Dummy. That was my nickname when I was a boy (around ages 7 to 12). It was given to me by my step-dad: a Vietnam-vet and ex-POW, a raging alcoholic, a failed hermit and an abuser. At that age, the nickname bored into me and told me something I grew up believing was true, despite evidence to the contrary.
As a young man, I devoted my life to hiding from what I thought was a deep truth: that I was stupid. I developed behaviors surrounding this deep dark secret of mine. The most prominent is the rage I would feel if I thought someone was questioning my intellectual capacity. The most ingrained was the inability to allow people to get close. I kept the world at a distance, because I didn’t want to be dumb, but believed I was and no one could find that out.
In high school, I began meditation and focusing on growing and repairing the damaged parts of myself. The latter I’ve carried with me my whole life. The former, I struggle with off and on in life (I feel like I’m not alone there, however). As a result of both, I’ve developed a habit of paying attention to my intent in most every situation. It helps me keep focus within rather than pointing my finger at the world. As a result, I improve. I am a better version of myself each day.
Looking back on myself as a young man and my reactions to people who appeared to me to be questioning my intellect, I see a major difference. Before, even if in jest, I would react to people by fully withdrawing, obsessing for days without sleep. That person, even if for a short time, became my enemy. Today, I have one of those jesty-centered friendships with a guy I’ve known for several years. You know those types of relationships: it’s all about who can get the best rib-shot in. We have serious moments, but most of the time we spend together is criticizing each other’s (real or imagined) flaws… and laughing about it. He pokes at my intellectual capacity more than anyone ever has in my life. After knowing him for five years, I only just made this realization only yesterday: that his joking critique didn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, somewhere along the line, somehow — without noticing that it actually happened — I became confident in my abilities to understand, to learn… to be smart.
As I sit here now, I know I am intelligent and it has nothing to do with my intellectual successes in my life. I dropped out of high school, thinking I was incapable of rising to anything higher than beating video games. But I passed my GED exams in the 97th percentile, and a year before my class graduated. I taught myself how to program web pages, graduated college summa cum laude, and so on. None of those successes had anything to do with my intellectual capacity, and had everything to do with how I feel about myself.
Striving to be authentic, looking within for the answers to our biggest questions and learning to not judge (ourselves and the world around us) are the keys to personal growth. I feel like I want to say that patience is a factor, because it takes time to reprogram yourself, but I cannot because I don’t know when this change happened. I don’t remember the last time I felt horrible because someone seemed to imply I might be a little stupid.
Now, I can laugh when someone pokes fun at me in that way (if the joke is funny, that is — if it isn’t, then I get to poke back).
Knowing my place
The Dalai Lama’s Facebook post for today sparked some thought I take for granted, so I thought I’d flesh it out for #myDailyShare (not that I will improve upon what has already been said).
We are all the same.
I’ve spent a lifetime “learning my place” in the world. The world I have lived in has classified my as this or that, has taught me who my betters are (basically, everyone), and given me all the tools I need to compare my insides to the outsides of those I encounter. Because of this, I learned also to internalize and protect myself, allowing only acceptable parts of myself to show… depending on who I was around. This can become very complicated, but what is important is that this belief of separation has created within me an automatic “othering” process that keeps the distance between me and others exactly as it should be. My distance from you is directly proportional to how much better than me I think you are — and of course, how much better I think I am than you.
The problem with this — and it’s a major problem in our culture — is that there are vast distances between everyone. It’s rare to find one person in a lifetime that can bridge that gap. And I am responsible for my part in building that bridge.
But the truth is, the gap is illusory. Beyond my perceptions of other people, they are just like me.
Celebrities are our royalty. We listen to them. We believe them and trust them. If we meet them we behave erratically. But they are no different than those of us who are not famous. Beneath the external qualities that surround who I think I am and who I think others are, there is a very simple concept: We only want happiness.
We might not know what happiness is, but we know we want it. The drive to have it is what fuels us to get up in the morning. It comes in so very many different forms — sometimes helpful, sometimes harmful; it permeates every experience we encounter throughout the day.
We guard our right to it with the ferocity of fight-or-flight reactions in the shape of our middle finger when someone cuts us off in traffic. That dude wants happiness too. Maybe his happiness is threatened by being late for work. Maybe that’s why you flipped the sonofabitch off in the first place.
When we have it, we want to share it. We freely give it in the form of kind apologies delivered with a smile when our grocery carts are in the way of another’s in the bread aisle.
This is what drives us. This is why there is no actual distance between me and you. Our beliefs, values, talents, weaknesses… these are incidental. They might shape how I am delivered to the the world, but they are not who I am. Who I am, is the exact same as who you are… who anyone is. We can’t get to who we are completely, but in trying, we come to see that those distances that keep us apart from each other are nothing more than fictions we create within ourselves so that we know our place within our society.
Those distances are a poison in our culture. The antidote? Compassion (the guy who cut you off wants the same thing you do).
Building a better view of me
This is highly important for me to remember. I spent years neglecting myself to the point that when I found myself alone in the vast open space of my tiny little living room one day, I realized that I had somehow lost a connection with myself. I’d even go as far as to say that I was a stranger to myself. I wouldn’t make eye contact passing me by on a busy street. Since that day, I’ve been rekindling that relationship. I’ve slowly been stepping out, being brave and doing the things I’ve always dreamed of doing; living a life I had always thought was not a possibility for me. Now, I find myself in a space where I enjoy… me. I am an awesome guy and great to hang out with. This new life I have is an adventure of discovering what I am capable of. However, my self-confidence (as relating to my view of myself through my perceptions of the opposite sex)… is pretty well shot. It needs an overhaul. Some days I crave female companionship… romance… falling in love. But, I won’t because I’m not at a place where I can yet view myself as worthy of any of that. That needs to change, so I think I’m going to take this advice and start dating myself. I need to find that worthiness, because out of the 7 billion people on this Earth… I am the only one that can fix this. 🙂
We are Wothy
This is a good thing to remember on a Monday. I can easily get discouraged when mind wanders toward all the things that can be perceived as “lacking” in different areas of my life. I can slide down the steep side of Maslow’s Hierarchy and not because I’m in actual danger, but because I perceive it as such. Even though I’m not where I want to be in life, I have made some amazing progress and as long as I continue to try, I’ll continue to grow. If I can keep myself in this mindset, good things do come my way. There is nothing in the universe that would take away happiness but my own self-driven ego that wants to convince me I am not worthy. We are all, one-hundred-percent worthy of happiness. We don’t have to do ANYTHING at all to deserve it. Happiness is the natural state of existence. Fear, worry and insecurity takes effort to be maintained.
This idea is important to me. I have “grump” days (like everyone), when my attitude is simply poopy. Yesterday was one such day. It’s normal enough to have grumpy days, but I don’t like them. This idea helps me on these days.
I am an expression of the entire Universe. From my perspective at any given moment, I am at the center of that expression. Ego wants to claim that as a validation of selfness. But it is no such validation. I am at that center only from my perspective, which gives me the opportunity to observe the universe. On those grumpy days, ego wants to observe phenomena that encourage grumpiness. I have all sorts of problems with people, places and things. What helps me is remembering that I’m just observing the Universe in limited forms. I don’t have to do anything to change how I’m thinking or feeling. If I simply observe how I observe, I gain insight to my”self” and my expression has the opportunity to change.
So, Yesterday was a grumpy day, but what I got out of it was that there are things I want to do in life that I’m not doing. My grumpiness was the result of an inner dialogue of resentment at my life as it is. This resentment surfaced from nowhere, but the urgings, I now see, have been there for quite some time. So, the moral is, by observing how I perceive, I can (sometimes) discover some preference I have hidden behind grump.
I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but if it does, I hope it helps. HAPPY FRIDAY!!
All is always all
This concept is true for more than small acts of kindness. Everything we do affects everything else. All of it is interconnected. The ripples of my actions span distance and time. I should not ever use this concept to shame myself for my past. Instead, it is fun to visualize (maybe even as a meditation) the little things I can do right now and follow the ripples across time and space. For example, these daily shares. I don’t write them to help others. Nope. These exist for purely selfish reasons. They keep me writing and thinking about writing. They put me “out there” so that I don’t isolate. I have no idea who reads these, and so I can imagine that the stuff I say is seen by either no one or a great many (or anywhere in between). They help me adjust my thinking first thing in the morning, which helps me to align my perspectives for the day (in other words, since I have been doing them, my days have been getting better and better). There are other selfish reasons for writing these, all of which I do to honor the Me that I truly want to be. But I do like to imagine that perhaps one thing I say will help someone have a better day. And maybe that person will use it to help others and they in turn will continue spreading the idea. So, I guess the moral of this story is that it’s important to remember that everything I do causes ripples. What I want more than anything is to cause helpful ripples. And I know that as long as I keep trying, I will. Have a great Thursday! smile emoticon
Happy Earth Day
Happy Earth Day! I do my best to be conscious of my impact on the environment. Of course, I could always do more, but I think it is a good thing to at least be conscious of my impact. It’s a good place to start, anyway. I really like this message from Thich Nhat Hanh. We (whether we realize it or not) have deeply personal and individual relationships with the Earth. The nature of our relationship is entirely up to us. But it is up to us individually. In other words, I am responsible for my relationship. This beautiful planet provides absolutely everything I need to survive, thrive and be happy. It’s important to consider what I do in life to express gratitude for this above-and-beyond physical, mental and spiritual sustenance. Doing so helps me avoid taking this precious life for granted and reminds me of yet another reason to be happy!
“There’s a revolution that needs to happen and it starts from inside each one of us. We need to wake up and fall in love with Earth. Our love and admiration for the Earth has the power to unite us and remove all boundaries, separation and discrimination. We need to re-establish true communication–true communion–with ourselves, with the Earth, and with one another as children of the same mother.”