As humans, our tendency is often to focus on and find the negative.
And before we follow the impulse to turn this into an article condemning that negative analyst in our heads, let us remember how important and helpful that voice has been over our evolution as humans. That little negative voice, that memory that seems to only highlight our faults and past pains, has kept us safe as we evolved over 2.5 million years (depending on your definition).
So perhaps before we try to beat this voice out of ourselves, we can start by saying thank you, thank you to our cranky, bitter, pain-ridden and hurt selves.
Thank you—and perhaps we do not need that self to be quite so over-protective.
Maybe instead, it is possible that everyday we can approach the world from a fresh, vulnerable self; each moment there is the possibility of realizing how present and aware we are, opening to the amazement at the possibilities contained in each fleeting moment.
This self can open fully and invite the hurt, the disappointments, the negative that we seek so dearly to avoid; the good news (finally) is this vulnerable, open self also provides possibility.
That stranger on the street? I want to smile at them and make eye-contact; I want to connect with this stranger I know nothing about,
I want to tell them their scarf fits perfectly, and the purple in it looks lovely with that shirt they are wearing. But, who in their right mind would do such a thing? They would probably think I’m weird. Maybe this stranger could cause me pain.
After all, remember that one time in middle school that I complimented that girl I didn’t know and she laughed at me? Wow that really hurt, I can still feel it now. A bitter ache in my chest, a slumping of my shoulders, those burning cheeks.
I’m better off just minding my own business.
I’m writing this in a coffee shop. What if that stranger behind me reads what I’m writing? What if they think I’m cheesy or preachy? And then I’m supposed to post this on the internet?
Oh wow, that’s intimidating.
I want to write.
I want to write, have it be read and be seen by any countless number of strangers with strange faces and strange voices and strange beliefs. But those strangers could judge me! From afar they could be thinking, “What a load of crap! Who does this guy think he is?” They would obviously forget I am actually a person behind these words, a person with ideals, struggles and confusion.
After all, remember the last time I wrote an article? The first comment was someone telling me how wrong I was.
Remember how quickly I spiraled into telling myself I would never make it in this field? We can forget about all those people that found it helpful; that one person’s comments were just too painful.
I want to validate that there is safety in this mindset, it is safe and comfortable to mind our own business, but the key is there is no possibility. There is no opportunity to be amazed by the smile that that stranger gives after being complimented; after all she spent a long time that morning picking out just the right scarf. There is no opportunity to be amazed by the comments the readers leave, how it helped or validated even one person’s experience, how maybe it made them feel just a little bit more normal.
To those reading, if it was not clear already, this is my vulnerability.
I struggle everyday with what I am asking. But through this struggle and vulnerability, I can recognize the struggle and hurt in others. I can use my experience to feel just how deeply others hurt, to recognize that just like me, all everyone wants is to be happy and free from suffering in whatever variety of forms it might take.
May we be well. May we be happy. May we be free from suffering. And may we wish these ideals for ourselves with sincerity and intent. Maybe we can befriend that negative-focused, hurting, desperately sad self that exists in us all. At the very least, let us try not to beat it up too much.
Like all of us, all it wants is to move toward happiness and away from suffering in the only way it knows how, by attempting to protect us and keep us safe in the way it has been doing for 2.5 million years. It really has done a great job. Maybe there is a little room for compassion for this hated part of us.
When we bring maitri (translated here as unconditional friendliness) to the parts of us we have been trying for years to be rid of, a surprising change can often occur.
There is a key word here: unconditional.
We bring this friendliness to all aspects of ourselves, not just the parts we like. We may be surprised to find that the more we bring acceptance and this unconditional friendliness to ourselves, the less the so-called negative aspects of ourselves begin to bother us. The more they gradually begin to drift away. There is an important distinction here.
The point of developing maitri is not to be rid of these negative parts of ourselves; the point of it is the unconditional friendliness itself, not the outcome. If we are developing it in order to be rid of, we are simply transforming our aggression into a subtler and more subversive style.
So, dear stranger, be amazed.
Be amazed with possibility; and judge, be angry, cry, yell, scream even, just please, do not condemn yourself for doing so. Because after all, those outlets are you just expressing your desire to be happy and move away from the suffering you are experiencing, Doesn’t that, like everyone and everything else, deserve a little compassion?
Oh, and by the way, I really love that scarf you’re wearing.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Kerrie Shebiel/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Courtesy of Wiki Commons