It’s precious to watch a young child (or a newborn animal) just learning to walk. They pull themselves up and stagger along on unsteady legs as they build their strength and learn to balance themselves upright. It often involves more than a few tumbles and moments of abrupt sitting down before their gait becomes natural and steady. And they must learn to walk before they learn to fun.
This process is not unlike my own process when it comes to learning a new way to approach life or replacing an unhelpful pattern with a new one. I begin practicing that new pattern (or new outlook) is unsteady ways that involve lots tumbles and shaky moments. Eventually, though, the new pattern becomes my new normal, and I can navigate it without effort.
It seems like just being myself should be something that comes naturally, but it’s so easy to bend a little here and flex a little there in order to be liked and to compromise in relationships. If I’m not careful, I have stopped being “me” and become someone else that I don’t recognize. I’ve learned over the years that this is something I need to pay attention to in order to make sure I don’t wander off track.
The links I’ve collected for this week’s link love are all ones that speak to different aspects of my struggles to consistently show up in an authentic way in my life without hiding parts of myself to make others comfortable, trying to be something I’m not to be liked, or setting goals based on what I think is expected.
My book club discussed Sharon Salzberg’s Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness at our meeting this month. Although Salzberg is a leading Buddhist writer in the US and a name with which I am very familiar, this is actually the first book of hers that I have read. It’s considered a classic in the field, from what I understand, so it was a great place to start.
The primary focus of the book is on the Buddhist practice of metta, which is translated into English as lovingkindness. The book covers this practice, several related practices that intertwine and grow out of a metta practice, and applies this practice to real-life situations that all of us face. It is unmistakably clear how powerful this practice can be in the way we experience the world around us and the amount of happiness that we experience.
“When you refrain from habitual thoughts and behavior, the uncomfortable feelings will still be there. They don’t magically disappear. Over the years, I’ve come to call resting with the discomfort ‘the detox period,’ because when you don’t act on your habitual patterns, it’s like giving up an addiction. You’re left with the feelings you were trying to escape. The practice is to make a wholehearted relationship with that.” ~Pema Chödrön (from Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, page 36)
I get a weekly email with Pema’s Heart Advice of the week. The above quote was the one I received today. (It can also be found in blog form on Shambhala Publications website.)
I know this feeling of being in the detox period well. As I have been working on shifting patterns in my life that are no longer helpful, I frequently encounter these detox period where my emotions have been triggered but I’m choosing not to engage in my usual coping behaviors. Instead, I am left to sit with those feelings that I normal try to escape, minimize, or at least distract myself from feeling.
People are complex creatures. None of us can be summed up by the labels that get applied to us, but most of us have a set of labels that we use as a personal version of an elevator speech to describe who we are to people we are just meeting. While the ones we share in any given instance vary according to the situation, these labels commonly include what we do for a living, where we are from, our faith tradition, our relationship status (single, partnered, married, with/without kids, etc.), where we live, and what hobbies we engage in or what organizations we donate our time to.
I’m finding that being in a prolonged period of intense transformation in so many areas makes it even more difficult than normal to find accurate labels to define myself when making this kind of small talk with new acquaintances. Because so many areas are in the midst of transition, nothing seems to fit. How do I tell someone else who I am when I’m not even sure I know myself?
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” ~Jim Rohn
I came across this quote in an article on Lifehacker a few days ago, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since then. Although the article’s focus was on being successful and how the people we surround ourselves with affects our success, it seems to me that this would be equally true in other aspects of our lives.
If I am the average of the five people I spend that most time with, then I should be spending a lot more time and energy choosing those five people to make sure that they are people who I want to be like.
I’ve written before about my tendency to pick friendships based on our being wound mates and about my co-dependent tendencies that lead me choose people who seem to need my help. The impact of choosing these types of relationships is that I am choosing to surround myself with people who either reinforce my woundedness or who are ultimately either needy or controlling (or both). And if I become the average of that group, it does not lead me any closer to becoming the person I want to be. In fact, it generally goes the other way.
“We intensify fear by trying to force it away. It might seem counter-intuitive, but the first step in healing fear is accepting it … Instead of pushing away our difficult moments, we soften to them, allowing those moments a wider pasture & meeting them with clarity and compassion.” ~Stephen Levine (from Unattended Sorrows)
The last few days have been very difficult ones for me. I am dealing with a number of issues (business and house related) that I feel completely incompetent to address. And in the midst of this sense of complete overwhelm, I am recognizing yet again how tiny my support net has grown. I have lived alone for the majority of my adult life, so it’s not being single that is the problem. It is the recognition that I have never had this small of a support network, especially when I look at people who live close enough to provide the kind of help I need at times.
“It is tempting to think that in order to change our experience of our world we need to force others to change. Such thinking is an abdication of our power to change ourselves.” ~Michael Lee (Founder, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy)
I’ve spent so much of life trying to force others to change in order for my experience of my own world to change. I have many years worth of experience to show that this approach does not work. As I have worked on my co-dependency issues, I’ve gradually been letting go of this pattern in the attempt to replace unhelpful and unproductive patterns with new ones that actually work.
Even as I’ve worked on releasing this pattern, though, I’ve never thought of it as an abdication of my power to change myself; I’ve only focused on the fact that it isn’t working for me. But the moment I read this quote, I recognized it as the truth. If I think someone else needs to change in any way in order for my life to change, then I am giving up my power to change myself. I am making the other person more powerful than I am in my own life.
In Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, Carolyn Myss talks about the relatively new method for bonding in relationships based on “woundology.” In this process of forming relationships, one person will reveal some deep inner wound that they have, the other person will search their life experience to find a similar wound that they can share, and the two then become “wound mates” based on the sharing of similar wounds.
This is a relatively new phenomenon that has sprung up as therapy and the subsequent emotional sharing that goes with support groups has become more common. It’s easy to see why this is a powerful way of bonding. When we meet someone who shares a similar wound, we know that they will understand us and be able to support us in ways that people who don’t have similar wound patterns may not be able to. Our wounds tend to become a deep part of our identity, so finding someone who has so much in common with the way the define ourselves is a strong draw.
I love the poem below. I think it describes well the challenge I talked about yesterday of learning to walk away from all of the advice, demands, and expectations of the world around us (including those we have internalized) so that we can hear the voice of the Self guiding us into becoming the person each of us is meant to be. It’s even more true for those of us who have lived as co-dependents who have people who are used to us taking care of them. Continue reading →