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Every so often my life leads me to a place that I think of as The Wall, which I know are places within myself where I am not yet able to act from love. I can tell when I’ve reached another one, because I feel exactly like I’ve hurled myself headlong into an extremely solid brick wall at about 120 miles an hour. Then I pick myself up off the ground, dust myself off, and do it all over again.
I usually bash around quite a bit before I am able to find a more gentle, easier way to get past my latest wall. My first response is always to go for the sledgehammer, without even stopping to ask if there’s another tool that could possibly get the job done. I just get so frustrated whenever I am stuck in a pattern of thoughts, and I can’t find another way to see a given situation.
Sometimes the “sledgehammer method” does help me to release my frustration, but it is a pretty brutal method of navigating through life. So over the past few years I’ve started to ask if maybe there’s another way I could approach these situations in which I feel so stagnant and stuck.
Of course the Universe loves it when we ask questions like this, and so it was not long before I was inspired to pick up Martha Beck’s book on The Joy Diet. In addition to giving us 10 practices for creating a more joyful life, she also talks about Bill O’Hanlon and his suggestion to Do One Thing Differently. As in, if you find yourself having the same argument over and over again with your spouse, the next time you have the argument you have to Do One Thing Differently, like put on a hat, or have the argument while lying in the bathtub.
It sounds silly, but holy cow does it work! I guess committing to take some kind of action opens up a space for new thoughts to come in.
So I decided to apply this strategy to my latest wall, and over the weekend my inner guidance started talking to me about Pema Chodron. I saw a quote of hers on a blog I read, and suddenly she was all I could think about. Suddenly they were replaying Oprah’s radio interview with Pema Chodron on the afternoon I was listening to XM’s “Oprah and Friends” channel. Suddenly I found myself reading the descriptions of all her books on Amazon. And this whole time my inner guidance was chanting, “Get thee to a bookstore,” so I finally went, if only to get that little voice to shut up.
At the bookstore I found a little volume titled, When Things Fall Apart, which is perfect for me because that is exactly how I feel about my life right now. I feel like everything has broken open and spilled out, and maybe I can catch a few grains over here, and mop up a few drops over there, but I can’t change the fact that there’s a great big mess on the table in front of me, at least in my mind.
Pema Chodron describes her own “falling apart” in this way:
“What happened when I got to the abbey was that everything fell apart. All the ways I shield myself, all the ways I delude myself, all the ways I maintain my well-polished self-image-all of it fell apart. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t manipulate the situation. My style was driving everyone else crazy, and I couldn’t find anywhere to hide.
I had always thought of myself as a flexible, obliging person who was well liked by almost everyone. I’d been able to carry this illusion throughout most of my life. During my early years at the abbey, I discovered that I had been living in some kind of misunderstanding. It wasn’t that I didn’t have good qualities, it was just that I was not the ultimate golden girl. I had so much invested in that image of myself, and it just wasn’t holding together anymore. All my unfinished business was exposed vividly and accurately in living Technicolor, not only to myself, but to everyone else as well.” (p. 6,7).
What has come to light for me during these months of sickness and recovery is the issue of self-compassion. I can practice it up to a certain point, but then once I’ve decided that I “should” be better, and I “should” be running at 100%, and I “should” whatever, but I can’t, because I’m still physically rundown and need more time to heal, then I turn into a slave driver and constantly drive and abuse myself mentally. I would never treat another person as meanly as I’ve been treating myself. But I apparently have no problem tyrannizing myself internally to the point of despair.
So I guess it’s finally time for me to learn how to do this differently. I’m not happy about it, but I’ve reached the point where I don’t really have any other choice. Well, I guess I always have a choice, but I’m tired of repeating this same cycle of self-abuse. I guess that I have finally suffered enough. I would really like to start feeling better, and I’ve been doing this long enough now to know that in order to start feeling relief, I need to learn how to change my mind about this situation. So, okay Universe, I’m finally listening. I’m ready for a shift in perception so that I can see this situation differently. And if possible, I’d really like this new view to be sledgehammer-free.