3P Random Reflections Blog
I used to should myself to death.
I used to carry around all sorts of heavy lists in my head about what I should be doing to be better than I am... To somehow reach some level of something that I thought would be enough.
I wrote a lot of those lists down... daily/weekly/monthly to-do lists, priority lists, dream boards, vision statements, personal missions, motivational messages, meditations, PPTPAs (positive present tense personal affirmations), mantras, resolutions, sticky
note reminders, thought-maps, SMART goals, gratitude jars, journaling. And there were many, many more.
I read tons of books and took lots of courses that told me what lists to create and how to create them, and how incredibly important
they were. They told me how a worthwhile or purposeful or fulfilling life couldn't be lived without them.
I got so good at it, I even began teaching people how to create lists. (God, please forgive me! LOL!)
I created NEVER felt light or fun or joyful or motivational. For me, all the list-making and affirming, just kept documenting ALL the ways in which I wasn't yet enough.
My lists of lists, and the lists themselves were endless.
One day those lists got to be too heavy. I couldn't carry them anymore. I couldn't breathe.
I was crushed under the weight of them.
In that surrender to my "complete and utter
fucked-upness", something new occurred to me... I looked up to see that despite ALL my decades of unmanifested shoulding, my life seemed to be happening anyway.
There was plenty of food, plenty of shelter, plenty to wear, plenty to do,
plenty to see, plenty of work, plenty of relationships, plenty of events, plenty of experiences, plenty of adventures, plenty of good, plenty of bad, plenty of LIFE.
With my head down, always focused on the lists, I just couldn't see what
was right there, right in front of me all along.
My lists were all about lack, while my life actually being lived was all about abundance.
Despite the navel gazing angst of my inner world, at a significant level, my
outside world was just fine... and in fact, well beyond fine.
I have mostly stopped making lists.
They still appear in my head, but I now know where they come from and what they feel like, so I don't get as fooled
by them anymore.
And you know what?
Life keeps happening anyway. I couldn't stop the complete and utter abundance of it... even... if... I... wanted to.
The only list I have now, is this... stop
making lists, stop comparing, stop counting, stop measuring, stop goal-setting, stop manifesting, stop divining, stop adding, stop collecting, stop reaching, stop visioning, stop dreaming, stop doing, stop buying, stop getting... just STOP... STOP... STOP.
Stop creating all the lists for yourself, and while you're at it... stop creating lists for everyone else too.
Underneath all the mountainous lists of lack, the incomprehensible, plentiful abundance of life rests quietly
and patiently right there, waiting to "roll out in ecstasy at your feet".
Just stop for a moment. And look.
And by the way, don't even attempt to think about making a list of all the things you're looking at.
That alone is not only well beyond enough... it is EVERYTHING.
I was listening to a talk between Pema Chodron (an American Tibetan Buddhist) and Father Gregory Boyle (a Jesuit who runs Homeboy Industries for gang-member intervention and rehabilitation).
Pema Chodron was sharing how she considered
Gregory Boyle to be a bodhisattva, a person who's life is dedicated to relieving the suffering of others.
She also shared the ways in which Fr. Boyle and Homeboy Industries manage to relieve the gang members' suffering, so that they can
overcome the trauma of their childhood, realize their better nature, and become loving, compassionate human beings in service to their families and communities.
One of the things that caught my attention was Pema's description of suffering.
She divided it into 3 types, including one type that represented the "greatest suffering". This was something I'd never considered before.
One form of human suffering she said, is external... It is the experience of feeling distress from
things such as a lack of food, shelter, resources, employment, or from having a disability or a chronic illness or addiction, or from the loss of a loved one, or from experiencing violence, abuse, natural disasters, catastrophic events, wars, etc.
The second form of human suffering she said, is internal, and directed within... It is the experience of feeling unlovable, unworthy, broken, not enough, less than, discontented with self, disconnected from self, or lacking in some way, etc.
The third form of human suffering she said, is also internal, but directed outward at others... It is the experience of feeling hate, anger, righteousness, wanting revenge, or wanting someone else to suffer, etc. It is seeing another person or group as
less in any way, including less than human. It's the feeling that leads to the action of harming others.
I imagine that everyone feels some version of all of these types of experiences throughout their lives.
pointed out that the third form is the greatest of suffering.
That statement stood out to me because it struck me as true...
Imagine a feeling of pain so great inside us that it can't be contained within us, and so
it gets turned out against our fellow human beings. It isn't just a dislike for a behaviour, but a hatred for the whole of the human being who does the behaviour.
I think this identification of "the greatest suffering" also stood out for
me because of how much anger and righteousness I see on the news, in the media, within politics and public discourse, including my own occasional bouts of feeling it.
When any judgmental feelings arise in response to anyone's behaviour,
I'm often (but not always) aware enough these days to see that it's my thinking that is doing the creating... I'll often recognize my uncomfortably angry feeling not as any enduring truth about the situation, but simply a truth about the limited state of my
mind in that moment.
In other words, whenever I'm angrily or emphatically thinking/declaring what I know, that tight or unpleasant feeling alerts to me that I've lost my curiosity and I'm not seeing as clearly as I can.
And that's already a pretty big thing actually... to have any awareness that "unpleasant feeling = limited thinking", even if I don't yet quite experience the deeper, calmer, clearer feeling of truth of it. Just that, stops me from engaging in the war...
one less shot fired, one less call out to assemble my agree-with-me troops.
What occurred to me also, was something quite lovely in recognition of this "greatest suffering"... in that it applies to me too.
I can, when
feeling my own experiences of anger or righteousness, remember that I am, in that moment, also experiencing the "greatest suffering". The acknowledgement of that, for me, feels like a soft, gentle, loving embrace to my self and my humanity... and in that,
allows my hardened heart to soften.
Overall, I tend to hold a simpler definition of suffering that doesn't divide it into any types, and doesn't connect it to any circumstances.
I see suffering as any internal experience
of painful negative thoughts/feelings that arise, that are believed as truth AND are held onto (focused on, ruminated over, internalized). We all can and do experience pain, but no matter the form of that pain, suffering is NOT inevitable. I guess I sort of
see the inevitability of pain as acute, and it's development into suffering as chronic.
However, I do genuinely appreciate Pema's pointer to this idea of the "greatest suffering". It can offer us a self-compassion whenever we feel anger
arise within us, realizing it's coming from a great internal suffering, even if we don't completely understand it. It can also offer us compassion for others, realizing their anger and behaviours are coming from a great internal suffering, even if we don't
completely understand it.
I wonder how different a world it would be if when anger arose, we all remembered to look toward a lighter feeling and a clearer mind before choosing how best to respond to that pain?
way, after all this talk of suffering, if you need a pick-me-up, the 2 hour presentation and discussion with Pema and Gregory was quite funny, and heartwarming, and lovely...
Responsibility can be a sharp and cutting word, often full of notions of good or bad or right or wrong.
It's just a word, but it holds a great deal of expectation, and judgment, and control.
I used to
use it in my mind like a righteous sword pointing toward "them", and in truth, most often pointing toward "me"...
"I should do this", "They should do that", "I should have done this", "They should have done that", "What's the matter
with them?", "What's the matter with me?", "Why can't I/they just do what they're supposed to do?"
I have much less respect for the word responsibility now... well, at least in the way I used to think of it and use it, as a set of very
specific rules for each individual's required behaviours.
Sometime in 2013, under the unforgiving weight of all my collected swords, I came to such a point of utter futility and exhaustion, that I just gave up the fight. I'd had enough.
Nothing was working. I just couldn't do it anymore. I surrendered.
I sort of realized that, "Well, life has been happening all along anyway, for my 51 years on this planet so far. Why not just accept things as they are and just live? Why
not stop the endless focus on all the things I haven't been able to control or change?"
And so for a while... I just "lived".
A few weeks later, grace appeared.
I can't fully explain this gift
of grace. I've already tried thousands of times, and my words have mostly felt as useless as my swords.
But, one significant part of that gift was that my understanding of responsibility completely changed.
I no longer
see any one person or any one group doing anything in isolation.
What keeps occurring to me is all the incomprehensibly infinite and complex factors that contribute to any and every action or achievement, so that, in a way, I see
that we're all responsible for everything, just by our very existence.
We're all the butterfly's wings, endlessly creating swirling currents of air that become part of the forces of wind that act on the waves to build up the tsunami...
EVERYTHING is connected.
I now feel just as responsible for every bit of the world's successes and wonders as I do for all the world's appearances of racism, and colonialism, and misogyny, and poverty, and consumerism, and war, and violence,
and ecological devastation.
And it's not at all the heaviest of burdens it may at first appear to be... the amusing paradox is that it's the lightest and most free.
It asks of me ONLY to keep noticing with curiosity
and wonder and awe, the something much bigger about life than my mind can fully comprehend...
...And in that awareness, to keep gently and simply "walking as though my feet are kissing the earth", as Thich Nhat Hanh says, with growing
appreciation for how the intelligence of Nature/God/Universe (whatever you wish to call it) can quite capably take care of the rest.
And this "feet kissing earth" doesn't really tell me WHAT I should be thinking or doing. It doesn't tell
me what will have the most or least impact, or what will cause the most or least harm, or what will be the most or least responsible. How could any tiny human, in this vast expanse of ever-changing life and time, possibly ever know?
It just tells me to keep walking in a particular way.
It reminds me of the state of mind from which my best steps will always spring... from a deep well of reverence for all, instead of from a chest of insecure swords pointed at arbitrary
I am still VERY far from living in this state of knowing and doing, but my steps and heart are much lighter. I still have a ready chest of swords, but I'm discovering the joy of appreciating them more and using them
Upon reflection, the swords are really quite beautiful.
The other day, I had a "righteous hangover".
Let me explain... (you better settle in to a comfy chair with a cuppa... this is a long one)...
A friend posted a story on Facebook about seeing a man standing next to a popular drive-thru restaurant with a sign asking for money. She then saw a women attempt to give to him some food she had purchased for him. He declined.
My friend pointed out that she didn't know who to feel the most sorry for, the person asking for money, or the person getting their gift rejected.
Several others on Facebook, when they saw her post, shared their outrage toward the man refusing the gift, and some extended their outrage toward all others in similar
"How dare that person be so rude as to refuse a gift! Even if he didn't want it, he should have taken it and said thank
"How disgusting and how sad for the person trying to help!"... and...
"That’s awful. The shelters provide 3 meals per day and I refuse to provide money for drugs."... and...
"I once offered to go inside a store to buy food for someone asking for money, but they said no since they wanted to eat elsewhere.... yah, suuuuure they did"... and...
"This is why those who want to help others are giving up in total frustration. Sad world we are living in
Having spent time hanging out with people who are afflicted with numerous mental and physical challenges, and knowing all too well the insurmountable hoops they have to jump through to be accepted and treated as
even close to human, in addition to knowing all the things they need money for besides food and drugs, I hold a completely different perspective.
And, despite recognizing the ridiculous and humbling irony of my own righteousness toward other people who are being righteous, I chose not to let those comments sit.
At first, my imagination went in the direction of a bevy of clever, snide remarks aimed at the commenters and their judgements. My ego joyously revelled in the process, but in truth, my imagined mean and righteous
remarks constricted my heart. It's sort of a funny thing when that happens really... it's a type of "good" feeling, that upon reflection or inspection, doesn't feel good at all. Here's another example of that...
One day in discussion with a man at a homeless shelter, he talked about hitting someone who had cheated him. Knowing that we don't strike out at people when we're in a good mood,
I remarked, "that must have felt awful". To my surprise, he responded that it felt great! At first I was a bit confused, but then the penny dropped... he was talking about the feeling of release of emotion (pent up anger) from hitting the other man, not the
experience of anger that flared up just before it.
Both of these behaviours (my imagined cutting remarks, and his uppercut to the
chin) are great examples of coping... they're the result of deflecting uncomfortable feelings that, in that moment, aren't understood. In a way, the lashing out makes others less so that we can feel better or superior... it gives us back a sense of control.
Once my ego was done with its righteous, imagined "otherizing", I eventually got a little calmer and clearer, and gained back a small speck
of remembered humility. I then took the opportunity to use that kinder feeling to craft a factual (more emotion-free/judgement-free) version of what I know... all the perspectives of street-life that many of the observing public may not have realized or considered.
By the time I posted my remarks, I was feeling better about finding a clearer and kinder way to talk about the underlying conditions of
poverty and addiction, and the underlying ebb and flow of human insecurity that is the creator of EVERYONE'S moments of "apparently bad" behaviour... whether it's doing drugs, or refusing gifts, or righteously judging other people, my own righteous judgment
I thought I had said my piece. I was satisfied for having spoken up for those who have no voice, and then I set it free
into the capable hands of the universe, to be done with, as always, as it pleases.
However, when I woke up the next morning, I could
feel my righteous hangover... I hadn't set it as free as I had thought. Some small tatters and remnants of seething judgmental anger were grasping for a foothold in my mind... ready evidence that my insecure mind doesn't always listen to my secure heart.
Fortunately, the hangover feeling didn't last too long. I appeared to be aware enough in the moment of my ego's little tricks, and so the
suffering thinking sort of came in the front door, lingered briefly, got bored, then went out the back door.
Once back to a clearer
state of mind, it occurred to me that my lingering hangover was, at a deeper level, because I was judging myself, for judging some people, who were judging another person. Hilarious right?!
At first I had compassion for the man's suffering, but had righteous judgment for the angry people.
Eventually I had compassion for the angry people's suffering, but had judgment for the angry me.
Finally I remembered
to have compassion for the suffering, angry me. And in that moment, gained another level of appreciation for the still-suffering, insecure, little child inside.
...This is just another wise lesson from "my personal crazy", which continues to offer me gifts, whether I ask for them or not, whether I accept them or not, and whether I appreciate them or not.
For those interested, here is a slightly edited version of my actual comment on Facebook about those experiencing homelessness, addiction, etc...
I have spent time with people who are experiencing all types of suffering, including periods
of homelessness, joblessness, addiction, and chronic mental and physical issues, and so there's a few things that I've discovered...
is that when I see someone who appears to be suffering, it can sometimes be instinctive to give them what I think they need or what I think they "should" want and appreciate. I see their situation, I identify with it in some way (I imagine how bad it feels),
a bad feeling-state arises within me, and then the instinct occurs to me to help them.
I usually feel that I am doing a good deed,
but if I look a little deeper, I may discover that my desire to help may be more about trying to cope with my own bad feelings in the moment, than it is about addressing theirs.
By the way... This isn't something that's easy for me (or likely for anyone else) to see, because thoughts and feelings and beliefs can be so habitual and instantaneous and convincing. We automatically think that
all our empathy and attempts to help, are a good thing, and reflect something positive about us and our behaviour.
can get a sense of the significant difference between helping others when feeling good (perhaps noticing the other person's beauty or strength or courage or innate wellbeing), versus helping others when feeling awful (being judgmental, seeing them as broken,
feeling impatience or urgency for their change, getting caught up in our own feelings about their suffering). The latter state of mind is likely to be much less helpful since it's more about us than about them.
TWO, is that without talking to someone first, and taking the time to hear and understand them, I can have absolutely NO IDEA of what's going on in their thinking and feeling and
unique circumstances, to be able to effectively determine their needs.
I've made this mistake many, many, many times, and will continue
to do so. In a way, right now in writing this, I'm giving something that wasn't asked for, for better or worse! See how easy it is!? LOL!
back to point two... If someone chooses to reject a gift of food, there could be thousands of valid reasons... perhaps they are already full, or they have specific allergies or health conditions, or they're vegetarian, or they don't need food (they already
have enough supplies or resources for that), or perhaps people keep giving them food over and over and over again, even though they are only asking for money, or perhaps they just don't (in that moment) like or want the specific food being offered... ALL of
that is valid.
As for wanting money instead, it could also be (and is) used for thousands of different reasons other than drugs. It
could be used for transportation, or shelter, or clothing, or hygiene items, or home supplies (furniture, appliances, utensils, books, tools, etc.), or medications, or rent, or cell phone minutes, or birthday gifts, or toys for their kids, or services (haircuts,
legal services, medical services, etc.), or helping out a friend or family member, or replacing items that have been broken or lost or stolen from them... the list of things everyone needs money for in this society is endless.
And yes, they could also be using some or all of the money they get for drugs.
One thing to consider, is that for some people's horrid experiences of life, drugs are one of the few accessible things that gives them temporary relief from a great deal of physical and mental suffering that they haven't, as yet, found a different
way to cope with.
Another thing to consider is that most everyone in today's society finds ways to cope with internal discomfort (ie,
to distract, numb, soothe, self-medicate, etc.) whether through smoking, or shopping, or eating, or drinking, or gambling, or busyness, or social media, or success, or image, or risk-taking, or accumulation of things, or venting their righteousness, or yes,
sometimes even through helping. It's all the same thing... a bad feeling comes up, and instantaneously the mind offers a "drug of choice" to cope with it.
For whatever reason, certain forms of addiction or coping are more socially acceptable than others, even though all addictions cause harm in an infinite number of ways. The effects of drug addiction are more immediate and obvious, but the ripples
of any other addiction/coping can be just as impactful and endless.
THREE, is that when I give people help (whether asked for or not),
they are not always going to be grateful.
I can see this happen with people I know well (friends, relatives, colleagues, etc.), so
it would not be unexpected to see what may appear as "ungratefulness" from someone who is more visibly suffering and likely to be in a really bad mood.
Upon reflection, I can see that I have not always been grateful for other people's help, especially when it's been delivered with some level of judgement.
And, as I have heard from my conversations with those who are more visibly suffering, when anyone gets righteous over any of their behaviours or appearance, they often relate to that judgment toward them as more validation
of their "shitty selves and their shitty life and this shitty world".
Many I've spoken to have a keen radar for being judged... simply
because they get hit with it many times every day... in the way people look at them, in the way people avoid them or avoid eye contact with them, in the way people show fear of them, in the way people don't even notice them, in the way people treat them without
even knowing them, and in the hateful things people say to them... all messages to them that they are less than human in some way.
an aside, it's helpful to note that I can always hide the darker parts of my experiences and behaviours behind the doors of my house, or behind my clean clothes and makeup, or behind the success of my job, or behind my money, or behind my social media profile,
or behind my good deeds. In contrast, those out on the street can't hide any of that. They are always out on full display... with no way and no where to hide.
FOUR, is that whenever I righteously judge others, that feeling within me isn't being created by someone else's behaviours (whether it's the rejection of a gift, or otherwise). The other person isn't inside my mind and body, pulling
strings to guide specifically what I will think and feel... and whether I choose anger or neutrality or curiosity or understanding or compassion.
Instead, I'm experiencing the thinking and corresponding feelings that rise out of all the invisible beliefs I've collected over a lifetime, that keep creating and recreating the picture of the world I live in, and how I respond to it.
In any moment, if I were to get a bit of calmness and clarity, and freedom from my personal thinking, I'd remember that I'm looking at a
fellow human being who's temporary behaviours are only a reflection of internal suffering, and never a permanent pronouncement of their true nature... something they may not even realize themselves.
Perhaps it may even occur to me that the challenges I sometimes have in managing my own emotions (whether over the rejection of a gift or something else), may not be that different from someone
else trying to manage the emotions that drive addiction. It sort of puts me on the same playing field.
Any clear appreciation for
our common humanity, is a step toward offering help in a more humane way.
And although that clarity can never tell me what I should
do when I see suffering (ie, gift, not gift, love, not love, take caution, not take caution, help, not help, etc.), it does mean that in whatever I choose to do or not do, my clearer state of mind will allow me to do it with a lot less added collateral damage...
with more peace and grace, for them, for the world, and for myself.
... And, I'll be able to give any gift from my own felt realization
of security and abundance, with complete freedom to allow the universe to decide how that gift is to be used, or not.
And so the lessons keep getting offered to
me, with each apparently suffering person who crosses my path, whether it's the person experiencing homelessness, or whether it's the person venting in righteous anger, or whether it's the righteous-feeling me... sometimes me forgetting all this, but then
eventually remembering again.
I had a friend who was asking for help.
saw himself as a highly creative person, with a deep and continual desire to express himself through music and theatre. He also saw himself as someone who was challenged in effectively managing the day-to-day requirements of our society, whether with work,
or money, or all the inflexible (and often insecure) structures at the foundation of it.
He sort of saw himself as a free spirit being
constrained in a caged world, which ironically is a truth for every single human being, including me.
I guess, being from the world
of the arts, it occurred to him that he needed a personal manager to do the things he couldn't do, which would free him up to do all the things he could. And for whatever reason, he thought that I could be that manager.
I sort of laughed whenever he brought it up. All of the things he didn't want to do, I didn't want to do either. A full time job at that would be my worst nightmare. I guess
he didn't realize how I was also a free creative spirit being constrained in a cage. It's just that I didn't end up fighting so hard to get out of the cage... I somehow learned to behave.
I eventually learned how to work within society's (and ultimately my mind's) limitations for me, for better or worse. For some of the specific requirements that I dreaded, I eventually gained some expertise
and found some interest in them. For the other requirements that I dreaded, I was not so lucky. I eventually got them done, but not without a great deal of internal struggle.
One day it occurred to me that I could offer to share with my friend, some of what I'd learned, in how to manage the unmanageable. He said yes to the offer.
We set a date for two days together and I spent some time beforehand creating a curriculum that offered possible tools for many of the tasks he struggled with, and included plenty of space for
discussion and exploration.
Ultimately it wasn't at all what he really wanted, and I kept missing all the signs that pointed to that.
I wasn't listening deeply enough to hear what he was trying to say. And although there was plenty of open discussion and exploration, my focus was on what I thought I was there for... to present and explore specific "best practice" tools and
Unfortunately AND FORTUNATELY, at no point did it occur to me to just let the agenda go completely.
When it ended, it felt like an utter failure, but since then it has offered me thousands of jewels of ongoing lessons in listening, and presence, and differing realities,
and differing cultures, and attachment, and one of my best ongoing life lessons... that although one of my passions and gifts seems to have been as a "teacher", what I'm really, truly here for is to do nothing more than to play, to observe, to learn, and to
My friend was a really good teacher for me, but about a year after that meeting, I had decided I was full of enough lessons.
Oddly enough, even without his presence, he continues to teach me now, in a myriad of beautiful ways...
...including the reminder
that our helping can often be incredibly unhelpful, and that learning to truly and deeply help - in the best way - is mostly about learning to listen and learn.