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Archive for January, 2011

Day 51 (2011-01-31): Even hell

Today was hell.

I didn’t write this morning. I meditated. That was somewhat peaceful, but as soon as I got up, the negative thoughts flooded in. I’ve been trying to focus my mind on appreciation, but every time I identify something to appreciate, something I can view as a gift, my mind has all kinds of evidence that it’s a burden, not a gift.

I felt hopeless all day because I can’t see a way out, I can’t envision a happy life. And worst of all, I feel like I’ve given up on pursuing some of the things I value most (like an intimate romantic relationship). I feel stuck, trapped in these thoughts of despair and frustration.

BUT…twice today my mind shut up when I spoke to some friends. In each conversation I felt normal, good even. This led to…

Insight #1: I’m happier when I’m interacting with other people than when I spend long periods of time by myself. I am “obligatorily gregarious” as the authors of Loneliness would say.

This evening I went to a Power of Now discussion group tonight to be with friends. The conversation turned to the idea that happiness is a choice. But how do I reconcile that with the “feeling stuck” experience I had all today? How can happiness be a choice when your perspective is so skewed that you can’t even see your way to it? And then it hit me…

Insight #2: This too shall pass.

Just because I can’t see the choice now doesn’t mean I won’t see it tomorrow or next week. I’ve had hellish days like today followed by happier days, sometimes some of the happiest days of my life.

When I don’t see possibility, just wait. Things will change. Even hell will pass.

Today’s report:

For most of the day it was a 1 out of 10, the bottom of the scale. Right now I’m feeling a 4, maybe 5.

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I’m half-way through these 100 days, and I feel like I’m experiencing life differently. Wouldn’t say I’m happy, but I’m not feeling as lost as I did when I started. I feel like my awareness of my feelings and where they come from has increased. And I had an insight today that seems to sum up a lot of what I’ve learned so far…

From p. 210 in Loneliness by Cacioppo & Patrick, on the complexities of the social dynamics and competition for alpha status in chimpanzee society:

Life for male chimpanzees is incredibly stressful. Researchers often see males trembling in fear, screaming, and suffering diarrhea because of their anxiety.

And on p. 211, concerning females who commit an offense against the matriarch and are momentarily ostracized for it:

This kind of rebuke can throw the younger animal into a tantrum right in front of the cold and rejecting elder. The affront is so stressful that it makes the subordinate physically sick, often causing her to vomit at the feet of her nemesis. It appears that apes do not enjoy social rejection any more than humans do.

Today, for the first time, I understand my feelings of loneliness in terms of social rejection, and I understand the degree to which such rejection has affected me. I see that what I’ve been describing as “safety” or “mattering” really comes down to the need to feel I’m part of a team.

Often, I assume a team relationship with people before there’s evidence that they feel that way too. I think that’s where I go to first: “Let’s be a team.” I recognize the value of teamwork for all. The team is greater than the sum of its parts. In Stephen Covey’s language, it’s the maturity continuum from dependence to independence to interdependence. Not everyone I meet is ready (or wants) to be on a team; some people are still in the dependence or independence stages. These are the people I feel “betrayed” by when they reject my team overtures. These are the people who “hurt me.”

And often it’s that one woman I’ve anointed as deserving of all of my love and attention; that’s when I suffer the most.

So let me try to summarize all of this for myself:

  • I like to connect with people as a team.
  • Some people who I try to connect with that way reject me by not accepting what I have to give.
  • Others who I try to connect with, “exploit” me by taking what I have to give and not giving back.
  • The rejection, though it’s disappointing, is not nearly as painful as the exploitation.
  • The exploitation feeds the self-pity and social fears that create my feeling of loneliness.
  • And because relationships are complex, those who don’t want to “team up” with me usually mix rejection with exploitation, taking what they can and then rejecting requests for reciprocation.

I feel like I now understand why I’ve pulled away from some people in my life. I now see that some of those relationships I was “carrying” that I described on day 47 included quite a bit of rejection and even some exploitation. By pulling away, I was recognizing how unhealthy those relationships were. I can remember looks, comments, and actions that made me want to vomit just like the anxious and rejected chimps. Even thinking about those moments now triggers a sick-to-my-stomach feeling.

I think a healthy strategy for living includes practicing awareness of how team-like my relationships are, investing in those that feel most like a team, ending those that are predominantly exploitative, and managing those in between the extremes with appropriate levels of depth or superficiality.

Today’s report:

I haven’t been working on my book very much in the past few weeks, and when I do I’m full of anxiety and negativity. The work that remains is pretty straightforward. It’s challenging, yes, but it’s my thoughts about the book that create the negative emotions. In parallel, I’m meditating less.

So my new plan is to schedule writing sessions every day, and if I “can’t” bring myself to write, I will meditate. I will confront these thoughts and not run from them. I will make room for them to teach me what they need to teach me. That way, at least if I’m not writing, I’m meditating.

Today I wrote for about an hour. I hated almost every second, except for a few minutes of inspiration.

I enjoyed a morning in bed reading and dozing and reading and dozing, just chilling with the cats.

I give the day a 6 out of 10.

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1. Everyone is inauthentic

We fool others. We fool ourselves. We let ourselves be fooled. All because we want to feel loved and accepted.

I watched Catfish today, a movie about how we misrepresent ourselves because of shame and regret, how easy it is to deceive others, and how easy it is to be deceived. These are all themes I’m exploring in my 100 Days of Peace, so the movie affected me deeply.

No matter how honest I try to be, the story of me that I tell the world is just that, a story. And the story of me that you want to believe is not me either. So deception is inherent in the process. Then when we factor in our fears, insecurities, dreams, and egos, we begin to have an agenda with our stories. We shape them to influence the world, to influence how we interact with others and how they interact with us.

Catfish presents an extreme example of what you and I do every day.

I feel a shift, an insight. Authenticity is not a result that can be achieved through effort. It’s like life. “I’m going to try to be more alive.” That’s meaningless in any objective sense. I find both life and authenticity when I stop telling stories. I find both life and authenticity in my experience right now.

This insight frees me of the judgment I place on myself and others for “being inauthentic.” Everyone is inauthentic when they talk about life. And everyone is authentic when they experience it.

Some people have described the ending of the movie as a “letdown.” I think the filmmakers made a wise choice to keep it low key. You get to see that the person behind the deception is not a monster, but a person who is scared, sad, regretful, and ashamed. You get to see yourself in their humanity. There’s no such thing as a liar; there’s simply a person who has lied. And that describes everyone.

Everyone.

2. Superficial

I interacted with a person today that I used to be very good friends with. He decided to cut ties with me about 6 months ago, which although unexpected was welcomed. The only bit of unfinished business was that I didn’t know how we would interact with one another when we eventually found ourselves in the same room (we have lots of common friends). Turns out we did just fine.

What it made me aware of is the varying levels of depth to which I will engage people when I interact with them. Some people I like to go deep with, some I like to stay nice and shallow. Although I prefer the deep relationships, the shallow ones have their place, especially at times like tonight. I now see that shallow relationships are not good or bad, nor right or wrong. And in fact, they are necessary to maintain relationships with people who you simply don’t spend enough time with to go deep.

I feel relieved. I felt comfortable around him, and I hope he did too.

Today’s report:

7 out of 10. I had lots of fun today and enjoyed time with good friends. There was laughter, deep conversation, and singing!

No meditation today.

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Day 48 (2011-01-28): As good as

Today was horrible. Internally, not externally. And that sums up everything, doesn’t it?

I spent most of the day lost in thoughts of failure and hopelessness culminating in the thought, “Is this all there is?” My focus was on what I perceived to be missing from my life. The thing “missing” that causes the most suffering is someone to share sexual and emotional intimacy with. Sex is one of our most basic functions, and to feel so lost in that area of my life leads me to conclude that I’ve failed at life. It’s as if I am starving because I can’t find food when everyone else around me is full.

But that’s just representative of a mindset, a mindset that focuses on what’s missing, and then dismisses what I have with “Is this all?”

In that place of despair, I had another thought that depressed me further still: “This is the best life gets.” But for some reason, I took a closer look at that thought…and I felt a little better.

Let’s assess my life for a moment: I have a healthy body, a creative mind. I have no debt. I am safe and comfortable where I live. Most of my relationships are on good terms, and even the very few that aren’t don’t present themselves as problems. In fact, the only “problems” I have in my life are the ones my mind creates. I have no enemies but my own thoughts. Vapors, ghosts. Not real.

Such a life truly is as good as it gets.

So strange how the same thought can lead to utter hopelessness or sincere appreciation.

Today’s report:

No meditation this morning. Not sure if I’m going to meditate tonight.

Most of today was about 2 out of 10, but as I write this I’m feeling a 5.

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Day 47 (2011-01-27): Boring

I’ve become boring.

And I’m getting to be okay with that.

I remember when I heard a few years ago that Anthony Robbins had divorced his wife. I saw a picture of his new wife and I had the reaction most people probably had: He got super rich and famous and dumped his wife for a hottie. Then I heard his side of the story…

He realized that his relationship with his first wife was good, but it was because he was good at relationship. He could generate energy for that relationship that was enough to sustain it and keep it healthy. But if he stopped, the relationship floundered. So he ended it, and he found someone who he didn’t have to try so hard with, someone with whom he could co-create that energy.

I, too, am good at relationship. I can listen well, I can understand and empathize, I can love unconditionally, I can be funny, I can be thoughtful—all together, I can “show a person a good time.” So what? So fucking what? They’re thinking “oh this relationship is so great, you’re such a good friend, you’re so important to me.” Blah, blah, blah. I’m thinking, “I’m tired, but if I stop, they won’t like me anymore.” When I “should” be thinking, to quote Eddie Murphy, “what have you done for me lately?”

This 100-day journey is me coming out of hiding about how I really feel. Letting people see me when I’m sad, or down, or tired, or whatever. One of the results of that is I’ve given myself permission to stop “carrying” some relationships. I don’t try to be funny or interesting or understanding. Sometimes I’m naturally funny or interesting or understanding, but other times I’m not. And that’s when I can feel people wondering “what the hell is wrong with him?”

I remember several years ago when a girlfriend ended our romantic relationship. She said she wanted to stay friends. My response to her was that I would like to stay friends, but she needed to carry that responsibility for a while, so that I could trust her again. She said she would. She didn’t. And I’m happy about that because it freed me of the weight of that relationship.

Why carry a relationship with someone who doesn’t value you enough to share in the responsibility for creating that relationship? It’s insane.

In Loneliness by Cacioppo & Patrick, they make a compelling case that altruism is not the most effective way of living. In study after study, what seems to always produce better results is “a ‘do unto others’ bias toward generosity and helpfulness, with other alternatives kept readily at hand to avoid exploitation and abuse.”

My new strategy for relationship is to begin with some positive energy and then take my cue from the other person. They can have a freebie at the beginning, but if they don’t participate, if they think they’re just going to sit back and enjoy the ride, I stop generating. I become “boring.”

Today’s report:

I meditated this morning. Got in very late tonight so I’m not going to meditate, just go to bed.

I worked on my book and feel very good about the progress I made. Saw some amazingly fun bands perform tonight. I was there to see the opening band and after they finished I told my friend, “Let’s give the headliners two songs and if they don’t knock my socks off we can go.” Well, within 5 seconds of their first song I was giggling like a little boy. What a surprise!

I give today a 7 out of 10.

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1. Hell

After writing my post last night and before going to bed, I worked myself up into a horrible feeling of neediness, rejection, and despair. I’m talking a good 1 out of 10 feeling. It was amazing how quickly I could cycle through a specific series of thoughts, memories, and mental movies to create such a hellish experience of life. My own little recipe for hell.

And it all centered around one person. Well, my mental projection of that person. I hate this. Hate, hate, hate. So much so I want to give myself a lobotomy just to shut my mind the fuck up.

2. Second chances

A friend of mine wants me to do some freelance work for her. We discussed it today and I could see how defensively and personally her ego was taking the conversation. She started off in a place of fear, and then anything I said that wasn’t in alignment with what she wanted from me would irritate that fear. Her ego even used some dirty tricks (to her credit, she saw what was going on). She tried to tell me about how she felt I had deceived her, describing it as a story that she knew wasn’t true, but when I challenged the story, she noticed resistance; she noticed that below her “awareness” of the story not being true was a hidden feeling that it was true.

I’m not sure what to do. After sleeping on it (I’m finishing this post for Wednesday on Thursday morning), I’m feeling that the energy is wrong. The offer I made is a good one for me financially. But there’s this big energetic warning light flashing, saying “you’ll be sorry.” This is someone I’ve tried to work with in the past and it hasn’t been a positive experience for me.

I feel like this is part of a “give them another chance” pattern I have. I truly believe in giving people the opportunity to grow, to not condemn them for past actions. But this pattern I’m talking about comes from a self-doubt feeling, a “maybe I was wrong about them” feeling. I even do it with CDs. There’s the one awful Queensryche CD that I revisit every 5 years or so; I love lots of their albums, so I think, “Well, it couldn’t be that bad, right? Maybe I was wrong. Let me give it another chance.” And it’s just as horrible as I remembered.

I think second chances are healthy for me when they come from grace, not when they come from some sense that I am flawed and “maybe it was my fault.” It’s like the battered woman who returns to her husband. It’s one thing if he’s spent years in therapy and shown a pattern of new, non-violent behavior. But it’s another thing if she goes back because she thinks the beating was her fault.

In Loneliness by Cacioppo & Patrick, they show that lonely people have a greater “willingness to endure exploitation.” I think I’m tuning into my susceptibility for exploitation.

Today’s report:

I meditated this morning and tonight before bed. I’m dealing with enough anxiety that meditation is a welcome companion. I worked on my book today, which felt like a victory. Though, I did avoid working on it for a good chunk of time.

I give today a 5 out of 10.

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I spoke with a man today about a group he runs called Men Healing Men. The primary focus of the group is holding, and being held by, other men. There’s enough fear in me at the thought of that, that I knew it was something I needed to learn more about. In talking with him, I had an insight…

My intimacy issues with women are related to an inability to feel safe around men. At its most fundamental level, intimacy is about relationships between humans. If I have a serious block around intimacy with one half of the human population (men), of course that’s going to affect my relationships with the other half (women).

Since my friend Scott died two years ago, I haven’t had a strong male role model in my life. And before him, I can’t think of another. I do not trust men enough to give them that “power” “over” me. This stems from my relationship with my father. My mother, on the other hand, I trusted completely and felt absolutely safe around. So I don’t think twice about giving women that power. In fact, I have a crazy neediness to give women that power in order to affirm my value in life.

So if I can get more comfortable in my relationships with men, I think I will stop putting so much psychological and emotional weight on my relationships with women, especially the one “special” woman I tend to anoint as the focus of my love and attention. In fact, maybe I will no longer have a need for that “special” woman and I can break out that pattern.

Today’s report:

I meditated first thing this morning and I intend to meditate tonight when I go to bed. It’s a little before 11 now, so I’m earlier than last night and closer to my 10 PM target.

I haven’t written in several days. I’ve been running from it. I’m scared. I have the whole day blocked out for writing tomorrow.

Today is another 5 out of 10. Good awareness, good insights, good connections with people. But still that feeling of running/hiding from my destiny.

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