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Scrolling through my timeline last week, trying to avoid the adult things I needed to do, I stumbled upon a story by Ram Dass that I’ve read many times before.
I promptly shared the story to my Facebook page and to a few private chats…and as I went on scrolling and numbing and escaping from my life that night, the Facebook notifications started to light up and comments poured in about how wonderful and perfect and necessary that story is right now.
Then, it began to haunt me over the past week, kind of in the way that Pema Chödrön says, “Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” Or maybe it’s the old adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
As I marinated in the message of that story throughout the week, it became clear that the student (me!) is ready to learn the message. So, I’m welcoming the teacher and ready to accept the lesson and do the necessary homework to stop f*cking my brain with ridiculous thoughts and start living my life.
Okay, enough faffing about, let’s get to those 192 words:
“Years ago I went to a silent meditation course, and I had a roommate. It was a 10 day course and we couldn’t speak to each other. We shared a room, and I was a little sloppy and his corners were all neat on his bed and his clothes were all lined up, and that’s not my particular preoccupation.
So I started to feel that he was thinking I was a real slob and he really didn’t like me, and I was probably snoring and disturbing him, and I got to feel he really hated me. Within the silence, you can play with such wonderful paranoia, you know, and I just decided—I mean, by the end of it, I hated him for hating me, you know.
We came out of the retreat, and the first thing he said to me—the first thing was, ‘I can’t tell you what an honor it’s been sharing this room with Ram Dass,’ and I just thought, ‘Oh. Shit.’ I wasted those ten days, hours just being absolutely convinced he hated me, filling my consciousness with it when I could have been getting enlightened you know?” ~ Ram Dass
Yeah. We know.
When the mind starts to play those tricks and ruminate on thoughts that are not serving you in any possible capacity, it’s time to stop. But how? Especially if this is also your hardwired go-to setting for dealing with silence, expectations, approval, and attention (also confused with love)—from others and from yourself.
I’ve battled with the “I’m not good enough, lovable enough, worthy enough” mindf*ck for my entire life. The “they must not like me” conclusion usually stems from me not liking me and rarely has anything to do with them.
The time and energy I’ve completely wasted on proving to others that I am good enough, lovable enough, and worthy enough—while not believing it deep down—is just ridiculous. And the follow up, kick-me-when-I’m-down thought process I add for decoration is, when they do finally believe that I am good enough, lovable enough, worthy enough, I question their motives for believing that. It’s my default setting—but that setting can be changed.
Over the past few years, I’ve started to be hyper-aware when I’m thinking in ways that no longer serve me (they never did, truth be told).
And I’ve found little ways of changing my thoughts. These are the tips that work for me:
Give your negative inner voice a name:
Call her or him by a name not associated with someone who loved you in the wrong way, or not at all. I call mine Bertha. You can’t even say it without a smirk. “STFU Bertha” is often heard around my house on the days when she’s particularly evil to me. “I hear ya Bertha, but I’m not taking your crap today,” on the days when she just needs to be told to stay in her place. She doesn’t know me or what’s best for me, she doesn’t say these things out of love. If she was a real person, I would have unplugged from her years ago…why should I let her give me advice then?
Change the thought. Just change it. Do it now:
I walk with my dog several times a day. This is the time when I should be “here now” and seeing the details of the life around me, giving my dog my attention, breathing, and being outside and away from my online life, dishes, laundry, and the next series to binge-watch. Instead, this is when Bertha decides it’s a great time to remind me about the time in 1992 when I said the wrong thing to someone; she can’t remember their name or what was said, but it was wrong and I should now worry about it, feel guilty, and decide what I should have said differently.
Now when this waste-of-time thought appears, I look ahead on the path and find a landmark, a tree, a bend in the trail, and then say out loud (so both Bertha and I hear it loud and clear), “from here until that tree, I will think of something else.” It works each time, within a few steps I’m either remembering something that made me truly feel blessed, looking at the happy daisies that are growing in the fields, or smelling the intoxicating orange blossoms that have started to appear this week. The important thing is, I’m not back in 1992, or last week, or this morning. I’m right here, living this moment, right now.
Activate both sides of your brain:
I once took a course about developing the right side of the brain. It was for creative people and I loved experimenting afterward on ways to engage both sides at the same time or single them out. It’s a bit woo-woo if you haven’t tried it but if my mind is really racing and I need to escape, I put on some music that I know the lyrics to word-for-word, line up a playlist of those old favorites, and sit down with a word-search puzzle, sudoku, or an actual puzzle. Then, start singing out loud while completing the puzzles.
Your mind will take over (in a good way)—your creative side will handle the lyrics and singing, and your spatial/problem solving/nerdy side will be able to solve the puzzles lightning-fast. Word-search puzzles are my favorite and the words seem to jump off the page the more I’m singing. It’s a geeky way to pass a few hours, but it’s also an active way to relax, not passive like watching TV or scrolling online. And it shuts up Bertha.
While we’re on the topic of Ram Dass and not feeling “enough” for others or yourself (or just myself, you might be further ahead on this path), here’s one of my other favorite quotes of his that I have hanging on my wall as a gentle reminder to love myself—even the bits that needed more love to grow properly.
“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.
The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.” ~ Ram Dass