The day my first baby was born, my mother visited us in the hospital. She brought cigarettes. I had stopped smoking for nine months, and I hadn’t intended to start again. But Mom was being thoughtful by bringing me cigarettes, so in order not to hurt her feelings, I lit up.
Sounds crazy. I risked my health and the health of my children so as not to say no to my mother. Her approval meant a lot and I knew how easily she could take it away. I had to be very careful to never displease her, even if it meant doing something that my brain told me was a bad idea.
I didn’t quite trust my own mind back then. There was suspicion buried deep in my heart that I wasn’t very smart. Or good. The only way anybody was ever going to love stupid bad me was if I did everything I could to make them happy. And also, if I did everything I could to make others happy, I would at least be good, if not smart.
Then time went on and I realized I was pretty smart in some ways. Didn’t that cum laude on the college diploma say so? Didn’t the second degree, earned at night while teaching all day, reinforce I was good at something? Still…giving myself a break was always a challenge, because I believed that pleasing others was the way to be good. If you thought about yourself first, well, that was selfish.
This crazy-ass philosophy of life stopped making sense to me at some point. Or so I thought. Then I took an inventory a few months ago that to my surprise revealed I was still had a tendency to say yes when I yearned to say no. I still had some assumptions about self-care that needed tending. Like the one that goes “I will honor my commitments.”
I have a very hard time letting other people down. I’d rather suck it up and do the job I signed up for, even if the circumstances around it had changed and doing the job would cause me serious grief. Maybe because in some way following through on every commitment, even those that had run out of gas and just weren’t good for me anymore, still made me feel better about myself. If I quit, people would boo me. If I stayed, people would admire me and say “Isn’t she fabulous? How could we ever do it without her?”
Except. Wanting admiration from others more than tending to self-care is like smoking a cigarette you don’t want just to impress somebody else.
This new thing I am exploring is not really a trick. And I’m not a dog. But I’m 60 years old, so I’ve been on the planet for awhile. Anyone under, say, 40, might think by 60 we have it all figured out. Especially someone like me who has been working on “figuring it all out” for more than half my life. I always want to make my life better. I want better relationships, I want not to be sad, I want success, I want a happy family. I want to be happy inside and out.
Tall order. I’ve walked many paths that promised happiness through my years. I tried giving myself over to God, to Buddha, to yoga, to meditation, to dream analysis, to various therapies both old style and new age. It all helped, for awhile. But I tend to feel judged in or about all these things. Judgmental people freak me out bad. It does not feel good to be observed and found wanting. Found ridiculous, stupid, selfish.
So the judging and the feelings…who exactly does all that? Nobody in particular. Sometimes some person or other will make a veiled remark I expand into a harsh criticism. But the judgement is almost always from myself and I then project that others will see me as ridiculous or stupid or egotistical or selfish or simply lacking in some fundamental way. It never works the other way. I never project that people think I’m great, awesome, smart, creative, got it all together, am amazing.
Sometimes other people give me extravagant compliments. That feels good and I believe them. I don’t go around all the time putting myself down and being negative. It’s just not in my essential nature. But I do ride the waves of feelings that come at me from so many directions and I take stuff from “out there” in the world very much to heart. I take everything personally, even though I know, deep inside, that people rarely give my opinions and antics as much thought as I give to what they think about me. Truth is, others are most likely not thinking much about me, as they are too busy ruminating about what everybody else thinks of them.
I tend to overthink stuff. I spin scenarios out of a few words or a single sentence. It’s crazy to live this way and luckily I am not always in this mode. I’ve worked hard to gain a measure of peace, clarity and positive feelings. This is sometimes difficult for me to maintain when I come up against a tough situation or a maddening person. I have an exacting nature. I expect other people to behave with at least as much compassion and courtesy as I am able to muster. This does not always happen and my compassion bar is set pretty low. I’m better at courtesy Mostly, courtesy is simply a matter of biting my tongue:)
I’d like to be a more compassionate person and for the past year I’ve been meditating on that every day. The compassionate mediation comes from Buddhist thought, and it starts with the self. Many people are hardest on themselves. Nobody can beat you up like that little voice in your head saying you have missed the mark, you are not good enough, you are … fill in the nasty blank.
It’s exhausting, mentally beating myself up. Part of this comes innocently: I am writer who wants to be a better writer. I am not naturally gifted in this area. I have a little talent and a lot of grit. I just don’t give up and I put in the hours and I have improved over the years. One way to do this is to listen to constructive criticism. It is like second nature now, although taking critique without devastation was difficult at first. And while I still take editorial input seriously and work on assimilating the stuff that makes sense to me, I should not take this function of “assimilating criticism” any further than my writing world.
I love the feeling of writing. The process of creating something beautiful. That’s key for me. Of course I want to shape it and make it meaningful for other people too, but the main thing is that feeling I get in process as I spin a world built of words into being. Some people are burned out by the word “creative” but that’s how I love feeling. Creating through words is essential to my soul. For me, it’s a core desire. Loving is another core desire. I want to feel love for my friends and family, for all of them, not just the ones who are easy to love, but the ones who are a little harder to hold close to my heart, too.
Here’s the new trick, it’s from a book called The Desire Map by Danille LaPorte, which is not really a trick, but a new way to live life: you start with how you want to feel and base all your decisions on what you know will keep those feelings alive. I don’t know much about how to do this, but I am taking a workshop soon to learn how to live from my desired feelings instead reacting to feelings that originate outside myself and I then project onto myself.
I will be posting more on my latest, and already very helpful, inner transformation as I continue the journey. Namaste.