You know, (and sorry to disappoint if you were hoping otherwise) I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even wish that I did – where would be the fun in life?
I also believe that no-one else has all the answers – if they think they have then I’m pretty certain they’re missing some big fundamentals!
However, I do know I’ve come a long way; that I’m happier, more resilient and resourceful and able to give more to others too than I once was. I’ve had ‘aha’s’ and insights that have helped along the way, and I’ve learned a great deal from the journeys of others too. But there’s still lots I’m working out, and plenty of times when I’m not as wise, balanced, compassionate, or ‘good’ as I’d like to be.
Take this weekend – I was driving back home to York from Manchester after a couple of days visiting Mum in the hospice. It was late, I was weary and emotional, I was fed up of the sameness of the M62 and M1 and starting to feel really sorry for myself.
All the things that are on hold, or I’m missing during this time. With all my heart I wanted the stability and certainty of my ‘usual’ routine which I’d started to feel I’d got balanced and sorted.
Yet again, I’d missed both Yoga and Tai chi, and the ‘body blast’ class I do with my eldest daughter (so she’d missed it too – guilt), so my I’m not getting the exercise and ‘rebalancing’ I value.
Yet again I was getting behind with my blog posts, client calls held to a bare minimum, business projects on hold, self employment income down to a bare minimum. My friends are unseen and neglected. Invitations turned down, bedtime stories not read by me – again. I couldn’t help my middle daughter pack for her guide trip to London, or take my little one to Martial arts.
Yet again I was picking up rubbish food on the go, drinking too much tea and coffee, spending too much money on fuel and take-out food.
Yet again I was juggling diaries, begging favours to make sure the kids got lifts here, got picked up there so their life can at least have some continuity. Not being able to spend the time with Paddy – especially as he settles into a new job. I suddenly noticed I was feeling really anxious and worried.
Am I making all the right choices? Am I doing right by all the people in my life? Am I being the kind of person I ‘claim’ to be? This is all so hard – am I doing it right? Am I ‘good’ enough?
And then, driving along the M62 in the dark, alone with my thoughts, I felt a real flood of anger. Right out of the blue, I felt cold rage and resentment towards two particular people.
Now, it’s actually not important who these people are; they’re not significant players in my life – more acquaintances really. They are quite different to each other in many ways and don’t particularly know each other; over the years I’ve interacted with them (separately) largely through things associated with the kids – friendship may have been possible or even desired, but has never quite happened, especially as I came to realise how I found they drained me rather than boosted me.
So contact with them has settled into social niceness or necessity. However in this last week they have both done (or not done) things that now triggered this sudden overflow of anger in me.
Normally, I’m quite good at empathy, getting into someone else’s shoes, feeling compassion and understanding. But in the car that night none of that worked for me.
Oh no, I just wanted to judge them, sneer at them, give them a ‘piece of my mind’ and found myself imagining all kinds of smart, but cruel comebacks to ‘make’ them see the error of their ways. I was comparing myself to them and thinking: I have it SO much worse right now, they’ve NO idea, so how DARE they feel so sorry for themselves, and behave in the way they did.
Now part of me was feeling shocked and disappointed at the vehemence of my feelings. Here’s me, trying to claim to be a ‘good’ person, yet look at the cruel, vengeful intolerance rampaging through my mind.
But another, wiser part knew that this was just a symptom. It wasn’t about these people at all, it was all about me – I was simply projecting onto them, venting out rather than looking in.
That wiser part also had enough self-compassion to know that I needed a good night’s sleep before I could make sense of it, so not to even try until I’d done just that. I wasn’t going to see either of them, or actually do anything that would cause harm so I had ‘permission’ just to stay feeling as I was and know I’d resolve it when I had the resources to do so.
So here I am now, after a good night’s sleep, making sense of it. My anger to these people was in response to my perception of them playing the ‘victim’, not taking responsibility for themselves, trying to run away from their problems and leave other people to pick up the pieces.
And what was I feeling in the car that night? Just the same – a victim. Out of control, being done to. Wishing that someone would sweep in, take this hard path away from me and make everything ok again – to comfort and look after me, so I don’t have to do this any more. That’s what my anger is really about.
It may, or may not be true that my lot is so much worse than theirs, but I certainly know that there are plenty of people facing FAR, far worse than I – comparisons are futile (apart from giving a little perspective and humility sometimes).
It doesn’t matter how they are, it’s how I choose to be that counts. I’m not a victim. Yes, there’s much in the situation I can’t control, but my response is my choice. These choices may bring some pain, or disappointment, but less so than the alternatives. No-one can make these choices for me, and nor would I want them to.
This hard time will pass, and I will be the stronger for it. And even in the midst of this, I am not unhappy.
That realisation now unlocks the door to my compassion for these two acquaintances of mine, for I know they are deeply, deeply unhappy people. Their path has not yet led them to the place where they understand that facing into our fears, our pain and stepping up to take ownership for our own choices is part of what brings happiness. They each, in their different ways, believe that only perfection can bring happiness, and so miss the beauty and joy in the imperfect present.
So now, I’m clear my lot is not worse than theirs, quite the contrary, and my anger can dissipate. Ahhh, that’s better!
I may not have all the ‘answers’, I may not always ‘get it right’- but I’m finding my way!