When Others Let Us Down

 

1333 Relax and Succeed - Human beings are gods hidden from themselves

For some of us it was a cheating spouse. For others, an addicted friend, or a neglectful parent. For some it was a crime, or it may even be abuse by an authority, or an institution. There are many ways to feel the extremely tormented pain of neglect or betrayal. But there are also ways to be free.

It is a deeply poignant thing to move through the rush of feelings we experience when we sense that those around us have let us down. Part of our reality shatters. The whole experience makes more of the universe feel forever less certain and that makes us angry. We don’t feel safe. It makes sense that we resent whoever is associated with our feelings of vulnerability and helplessness.

But our resentment, anger, or need for moral justice rarely pay off. Like the Buddha says, we are not punished for our anger, but by it. Even if we exact revenge, the best that can happen is someone else suffering and any pleasure we get from that is short-lived even if we remain satisfied that justice has been done.

There simply is no going back in time. No matter how important something was, no one can unscramble scrambled eggs. People can’t undo one hour of sex, two years at a bad job, or 18 years of absent parenting. Each of those things and everything else like them are water under the bridge, and the desire for a different history will generate a great deal of anger and regret.

Fortunately, those feelings won’t last, and for fairly logical reasons because the reasons for the feelings make sense. But because they do, it is possible for us to speed up our ‘recovery’ to a potentially positive view of a situation, or even another person– if we’re prepared to.

Firstly, we must accept that our brain has these people or institutions weaved into massive amounts of our lives, and anger is like a jolt of electricity through our system. This means that when we are angry we are likely to grab information from all over life and history to express our outrage. But that’s fine. We can even be totally unreasonable.

The process of fully feeling our emotions isn’t about the perpetrator(s) of the betrayal, it’s about us bleeding off some of our own totally understandable brain chemistry steam in a non-destructive way. We have many compelling and painful thoughts under a lot of pressure.

This is why our pain from these experiences should be fully felt. Rather than pretend we’re okay and then convert four angry days into 20 resentful years, we are better to fully feel the feelings we have. We need not be scared of them. They are there to be felt. And after we’ve felt them, we can get on to empathy.

1333 Relax and Succeed - Empathy when you plant lettuce
We should nurture our understanding of those who we feel have done us wrong.

If we feel badly expressing ourselves honestly we have to remember that it’s society that told us to hold those feelings in, and we’re still recovering from the Victorians and they were scandalized by the word ‘leg’ (you had to use ‘limb.’). We don’t have to go insane or commit crimes or hurt others to let pain out. We just have to find constructive forms of letting off that emotional pressure.

Run, lift weights, listen to thrash metal, go to one of those places where you can pay to smash things. Or maybe just find someone who loves you that will let you rant, or abuse them for a while, on the understanding that you’re going to get proxy angry at them because you can’t yell at the person or institution that hurt you.

People that love us can survive that experience because they are the ones that accept us with our imperfections, just as we do theirs. That’s why we love them. But it’s a very healthy thing to ensure the person understands that we know full well that it is misplaced anger, and that we are grateful to them for helping us.

By doing that we make it much easier for the other person to hear us being unreasonable without taking it personally. If our point is to inflict pain, of course we’ll choose painful things to say. That doesn’t mean the things we say are somehow true. We’re blowing off steam, not doing journalism.

Once the anger has dissipated we can then begin a meditation that will untie the Gordian Knot of anger and blame in our imagination. In reviewing any situation from a less emotional distance, and by meditating on the other person’s context and history, we can often find that what happened makes more sense than what we had hoped would happen.

When we go from being an ego having a personal struggle to a limitless self having a psychological experience, we move from having feelings about a knot of things, to simply cutting through those feelings with understanding

Eventually our meditations on others lives lead us to realize more profoundly that others do not see their role in life as fulfilling all of our expectations. Nor should they. Otherwise we would be doomed to have to do likewise.

This means that, essentially, we feel let down when people fail to meet our expectations by merely being the only people they could be, given their experiences and their awareness. None of us can be someone we aren’t no matter how much we love those around us.

The people that let us down are merely people who are not who we had imagined they were. We can’t blame them for our imagination. Instead, by taking responsibility for our own speculation, we achieve understanding and forgiveness in return. And resentment and anger for understanding and forgiveness is a trade worth making.

peace. s

Waking Up Our Kids

1292 Relax and Succeed - Over-thinking steals livesIt’s common for people to wish they’d learned to control their thinking when they were younger. What’s effortless to learn for largely egoless kids is a bit harder when we’re older, that’s fair. More importantly, for a kid, a lot of suffering can be avoided or abbreviated if we know how to manage our emotions earlier in life.

Phones and computers and automation give many of us a false sense of control. But when we are faced with situations that are overwhelming, increasingly people are finding they are incapable of managing that very normal aspect of life. Lessons on managing our feelings needs to start young –younger than we might think.

Every parent should at least consider waking their kid up in a way that helps them truly understand how the world and our minds merge to create our reality. Rather than just telling them to get up and being perfunctory about getting them physically ready, if possible, we should consider taking a moment to get them psychologically ready too.

Kids generally assume that whatever their parents are doing is what’s happening in every house. Normal is whatever our parents do routinely. So if they wake up and they witness us taking a moment to set an intention for a good day, and if we casually expect that they should do likewise, those things quickly instill that healthy ritual as a normal part of waking up.

A parent can present the idea like it’s a big moment –like when a kid doesn’t have to wear diapers anymore– or, if the kid’s older, it can be said much like you might tell them that they have to remember to grab their skates for hockey practice.

It’s either exciting or pedestrian, depending on how much child-like wonder your kid is still functioning with. I’ll use a young kid in the example. In my admittedly highly idealized example, it starts as easily as:

“Tomorrow when we get up we’ll get you started on setting your intentions,”

“What’s that?” the kid may say in some form or other.

“Well, without an intention people’s feelings are kind of like flags or balloons. They just float in the direction the wind is blowing. And you know how people have good moods and bad ones?” The kid nods. “Well, other people’s moods and our own thoughts are the ‘wind’ everyone has in their day.”

“The wind?”

“Yeah, it’s like a wind of thinking. Sometimes it blows us along and makes things better, like when people cheer for us or when we’re thinking lucky thoughts. But sometimes it blows hard right at us, like when a lot of people are picking on us, or if we’re mad, or sad. Some days there’s no wind, but most days there’s at least a breeze. So it’s important to start the day with an intention to not get blown off course.”

“What happens when we’re blown off course?”

“Well, we’re just individuals. We’re very strong and we have lots of control, but sometimes we’re hungry, or over-tired, or sometimes we’re just surrounded by too much sadness or anger. But we don’t want to stay angry or sad –or even get angry or sad if we can avoid it, right?”

“I don’t want to be sad.”

“I don’t want you to be sad either, but we have sad feelings because sad is a part of life. Without sad we lose a lot of love songs, and love songs are beautiful. As we get older we start to understand what to do with sadness –because we can use it to find more happiness if we do it right. But some sadness is just built into life. The way to avoid being too sad for too long is to set an intention to have a good day. That way you avoid the avoidable sadness.”

“You mean we can not feel sad? How?”

1292 Relax and Succeed - Stop thinking and end your problems

“Sometimes you ‘can not feel sad.’ Other times it’s the right feeling for what’s happening, like when we were sad at when we had to take Pepper to the vet to go to sleep.”

“I miss Pepper.”

Cuddles the child. “I do too honey. Thinking about Pepper can be a nice kind of sad though, right? That’s the kind of sad it’s okay to feel. Missing Pepper is because we loved her.”

“There’s good sad and bad sad?”

“Yeah. Good sad is the sad we want to feel. But sometimes you don’t want to feel sad, or we’re tired of feeling the kind of sad we liked and now we want to feel better. When we feel that feeling we have to shift our attention to different things.”

“… what kind of things?”

“Well, if we don’t want to be sad then we can’t think our own sad thoughts because they’re sad. And we don’t want to think other people’s negative thoughts –stuff like insults– either, because that hurts too. Auntie Sara sometimes makes herself sad because she thinks she should look different. But we love Sara exactly the way she is, don’t we.”

“I love Sara… Why does Sara want to be different?”

“Well, wanting is made of thinking. So Sara is thinking about looking different than she does and she likes the person in her thoughts better.”

“So she doesn’t like her real self?!”

“Sometimes. Yeah.”

This genuinely dismays the child. “Why? Then why doesn’t she stop thinking that?”

“I guess she forgot to. Maybe because she didn’t have the habit of setting her intention for the day.”

“How do I do that?”

“It’s when we decide how we’re going to use our focus for a day. All day long we all each decide what we think about. Nobody else thinks for us. So if you’re thinking about Pepper and it’s making you sad but you like that kind of sad, you can keep focusing on your thoughts on Pepper. But if you’re too sad and you want to stop, instead of thinking about Pepper you have to think about something or someone that makes you happy, like the time we went horseback riding, or when you went on the airplane.”

“I can think about that?”

“You can think about anything you choose.”

“That will make me happier?”

“Yup –if you choose thoughts that make you happy.”

“Can it be a rabbit?”

Every parent knows this kind of stifled laugh when kids introduce an idea from nowhere. “Yeah, sure it can be a rabbit. It can be anything that makes you happy.”

1292 Relax and Succeed - If we don't like something

“How?”

“You and your ‘how’s.’ Okay. Well, when think about nicer or happier things our brain stops making chemicals that make us feel sad, and it starts making ones that feel better. Sad feelings, happy ones, when we’re mad, or laughing –all of our feelings come from inside us, from our thinking.”

“Inside of us?” The kid goes cross-eyed trying to get a look past their forehead to their brain.

“We kind of ask for our feelings. But when we’re young we only know how to do that when it’s easy, like when we get to do something fun. But when we’re old enough, it’s time to start learning the important part. That’s where we learn to to stop being too sad even when a sad wind is blowing.”

“How do I stop being sad when I don’t want to anymore?”

“Just the way I said –you just change to think about something nicer –that you feel better about.”

“That’s all?”

“Yup. It’s pretty easy. But the voices in our heads can get tricky. They try to tell us we don’t want to be happier when really we know we do, but our thoughts get confused by the chemicals.”

“The sad chemicals?”

“Any of them can confuse us. Wait until you’re older and fall in love. The first time doing that is really confusing. But like everything, we get better at things the more we do them. That’s why it’s important to start practicing when we’re young.”

“I don’t want to be sad like Sara. Sara’s beautiful.”

“Awww honey. Yeah, she is. I don’t want her to think that either. Or for you to think like that about yourself. But doing that is easier if we set an intention. So when we wake up, before we completely get up we have to remember to stop for a few moments. That’s when we do our little meditation.”

“A medit… a m… a what?”

“A meditation. That’s when we take some time to remind ourselves that our thoughts create how we feel each day. And then we remind ourselves that we want to feel good that day. That way, if we forget during the day –and everyone does sometimes– then the intention from the morning reminds us of what to do. If we don’t like our feelings we have to change our thinking. Do you think you’re ready to start trying that?”

If it’s a matter of ready, most kids will jump at the chance to prove more capability and freedom.

“Okay. I’m going to do mine out loud so you have an example, but you can make up your own. What’s important is that it reminds you of your power. No one can change our thoughts but us. Okay, are you ready?”

By now the kid is fascinated to hear what magic spell comes next. And it’s about as close to a real one as we need. Eyes closed, the intention begins.

“Today if I lose my way and I get lost in my thoughts, I will use this intention to remind me that I want to make the most of my day, and so I do not want to dwell on sad, or angry, or guilty, or mean thoughts about myself, my life or any other person or thing.

“Instead of choosing to feel badly I will choose to feel better as soon as my intention reminds me to focus on something better. I thank my intention for helping me keep my thinking in control and thank you for making this little monkey here,” snuggles the child, “so that I always have such a beautiful little monkey to think about to help me when I’m sad.”

“You think about me when you’re sad?”

“I do. When I think of you it makes me happy.”

“When I think of me that makes me happy too.”

“That’s a whole other conversation about identity and ego my little Confucius. Let’s save that talk for a few years.”

“Okay. Can we get a rabbit?”

peace. s

Painful Subjects

1158 Relax and Succeed - If there is no struggleShe tried to act like there was nothing wrong, but her mother could tell she had been crying. She found her in her room, sitting on her bed. She sat next to her and put her arm around her shoulder. They were quiet for a while.

“Why are they so mean to me?”

Her mother kissed her head. She took a while to speak, composing herself first. “Some people just like teasing. But most people just want to feel secure. They want to feel like they belong. It’s human nature. But if there’s an inside, then there has to be an outside.”

“And I’m on the outside.”

Her mom smiles at her misunderstanding and pulls her closer. “Oh no, dear. There is no actual inside or outside, it’s all in people’s heads. They just think they belong or don’t belong or others do or don’t. They want to be in so they needed an out and people pick on difference. But everyone’s lines in everyone’s heads–they’re all different and they change everyday anyway.”

“They hate me because I’m fat.”

Her mother furrows her brow. What’s going on? She moves to face her daughter. They look at each other a long moment. “How did you make the leap that they hate you? Dani, them creating an inside and outside–that’s not emotional. It has nothing to do with how they feel about you. They’re trying to fix an alone feeling they have. When they tease you, that’s about them, not you.”

“But they called me fat and they were all pointing at me and laughing.”

“It just felt to them like they were succeeding in being more in the in group because if you’re crying then you looked ever further out. You looked ‘more different.'”

Her daughter looks at her mother witheringly. “Mother. ‘More different?’ What are you a Valley Girl or something?”

“Ha!”

“Ha what?”

“See? You just did it. You created an outside.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“A) You made fun of my mistake, which could be viewed as mean. And B) You attributed it to a definable group: Valley Girls. See? You do it too. And you don’t hate anyone. Outsides and insides. I was outsides the rules of grammar and so now you felt you had permission to tease me.”

“Mother. I really don’t think there’s an organisation out there protecting Valley Girls.”

Her mother smiles. The energy in her daugher is changing. “Fair enough, but you still made my point. Did you mean anything against Valley Girls; or where you truly against me when you corrected me?”

Her eyes roll. “Of course not.”

“But you still did it. And if I was feeling insecure it might have hurt me. Maybe I’d talk less because I’d be worrieder–“

“YOU DID THAT ON PURPOSE!”

“Okay. I did. Maybe I’d talk less because I would worry more about being judged.”

“And what’s the advantage to doing it your way? Why shouldn’t I care?”

Her mother laughs. “Uhh…. you’re not in pain? You accept that what’s going on in someone else’s consciousness doesn’t impact yours? That you just go enjoy your life anyway, just like you hope the Valley Girls do? If you responded super positively, maybe you’d start teaching English, or start an organisation to protect Valley Girls.”

“I bet the little camouflage bikini uniform would look great on me.”

“I think they give you a sexy little hat too.” Her mother laughs and hugs her. “Honey, I want you to remember one thing: you left school and kept thinking about this. Painful subjects are called ‘painful subjects’ because they hurt. So you have to watch, because when we’re sad or depressed our brain will sometimes tilt toward them. So you have to be really conscious about being happy sweetheart. There’s a lot of great things about this world. You’ll experience plenty. But you have to watch for them. So don’t let what’s happening in someone else’s brain distract you from that. Fair?”

She’s obviously right, but what kid wants to take advice? “I’ll think about it.”

“Okay fine. You meditate then. I’m sure you’ll see the wisdom in it too, just like the Buddha. I love you. I’ll leave you to your meditation oh Great One. OOOHHHHHMMM” Her mother bows.

Her daughter waves her off like Cleopatra. “Be off with you then.”

Her mother closes her daughter’s door. Her daughter’s stronger thanks to an unpleasant experience. That’s as good as it goes. Mission accomplished. Her mother smiles and heads back to her day.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.