Recently, I was in a workshop with a man who was very much into asking ill-timed and inappropriate questions. Despite feedback and even some criticism from others, he had a bon mot for just about everything and everyone.
I later thought about a few things:
- in my 20s, I’d have gotten really angry at him and probably confronted him.
- in my 30’s, I’d have been annoyed at his disturbing me, and I’d have tried to fix him.
- in my 40’s, I’d have acknowledged that I was upsetting myself over him, and would have worked at getting myself under control.
- now, I’m simply aware of my annoyance. I override it by acknowledging that his timing sucks, but his questions are mostly fairly interesting.
I want to go over these reactions one more time, stating them in another way:
- in my 20s, I was an arrogant black and white thinker. I thought I existed in a world where there were some really annoying, stupid, crazy people. I also thought they confused me, made me angry, pissed me off, drove me crazy—and the only thing I could do about it was to fight back and make them stop ruining my life.
- in my 30s, some people were still as above, but I’d learned that “good” people bite back their feelings of being hard done by in order to carve out space enough to manipulate others into behaving themselves. I thought that all I had to do was to come up with the right “cure” and those annoying people would stop annoying me.
- in my 40s, some people were still as above, and I’d learned that they are as they are, and that I am not their victim. I am not made to (forced to) feel anything. I hear and see what is going on, and I choose how I react to it. I learned to successfully fight my nature as a judgmental fixer, almost all the time.
- now, some people are still as above, and I am still a person who annoys himself, and regularly. I am no longer fighting so much to be other than I am. Most of the time, I just am as I am, and I smile at myself a lot. As I go from acting on my judgments—about myself and others—to simply noticing where I am in the moment, I find I am hearing and appreciating more of what is happening around me.
Mostly I find I have an inner and outer consistency — an acceptance of the “is-ness” of life.
I once had a client who was fighting with her husband. She came in for therapy, we worked for a few months, and she left feeling better about herself and her marriage. There were no more fights. After six months, she called and booked another appointment. When she got to my office she angrily shouted, “You didn’t fix me! I’m fighting with my husband again! I want my money back!”
We worked it through… after I got up off the floor and stopped laughing. Because, you see, we never fix anything!
The nature of personal development seems to be this:
- Initially, our way of being is to look outside of ourselves for both
- the cause of our feelings and experiences, and
- the cure for our feelings and experiences.
- We have an expectation that it is the goal of others to make us happy.
- As time goes by, I may realize (many people never get this) that the only one who is interested in my interests is me. This may lead to a sense of loss, isolation and anger.
- Typically, people shift to the idea that if they were a better person, people would treat them better. They therefore might let up marginally on those around them, and start a rigorous self-criticism project.
- This is done by refining the “good / bad” list our parents started for us. In this self-judgment, we decide that we have whole aspects of our personalities that should never see the light of day. (Sexual material and behaviour plays a prime role on this part of the list.) We begin a self-loathing and self-repression project.
- As more time goes by, (and fewer and fewer are getting to this point) I may begin to realize that I am cut off from whole parts of myself, not because they are bad, nasty, perverted, or weird. I am cut off from them because of past experience and decisions.
- Again, I must choose. I can simply sadden myself about what I’m missing, (while looking for someone to blame) or I can begin to explore the hidden pieces.
I often speak of this work as uniting the
yin and yang aspects of our selves.
The next step is the one where most falter, and I certainly notice I trip on it regularly.
The only way we ever have a hope in hell of moving past this point is to simply and somewhat ruefully accept that the parts of us that we have repressed and judged and blamed for our sadness in the past are parts of us until we die. We cannot ever get rid of these thoughts, urges, feelings and emotions. All we can do is come to terms with them.
This means acceptance.
Acceptance (I’m OK with) and acknowledgement (I own that this is me) are almost the same thing. The gist of it is that when I trigger myself over something or someone, I notice that I have triggered an “old” piece, I have a breath, and I choose a different direction as far as my behaviour goes.
To go back to the man in the first story – all he has to do is notice how badly he wants to speak, and then to resist speaking until he has a “resonance,” internally, that his words are contextual and appropriate.
He will always be compelled to speak. He can choose when he actually speaks.
Far from being complicated, this way of seeing and being is almost too simple. I exist as I am. I cannot do away with parts of myself that don’t work or I don’t like. All I can do is choose not to enact them. I do this by staying present.
OK, that’s the tricky part. When something old and troublesome in us is triggered, our instinct is to follow it backwards into the past, and to push it into the future.
We look for the person or persons, or situations to blame. We blame ourselves for not getting over this “thing.” As we do this, we lose the only real context we have—the present moment.
Our verbose man loses everyone and everything in the room but his question. For him both people and contexts cease to exist. He then brings his non-contextual question into the room, and is shocked that people are surprised and angered by his question. After all, it made sense to him, in his head.
Far better, I think, to simply be aware of the passing of the moment. As I become aware of both others and myself, and see the dance and interplay, I realize that aspects of myself arise and go, and if I do not attach myself to the story my “parts” want to tell (in my head), I can let them pass gently, while never losing contact with the moment or the context.
This is not easy.
I have learned, ruefully, that I will always be judgmental and snarly. I’m writing Into the Centre yet again at the Laundromat, and got here this morning to a full house – all the washers were in use. I did a 30-second internal rant on “people,” and how unfair it all was, and then I booted my computer, started writing and waited for a washer. All it “cost me” was 30 seconds.
Simple, yet complex. And life is like this, with each transaction, with each word, with each turn of the cards.
When you can come to acceptance of the whole of you—all the richness, the goodness and badness, the horniness and the boredom, the intelligence and the dumbness, all of it—then you will find that life is still a challenge, but not as much of an effort.
Life is, and you are, exactly and precisely as you appear. The whole of you is you, even the weird parts.
Good hunting and accepting.