Friday, August 11, 2017

The Glorification of Miserable

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us. - Marianne Williamson

A couple of months ago I was out and about one morning running some errands.  It was a particularly busy morning for me - I had a flight to catch in a couple of hours and had several things I needed to get done before heading to the airport.  Naturally, my first stop was to get a cup of coffee!  While in the coffee shop I ran into an acquaintance.  I met this person with a "Hey!  How've you been?" and the reply was "tired."  We exchanged some small talk, I grabbed my iced coffee, and headed out to continue the rest of my errands.  However, I kept thinking about the coffee talk that had just taken place.  I couldn't stop thinking about the word "tired" being my fellow coffee shop patron's response to how they have been.  Ever since that moment I have been very mindful to listen for people's replies when I ask them how they are.  The results have been eye-opening.  Responses included the following: busy, tired, exhausted, ok, fine, good, alright.  Very infrequently I would hear pretty good or great.  This made me start to reflect on how people interact with each other on a deeper level - beyond the "Hello, how are you?"  I started to reflect on times when I have been hanging out with friends for a night out or brunch or some other social gathering and the conversations always seem to be mainly about venting, complaining or gossiping.  I recalled times when various people in my life have said that they hate social media because its fake and people try to make their lives look perfect and don't post the "real" stuff in their life (aka their struggles).  Which made me start to wonder, "Do we live in a society that glorifies being miserable and judges people's joy?"

The quote at the beginnging of this post is taken from A Return to Love: A Reflection of the Principles of A Course in Miracles, a book written by Marianne Williamson.  The notion behind this quote is that we are afraid to shine brightly, we are afraid to offer the truest expression of our love and light because we are afraid that we might offend others in doing so.  We are afraid that our successes, our blessings, our joy may cause others to feel badly about themselves and so we make ourselves smaller than who we truly are to make those around us more comfortable.   For instance, if we have lunch with a friend and they spend 20 minutes venting to you about how much they hate their job and that they are completely stuck and miserable, how likely are you to rave about how happy you are and that you are feeling awesome?  Or are you more likely to commiserate with this person?  How likely are you to say things like, "Ugh.  I know.  Work is the worst." or "Yeah, my boss can be a total jerk sometimes."  We feel more comfortable getting into this person's with story with examples of our less-than-desirable experiences than we do sharing our own joy or empowering them to make meaningful change in their lives.  We are afraid that we will come across as insensitive or that we are bragging.  Meanwhile, as soon as we have jumped on the Misery Bandwagon we have lowered our own energetic frequency. And energy attracts like attracts.  You know the old saying - misery loves company!

And what happens once we have lowered our energetic frequency to be focusing on the "bad stuff" instead of the "good stuff"?  This becomes ripe feeding ground for your Inner Critic.  One of the tools in your Inner Critic's arsenal of self-sabotaging thoughts is comparison.  Your Inner Critic starts to compare your life to the lives of those around you.  When people jump off the Misery Bandwagon and onto the Happy Train your Inner Critic becomes defensive.  Your ego, in order to protect itself, becomes judgmental towards others happiness.  If we discredit other people's happiness, our ego believes, then it doesn't really exist.  And if it doesn't really exist than we don't need to feel like we aren't good enough.  Right?  Not really.  Our judgment of others is entirely a mirror of our relationship with ourselves.  We judge the ways in which others shine because we don't feel that we are good enough to shine, that we don't deserve to shine. As Marianne Williamson writes in a A Return to Love, "We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

When we jump on the Misery Bandwagon, we are coming from a place of fear.  We are detaching from who we truly are.  We are surrendering ownership of all that is beautiful and unique about us. We are making ourselves small and we also make others small.   When we board the Happy Train, we are embracing these things.  We are being our most authentic selves.  We are coming from a place of love and light and possibility and empowerment. The more joyful we are, the more we connect with our authentic selves, the more love we put forth in our interactions with others,  then the more of that we attract back into our lives.  Therefore, we owe it to ourselves and to others to stop glorifying misery.  To embrace our light.  Again, energy attracts like energy.   When I asked the coffee-shop patron how they were and they responded with "tired", the rest of the interaction reflected that energy level.  The next time someone asks you how you are trying using more positive language and watch how the energy of the interaction with that person elevates.  The next time you are out with friends or gathering with family or co-workers try sharing what you are happy about or grateful for and see how the energy of the group and the energy within you shifts.  The next time you see someone posting something happy on Facebook or Instagram, choose to be happy for their happiness rather than judging the post as fake.  Even if you know that they are struggling in their life, be happy for them that they have found a moment of joy to preserve and share.  Choosing joy over misery will create a happier life for you and those around you.

"Joy is a natural phenomenon.  Misery is your own creation." - Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

(Disclaimer: As humans, we are all going to experience times in our lives when we are going through something hard.  This post is not to suggest that we don't discuss these things with our trusted friends and family.  A strong support system is a blessing in times of struggle. Struggle is different than misery.   This post is meant more about our daily interactions - our default methods of communicating.)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Meet Your Inner Critic

I should really get up and exercise in the morning.
I should really organize my bedroom closet.
I should really eat better.
I should really be better at saving money.
I should really manage my time better.
I should really call my grandmother.
I shouldn't really share my ideas at work.
I shouldn't be watching TV right now.
I shouldn't buy these shoes for myself.
I shouldn't go out with my friends this weekend.

Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you?  Do you have a mental laundry list of all of the things that you think you should or shouldn't be doing?  How many times per day does the thought cross your mind that you should or shouldn't have done something or said something or eaten something or bought something?  Do you have an inner voice that is constantly telling you what you should do?  If the answer to these questions is YES, then let me take this opportunity to introduce you to your Inner Critic.

"Hi! I'm your Inner Critic.  Originally, I am from your childhood but now I live deep in the the valley of your subconscious mind.  My favorite hobbies include taking long, dark walks down memory lane, cooking up a lot of shame, and hunting dreams down and stopping them in their tracks. I actually have a few hanging over my mantle.  My favorite movie characters are the Dementors from Harry Potter. I really identify with how they can suck the ever-living soul out of a person.  My favorite song is Creep by Radiohead.  Oh!!  And my two very favorite words in the entire English language are should and shouldn't!!" (Just as an aside, my Inner Critic sounds like a valley girl.  Feel free to read this in Morgan Freeman's voice, the voice of Sadness from Pixar's Inside Out, Arnold Schwarznegger's voice or whatever voice your Inner Critic takes on.)

That's right.  Every time the words should or shouldn't run through your head or pass through your lips, that is the voice of your Inner Critic.  But why does that voice play over and over in our brains all day long?  As we have established, your Inner Critic resides in your subconcious mind.  And what exactly is your subconscious mind?  To put it in extremely easy to understand terms, your subconscious mind is a script that contains your life story.  Your script can be broken into three parts: Act I (the past), Intermission (the present), and Act II (the future).  During Act I, we met some characters, the story line was developed, the characters were faced with some conflicts and struggles, there were some fun, upbeat dance numbers and some gut-wrenching solo performances.  None of these things can be changed because Act I is over.  It happened.  For better or for worse.  During Intermission, we take care of business (i.e, wait in line for the bathroom, buy Raisinettes, stretch out because those seats are really tight and the person in front of us is really tall so we need to lean to the side to get a better view of the stage.)  Intermission is when we make the most of the time that we have right in the present moment, all the while reflecting back on what happened during Act I and imagining what might happen, what we hope will happen during Act II.  Act II hasn't happened yet though.  And for all of our imagining and hoping about what will happen, there is no way of knowing and it is completely out of our control.  However, the writers of our script like to believe that they have complete control over what happens in Act II.

So who IS writing your script.  It's your life so it must be you, right?  Well, sort of.  Your script is being written by a team of writers made up of past experiences, societal and cultural expectations, the people in your life, your hopes, your dreams, and your fears.  Imagine that you are sitting in a large conference room with this team of writers.  Everyone is sitting around a large conference table shouting out their ideas for the script.  You are the one at the head of the table holding the pen.  It is your job to take all of the ideas that are being presented to you by the team of writers surrounding you and create an outline of your script.   Your outline of Act II may have looked something like this:

  • Go to college and sow your wild oats while still maintaining a perfect GPA (just like your older sister who had a blast in college, made lifelong friends who were bridesmaids, and was a superstar student)
  • Get a job in finance with great pay (because your parents have made it clear that once you graduate from college they are moving to a condo in Florida so will need to support yourself and your dad told you that finance is where all the money is)
  • Get an apartment in the city and do city dweller type things like eat at cute cafes, shop at trendy boutiques, sip martinis at the swankiest clubs, watch Indie films (just like everyone in every television show or movie you have ever watched)
  • Meet your soulmate and get married in a beautiful oceanfront wedding ceremony on some island somewhere (because you saw this amazing wedding theme on Pinterest)
  • Buy a house in the suburbs with four bedrooms, a sick kitchen, and backyard that is great for entertaining (because from everything you've seen in movies, magazines, social media, and your rich cousins this represents the ultimate success in life)
  • Have two kids who you will feed homemade organic baby food and who will not watch any television and will definitely not ever sleep in your bed or drink soda all while maintaining your pre-kids body  (because you have read a lot on the internet about a lot of stuff about parenting so you are pretty sure that you have it all figured out.  )
  • Live happily ever after (because you have an outline and a script and if you stick to it everything will go perfectly and you couldn't imagine ever wanting anything more)
So the outline of your script is complete and you feel pretty good about.  It feels like a great plan and you are eager to start Act II.  Then Act II starts happening.  And while some of what you wrote down on your outline is sort of happening, there is stuff happening in Act II that looks nothing like what you planned.  Like hating college because it is so hard and your roommate listens to her music so loud every minute of the day and the dining hall food is terrible and you miss your friends from home.  Or finally getting a job 9 months after you graduate which pays you nothing and has terrible hours.  Or living in an apartment that is the size of the bedroom that you grew up in that has a mouse problem.  Or getting married too young and realizing that the person you married is nice and all but definitely not your soulmate.  Or getting that amazing house in the suburbs but feeling trapped in a community where your neighbors' values are not in alightment with yours at all.  Or having trouble getting pregnant and then when you finally do have kids you are so exhausted that you don't care if you or your kids eat as long as you can just be left alone for 20 minutes.

Enter your Inner Critic who is lurking in your subconcious mind screaming, "THIS SHOULD NOT BE HAPPENING!"  Your Inner Critic is like a director of a play who is trying to get a bunch of Improv actors to stick to the script.  It desperately wants to go according to plan and becomes extremely judgmental when things don't.  We live our lives trying to exert control over every aspect of our lives.  We form opinions and expectations based on the messages that we receive everyday from the world around us - our parents, our friends, our children, our bosses, our co-workers, social media, advertisements, movies, television shows, books.  More importantly, we develop our sense of self-worth based on these messages.   Somewhere along the line we started to subconsciously develop the notion that our worth is measured by how closely our lives stick to the script that we have written in our minds about how our lives SHOULD look. Our Inner Critic takes on a much louder voice than our Inner Truth. Our Inner Truth is who we are at our core which is love.  Our Inner Truth is that we are always enough no matter what.  Our Inner Critic shouts inside our brain that we ARE NOT love, that we are not worthy, unless we stick to the script.  When our lives deviate from the script due to our choices or other people's choices or things that are out of our control our Inner Critic becomes judgmental or defensive.  We lose compassion for ourselves.  We start to buy into the narrative that we are not good enough.  We experience shame.  We experience guilt.  We experience insecurity.  We experience fear.  And when we experience these feelings, we cannot experience authentic living which ultimately leads to fulfillment.  We will never feel fulfilled because we will constantly believe our Inner Critic.

How could life be different if we tapped into our Inner Truth and silenced our Inner Critic?  How would our perspectives change if we viewed life through the lens of what COULD happen versus what SHOULD happen?  If we focused on possibility and opportunity rather than judgment?  If we surrendered control so that we can be open to whatever flows into our lives?  What if we silenced our Inner Critic and put down the pen, stop writing the script and have faith that no matter what happens in Act II nothing can make us less worthy of love and belonging and happiness?  If we realized that although we are extremely invested in the script, it doesn't actually exist.  That the script is an illusion and believing in the script and trying to stick to it only places limits on our happiness and potential rather than ensuring it.  How is your Inner Critic limiting you?  What can you do today to flip the script?

Living Your Best Life

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