“Ultimately, happiness comes down to choosing between the discomfort of becoming aware of your mental afflictions and the discomfort of being ruled by them.” – Yongey Mingur Rinpoche
At the beginning of the year I committed to writing a post once a week. The good news is that I have been writing. A LOT. The bad news is that I haven’t been actually sharing it. I’m putting a lot of stuff into words that I’m not too comfortable sharing with the world. I bump up against some harsh truths, and then I slowly push the laptop away and back into the opposite corner of the room. That’s some heavy stuff, laptop. Real heavy. It’s one of the moments about writing that I’ve always liked and loathed: the moment you discover the things you didn’t know you thought.
One thing I’ve discovered through writing is that I spend a lot of time rehearsing for exit strategies and general fecal material hitting the fan. Happy occasions seem to have this immediate dark cloud that swoops in:
I smile at my cat. *Enjoy her cute, fat kitty snores now, because she’s probably going to die soon.*
I cuddle up to my husband as he naps. *Does his heart sound funny? He’s probably going to die too.*
A friendly acquaintance asks me how my day is. *What do you want from me?!*
I used to think this way of relating to the world kept me resourceful and on my toes, prepared for whatever life could throw at me, but now I’m seeing how perfectly joyful present moments get tainted by the bitterness of my poop-tainted glasses. I’m in a really good place right now in a lot of areas in my life, and I’m having a hard time being fully appreciative and present to them because I keep looking for the expiration date on all of it.
I have built myself this safe room of pessimism and doom-saying that has kept me very prepared and very miserable. Outside of my bunker of ruin, I have these really beautiful, connecting moments with other people, but then I remember where I live. My life was set up for everyone to disappoint me, and here I am getting hugs and compliments. It’s all very confusing. Naturally, I have to construct a new place to live (you know, something a little more inviting than these concrete-filled, blast resistant doors). I can redecorate my inner-environment, put a fresh coat of pain on, get some high thread count sheets, or finally buy more than two champagne flutes because we are going to have company for once. Yet, that old baggage creeps in and says, “Wait, you are building this thing ABOVE ground? With windows and doors so people can come and go of their own accord? Are you insane?”
Vulnerability can feel completely crazy because it’s in direct opposition to everything we’ve learned. In Rick Hanson’s book Buddha’s Brain, he discusses three ways in which humans have evolved to survive:
- Creating separation
- Maintaining stability
- Approaching opportunities and avoiding threats
My poo-tinted glasses and my inner-safe room are definitely how I’ve survived. They’ve kept me separate, they’ve kept me stable (when you are completely isolated, no one can hurt you right?), and they are experts at locating and avoiding threats. Yet my learned survival skills don’t mean that I am thriving when you consider how the world actually IS: Everything is connected, change is always happening, and some threats are unavoidable (natural disasters, death, aging). Despite how the world IS, these survival strategies have worked. They have kept us alive as a species; yet when used in excess or in situations where they aren’t serving us, they create suffering.
Right now, I know that the artificial safety I have created for myself in my safe room is no match for all the wonderful, connecting, comforting things outside (my husband, chubby cats, and yoga). And the moment I’m ready to step out of my bomb shelter and live in the world, my mind tries to stop me and convince me that even though there’s a group of open armed people outside that they will be taken away somehow. They will change their mind and leave. Even by some stroke of luck that they decide to stay, they will eventually die.
When I think I’ve decided that I’m ready to be vulnerable, my mind instantly gives me all the reasons it wouldn’t work. It’s like I opened up the door of the bunker and all I can see is carnage even though there’s nothing really there. The people I love look like they are gone, but I can still hear them. I can’t tell if I’m smelling smoke or flowers. I know the sky is blue, but it looks red. That’s what is so hard about trying to unlearn a thing. My internal guidance that’s supposed to tell me what’s dangerous is stuck in the ON position, and everything looks like a threat. The only thing there is to do is to question what I perceive, celebrate what I get right, and have kindness towards myself about what I get wrong. I think the last part is the hardest and most important. Because when I trust things that shouldn’t be trusted, the old brain wiring tells me, “I told you so. Never trust again.” I have to hear that, and then make the deliberate choice to be kind to myself, to get out there again, love more, and have more trust. Not trust in that I won’t be hurt again, because I will (remember how certain threats are unavoidable and things are always changing?). I have to trust in my own ability to survive, to heal, and carry on in the face of it all. It’s the biggest leap of faith there is.