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.

Stealth Moves for Typical Fools: the art of hardly ever being wrong

Ever make a false assumption and then feel like an idiot? Ever jump to a conclusion based on an idea that wasn’t even real?

I have, and it has hurt me and anyone who noticed. I’m a smart woman, but sometimes I get inflated and impulsive and then here we go, stupid is happening.

Sure, it is likely all humans do it. But let’s be real here, some people do it far more often than others. My conscious goal recently is to stop doing it altogether. Like forever. Thus, I am gratefully learning how.

From the other side of this experience, I have noticed that there are certain bits of personal information I no longer dole out thoughtlessly, since the average bear will jump to several conclusions, and they are almost always either wildly untrue or so oversimplified I just shut down or rudely roll my eyes, depending on my investment in the relationship.

For example, try telling someone you are (or were) an English teacher. They instantly bring their own insecurities into it, cover their mouth lest any grammatical errors escape, and presume my mission is to find fault in their speech. “I guess I better watch how I talk!”

In reality, it would be an extreme exception for me to correct anyone, even an actual student, unless it was in the act of a lesson. Yes, I notice language flaws because my brain is conditioned to do so, but mostly I just note whether I like the person aside from this fact. Some of my favorite people are not literary, nor eloquent, and I might find comfort in their casual language or even in their vulgarities. Speaking properly is impressive, but honestly, it isn’t even that common.

Additionally, there is the little fun fact that I have been divorced four times. When the truth comes out, I am pained to field the reactions, but worst of all are the fools that think they now know me, and that they, in all of their epic wisdom, would know better. Wise people seem to realize there is a six novel series of information they could not know, what came before the marriages, what happened in each separate one, and what has happened since. Most fools ask me why, as if the sum total of my life experience with love can be reduced to a singular sentence, to satisfy their sense of fantastic expedition. Or they conclude that I am clearly not meant to be married. Or they decide I have used up my love tokens and am better off never loving again, since I am the same woman now as I have always been.

And therein lies the ticket. Wanting to know more. So I have learned by my own painful feelings of being misunderstood that I too can easily misunderstand others. I am not above it. And I humbly confess it takes some real spiritual work to change it.

Recently, my dear friend and I have been sharing some deep memories of our childhood perceptions birthed from a multitude of sources. I was stunned by the private thoughts she has carried all these years. I suddenly saw her in a new light, and I felt a newer, deeper compassion for her. All those years, seeing her one way, and basing it on partial information.

It was humbling to learn more and I was honored she took the time to say it.

Yet, part of my spiritual journey is to make more space for people to say these things. To be calmer and quieter and really allow the safety to grow.

Secondly, I am learning how to share bravely in a way that does not reek of self-righteousness or blame or shame, but to openly model the act of risk within the dignified and sacred privacy of a safe circle. This, too, increases mutual expression.

Finally, the willingness to ask a question not for rhetorical fodder, but for authentically hoping to learn more of a person’s experience, for their own understanding of themselves, to honestly just listen and gain a truer perspective of their story and their emotional results.

Possibly, I would say aloud, “I am not asking to judge it. I am asking to know more, to understand.”

I word the questions carefully. I don’t ask, “Why did you do that?” Instead I ask. “Can you tell me about that choice?”

I don’t ask, “Do you think or feel this way, since I would?” Instead I ask, “How do you feel about that?”

I don’t ask, “Did you notice how that person behaved?” Instead I ask, “How did you experience that person’s behavior?”

That is how I have learned that people tend to know themselves better than I know them, and it is not about seeing through them. It is about coming to know them the way they hope to be seen, the essence of their right to be understood, as well as the innocence behind so many actions and values. It seems like the world has a shortage of that lately.

According to Saint Francis, it is better “to understand than to be understood.” But I would suggest: By seeking to understand others, we come to better understand ourselves.

Sharing openly without dominating. Asking mindful questions. Listening with objectivity. Knowing that false humility is only pretending to be small, but truly humble people see the potential of another person’s voice, another person’s view.

Indeed, I have often been the brave fool, leaping into chasms of unknown space. Today, I fling myself into the abyss of hidden knowledge, searching for the stories of others, and I aim to climb out with armloads of pure agape love.