I like the feeling of being on top of things. This is a comfortable place for my ego to hang out. I can get smug about this and feel very pleased with myself. Look at me! Look at how together I am! There are also times of growth that I really enjoy. When I am stepping into the unknown and don't have anything figured out. This experience is fun and exhilarating. I enjoy both the comfort of the known and the excitement of the unknown.
What I have more trouble enjoying and appreciating is the mess. I don't like feeling I am a mess. I don't like it when my life looks a mess. Mess does not feel comfortable, fun, or exhilarating. It feels overwhelming and out of control. During these times my coping mechanisms flare up. My skin picking reappears. I eat more chocolate. I become more controlling and irritable. I tend not to sleep as well. I am more critical of myself and others.
I used to think it was a problem when this happened. I thought it meant something about me. I definitely thought there was something wrong with me when I would regress in this way. I would think, "Clearly I have issues and problems I need to do something about."
Then I was completely shocked when I heard Linda Pransky say in an off-handed way at a training that after her parents died she took up smoking briefly and drank more than usual. It wasn't the information that impacted me, although I do have an aversion to smoking, what threw me was that she saw absolutely no problem with this. She was not phased in the least that this happened. Nor was she bothered when it was happening. I was amazed!
In my mind, smoking and drinking more than usual was bad. That meant there was something wrong, and you needed to do something about this wrong thing -- fix it! I could imagine my worry and anxiety if this were to happen to me. But all Linda said was that she knew it would pass. It did not worry her when it was happening. She had zero judgment against herself and zero fear that the coping mechanisms wouldn't subside as she stabilized.
This woke me up to a layer of thought that had been invisible to me. I saw when I felt overwhelmed and destabilized and noticed I was using coping mechanisms rather than seeing that my suffering was coming from the illusion of my thinking -- I would worry and judge my behavior as wrong. I would judge myself for using coping mechanisms. Linda's comment gave me more freedom. I saw how I could see all of my coping mechanism as nothing more than feedback that I am struggling. They let me know that my thinking is stirred up, and I am feeling destabilized. I don't need to make it mean anything more than that. And most importantly, I could remember that I don't need to be afraid of them. They are my wisdom at that moment, and I will eventually stabilize into my natural state of peace, calm, and equilibrium. I also realized that by not making my behavior into an issue, I would actually get stable more quickly and no longer need to use the coping mechanism sooner.
Life events and circumstances are not always easy, and I can even make seemingly good life events hard when I get caught up in negative thinking. Understanding that it is not the event or the circumstances that cause my experience of suffering is useful. It helps me to recognize my suffering comes from thought. The extra layer of understanding that I seeing more and more of is that getting caught up in negative thinking is not a problem. So not only is the event or the circumstances, not a problem, neither is getting destabilized and caught up in thought so it feels like the event or the circumstances is a problem.
When I see that getting gripped by thought is a normal part of the human experience, I naturally stop judging myself for that and stop judging myself for judging myself for that, even when getting caught up is strong enough to impact my behavior. When I drop judgment because I see it is not true, I immediately feel more peace and love. I see my behavior as normal and understand I am doing the best I can. There will always be situations and times when my thinking is invisible to me, or I have an inkling that I am gripped by thought, but it still looks real to me so I am at the effect of my thinking.
If it is not my job to eradicate my negative experiences or my negative behaviors, this frees up so much of my energy. I can get out of my way and be more open to the infinite intelligence behind life -- my formless spiritual nature. Letting myself be is a form of surrendering to my true self. I know that the deeper I experience those qualities the easier it will be to let go of anything that is not that.
But I can't fake it. I can't tell myself to let go of judgment intellectually. I can only genuinely let it go when I see the judgment no longer makes sense. This is not prescriptive. It is a description of what happens when we see the judgment is untrue. When I am volunteering in prison and hear the inmates share their stories and why what they did made sense at the time, I feel no judgment because I can see they were doing the best they could at that moment with the understanding they had. Yet it is easy to forget this with respect to myself. When I yell at one of my daughters or am unkind to my husband, it can be much harder for me to have perspective and see that was my best at that moment.
However, this applies to all of us. No matter what our level of functioning or what our behavior, whether it meets our expectations for ourselves or not. We are each one of us doing the best we can with the understanding we have. If that includes me being controlling, irritable, picking my skin, or some other of my weaknesses, so be it. End of story. I don't need to make it mean anything. The love and understanding of my true nature will ultimately help me stabilize. I don't need to add on suffering to my messy self. I may even be able to feel compassion or kind-hearted amusement at my foibles.
Ultimately kindness is the water I want to be bathing in when I am having a hard time. I cannot force myself to have more understanding that I do. I can't make myself get ungripped from negative thoughts, but I can see it is not a problem and be gentle with myself when it happens. May you experience the kindness of your heart more fully as you navigate the richness and range of your human experience.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couples' intensives that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.