Stripped & Unburdened part II: Perspective, compassion, and connectedness

This is the second part of what would have been a lengthy post – if you haven’t read the first part yet, you might want to do so here.

After more time had passed, though, I started to consider that maybe I could want and have friends again, but I told myself it wasn’t safe. I lied to myself saying that my world was too catastrophic and chaotic and anyone who came near me would just get hurt. It was (and is) all bull shit, of course, but I was still too afraid to acknowledge that the reason I wasn’t reaching out was because I was focused on all the differences between me and everyone else and was terrified of facing rejection and shame.

In psychological research (and, really, in most forms of research), there is an ethical danger called ‘congruence bias.’ It exists outside of research as well, and in every day cognition. It means that you find what you’re looking for simply because you’re looking for it; or, conversely, you don’t find what you’re looking for because the idea you have in mind is too specific. The thing is, it backfires both ways: 1) Frequently, we have very specific ideas as to what we’re looking for, and when we don’t find exactly that, we conclude that whatever “it” is, isn’t there. For example, let’s say you were looking for a screwdriver and it happened to have a red handle. You pull out the tool/junk drawer and start tossing things every which a way, and you cannot find the screwdriver. Then someone else comes along, opens the same drawer, and says that the screwdriver is right there, handing you one with a black handle. You would probably swear up and down that there was no screwdriver in that drawer 30 seconds ago – because you were looking for the red one. 2) Similarly, if you’re looking for and expecting people to behave a certain way, you’ll interpret all their behavior to match your thinking. Let’s say you think that everybody doesn’t like you. So when you walk into a group of people and someone happens to leave at the same time, you conclude they left because they didn’t like you even though that wasn’t necessarily the situation at all. Maybe they’d had to pee for the past hour but one of the other people in the group kept running their mouth and Mr. I-need-a-potty-break-NOW! was only able to escape because your arrival caught Ms. Mouthy’s attention and she shut up for a half a second giving Mr. Potty-break the escape he needed.  Make sense?

I don’t remember when I realized I had been doing this with my life exactly, but at some point in the last month and a half, I did. The Universe had been sending me little signs – showing me people who I would never think had seen and experienced the same kinds of things I had (not necessarily in the specifics, but general themes anyway), but they did. I’d been so focused on finding the differences between me and everyone that I encountered that I could not see the ways in which we were alike, the things we had in common, how we were connected. On a drive from (or to – doesn’t really matter) work, it coalesced in my space. What connects us (all) is ultimately more powerful than anything that can divide us. It is simply a matter of perspective.

Does this mean that the possibility of my being rejected by anyone who I decide to trust with some choice pieces of my history and experience has suddenly diminished? Maybe, but not necessarily. Maybe because of the new perspective I intend to take, I will draw people to me who would be accepting. And maybe not, but it doesn’t matter either. It certainly wouldn’t shock me. I recognize that a lot about me is a bit “out there” for most people, and that’s okay. What matters is that I breathe in the Truth of the power of our connection and live in that space. Whether others choose to see that or not is not my responsibility. We all behave from who we are, not at or to anyone around us. If someone I encounter is in such a place that they cannot recognize what I have recently discovered, I have a choice. Because I was in that space so very recently I remember distinctly how absolutely miserable it made me, I can choose to have compassion for them.

Thus, when I read of one of my new favorite blogger’s recent experience with discrimination, I was not surprised. Sadly, “A” has not yet come to learn what I recently have. I have been, at earlier times in my life (and still occasionally, though I try not to be), judgmental or intolerant in some way. And I’ve learned that I make my life and myself the poorer for it when I am. So while I empathize with Ollin, having experienced similar discrimination, I also have compassion for “A” because she probably has no idea of the internal consequences of her decision in her own space, not to mention that her blog will be all the poorer for the contribution she denied Ollin the opportunity to make. And I have compassion for her because of that loss of which she might not even be aware. What I found interesting was that when I was reading through all the comments Ollin’s readers made to his post in which he recounted this experience, I noticed that the comments that I interpreted as a little snarky toward “A” had me shaking my head in compassion for those individuals as much as hearing of “A’s” own action did. Perhaps its simplistic (not to mention unpopular) to think so, but at its root, I think the energy of those kinds of comments is as divisive as “A’s” action was.

I finally finished reading Eat, Pray, Love the other day, by the way. I had set it down for a while and it just seemed time to pick it up again. I’m sure that all this embracing of compassion has everything to do with what I’ve taken away from that book. I’m interested to see what else I’ve garnered from it, to watch it unfold in my space and my mind. The father of a mentor of mine used to finish every workshop he did by telling us that we were taking away and had received far more from our time together than we understood in that moment. I think the same is true for this book for me.

Moving forward, I realize that I have allowed the experience of these crises to result in an extreme and negative change for and in me thus far. I’m done with that now. From this point on, I intend to strip myself like a shameless menopausal woman in the midst of a personal summer of this fear and pain that I have been harboring and, instead, continue cultivating this new perspective on connectedness and compassion.

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Happy Wednesday

I am writing not really because I can think of anything in particular to say at the moment but because 1) it is a good idea to check in with myself/Self, 2) when I initially check in with myself I find I am feeling a little restless and writing is a good outlet for that, 3) my wife just yelled at (but, you know, not really) our 14 yr old because she hasn’t journaled, and if my wife/Teacher asks if I have journaled, Iwould like to be able to say, ‘yes!’ so I can avoid getting yelled at, and 4) this is a little secret that I have only shared with my immediate family but I am going to be brave and say it here – I want to write novels. Yes, plural, though, of course I’ll start with just one. But in order to do that, I need to find my voice, you know, the one that is unique to just me. And writing is good for that, too. So, here I am.

So, this restlessness I am feeling. It is, I believe, the hallmark of transitioning. I mentioned our 14 yr old, and it is funny to me because there is a part of me that feels adolescent in this moment. After all, it is one of the quintessential times of transition one goes through in life – regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, ethnic background, geography, ability, spiritual affiliation, etc. Everyone that has lived to, according to researchers at this point, 25 has completed this transition and everyone who has at least reached the age of 13 has begun to experience it.  And though it is true that currently my face is broken out (which I think should be illegal after one reaches 30), I don’t mean that kind of adolescence. I mean the kind where so much is going on below the surface, like billions of little tornadoes of development just whirling in a frenzy of creation and change inside. And, like I have just bought three different new outfits and a bunch of new makeup and can’t decide what to put on and go out to parade in or perhaps I just want to stay inside and change my clothes and eyeshadow a billion times. And like I have finally admitted to wanting a really amazing gift that I only just got the courage to ask for and now want so desperately that my skin sings with the longing for it AND I was told I could have it…soon, but I need to be patient. And if you’ve ever known an adolescent, you know that, on the whole, they are not the most patient lot.

And while transitions are frequently messy (creation, after all, is a messy process – look at the act of giving birth), there is such beauty in the process. And so, while I am restless, I am also joyful and giddy, even. I think I’ve been giddy before (my wife could probably attest to that), but it has been so long, that it is like a thrilling adventure into a foreign territory. I realize the varying string of analogies might induce a headache for some, but it is so exciting I don’t want to help it. Like an exquisite dish or wine or painting, there are so many flavors and colors and dimensions to describe that to stop wouldn’t do it justice. Ha! See, I did it again. Writing critics be damned, I’ll keep going, too. I am like a young woman awaiting a long-promised lover, except that this time, the lover is Me.

WRO wrote a beautiful post that had me cheering her on and applauding the wisdom she displayed (and that I have lacked when considering or venturing into relationships). See, the pattern I have engaged in with every single relationship is that I sacrifice my identity on the altar of it. Maybe that’s not entirely accurate, because, to be honest, I’m not convinced I ever had possession of my identity to begin with. But, that’s the gist of it. I make myself into who I perceive my partner to need or, in perhaps more often, into a replica of them. The historical result has been, of course, that the other person becomes worshipful or tired of this identity I’ve put on, both of which I grow to resent and a messy break-up has ensued. My wife has been the sole exception to these results. I’m not saying I haven’t made her crazy with my mimicking of her (which I’ve done and it has made her crazy, and she has told me about it) or that she hasn’t gotten tired of it (she most certainly has). Yet, as I said in my previous post, she has the patience of a saint, and she loves me unconditionally – both of which are testaments to her character and don’t have a damn thing to do with me. I just started reading Eat, Pray, Love, by the way, and was a little unnerved by the similarities between myself and Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert – I mean, even down to the speaking French and Russian background bit. Crazy. Anyway, when I read WRO’s post about “marrying her Self,” I was struck with that fabulous and foreign-to-me idea. Lovely!

And in keeping with some concepts from Eat, Pray, Love, I am not going to try to fix or get rid of my giddy, excited, joyful and agitated restlessness. I’m going to just be those things right now and be with them. Though, I think I’ll continue to do that in a bubble bath…