I have a handful of loved ones in my life right now who are experiencing longer-term painful circumstances.
In one case, the pain is medical. In one more, financial. In yet another, the pain is less well-defined as she wishes for (but day after day does not act to build) a life that feels like a better “fit” than the one she has now.
And it gets to me.
It all gets to me.
Sometimes their ongoing pain feels very, very personal.
I wake up at night worrying, or praying, or both.
When morning comes, they are right there on my mind.
Following visits and phone calls, I feel like I need to grieve and heal and rekindle hope – as if their pain is my pain.
Needless to say, this isn’t working well for me.
This feels like a weird post to write.
I say that because I have only now just realized (at a newly-minted age 44), that the challenge I thought I was having with forgiving others is not the challenge I am actually having.
By that I mean – in a way, actions others take that affect me are literally none of my doing, and thus they require no further action on my part.
I have no choice about whether someone else does something or says something, or doesn’t do or say something.
Scenarios can range from whether or not my partner says “I love you” to whether or not my parrot, Pearl, decides to bite me.
I may have preferences (I prefer hearing “I love you” and not being bitten), and I may even try to influence the choices others make according to my preferences.
But ultimately, what they decide to say/do/don’t say/don’t do is totally not up to me.
Or, as one of my favorite mentors, Byron Katie, likes to say, “What others say and do is really none of my business.”
I find this sooooo interesting!
To further complicate matters, I can find myself embroiled in differences of opinion as far as whether those others made the “right” choices (interpreted here as: “the best choices for me”).
For instance, I might think Pearl’s choice to bite me is a very bad choice indeed – a choice that requires my eventual forgiveness.
Pearl, on the other hand, may think his choice to bite me is the perfect communication tool that produces no need for self-explanation – and certainly not for forgiveness!
Which brings me back to an earlier post about my efforts to relearn self-forgiveness.
Since forgiveness at its core is a self-loving act, and a choice that may or may not impact others but will always positively impact me, this realization essentially sends me to square one.
Here is an example.
Let’s say someone says they think I am very stupid or ugly (or both).
So now their words are out there, I have heard them, and I have choices:
What complicates matters a bit (for me at least) tends to be my relationship with that other person.
Here is how this tends to unfold:
I have actually experienced a certain number of situations in the last few years with Category 1 and 2 persons.
Because I feel more distant from these types of individuals, it is easier not to take their words personally (even if I still want to argue with them and change their minds).
But when it is Category 3 Person I am dealing with, the challenge amps up a notch or three.
Here, I think the reason is because I figure they DO know me, they ARE close to me, and thus perhaps their words and actions (or silence and inaction) may have some merit.
I have in the past assumed this means I need to forgive them.
But now I’m realizing this, too, is a matter for self-forgiveness.
When these times come, my mentor, Lynn, encourages me to look to see if there IS any merit to consider!
A few weeks back I posted about my journey towards releasing false self-esteem.
I really loved reading your comments on this post – thank you!
As part of my work to release false self-esteem, I have discovered I also need to re-learn how to forgive myself.
To start with, I am noticing some things are easier to forgive myself for than other things.
For example, right or wrong, it would seem I can forgive myself for transgressions against myself without even breathing hard. (“Oh, it was only me who got hurt – oh, well, then, no big deal!”)
More challenging is to forgive myself for transgressions – accidental or otherwise – against others (in order of difficulty – most to least: family, friends, acquaintances, total strangers).
Nearly impossible is forgiving myself for any transgression that may have put an innocent (my pets, any animal, a child) in harm’s way.
Yet in this new “re-learning self-forgiveness regimen,” forgiving myself for all of the above is not optional.
If I am going to learn – I mean really learn – to forgive myself, I can’t just do the easy ones and call it a lesson learned. I have to be able to forgive myself no matter what.
Here is an example of particularly challenging one I’m working on now:
The other day I was on the phone with my best friend. She was in tears – I had taken care of her during her eye surgery, and she was telling me she had been taking her eye drops in the wrong order. I was the one who was in charge of reading the directions and organizing her drops. While we were talking, my parrot started screaming. He was very loud, but my friend was very upset, so I ignored him. He screamed for at least 10 minutes (probably longer) before I went to check on him. When I did, I discovered he was on the floor and unable to get back to his cage (he can’t fly so if he ends up on the floor he needs me to help lift him back up to safety).
So here, there are two main areas where I need to forgive myself:
Where I’m at with the eye drops oops:
Netflix can be a blessing or a curse.
Case in point – the other day, I loaded a movie called “Sexy Baby” into my queue.
The synopsis stated: This provocative documentary examines what it’s like to be female in today’s sex-obsessed culture from the viewpoints of three very different women.
And also depressing, frustrating, mind-boggling, rage-producing, and “I’m so over this issue” fatiguing.
The film centers around the completely separate lives of three women:
For reasons likely having to do with both interest and footage, the film largely hones in on Winnifred, who at 12 (she is 14 when the film closes) admittedly has the toughest challenges of her life yet ahead.
Near the end, she says:
I think this is the same with every teenager. You are going through so many changes, and it is so freaking confusing to figure out how you want to portray yourself. And there’s a lot of girls just exploiting themselves and putting themselves out there to be judged by guys and other girls. But at certain point, if you don’t want to become a prop in some guy’s life, you have to find a goal and a path. And I do want to change people’s lives. Um…and I’m not going to do that by being sexy.
Winnifred is right. However, the fact that she knows this, and can articulate it, at age 14, is an insight many teens her age likely yet lack.
As well, it is easy to forget while watching “Sexy Baby” that these three women are people first and “props” (for the filmmakers to explore an issue common to all three) second. There is a lot of nudity, no small bit of rank language, an uncomfortably bloody moment in the operating room (Laura opts to have her labiaplasty on camera), and a number of terms from the adult film industry all jumbled in with the human beings living amongst it all.
Yet each woman has her own life that she is doing her best to live with what she knows in each moment as it unfolds.
I adore pomegranate season.
Pomegranates are so juicy and tasty – like a sweet and a nut all in one.
What I do not love is de-seeding the pomegranates.
In short, it is crazy-making.
My boyfriend, on the other hand, finds peeling pomegranates relaxing.
He says it is like meditation.
(Obviously this works out to both our advantage – I buy, he peels, we both eat).
I love meditation and do it daily, so it is odd I don’t find the same quality in peeling fruit.
But truthfully, my “efficiency-oriented” brain always thinks it can improve the pomegranate de-seeding process.
I start peeling, and then a thought pops up. “Hey, look how easy that last group of seeds came off. What if you did the next section this way instead….”
Before I know it, I’m trying to outsmart the pomegranate, creating a faster, more streamlined approach to de-seeding.
This is about the same time the pomegranate pushes back.
Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.
As my mentor, Lynn, often likes to remind me, the moment I set an intention towards achieving something, what comes up first are all the obstacles in between me and the full manifestation of that intention.
Speaking of which, one ongoing intention I’ve been working towards for the last few years is learning to love unconditionally – myself and others.
So far, I am finding this very, very difficult.
There are several challenges (and here, I also have to mention that these challenges are just the ones I know of thus far!):
I have been working on this lately.
In fact, in the last couple weeks alone I have been hearing a (surprisingly sane) voice in my head giving me very clear instructions.
Here are some examples:
These messages feel like some kind of inner knowing, combined with an inner call to action – a reminder that time’s a’ wasting, and I only have so many years left to be as happy as I possibly can be as me.
Often I hear the “it is time” messages in the morning while I am meditating.
Often emotions will arise, and then the messages will come.
I will then breathe and do my level best to release the emotions I am feeling – fear, anger, disbelief, whatever – into my meditation.
Sometimes I will get a message reminding me that it is okay if I don’t understand the emotion I am feeling – what matters is to release it into the meditation so it can be free of me (and me of it).
So I always do my best to follow these instructions to the letter.
I have started to call the issues I am releasing “false low self-esteem,” because I can’t trace the origin of any one of them back to me.
In my last post, I shared that so far, 2015 is a year of big changes in my life.
This time last year, I was still at the helm of MentorCONNECT, the nonprofit I founded in 2009.
This year, as of January 1, the reins are in the hands of a new group of leaders – people I know and trust, but they are still not me.
This time last year, I was broken up with my boyfriend, miserable yet resigned, stoic yet heartbroken.
This year, we enter a new year together and we are – remarkably – stronger than we’ve ever been.
And these are just two of the really big changes accompanying me in 2015.
A few days ago, a friend and I watched a movie called “Birdman,” starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.
Aside from an instant fondness for the title (feathers are always a win-win for me), I found the movie itself somewhat hard to digest.
For instance, there were quite a lot of scenes with dudes running around in their tidy white undies.
Also, actors were portrayed as (yawn) self-centered, a theme I find both overdone and unfair (i.e., are actors truly more self-involved, or does their profession simply cause them to be unable to so easily hide that aspect of our shared human condition?)
Plus, frankly, I really thought the “Birdman” costume could have been better.
All that aside, the most beautiful part of the film for me was a scene where Norton agrees to play “Truth or Dare” with Keaton’s daughter, Sam (played by Emma Stone).
In the scene, she asks him – flirtatiously – what he would do to her if he was not afraid.
His answer was both violent and beautiful, and has kept me thinking for days.
In fact, in my first book (which is about mentoring for eating disorders recovery), Beating Ana, I included an entire section of mentoring tips based on my favorite movies.
Those movies are some of the best friends I’ve ever made in life.
Over the years, movies have taught me it’s okay to make mistakes. They have helped me learn about myself and the world. They have given me ideas for how to handle different situations with more grace than I would have otherwise.
Most of all, they have offered me hope – hope to grow from my past rocky start into someone wonderful, someone I’m really proud to be and know.
One movie I have watched over and over (and over and over) through the years is “Contact,” starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey (yes, there is a chapter in Beating Ana about “Contact”).
The characters in “Contact” feel like “my people” – in other words, we don’t fit in, we try to pull off the impossible, we cannot resist wondering “what if?,” we are willing to give everything for life’s most meaningful experiences…..
So many nights when I would feel so alone, I would pop in that movie and feel better right away.
Now there is “Interstellar,” which (to me at least) feels like “Contact’s” younger, super excitable sibling (and in fact, there is an actual connection between the two films that goes back to Dr. Carl Sagan himself).
So of course I blogged about it here.
Then, just a few weeks ago, the post’s author, Amy Morin, reached out to share some exciting news – her new book by the same name will be available on December 23rd!
This made me very happy for a few reasons:
a) She offered to send me a copy so I could share the book here (free books, yay!),
b) amidst the holiday stress, a reminder about how to stay mentally strong was welcome and timely,
c) the book greatly expands on each of the 13 points, explaining through stories and examples exactly how to avoid doing each of the 13 things (and replace them with mentally strong habits instead!)
Amy is a licensed clinical social worker, a researcher, a writer, but most of all she is a human being who has personally experienced how developing mental strength is a choice, and one that can be life-transforming.