We don’t say about someone who jumps from a burning building that we wish they had known how well-loved they were. Despair is like torture. Everybody has a breaking point no matter how loved or brilliant or successful they are.
I am saddened when I read again and again that people wish Robin Williams had known what an inspiration he was and how loved he was and that he should have asked for help. I know it is well-meaning but it is ill-informed and misguided and might be very hurtful to those who did know and love him.
I realize it’s hard for people to understand but try to imagine a pain so excruciating that it can defeat love and hope and possibility. It isn’t a choice made by anyone who feels like they have an alternative.
Have you ever experienced extreme severe pain, like childbirth, being badly burned or your bones breaking?? In that instant of white hot sensation, everything else is obliterated – you can’t hear or see or feel anything else around you.
I believe Robin knew exactly how loved and inspirational and talented he was – and that knowledge probably only caused him more pain because it wasn’t enough.
It probably hurt him terribly to know how much pain his leaving would cause and yet to be so utterly exhausted, bereft of anything more to fight with that surrender was the only answer.
I hope you never have to feel it and can find compassion for someone who experienced such suffering that he had nothing left with which to fight with anymore and had to leave the people he loved and life itself.
I was writing an entirely different post about why soulmates are a pain in the ass when I came up with the idea that relationships are like picnics – and then I got completely carried away. It is Summer, though
One: Don’t serve left-overs from other picnics that you have kept too long – You can poison people that way, you know
Two: Do bring delicious things to share and be generous with them
Three: Don’t show up empty-handed and hungry
Four: Don’t blame the other person for not bringing enough food for you.
Five: Do let your friend know if you’re gluten intolerant – don’t make them guess
Six: Do Be spontaneous and also plan ahead
Seven: Do Vary your menus
Eight: Don’t mindlessly dish out the same stuff your parents served when you were a kid
Nine: Don’t keep hoping your vegan partner will suddenly dig your meat lovers pizza
Ten: Make time for them, especially if you’re feeling stressed
“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.
walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.”
Yesterday, I was talking with my wise friend Sandy about being annoyed to find myself in all too familiar territory. When it comes to relationships, as the saying goes, I don’t like to make the same mistake twice: I make it two or three more times, just to be sure. Sandy suggested that we get two chairs, so I could dialogue between the part of me that was frustrated and the part of me that was making the mistakes. I headed for the latter chair but jumped back up almost soon as I sat down, as if the chair was red hot, so intense was my reluctance to be in that place.
Falling in the hole is like falling asleep and waking up in a different world, a dark place in which I am disconnected from my sources and resources, a Winter place of starvation and survival. Utterly disconnected from Spirit. The part that is not merely frustrating, but actually terrifying, is that when I am in the hole I forget there is a world outside the hole to climb out towards. I forget who I really am. The hole can be a place of excruciating and almost unbearable pain. It is where I lose the Truth and I am in hell, lost in the suffering of my own mind’s making.
Sitting with relief in the other chair, it became clear that there was much more beneath my frustration about why I kept falling in to that particular hole when ‘I know better’. There was a deep sense shame and beyond that, such anger, self-loathing about the person I become when I am in the hole. When I looked at the chair, I felt scorn and hatred at the stupid, depressed, afraid, old, poor, abandoned, needy, selfish, ugly, fat, lonely, lazy, hurting, greedy, despairing, self-destructive, failure of a woman in front of me. I could hardly stand to look at what I see. And I certainly don’t want anyone else to know these parts of me exist.
But suddenly, something shifted inside me. I felt the hatred dissipate, replaced to my relief with a new understanding. I stood up, instinctively knowing that this new feeling didn’t quite belong to the parts of me in either chair. I placed a cushion in between the chairs and moved towards it to represent this expansive feeling, quite literally a new perspective. I realized that this feeling which I couldn’t quite identify at first, was recently familiar. And then it came to me. It was the feeling I had with one of my patients, earlier this week when I could hardly bear to see her suffering and had been overcome with tears of deep grief at not being able to take away her pain. It was Compassion.
Compassion for the one in the hole, but also as I looked at both the chairs, for the other one, the one outside who is so afraid to see the horror in the hole, terrified that if she gets too close, people may see the resemblance, decide she is broken and un-loveable and condemn her down there too. Seeing this it becomes so clear that if the one outside would choose not to turn away, she could throw a rope to the captive in the hole and set her free. Which reminded me of the last line of the piece I had written about my patient;
“If love could build a ladder out of suffering, I would have her touch the stars tonight.”
It seems fitting to be illuminating my inner darkness on the Summer Solstice. And I wish you the strength and the courage to remember to shine the light of compassion into the places where you suffer, so we can heal together. The fearless gaze of love will set us free.
“The Love Seat” is public spiritual practice as performance art. I am seated on an inflatable love seat and I invite people to join me and rest in my arms to be held, nurtured and healed by the power of unconditional love.Read More...
Fear is such a formidable foe and self-doubt can be a lethal assassin. You may – or may not – have noticed that you hadn’t heard from me for a while. When I look back on the past six months, fear has played far too great a role in my life. Fear caused me to remain stuck in a situation that wasn’t supportive to me for too long. I got paralyzed in the uncertainty of how to find my way out of the maze I found myself in. Then self-doubt began to creep in and I ended up so afraid of making the wrong decision that I became unable to move forward at all for a while. I probably would still be there if finally, a tsunami of fear about what was imminently going to occur if I didn’t do something propelled me out of my inertia and back into motion.
Then some stuff happened, some of which really sucked. I collided with some consequences that could have been avoided, had I not been imbibing a fatal cocktail of three parts denial and one part positive thinking. I still would have been ok if it were not for the chaser of some really random bad luck, heartbreak, a health crisis and someone saying something to other people that they were asked not to. Cue train wreck. And people I care about having opinions about said train wreck which led me to feel really, really bad about myself, as if I needed their help at that point.
The need to get it right, this adventure called life, can lead us to all kinds of craziness in the pursuit of the myth that there is one perfect way to do it and if you can figure that out, you will have the secret talisman that will protect you from all failure, heartbreak and danger.
That inner voice that berates me for what I should or shouldn’t have done, that tells me I should have known better, done better, been better is so familiar and so ingrained that it’s actually quite a challenge to even get to the place of considering it a choice. But the advantage of falling apart, is that sitting in the ruins of one’s old life, there is ample opportunity to look at each brick and figure out how it serves me and if I want to rebuild with it or not. And I have decided that this way of dealing with things isn’t how I want to do it anymore.
This week I was at a Quaker style memorial service and a man spoke about wanting to be part of a community of people who makes mistakes really well and I found that a very inspiring idea. The idea is to be able to accept and acknowledge that mistakes are a normal, natural part of our journey and to be able to make them and recover from them with grace and gentleness towards ourselves and others. What an amazing concept.
So how to apply this idea? Let’s be purely pragmatic for a second; If your immediate goal is to suck less at some aspect of your life, to get different results you are going to need to do some things differently. This is going to require a degree of change in behavior on your part. Changing behavioral patterns requires motivation and a degree of persistence, Shame and blame are not recommended as tools of leadership and motivation for a reason – people don’t respond well to them. People who are freaked out and feeling kind of shitty about how things are going respond even less well. People who are at the end of their resources… well, you get the idea.
Survival is the preserve of the Reptilian brain – or, as my very wise and clever friend Dave Asprey calls it, your Labrador brain. I like the labrador analogy for your subconscious a lot. Imagine if you will, the cutest, fluffiest, most adorable Labrador puppy in the world. You want this puppy to get from A to B. Puppy, for various reasons which might include being majorly distracted by something along the way, or that it hasn’t learned how to do this yet, goes on an extreme detour and rolls in something yucky, and sticky, very, very sticky. So sticky, it’s little paws get stuck and it gets frightened and maybe even makes a little whimper.
You, being your conscious mind in this analogy, now storm in there and scream your scary grown-up head off, telling puppy all about how stupid it is, what a failure it is, what a mess it’s made, how it should have known better, how you don’t think much of it’s choices, asking it if it didn’t think before it got itself in this mess.
What is the end result? Puppy any nearer to B? Nope. Puppy got any clue how to get unstuck and get itself to B? No. Puppy learned anything that it is going to help it avoid this situation in the future? Don’t think so. You wouldn’t do this to a puppy, so why do you do it to yourself and why do you let other people do it to you?
What I am beginning to see is that a better approach is to gently remind yourself that your life is a work in progress. Arming yourself with a sense of curiosity and permission to make mistakes along the way will allow you to explore and learn what works and what doesn’t. You are learning, you don’t need to beat yourself up so much along the way for not having been omniscient. What you need is for both you and other people you listen to, to acknowledge that pointing out the ways in which you or your life sucks right now is both redundant and just magnifies the problem. In moments of weakness and failure, it is being reminded of our capabilities not our ineptitude that will enable us to get things back on track.
I want to be part of a community of people who make mistakes really well, will you join me?
There is no aspect of life more ripe with opportunities to grow than our relationships. It also seems to be perhaps the most difficult and often painful way to learn. Sometimes, I get the distinct impression that I may have been a little over confident when I signed up for what I wanted to achieve this lifetime.
I can see it now, back in the place it all began, way before I was born. A fluffy, nebulous space of brilliant, white light. There I am, in my shiny soul nakedness, just brimming with enthusiasm about my coming incarnation, having a chat with God about what I might like to learn this time around.
” I’m so stoked about this lifetime, God. I’m totally inspired and excited. This is my time, I can just feel it. This is gonna be my last time around. I just know it”
“There’s no reason to rush dear. You have all the time in the world to complete the syllabus. Besides, this is infinity, you don’t get extra credit for finishing ahead of time” God chuckles, being particularly partial to a pun.
“No really, God. I’ve been over the last one, I see exactly where I went wrong – I know I’m ready. You know, you really had me with that parenting thing. You really got me going. I just have to tell you, that is the most brilliant way to teach unconditional love, I don’t know how you come up with this stuff.”
“Oh, well you know… I’ve had a bit of practice, and of course the omniscience thing is handy, “ God murmurs, with customary modesty “Anyway, back to you. Have you had a think about what you might like to try this time? I thought you might like to give Life Purpose 101 a go” He suggests gently.
“Life Purpose? No way God, I want you to really challenge me this time. I want to do Relationships again, but this time, take off the training wheels, I’m going for Gold!”
” Ahh, hmm, I see.” God pauses, for quite a long time, until squirming, I interrupt the silence
“God, I know what you’re thinking..” God raises an eyebrow
“Well, erm, no obviously not” I respond a little sheepishly “The thing is God, I just wanted to say that whilst it may have looked like a bit of train wreck from your perspective, especially towards the end of my marriage, I feel I grew so much and I have given it a lot of thought and… well, I just know I am not going to make the same mistakes again”
God tactfully says nothing and look into the middle distance. In retrospect, I can see he was probably mulling over the free will issue and how difficult it is to uphold when you really just want to steer your creations away from the impending cliff edge of their own self-destruction.
“Trust me on this, God. I’m ready. Don’t hold anything back, I want you to give me your best shot.”
“As you wish, my child, as you wish.”
And here I am. Stumbling clumsily between the ego: “why is this happening to me?” and highest self: “what am I being shown here?”. Some days, some years, some relationships it feels like the time I misguidedly imagined I could become some other version of me who isn’t terrified of rollercoasters and got on Space Mountain at Disney.
I’m holding my breath, clenching my teeth and hanging on for dear life. All I can do is try to remember that this crazy rollercoaster ride through the darkness only feels like it is going to be fatal. That it’s going to end and I’ll be back in the light pretty soon. In the light is where I feel like I’m finally getting it. I can see where my patterns are, painful as it is to really see them. But it is in becoming conscious that we can finally choose a different behaviour and that’s when we get to choose to stop the ride and get off.
A prayer or intention for the rollercoaster of unhealthy relationships
Dear God, (or Goddess, Universe, Highest Self…whatever works for you)
Please heal the part of me that permits and accepts unhealthy relationships.
Teach me to protect my inner child from people who hurt her/him, even unintentionally.
Show me that forgiveness doesn’t mean staying connected at the expense of my well-being.
Remind me that it’s not my job to try to heal or change other people but simply to learn the lessons I am being shown.
Help me surrender, to trust and let go.
Amen (or So Be it, Thank you, Om Shanti)