September 15, 2009

I Am Crabby, Resentful, Jealous, Self-pitying and Totally "I"-identified Today. Is That Okay with You?

I wrote something similar to the title of this note as my Facebook status one day. The question was sort of a joke (and sort of not!), but actually it is a very good question! Is it okay with you if someone who you see as—well, I don't know how you see me, but some of the nicer descriptions I have heard include wise, self-aware, loving, resilient, someone who "gets it"—loses it sometimes? (Or, in my case, during this past year, rather often?)

The responses from my Facebook friends ran the gamut. Some thanked me for my honesty. Others asked me (in a well-meaning way, or not) if I could absolutely know it was true. A few hoped I would feel better soon. And still others asked me if it was okay with me that I felt the way I did. That is, of course, an even better question.

I can't imagine how not to be other than how I am in the moment, and I'm sure there are those who would expect differently, and might become disenchanted to learn that, simply because I facilitate The Work, write about it, and use self-inquiry as a personal practice, my life is not a choral reading of A Thousand Names for Joy. (If I were to write the story of my life, it would be a book of humorous essays more aptly titled "A Thousand Names for OY!" Or perhaps, "Eat, Pray, Love, Kvetch.")

I have some really good tools for getting balanced and happier in my life when I'm off-kilter, and I love to share those tools. I'm told I'm a good teacher of those tools. I'm inspired by the teachings that inspired those tools as well, even if I don't fully understand or embody them all...even when I'm resistant to using these perfectly simple and effective solutions.

Shocker: since I'm human and I don't always allow myself to "know what I know," I'm sure I have at least as many "bad" days as the average person! I don't always love that I have as many "off" moments, or days, as I do, but I'd rather be authentic and transparent about it than not. And it really is okay with me that I have them, otherwise, instead of sharing this, I would hide behind a happy-happy-joy-joy persona that isn't me 24/7 by a longshot!

So if I am miserable, and I know there is a way out of being miserable, that's how I know it's okay with me that I'm miserable. Nothing wrong with that. In my experience, when I allow myself to keep company with misery, rather than trying to banish it, I end up feeling somewhat less miserable. This allows room in my head and heart to meet misery with understanding. Once understood, misery seems to get bored with me and, eventually, it goes away.

One time I went to a talk by Marianne Williamson. Anyone who has met Williamson in person knows that she is not a happy-happy-joy-joy style spiritual leader; in fact, she's rather intense. She gets angry. During this talk, Williamson said that she was far from a finished product; but that the tools she uses, teaches, and delivers from her own experience (from various religious traditions and A Course in Miracles) have helped; she is better than she used to be. I know this to be true of me too, so I loved that she stood there in front of hundreds of people who paid to see her, and met us where we could really hear her, not separate from or above the rest of us. From where I sat, this didn't diminish the value of what she had come to teach us at all.

Years ago at a New Year's retreat where I was serving on the staff (and not doing a stellar job of it, in my opinion), I bumped into my mentor, Byron Katie. She said something complimentary to me and immediately, and with great embarrassment, I burst into great, sobbing, snotty tears. As she held me and smoothed my hair, she asked me, "What's the belief?" "I don't want you or anyone else to see that I'm not 'on it,'" I confessed. "No," she said, "You don't want you to see that you're not 'on it,' and that's where you mess yourself up." (She used a stronger word than "mess.") Clearly she wasn't at all bothered by my being off my game. Why was I? It felt so good not to have to hide my off-ness any longer, I probably did a better job. I know I found it easier to ask others for help.

Here's another reason why I'm a big fan of this kind of self-disclosure: if it's not okay for me to have days like this, then it's not okay for others to have them, and that would be unrealistic, unkind, and dishonest because everybody in the world, without exception, whether they admit it or not, has them.

I want you to be what you are, and not feel you have to push yourself to be what you are not; not for your sake, not for mine, not for the sake of the world. If I can extend that courtesy to myself, I have half a chance of extending it to my friends, mentors, mentees, clients and colleagues.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.


Lana said...

really relate and enjoyed :) thank you.

Julie said...

That is so good. Exactly it! Thank you.

Lisa O. said...

I just wonder how it is that Katie never seems to have a bad day? She's so far out of my league and I aspire to be like her but...
Carol, I think your a great facilitator and it gives me hope that (someday)I can do "The Work" even in the midst of still believing my thoughts.
I have been studying the work for 3 years w/out ever actually doing it or a worksheet I am afraid! Thank you for your honesty.

Carol L. Skolnick said...

Hi Lisa,

We all do The Work while we're holding our beliefs; otherwise there's no reason to do it. That's it! There's no reason to do The Work unless you *are* believing your (stressful) thoughts - and those thoughts appear not to be working for you. People who are free from attachment to thought do not need The Work; it's for the rest of us.

I understand the fear; it's not so easy to give up that "old time religion." It's all we've ever known. The good news is, you don't have to! I always tell my clients, when they are reluctant to "go there," that we're just taking a look at some alternatives, and you can always take back your beliefs at the end of the session if you still want them. (Most don't.)

Re: Katie, are you sure she is out of your league? I don't think she would see it that way. As she says, one day she simply noticed that when she believed her stressful thoughts she suffered and when she didn't believe them, she didn't suffer. Hasn't that been your experience as well?

Please let me know if I can help you to write that first worksheet! It would be my pleasure


paul etcheverry said...

Simply admitting flat-out, "I feel like crap, I'm in a foul mood, I'm having a bad day" seems to work a lot better than plastering on a false happy face.

Easy: remembering to opt for two squares of 72% dark chocolate and a long walk outdoors (in your case, Carol, to the beach).

Difficult: conveying to those nearest and dearest that the need to be alone with one's angst, at least for a bit, is both necessary and does not constitute personal rejection. In some of these instances, for the sake of loved ones, it's definitely better to at least take a time out, or cancel social engagements and reschedule for another day (if possible).

Even more difficult: asking the tough questions, starting an honest evaluation process and then taking appropriate action to help oneself if bad days become alarmingly frequent.

Carol L. Skolnick said...

Yes, Paul. Katie says, "I don't call it The Work for nothing." It's simple but not always easy to do the "fearless moral inventory" as they say in the 12-step programs, or to act upon what we learn from taking stock and getting honest. But in my experience it has always been harder to sit in my suffering for prolonged periods. It's so hard to do that and eventually I have to surrender to what I think I don't want to do. And when I do that, scary as it is, and as much as I don't want to do it, I start to recover.

As you know I'm just coming out of a long stretch of on-again, off-again darkness. I see the resistance to letting in some light: it would mean I'm wrong, it would let others off the hook, it would mean no one would help me, it would mean I'm a doormat, it would mean I'm in denial, etc. etc. ... and bless it and damn it, I simply cannot absolutely know that my reasons for resistance are at all valid or that they are truly serving and protecting ne.

The most difficult part of this journey, for me, is about mustering up the courage to do what I know I must do and to let myself know what I know. Appearances to the contrary, I have been a devout coward all of my life. It's not easy to lose one's religion; and yet, it is so hard to keep it when the evidence that it's not working anymore is glaringly obvious.

paul etcheverry said...

We all have our times of both bravery and cowardice. All one can do is resolve not to take cowardly actions in the future and make an effort to live up to that resolution.

Facing the music is hard and involves taking daunting actions that we just don't want to do. In the end, the short-term hurt is a lot less painful than branding oneself as a "devout coward" and dragging that around like Jacob Marley's ball and chain.

And, correct me if I'm wrong but, aren't you the Carol I know who moved across the country after a lifetime in New York, without family or a coterie of warm, welcoming friends in California?

On the other hand. . . Daffy Duck, now that's a craven coward!