It’s Just Not Personal

I have been hearing a voice in my head. It tells me I am crazy, lost, unworthy, a poser, and stupid and ugly. It tells me I am loud and absurd, that people don’t understand me. It tells me I am alone and that the only safe place on this earth is by myself. It tells me I cannot rely on others, and that if I make a mistake, they will leave me without explanation. This voice reminds me constantly of how many times I have been let down. This voice is cruel and fear-driven. This voice is the inflated and injured ego that lives inside my mind.

But lately, I have been talking back.

What if every single thing that someone did, said, believed, and decided had absolutely nothing to do with me? What if each time I felt confused, annoyed, hurt, dismissed, attacked, or offended, I actually made a choice to not take it personally? I am beginning to think that this just might be closer to the truth than anything I have ever known.

Let me give you an example: If my friend habitually cancels our plans at the last minute, this voice might say, “She does not care about me, about us. She probably doesn’t even like me all that much.” I might then complain, and I might harbor resentment. I might push her out of my life. I might even do it with an air of judgment. Perhaps I feel rejected because I do not trust my own lovability. Perhaps I tell myself that I am too easy on my friends and should demand them to be more reliable? Yet, there are many good reasons my friend might cancel that have nothing to do with me.

Isn’t anyone’s pattern of unreliability more about them? Doesn’t it suggest many possibilities, like they are just not good at planning; they get overwhelmed easily; they’re just hoping I will have grace; or they could not predict the unforeseen? Is it not more likely that they struggle to say no, or they do not think to check their calendar before committing?

How does this have anything to do with me?

And even if it were about me, as if they were afraid to tell me they need a change, isn’t it their job to do so? Is it not their responsibility to be honest and let me in on it?

This only furthers my idea that such mismanagement of time and devotion is in fact NOT about me.

Additionally, let’s say someone thinks they have the corner market on reality. Let’s say, for instance, they are atheist. They do not believe in any source of a higher power, nor do they honestly respect those who do. Spirituality is hogwash for the weak. Let’s just say for the sake of my argument about that voice in my head, that I find them to be disappointing, naive, closed-minded, or blind. Clearly, we are at an impasse. We will possibly never agree as to whether or not some version of a god exists.

My ego, that defensive voice within, is ready for a fight. I want to convince this atheist that he is wrong and launch into the myriad ways in which it is undoubtedly obvious that my faith in a higher being is the better way, the best way in fact.

This is exactly when I need to pause. I can come up with twenty reasons as to why they think the way they do as they are sharing their beliefs with me. I can break it down and construct a multitude of ways in which their values do not coincide with mine. I can declare that I have lived this path and could write and have read an entire library on this subject.

Instead, I pause. Then I have a little chat with that voice in my head. It goes something like this:

Truth voice: Wait. This isn’t about me. This person is not even asking me what I think.

Ego voice: This has everything to do with me. I spend the better part of every single day almost obsessing about my spiritual world, my teachings, my rituals, my connection to the divine. My beliefs are a relentless and vigilant value which feeds and sustains my soul. This is who I am!

Truth voice: This person does not base his beliefs on what I do or feel or think. They base their atheist views on their own reality.

Ego voice: Why don’t they care what I think? Don’t they know how insulting this is? Do they even know me? This sucks!

Truth voice: This person may grow hostile if I insist on being heard and understood right now. If I cannot allow them their own mind, I am a hypocrite.

Ego voice: I wish I could control what they think.

Truth voice: I wish we could share a common ground on this subject. Well…we do share some common ground. We share friends, a community, basic decency and a love for the arts and the earth, and being our best selves. We share a sense of humor. We laugh together all the time. I love him. He is my friend. He is a good friend, even if he doesn’t consciously worship the divine inside himself or outside of himself. Perhaps he just doesn’t name it in the same ways I do.

This sort of conversation in my head is helping me. I am learning to let go of being understood much of the time. I am seeing that holding love for others has very little to do with me. Except that I have to also love myself. I have to love myself exactly how I am without convincing someone that I have value, that my beliefs have value.

Ego voice: If people really loved me, they would validate me.

Truth voice: If people really loved me, it is because I have the capacity to validate them.

The Hope Dare

My sister and I hit the beach yesterday. We swam in the clear river, ate a tasty lunch from our tote, and spent three hours absorbing sunshine while breaking down every nuance of our lives. We love being together. We love to laugh at life and ourselves. We are thinkers.

My sister silently dared me to swim, she being a far better swimmer than I. I plunged quickly, avoiding my usual rationale to remain on the shore. We are sensitive, passionate women. Our feelings are real, but we prefer to entertain them less than our intellect and mutual dark humor. We come from a long line of thinkers who think that thinking is a very nice compensation for emotional distress.

Still, on this late summer Friday paradise, we considered Hope and its evil twin Fear. I told her that my fears of America under political tyranny were staggering, despite my lifelong determination to keep my political head in the lovely cool sand. Also, I shared that my fears of this election were so profound, that I preferred 4 more years of the current pandemic over any political tyranny of our country.

This implies that I was terrified and willing to negotiate with the gods.

Bargaining is a common part of grief. I was already deep deep into the third stage of the future grief I fully intended to experience, one day soon.

Additionally, the fear within my heart began to grow as we spoke. It was as if my words brought more energy to this wretched fear, and then multiplied like The Blob as I attempted to be understood, possibly even further united with my wise listener.

My beloved and level-headed sister was understandably intolerant of my defeatist tone. She stopped me right there and assured me that my greatest fears were unlikely to be realized.

She prompted me to view recent speeches and their power, and she encouraged me to rise to the power of dignity.

I sat up a bit in my beach chair.

I stared out at the choppy and wide waters of the St Croix river.

Then I felt a wave of hope.

I pictured myself on the morning after the election, with a smile so broad and so authentic, you’d have thought I had just beat terminal cancer. Or gave birth to a healthy child. Or finally found the love I had always wanted. Or really just simply got my way for once.

In my imagination, the tides had shifted and the sun was bright and warm; I’m pretty sure there were bluebirds tweeting as they helped to gather big white sheets from the line!

It was only for a moment really.

But it felt really good, this thing. This hope.

I mean, it actually felt really good. Much better than what I had been feeling just moments earlier. I could see that I was afraid to have hope, since I had hoped before. And it didn’t turn out so well. Thus, I was afraid that if I dared to hope again, and it didn’t go my way, I might not have the resilience to stand up again. It just might crush me in a way that could never be restored. Consequently, I chose fear under the daily guise of cynicism, sarcasm, and a vigilant preparation for the worst. Not even outwardly. But in the quiet thoughts of my inner world, where all good things go to die.

The irony of causing my own current discomfort, even sometimes paralysis, was a surrender to ideas that would certainly bury me alive.

But if I dared to hope for another flash moment, that strange comforting light returned straight away! Then I was once again relieved of the wicked trolls of Doubt, Cowardice, and Passive Aggression.

Hope is a direct sign of courage. Hope is the hallmark of a warrior. I began to remember that I have never ever hoped to be some infantile worrier subject to the beastly authority of any human. If I wish to remain the daring goddess-infused woman that I must choose to be, then I certainly must not choose this putrid, acidic, alarmed state.

I will rise, and I will fight for a vision of glory. I will absolutely dare to hope.