Sometimes growth means falling apart at the seams. Last week I had a precious opportunity to grow– and confront myself. I leaned on people in a way I never have before. I let people in and shared my vulnerable process with them. It was unfamiliar and scary. And it helped. It was about learning to love myself even when I felt like shit.
My deepest, most painful issue was triggered and I felt rejected, excluded, unloved. But because of circumstances—I was teaching at New Life Foundation in Chiang Rai, Thailand for a couple of weeks–I was able to stay with the process. Rather than going into habitual patterns of avoiding feelings of self-doubt and insecurity, I instead took refuge in the community. I took refuge in the schedule, structure, rhythm, the opportunity to receive support instead of being a caregiver. I sought companionship and open-hearted dialogue with others who were also in the process of being with their suffering in a clean way. Clean and direct. And because I was able to do that, I was able to do three things with my experience:
- Tolerate it. I could tolerate the pain because there was a safe container and people who could be there while I went through my experience. I was able to access the feelings without acting out or repressing them. I didn’t have to pretend things were fine.
- Accept it. The group accepted me, which allowed me to see that I am ok just as I am, flaws and all. It’s good to remember that this process—life—consists of continual evolution. This means constant re-evalutation, adjustment and letting go.
- Learn from it. It’s humbling to admit that despite all the work and practice I’ve done, I still have huge blind spots. Though I’d like to believe I mostly have my shit together, the truth is I still have work to do. Even though I am still not able to see what is in those blind spots, I am aware of them. So I now know where some of my work lies. I see how I doubt myself. How I don’t listen to my intuition when it conflicts with an expected outcome. How I avoid feelings when they are too difficult or not in line with my desires. I see how I manipulate, and try to create my experience based on patterns of denial and how I react when things don’t go according to my plan. It’s not very pretty. But at least I can now see how I create the very situation I try to avoid.
But, here is the caveat: all the therapy and self-reflection in the world doesn’t change the fact that this is still samsara. We create identities for ourselves and then try to maintain them through our various ways of showing up in the world. It’s like we build scaffolding around our identity, shoring it up even as it crumbles away. Rather than admit the old structure—our ego– is damaged, unsound and simply demolishing the whole thing, we keep adding more scaffolding, ignoring the weak protection it provides in favour of an image of security.
So meditation practice helps us to see that even a healthy ego is impermanent. When we get attached to that ego, pain is usually involved. Pain is part of life. Suffering is optional.
Pain is part of life. Suffering is optional.
Practice and therapy reduce suffering because each helps to observe habitual patterns. Therapy–or more precisely, therapeutic community– lets you see your own particular mental and emotional patterns. Practice helps focus and fine tune your power of observation. Therapy helps define healthy ego boundaries; practice allows us to see the illusory nature of ego and all its creations. So both are necessary to evolve.
Sometimes I think it’s important to let others see us falling apart. It makes us more real. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, just human. Previously in this community I was stuck in a role of Life Coach, trying to act like all was fine because of professional boundaries. But I’ve discovered that there is a difference between boundaries and barriers. Boundaries protect relationships; barriers inhibit them. Learning to love means dancing with these edges in both ourselves and others, allowing for fluidity and a larger range of possibilities.
It’s easy to sabotage your own happiness by confusing these two dynamics, engaging in patterns and relationships that are unfulfilling or destructive. We all want to be loved –but some of us struggle with this. For whatever reason, circumstances early on in life conveyed the message that we were unlovable, or that we had to work for our love.
In order to see these things—destructive patterns– a supportive environment is key. Ultimately it’s up to you to find peace for yourself. No one can give this to you. So you need to take care of yourself, but it also helps to stay connected. Even the support of one kind friend can change how you see things.
When you dwell in a state of peaceful compassion, this then becomes the basis for your relating to the world. But our greatest obstacle is our greatest gift. Whatever causes you deep pain also holds the seed of wisdom. It is through your pain that you can connect authentically with the world, by extending a hand out to share with others who suffer with their own issues. So by helping each other, we help ourselves. And by learning to love ourselves, we love each other.
How might you prevent love from entering your life? How might you sabotage your own happiness? Leave your comments and observations below….