IT’S FUNNY HOW you can’t understand something about yourself until you’re good and ready, and when you do, it feels like a kick in the head. It’s like something that’s been there all along living and existing inside your guts – like a tattoo across your forehead – yet you never recognized it until the day you decided to see it.
I’ve been a bundle of feelings since day one. I would have never called myself someone who lacked in confidence, but rather someone who lacked in self-esteem (I only recently learned there is a difference). My leading weakness as a person has long been my addiction to “attaboys”; my heavy reliance on gaining self-approval through external forces as opposed to from within. This need over time has caused me to question myself often, even when I blatantly know if I’m doing well, feeling well, being well or not.
I’ve been a pusher since I was a child; wanting always for others to see the light. Steering them toward a better path, wanting to help them and appreciate my relentless efforts to do so. I strove to feed happiness to all the boys I thought I might be able to rescue and the friends I insisted would be better off if they did what I said.
I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. I’ll never forget stumbling upon a magazine article some ten years back about the inability to change people; that people have to be ready to embrace change by their own desire and force while we must only serve as the aid to support their transformation.
When a person says “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”, most people immediately assume they are referencing a person who is making mistakes in their life. That they need to turn things around but we just can’t make them do it. At least, that’s always been how I’ve taken the saying.
I’ve been selfish since I was a little girl. When I want something bad enough, I tend to revert back into my six year old self who could stomp her feet and slam doors to eventually get her way. I’ve also been selfless since I was a little girl, giving to others – especially to boyfriends – more of myself than they gave back. I’ve convinced myself and often others that I know what’s best for them more than they know for themselves.
While listening to an Alan Watts lecture on “How to Make Yourself A Better Person”, he said something that stopped me in my tracks – pulled me out of a fog – and suddenly I saw myself with a new clarity; like a layer of the onion was pulled back and tossed away:
‘Kindly let me help you or you’ll drown,’ said the Monkey putting the Fish safely up a tree. You see, sometimes doing good to others, even doing good to oneself, can be amazingly destructive; because it’s full of conceit. How do you know what’s good for other people? How do you know what’s good for you? If you say you want to improve, then you ought to know what’s good for you. And if you did, you’d be improved so you don’t.
I re-listened to that dialogue over and over again, scrawling it down on paper. How remarkably true, yet simultaneously bone chilling to realize that in my ignorance of wanting to improve myself, I’ve pushed the improving onto others. I’ve decided to focus entirely on them – “selflessly” investing in their well-being – and abandoning my own issues. Forgetting to take a look inside first. To think about number one and maybe work on her instead.
It was then that I realized how much damage I’d done in all those journeys focused on figuring people out and fixing them. Maybe there was nothing to fix; maybe I was not meant to be their guardian angel. Maybe my selfless acts of kindness and push for them to see the light was really only my view of the light. Maybe they were not bad people or making the wrong choices; they just weren’t making the choices I wanted them to. And that was incredibly selfish of me on too many levels to ever count.
I’ve felt different since that day. In no way am I completely innocent of it just yet, but I’ve been far more conscious in suspending judgment and watching it all go on. And as a result, people have been more open to me, I think. And most importantly, letting go of the desire to control all the external forces around me that could never possibly be controlled has left me in a place of peace. I can sigh with relief and sink back in my chair. I can kick my shoes off and remember I am not God. I only need to be concerned with myself. I even apologized to a couple of people that I felt deserved to hear it. I’ve got a few more to go, too. And guess what?
I’ve been sleeping better ever since.