How good are you at just letting go of things? I’m not talking about physical things, where you ate on the continuum between hoarding and extreme minimalism. I mean mental stuff, from past hurts and disappointments to things going on right now. How are you doing with that?
Now, are you getting better or worse at letting go? In the current situation, where pandemics, wars, political differences, poverty, and growing inequalities surround us all, I notice people seem to be clinging to their grudges and gripes as if they are a lifeline.
I think we feel powerless much of the time and need somewhere to direct our frustration that we can’t fix the big things. So, we go after smaller things, like our friends and families. Or we repeatedly spread inflammatory content on social media or in person, just to feel like we’ve done something. Just so much acrimony.
Since I’ve become more aware of this, I’ve been repeating my mantras more and more. I’ve also made more time for meditation and hanging out with plants and animals. An image that helps me a lot is one where I’m a mountain and the wind of other people’s burdens just flows over and around me, but doesn’t move me or get inside.
I was never good at letting other people’s energies wash over me. I’d always pick up on it and mirror their state. Now I reflect it back, gently. This empath is finally getting the hang of protecting myself, and setting boundaries , but without abandoning others. How long can I do this? I don’t know! It’s hard!
But it feels good to see the struggles around me and reflect back loving kindness, not take it all in and add to my own struggles. It’s progress. And there will be twists and turns along the path.
You know, I talk a lot about assuming good intentions and treating others as you’d like to be treated (or as they let you know THEY would like to be treated). What’s GREAT is when I see this in action. Today I share a story from someone I’ve always admired. We can learn from her.
Susan is someone I went to grad school with back in good old Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. She actually got a job and used her linguistics Ph.D., which I admire greatly. She now lives somewhere else out in the great Midwest in the United States. I’m obscuring some details, since they’re irrelevant.
Well, as a lover of words, reading, and books, Susan started a Little Free Library outside her home. These are such great community builders, and I’ve always admired my friends, like Cindy in Taylor, who maintain them. Anita and I used to always walk by one when we lived in the casita, and we’d see what new books had turned up. The idea is you can take a book or two, and then leave a book you’re finished with for someone else to enjoy. They’re always decorated to look cute, and many places make zoning exceptions for them.
Well, over at Susan’s library, something went amiss. Four times in a week, someone had come by and totally cleaned out all the books. After replacing them three times, Susan was considering taking it down.
You can just imagine what went through her head or the heads of her friends. How rude of someone to do that! What has this world come to? No wonder we can’t have nice things! It just takes one creepy person to ruin a nice thing for everyone else! And such. These are probably the things that ran through MY head.
Susan’s a good person, though, and she thought hard about what to do about the thefts. Rather than write an angry note or take the library down, she thought about what might cause someone to be so desperate as to steal free books. And, bless her, she did a much kinder thing:
Yes, at the suggestion of an old friend of hers (also, obviously a good person), Susan filled her library with non-perishable food items. If the book thief was hungry, she was happy to help. Not only that, but she wrote a note, which I will quote below, leaving out specifics:
Are you the person who has been taking all the books from this Little Free Library? Have you been selling the books because you need money? Are you hungry or hurting?
We’d really like it if you would leave the books for readers to read and exchange, but if you are hurting, perhaps we can help. Please take any or all of these groceries if you need them.
But a Little Free Library is not a food pantry—there are, however, food pantries in town you could turn to:
[Lists nearby pantries]
If it’s not just hunger, but other kinds of hurt, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
Wishing you the best,
The [location] Free Library Steward.”
Now, THAT is what I call assuming good intent and treating others like you’d wish to be treated. Rather than taking her toys in a huff, she reached out with empathy to someone who must be hurting or dealing with some pretty big issues. Rather than assuming it was just some mean library hater, she assumed her visitor could use a friendly word or a helping hand.
I’m taking this lesson to heart, and I hope you do, too. We can all try to be a little more like my role model, Susan. I’m very grateful to her for sharing this story.
No, I’m not particularly full of woe, but for the past few days I’ve been metaphorically girding my loins, knowing that a tale of woe is coming. Wow, I’ve listened a lot the past few days. The thing is, every single person venting, lamenting, kvetching, or sniffling is totally justified. Every so often it gets this way, when there seems to be a dark cloud over my social circle.
I’m privileged to listen to people and not try to solve problems. We all need someone to listen to us from time to time. I know my turn will come! The problem today is that I’ve heard so much woe that I’m not able to come up with ideas for making the things better that it’s my JOB to make better. I’m all jumbled up. I guess I better go breathe and let some of it out by tomorrow!
As I went for a walk around the Austin house neighborhood to clear my mind (and take pictures), I started wondering if all this empathetic listening is one of those stereotypical woman things, you know, women are nurturing and all that. Do people assume I’ll listen because I’m a woman or because I just come across as gender-neutral empathetic? (Rhetorical question)
Stick with me here. That musing led to a surprising thought. I just don’t spend a lot of thought on my status as a woman. In my mind I’m Suna, and being female is not one of my more important parts of my identity. I’m not on the alert for sexist comments or put-downs for being a woman. I don’t feel discriminated against at work or at home. What???
Oh of course I know there’s sexism out there and stubborn areas of inequality that need to be addressed. You know, just like we’re not in a post-racist society, either. But I’m not feeling constricted by being labeled female anymore. I am quite confused by my lack of concern about this inequality, especially given that I get all righteously indignant about discrimination against other kinds of people.
I wonder if my privilege from my whiteness and being perceived as cisgender compensate for being female, to where most people treat me as equals. Or…I just assume people think I’m their equal and act accordingly? That may well be it. I feel equal so I don’t let myself be treated any other way.
Hmmm. I don’t know what to think about this. Life is complicated. I feel way too lucky to feel so free and equal when so many people I know feel oppressed, put down, or truly challenged just because of who their parents were, where they came from, or who they love.
What can I do? I know that! I’ll keep advocating for the creation of a world where our diversity is celebrated and our differences used to our advantage. I’ll keep learning about ways to realize my prejudices and biases and be an ally for those not as privileged as me.
My question to you women out there is whether you feel like this or am I having atypical experiences? Where are you feeling discriminated against or thwarted in your life because of your sex? What’s your source of woe, or do you experience freedom and joy?
Wow. I’m not saying I’m a saint who never has bad thoughts about others, but when presented an actual opportunity to experience some good old schadenfreude, roll around in it, wallow for a while, and maybe even gloat, I find I can’t dredge it up.
Let me share what happened, as vaguely as I can. Last year, my favorite boss ever, was “let go” as they always said in La Leche League while firing anyone with institutional knowledge or history in the organization who didn’t drink some very bitter Kool-Aid.
Even though we were prepared, those of us who worked for this boss were sad, really sad, because we’d done a lot of good work together and were a great team. Of course, we had nothing to do with whatever the C suite’s issues were, and that wasn’t our call. But, it hurt some of us a lot, including the old boss.
Fast forward to today, and the person responsible for that “letting go” (and for me losing the two coworkers I tried to hire last year) was let go today. I had dreamed of the day when that darned so-and-so got their comeuppance. I was ready to take immense pleasure in the pain of that other person, true schadenfreude. But, no. I felt sad, instead. I know how hard it is to see that unemployment train coming and have it roll over you. All I could feel was empathy toward my former nemesis.
Why? Well, I’d recently gotten to know that executive as a person, and saw them as more than just the instigator of a really bad year. I found out things we had in common, and our mutual humanity won out over my biases. Shoot, the stuff in those unconscious bias books is actually true; you really can’t hate someone you know as a well rounded person.
How about that? I’m not as vindictive as I thought I could be, when it comes down to it. And that’s a good lesson to learn. I’m sure I’ll be fine as the changes keep coming where I work. It’s normal, corporate America stuff, after all. But I can still have empathy with former colleagues as I keep trying to keep up with the changes.
Actually, I feel like I had an omen or portent of the future this afternoon. As I was walking in the courtyard trying to get my bearings (me and big changes are just not friends), I found myself surrounded by common whitetail dragonflies, all female. They’re a symbol of change, metamorphosis, and good things to me. I felt comforted.
Oh no, not another post where someone, specifically Suna, whines about how horrible the past year’s been on those poor pitiful empaths. Not to worry, I, Suna, am also tired of that, especially when I hear it coming from the mouths of some of the least empathic human beings I know. But, who am I to argue about how others self identify? So, go right ahead and say you’re one. Maybe really most of us ARE empaths after all.
So, I’m not whining. I’m just noticing, like one of those intrusive thoughts that come up in meditation that you notice and then let float away while you enjoy the breath moving in and out, if you can (not all folks can!). I notice that I am not alone in experiencing a greater-than-usual amount of death and loss during the past week or two. I notice that, when you combine that with a LOT of change in areas we can’t control (work, politics, family), stress, anxiety, and worry starts running high. I notice imbalance.
I have not spoken to or texted a single person today who is not at just about their limit of 2021-generated agita. I am one of those people. This makes for an uncomfortable circuit of communication in which people share their issue, I share my issue, they share another issue, I share an issue, and in the end, we realize rather than helping each other, we’ve just ramped each other up into sniveling balls of angst. There has been sniveling and sniffling in my life today, none of it unjustified. I feel their pain, and then, because I’m not exactly at my peak of highest self, send pain back, rather than being a good, supportive listener.
I’d like to stop that, now.
One choice I have is to remain comfortably numb. If I stop typing, researching, creating, etc., I just stare forward, like I was this morning, with a thick buzzing in my brain, like I’m still asleep. This doesn’t sound like the picture of good mental health, to me.
Another thing I tried was to go learn something. That always helps me. So, today, because I was asked to, I did a whole bunch of research on bullet journals and the full focus journals that Lee uses. The women’s group at work is interested in journaling methods for improving their work efficiency. And I made a PowerPoint NOT with the corporate template. That was a treat that perked me up for at least twenty minutes.
My best choice I can come up with right now is to talk to someone who doesn’t feel like I do, so I can vent and not have to receive jittery vibes back. Oh good, I’m home, and Anita’s doing fine. I’ll try that.
So, if you’re having one of those days where empaths are trying to be empathetic to empaths, go find someone who will just listen and say, “Tut tut, there there, that’s a LOT on your plate, my friend.” And then go read, knit, color in your coloring book, or find another creative outlet. Feel free to ignore the news unless it’s something like transgender rights to serve in the military or getting rid of private prisons (those pleased me yesterday).
I hope to soon notice more of a balance between positive and negative life events, if this works.
If it doesn’t work, what ideas do you have for dragging on through more of the unending negativity and working back toward a more balanced life?