Saturday, June 27, 2015

How to Find Comfort When "Nothing is Going Right"

It's 1:18AM and my mind is racing.

The past three years have been filled with nights like this and the most common emotions that are still awake with me are fear, guilt, shame, anxiety, insecurity, and self-hatred.

Moments like this, I feel so exposed and unmoored.

I wonder yet again why I decided to make a change in the first place. Sure, I've been moving forward, mustering the courage time and time again. But I usually succumb to sleep before I feel any real comfort.

Tonight though, it's different. I can hear whole insights and sense a clarity I've never experienced. I think it's because I've learned how to listen to my heart vs. my ego.

I know because my heart tells me things like "be brave", "be vulnerable", "why not?", "survive", "create", "be bold", "make mistakes--it's okay", "connect", "commit", "dream and do", "care", "be earnest", "be serious", "be you", "stand up for yourself", "be loud", "just feel", "accept", "live", "love", "let go", "try, always try".

These are not things I would have recognized before practicing good listening skills, a path to intimacy or INTO ME I SEE.

I see how for very long I've chosen the voice that says, "what are you doing?", "you're in deep trouble", "how could you let this happen?", "you're making a fool of yourself", "you are a bad daughter", "you are a bad friend", "you should be x, y, z", "you can't do that", "be realistic", "be practical", etc. Every time I chose to act from that place, I also chose some version of death, the absence of real life. In place of living from my true essence, I fill my life with more lifeless things, stuff, tests, work, useless conversations, suffering.

It's early morning now and after bouts of sitting and meditating, I give myself a chance to let go. And I reflect on how I "survived":

  1. I walked away. I made a real decision to change when I quit my first full-time job out of undergrad. I couldn't figure out what it is I wanted to do so whenever I found myself doing something I did not enjoy, I stopped. I kept things very simple, I listened to my gut. 
  2. When I felt frustrated, I acted it out. This may sound counterproductive but connecting my actions with how I felt was (and constantly is) an important step to living a true life. We are human, our human experience is made up of emotions. Connecting how we feel to how we act is a natural thing. We begin to signal to ourselves and others that this is OK.
  3. Accepting that natural does not always mean peaceful. Many people think the axiom, "be yourself" will bring you peace. You can choose peace but being who you are may cause confrontations with others. Actually, it probably always will with someone, somewhere. You'll shake up environments. You will be challenged because you'll challenge all sorts of norms and there will be fights, lost battles, lessons learned, and broken relationships. Authenticity is not for the faint of heart. Which brings me to my next point...
  4. You don't "fake it until you make it"; you are honest until you feel more and more comfortable with the discomfort honesty brings. That's the place from where you develop confidence. Confidence doesn't happen if you aren't aligning what you experience inside with what you experience outside. Doing so will make you feel vulnerable, which will prompt you to have courage. Having courage in fearful situations demonstrates confidence. You demonstrate confidence when, despite of everything that opposes your will (including the internal experience of shame, guilt, nerves, whatever is your poison), you do what it is you came to do anyway. The virtue expresses itself in the moment, it's not an afterthought, a constant state, or a contrived behavior, you express it in the now by being true. 
  5. Breathe. It is the easiest thing to do. Shallow breaths, deep breaths, sharp breaths, doesn't matter how you were breathing a moment ago. You are aware of it now. Awareness is the beginning of all change. 
  6. Create. It could be moments, buildings, dinner, relationships, ideas, books, letters, texts, gifs, clothes, vegan pies, communities, wealth, whatever you want. When we create, we begin to tap into our essence, we brush up against (sometimes run head first into) our blocks. Which is good, it only expands our awareness of just how grand we can be. 
  7. Relate. We have to relate to the experience in order to experience it fully and integrate it into our ego's awareness. We begin to relate to the guilt we experience every time we do something nice for ourselves. We relate to the joy we experience when we do it anyway. It seems counterintuitive to relate to opposing emotions simultaneously but if you don't establish an open conversation with all of your emotions, your ego will continue to freak out every time you experience the emotion you choose to ignore. Once you start relating, the opportunity inherent in each case will be apparent to you. Opposites will begin to function as one whole movement. You'll be able to flow through the experience instead of getting stuck on one end of the pole. 
  8. Choose to be vulnerable vs. perfect. Vulnerability is what creates real relationships. It opens you up to the experience of oneness with others and therefore, your full potential. This is different than wearing your heart on your sleeve or becoming a doormat. Vulnerability implies susceptibility to the influence of others. We are all already susceptible to the influence of others. If we bring into focus the intention to be vulnerable, you can exercise choices based on the information you receive. You build a tolerance for a wide range of reactions to your behavior while developing a finer tool for discernment. You can perceive vs. project what is happening around you. 

BEFORE:                                                                                         AFTER:


Monday, June 22, 2015

The Role of Compassion In Trying Situations

In light of tragedies this past week and many other tragedies that continue to haunt us collectively and as individuals, I wanted to share my thoughts on compassion.

I first discovered compassion in the midst of a break up. I had exhausted every ounce of empathy and wanted to numb out. Despite how quickly our relationship status had changed on paper, as one human being close to another human being, it was difficult to distance myself. In addition to the nuances of my own loss I still felt what my ex was experiencing: pain, lack of love, isolation, profound lack of pleasure, and disappointment. Yet, because of the unfortunate circumstances that led to our break up, I could not reconcile how his lack of self-love meant a loss for me. Not just less love but more pain: the more I tried to empathize, the more I ended up having to nurse my ego's wounds from his subtle digs, gas lighting, and outright emotional abuse. My inability to see beyond such "petty" reactions, especially after seeing how he was also acting from a place of wounding, left me feeling shameful, guilty, yet victimized. "How selfish of me!", I thought. "What limited thinking!", I thought. "Why me?", I thought. "How did I get here?", I thought. 

This negative state would last for over two years post break up. The entire experience was a deep blow to both my ego and psyche: My ego, who thought I was an exceptionally spiritual and empathetic person capable of tackling the most demanding of situations. My psyche, so attuned to the feelings and needs of others as well as my own. 

Even if I wanted to heal, how would I do so without alleviating my own pain when that would mean leaving him behind? If not that then how do I justify staying here and suffering with him? Even after I had made the decision to leave, I continued to ruminate on the moral implications. 

None of this made any sense. It defied all the things my childhood and family life had taught me: 

  1. If both parties are willing, conflicts can be resolved. 
  2. Love always wins. 
  3. Pain is often alleviated and follow by a period of great joy. 
  4. Although joy and pain are both natural parts of life, life lived with gratitude and empathy is normally filled with more joy than pain. 

I had to learn a new way to be true to my values but honest about current circumstances so I could move forward. 

After a platonic date as friends, I cried for reasons I couldn't verbalize, a frequent occurrence during this time. I tried to calm myself down and turn inward. I replayed the scene in my mind of us walking through the park. My little movie came to a pause as we approached a stand full of posters. One poster, I remembered, had the Buddhist Goddess Tara standing with her palm facing outward, a welcoming gesture. I was completely aware this wasn't real but it felt real when she stepped forward from the poster and gave me a look of recognition and understanding. I didn't have to explain to her how much I was suffering inside. She unconditionally accepted all of the crazy emotional loops and turns of our story. 

Then she put something in my hands. In one, an empty silver jewelry box adorned with precious stones, the other, a feather. She pointed to my right hand cradling the demure and brilliantly shining jewelry box and said, "this is compassion, the most precious thing you'll ever possess. And this," as she pointed to the feather, "is how light you'll feel when you give it away." And then finally, pointing to my ex she said, "show this man compassion."

And to that my reply was instinctual and cathartic, "but what about ME?!" Just like a two year old. There was nothing left. I felt I had stretched every emotional muscle of tolerance and generosity my loved ones had imparted onto me. I grasped at the two objects in my hands and outwardly sobbed as she held me. I began to accept fundamental parts of my emotional reality. 

Today, I can see how it's been an ongoing process. Soon after that vision, insights into the meaning of compassion started to trickle in the form of articles shared by friends, family, co-workers, and seemingly random occurrences. 

The following definition was particularly useful: 
In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations. People feel compassion for themselves because all human beings deserve compassion and understanding, not because they possess some particular set of traits (pretty, smart, talented, and so on). This means that with self-compassion, you don't have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself. Source:
When I can't muster up the courage to heal and instead feel hateful, shameful, and guilty, I let go and practice compassion. I understand it best as super-powered patience because while I still believe all things are possible if one is willing to try, the reality is there are things that we aren't capable of solving right now. Perhaps we have the higher knowledge but lack the emotional muscle to align our heart with what we know. Or though our heart is willing, we lack the wisdom to express it appropriately. Sometimes, things seem so f'ed up and outside of our control for us to find the words. Life throws all sorts of challenges our way, many, I believe, we genuinely ask for from the bottom of our hearts to help us grow spiritually.

Compassion allowed me to leave an abusive relationship. Compassion allowed me to forgive myself. Compassion allowed me to forgive him. Compassion allowed me to face the inner monsters of internalized racism and self-hatred. Compassion allowed me to clearly see the racism in others. Compassion allowed me the capacity to grow.

I don't know the answer but I know despite the challenging nature of racism and many actions, small and large that are rooted in fear, something inside of me still prompts me to try, and I can bear witness to my foibles and those of others along the way because of compassion.