Recently, I found myself asking one of my closest friends who I know is capable of introspection how to “not think.”
My girlfriend said to me, “I don’t know if the goal is to not think, I believe thinking is your gift.”
I met this friend many moons ago; we partied together, we laughed, and then we suddenly parted ways. This is a theme I see a lot in my life. I used to think it was because I was a fair-weather friend, but I know now that’s actually not true.
In life, some people come, leave and come back, or we never run into each other again, and some people stay the entire time. That is the journey. That is why detachment is so important; often, it has nothing to do with you or them, you’re just at different places on the journey as a whole.
Sometimes, it is time to go—forever, or just for now.
I remember always kind of idealizing this girl. When we went our own ways, she started along on a spiritual journey while I stayed partying. I remember reading some of the things she posted and thinking to myself, “This chick is delusional; who does she think she is? What, did she find God or something? Is she a saint now, Buddha?”
Ironically, quite a few years later, she is one of my biggest teachers. She is a gift to me, but for a long time, I just judged her. I didn’t understand much about where she was on her journey because I wasn’t personally there yet on my own. I was spiralling out, and she was going inward.
My judgments for her capability to reach depths within herself I hadn’t met yet drove me as far away from her as possible. I found myself thinking things like, “Wow, I hope she is okay. I wonder if she really is doing well. I worry about her. Does she ever find time to play? How did she get so serious? Does she think she is okay? Is she okay? She really needs to figure it out.”
Now I see that my judgments of her—because all judgments are—was something I was judging in myself. It was because I wasn’t capable or aware enough to look at my own personal bullsh*t.
The only person who wasn’t really okay was me. I was drinking way too much, doing drugs, trying to be a mom, living with and trying to love someone who I just didn’t love. The easiest thing to do when you are struggling and spiralling out is to find someone else to judge—and we usually pick someone who has what we want.
A few years later, I found God, and yes, the God we all hate or have a negative connotation with. I started looking at my own sh*t and pain.
I was able to get sober. I was able to leave that relationship. I attached myself to other relationships but was able to get out of those too. I was able to become the mother I wanted to be. I was able to keep a career. I was gifted my friendship with this girl back. I was able to find the strength to do the work and keep doing the work. The inner work never ends unless you are Buddha; I am gratefully not that special.
I write about where I have been because it’s my journey, but I still judge myself and feel judged by others. The reason I feel this way is because I remember being “Shelley judging the friend who was doing the work”…so I know the judgments are real. I also know that, no matter how bad I want to believe they are, other people’s perceptions of me are not personal or even about me.
I don’t profess to be Buddha, because I don’t think he speaks like a trucker, talks about dirty sex, makes crass jokes, or even f*cks it up sometimes. Buddha doesn’t tell small lies to please others or compromise himself to fit in or wish to be anyone other than who he is—I do though. Because I am on a spiritual journey makes me no more special than you. I look at my own thoughts and emotions, then obsess and ruminate over the right choice for entirely way too long.
I think that it would clearly be easier to be anyone but me. I don’t have anything figured out—I just keep showing up and diving deeper. I do have the ability to express my feelings by putting them into words and, by the Grace of God, the bravery to leave it with all of you as an offering: to judge me, pray for me, accept me, or go inward for yourself, which is always your choice. Guidance that comes in the form of vulnerability and connection is always an offering.
When I write and people text me or call me to say, “Jesus, are you okay?” or “Can I help? I know you struggle a lot” or “Chin up, hang in there”—I am aware that those are judgments too. Quite frankly, they make me question my own sanity because I know I am okay, I am writing about it. Just because I show you that it is okay to not know what the f*ck to do next, doesn’t mean I am not okay. Doesn’t that actually make me deeply okay? I am owning that I don’t know what to do, which allows you to own it within yourself too because I have taken the shame away. Further, owning it allows me to move forward knowing what to do by not at all knowing, and instead, trusting that I will.
I know what it feels like to have a secret—a miserable pain or ache within—because I feel it, or at some point, have felt it too. I know the stripping grief of heartbreak; I have lived it. I know loss, failed expectations, stagnant misery, death, and recovery. I also know what it’s like to be a lost, shadow of a person.
Vulnerability doesn’t mean I am Buddha, or even someone who thinks that I am Buddha, it makes me human. My ability to share for me, and also you, is literally to take the shame from you and put it all onto me because I have the space within to hold it.
I want you to know that it is okay to not be okay and to look at it—look at the thing that is causing you pain. The ache or void that makes you want to use, have sex, filter your photos, judge, or purchase anything, to not feel the pain or the void.
My reminder is there is no need to look at what is causing me pain; I am okay, I am not delusional or losing it. I just may have triggered some pain in you.
So let me ask you, are you okay?
The only way out is through.
So, keep going.