we, myself included, deny ourselves the happiness of the moment under the shadow of some larger problem looming over our lives. We get the thought stuck in our heads that “I’ll never be happy unless…” or “Once this happens or this stops happening, then I’ll finally be able to be happy.” With our eyes set on this imagined future happiness, we overlook or disregard the small opportunities for happiness we encounter every day. Micawber didn’t wait for his problems to go away or for his massive debts to be repaid to enjoy his life. He did so whenever he got the chance. I think we’d all benefit from trying to do the same.

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.

The Personal History of David Copperfield. by Dickens, Charles: (1849) |  Raptis Rare Books, ABAA/ ILAB

Anger, Compassion, and Not Knowing

Understanding Suicide: Risk Factors, Prevention, and How to Get Help |  Everyday Health

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.

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.

How to respond to tantrums - Harvard Health

Humility and Shame

How to Deal With Shame

Humility is generally viewed as a good quality. Without it, the most incredible people can become narcissistic and unpleasant to be around. Shame is a bit different. It’s not thought of in a positive light. The mere word brings up feelings of discomfort and maybe even a vague memory of a time when you felt shame in your own life. However, at least in my experience, suddenly encountering a shameful moment is what deflates my ego enough to allow me to find humility again.

Shame is a very interesting emotion. It is definitely one of my least favorite. It cuts deep and leaves lasting scars. But I think that this is because shame may have developed as a means for us to make sure we don’t become separated or exiled from our herd. Shame is generally something that we feel when we are behaving in a way, or doing an act we wouldn’t want others to see or even know about. It’s an important inner valve to help us determine what will cause friction or change the way others in our group view us. Which, in the past, it could have meant a death sentence if we were cast out.

There have been many times in my life where I can recall a jolt of shame immediately redirecting me towards humility and self-reflection when moments before I had been boisterous with an overly-inflated ego. There is nothing wrong with being proud or confident, but sometimes it can get a bit out of hand and start to tip over into conceit. That’s when shame can really come in handy to help us check ourselves before we get out of control.

I had a particularly shame-filled encounter yesterday evening. I won’t go into detail, but I’ve been internally cringing ever since. Part of me still wants to jump out of my skin and pretend it never happened. In the past this would have sent me on a downward spiral of destruction. (Sometimes I go a bit past “humility” and into the realm of self-hatred.) This time, I refused to close my heart to myself and to the world just because I’ve made some big mistakes. Instead of turning away, I’ve been examining what happened more closely. I’ve been asking myself: What has this incident taught me? Is there something to be grateful for in even the most painful, embarrassing moments?

Though it still makes my insides contract whenever my mind glides over the memory, I’m actually glad that it happened the way it did. For one thing, it certainly could have been much worse. Simple embarrassment was a small price to pay considering all the possible alternatives. I’m also glad it happened because it shook me out of my stupor. It quelled my growing rage and judgement of others and deflated my foolish ego. If given the choice I’d pick humility over hubris every time.

Instead of my normal, borderline road rage on my drive home that evening, I drove slowly, mindfully, with grace and compassion for all my fellow humans on the highway. A humble heart is quick to kindness. It’s much easier to hold space for the errors of others when you’ve just been reminded of your own shortcomings in such a direct way. Being embarrassed is a reminder that we all make mistakes. It offers insight into our hopes of how others would respond to those mistakes we make and, in turn, makes us more willing to offer that same understanding to those around us.

Shame is also often the catalyst for a much needed change of direction. There is a small thrill in getting away with a shameful act, and the more often this happens the bolder and more obnoxious we become. Being found out is often necessary before we can really recognize the need for change. And yesterday was definitely a blessing in disguise for me. It was a huge wake up call. It was the kick in the pants I’ve been needing for awhile now. So even though it stung and continues to sting, I’m grateful. In fact I hope that memory brands my soul for years to come as a reminder of who I truly want to be. Shame shows us when we’re not being that version of ourselves.

Now, none of this is to say that shame necessitates some kind of personal change. There are plenty of examples of society teaching us to be ashamed of things that we shouldn’t be ashamed of. For instance, LGBTQ people may feel shame for simply being themselves. Promiscuity in women is often shamed. Victims of violent crimes are even shamed. And there are many more examples of unwarranted shame that is not a call for inner change or redemption. Deep down I believe we are able to decipher the difference. If you’re unsure, as long as you’re not hurting anyone or betraying your own sense or morality, then any shame felt is a challenge to overcome within ourselves, not a call to change.

Humility and shame are a beautiful example of the duality of our experiences in this life. It shows us that even in our darkest moments, there is something to be grateful for. As someone who is a deep lover of learning, I can’t deny that pain is often our greatest teacher. And I’m so thankful that the lesson wasn’t harder. I’m going to make sure that I take it to heart so I don’t have to be taught this lesson a second time. I know that I have been acting against my own interests for many years now. I thank the universe for offering me this opportunity for insight and redirection. I will not waste it.