It’s been a long time since I updated, perhaps I just felt like I didn’t have very much to say.
It’s been a funny week for me, as I suspect it has been for the majority of the world. In a way, I have the sort of freedom from my life that I’ve been craving – the opportunity to set my own schedule etc. However, one of the biggest things that is missing from my life is seeing my friends. I miss my friends and I miss cuddles and just seeing people in the flesh. I hope it makes me more thankful in the long-run. The possibility that everything I’m looking forward to is going to be cancelled – especially the two retreats I have on in the summer would be devastating.
In response to the whole world crisis, I’ve been doing okay. I’m not sure if it’s denial or equanimity. I’m lowkey worried about my gran if she gets the virus. There’s a part of me that thinks it doesn’t seem real. I know it is, though. I was disappointed in a response that I had to this crisis a couple of weeks ago. There was a real uncertainty around work and whether or not I was a key worker and if I’d be required. Many people I knew who had the same job title and roll as me were being told that they could work from home, or they would be part of a rota. I hadn’t heard any such thing, in fact my employer had been two things about the crisis – mostly silent and unclear. This piqued everyone’s anxiety as people struggled to fill in the blanks, but assume that they couldn’t ‘force’ us to work. I didn’t have much of my own anxiety around this, really. I think I was upset for two reasons. The first was that I’d prepared my head for a certain answer coming, it was all going to be over and I’d most likely work from home – but that message wasn’t coming through. The second was that I felt I was taking on everyone’s anxiety about the situation, as I often do when I don’t have any overarching emotion. I experience huge amounts of anxiety, but it tends to be relational and over things I can control or over past behaviour. However, when it comes to something massive and so obviously out of my control, it doesn’t really impact my anxiety levels.
I have been enjoying being at home and doing some of the things I’d promised myself I’d do for a good while. I’m still working from home – uploading resources for my kids to do with their parents, completing my school reports, attempting to build and resource a curriculum to make next year easier, and most importantly write a masters level dissertation to enable me to graduate next year. I’m doing that all with walking, regular yoga and copious amounts of time playing the Sims and rewatching Game of Thrones, thanks to a good friend who is willing to share her TV with me.
Anyway, if you know me, you’ll know that I really enjoy the author Cheri Huber. She writes books about Buddhism in a format and FONT that I find incredibly accessible. In my quest to not accumulate any more clutter in the form of paper, I’m going to post my musings about the book here, as well as anything that particularly stood out to me, in the hopes that you might resonate with some of it. Then, it means I can remove all of the wee index markers from the book and pass it on to someone else. All of this is taken straight from the book, even though some of it is my words and I don’t claim any creative responsibility for any of it.
The book talks about our relationship with suffering and how a little bit of us actually quite enjoys it, because it’s one of the many things that bolster up the ego, or give us what we think is identity. When a child is born, it learns very quickly that it must turn towards the other, the primary caregiver (usually the mother) in order to get its needs met. Sooner rather than later, the child has a need that is not met and because wee people generally don’t have the analytical skills to discern that other people are other people and therefore come with a whole plethora of emotions and nonsense, the child starts to believe instead that there must be something wrong with it. Surely if the child was perfect, all of its needs would be met?
I can relate to this experience. As I got older, I did stop trusting my own intuitive knowing about my own needs in favour of the quest to be perfect in the eyes of other people (namely my mother, and later into sexual/romantic relationships with older women (spot the unmet need!)) There’s also the issue that I decided somewhere deep down that although I needed things/feelings and wanted connection, I didn’t want to come across as needing things or wanting connection to I pretend(ed) not to need anyone and go into full on people pleasing mode a lot of the time. One of the biggest results of years of this behaviour, is that a lot of the time I don’t actually know what I want or need and can only give a vague notion of the feeling or result I’m after. I have so many patient friends who help me flesh out my own experience.
I’m still coming to terms with that aspect of myself and I’m not full of as much self-hatred about it as I was at one time. I know, like a lot of survival tactics, it had/has a purpose. Like many people, I used self-hating behaviours to deny my selfhood and put myself down. Under this, there are two beliefs as identified by Huber. Firstly, I need to be this way to survive (in order to get my needs met). Secondly. I hate myself for being this way. I wish I were truly self-sufficient. In the sense that I am able to identify my needs, sort what I can sort for myself and clearly communicate what I need from others. There’s still a part of me that wants to fix myself.
Now, the big-grown-up Buddhist-ish (BGUB) part of me knows that self-hatred is my ego just trying to maintain itself. As Huber says, if we are constantly looking for what’s wrong in ourselves and constantly creating new crises so we can rise to the occasion. We are trying to distract ourselves from something else, perhaps something bigger. My ego is trying to survive my self-induced crisis. It will survive, and if I “sort” it, maybe I’ll finally be ‘good enough’ in the eyes of myself and others. But, BGUB knows that I’ll just find something else – I’ll never be satisfied.
Self hate uses self improvement as self maintenance. As long as you are always concerned about improving yourself, you’ll always have a self to improve and you will always suffer.
Self hate encourages you to judge and then tells you you’re a bad person/bad Buddhist for judging. When you judge someone else, it’s simply self-hate directed outwards. Then, it’s all turned back on you and you get a beating from your own judgement for being judgemental.
A lot of the time when we are trying to fix ourselves and our approach is not working, we don’t think “Oh perhaps I’m not meant to be fixed, perhaps this is just how it is right now.” That is – because everything is dependent upon conditions. Instead, we just try something else or try the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Sooner or later we will run out of things to try. We will be confused, but it’s in that confusion that clarity emerges. The voice inside that is hesitant, that’s saying the process is too simplistic or fake is terrified that you will actually find out how sincere you are. Your habit to find fault, criticise, judge and compare yourself and others is just that, a HABIT. As Huber says, the alternate reality in which everything is exactly as you think it should be exists only in your head and it only exists to torture you. Every time you focus on something or someone else not being the way you thought they should be, you injure yourself in the present. You’re giving into that belief that there is someone who is more deserving of your attention, others are more important. When it’s never really another persons behaviour that’s the problem (I know this still gets me) it’s your reaction to their behaviour. The other person is just acting out their own story, their own conditions. We deny this reality because we are so caught up in the way we think reality/other people should be. Judgement is egocentricity in action because all it is doing is maintaining our position as self at the centre of the universe, self as judge and jury.
It may be the case that you/other people are responsible, that you/they are accepting, that you/they are ethical. That doesn’t mean that you’re/they’re good – just responsible, accepting and ethical. It may be the case that you/they swear, you/they gossip and you/they tell lies but that doesn’t make you/them bad, it just means that you/they swear, gossip and tell lies. Our labelling of behaviours as bad gives us a reason to continue to do them in a quest to support our self-hate/our belief that we are not good enough. Our labelling of behaviours as good does similar, it gives us something to aim for that is outside ourselves instead of encouraging us to look at our reality as it is. You get distracted in what you should be doing, instead of looking at what you are doing and why you are doing it – whose interests is it serving? Yours? Your Inner Childs? Others?
For me, a reminder is enough. I’m not going into life anymore with the “Oh I need to change this.” I’m just showing up, arriving and trying to be as honest as possible about my experience. I remind myself often that me beating myself up for not being good enough and approval seeking is just my ego trying to survive. I’m just examining every day and seeing if my beliefs appear to coexist harmoniously with reality. As Huber says, it is helpful to develop the habit of not believing any of the voices in your head or even those of others – listen, but don’t believe. It’s like you’re at a dinner table listening to everyone talk. You can listen, but you don’t have to decide who is right and who is wrong, who is good and who is bad. You can just be present and involved.
You cannot be truly non-violent if there is any part of yourself which you are in opposition to. Having a spiritual practice means sitting with every experience, not saying or believing it should be something else. Every time you try to fix yourself, you compound the problem.