First things first. Happy New Year, my lovebursts! Recapitulation practice behind us, it is only natural to feel inclined towards a “resolution” or two. At least something reminiscent of a resolution, an intention of that nature. I’m calling for a word shift, though, I much prefer intention to resolution. We mustn’t harness ourselves with the title resolution when we are perfectly capable all on our own to resolve to accomplish a dream or shift a perspective. We don’t need the weight of such a title on our shoulders. So, may we intend rather than resolve, because the truth of the matter is we aren’t problems to “fix.” We aren’t flawed. We are perfect just as we are. Perfectly imperfect.
That being said, I have many intentions for the coming year. Intentions that can sit together amiably in groups under a few common umbrellas. After a week of 2014, I’ve realized something I’m going to focus on intently is not just listening to but trusting my own inner compass. Not just that, though. I’m also going to focus intently on releasing the intense need to care what other people think. So not just hearing and trusting my intuition, my own opinions and needs, but turning off the volume afterwards. Not letting the staticky yammering of other opinions permeate my sound space.
I’ve written about this concept before, but this intention is different. Also, I don’t mean to say I intend to detach from other people’s opinions in a, Screw what everyone else thinks, I’m going to live in my little shell like a grouchy hermit crab. I don’t mean it that way at all. There are important people in our lives, particularly those who love us unconditionally, whose opinions hold much merit and ought to be considered carefully. I’m not talking about these situations, although even in those situations may we consider seriously the opinions and yet still let our own compass be the ultimate guide. What I mean to imply is more, it only matters what I think because, in the end, I am all I have.
When we think of it that way doesn’t it only make sense that we should hold our own judgments, views and feelings highest, above all others? But we’re not wired that way. Intrinsically we are, but society begins to shape and mold us from the outside in starting at a very young age. So, as adults on the long path to enlightenment, we must play a bit of “catch up,” if you will. We must relearn what should be inherently natural; to trust our own instincts and to care deeply about only our own judgements.
I was talking to my Mumma on a hike about this very concept while visiting home on holiday (this essay has been evolving for the better part of a week). We came to the conclusion that it’s less about not caring what others think and more about not worrying what others think. There’s such a difference. It’s the difference between being a caring individual and being a people pleaser.
Chronic people pleasing is laced with worry. It really doesn’t stem from a place of genuine caring so much as from a place of anxiety. Worry that one won’t be liked, understood, accepted, found appealing, fill in the blank. I suffer from this, chronic people pleasing. I always have. In fact I’ve written ad nauseam about it. But still, it persists. Like a festering wound, a dripping faucet that just continues to drip no matter how hard I crank the handle backwards. I think at some point gravity just overrode the knob, water crashing out in droves; roaring, splashing, pooling as it will.
People pleasing is poisonous. A parasite of a condition. I learned this, as I sat soaking wet in the aftermath of the faucet explosion. I do find I’m growing increasingly better at self-treating this condition of people pleasing, though, with each passing year. Mostly in thanks to my yoga practice, which helps me better navigate and understand the sacred spaces that are my mind and spirit; also to my amazing Mumma, whose gentle reminders as I ramble on about life each day help anchor me to the present, and to the truth. She’s the person I speak with most, literally several times a day, and she’s taken to considerately prompting me. Sometimes it’s with casual comments mid-coversation. Other times it’s harsher, more blatant and in my face, which I also appreciate. I’ve come to recognize the PP tendencies on my own, too, and begin to draw them to the surface.
Ah, the surface. That place where we can no longer hide. The issue is that “drawing to the surface” implies a process. The time it takes from the moment we kick off from the bottom of the pool and the moment we break through the water’s surface. That little bubble of time, that’s the culprit for me.
I could easily float in that space of time, possibly indefinitely. Who knows. It’s so convenient, this action sentence, this verb “drawing.” As though the mere act of moving towards the identification of, ergo the eradication of, my people pleasing tendencies . Subconsciously letting the initiation of this mental shift suffice, letting it serve as “enough,” rather than completing the process. Rather than saying I’ve drawn this to the surface, past tense, one might hang in the limbo of promising to complete the process. Just like one might buy storage containers with the honest intention of packing up clothes that no longer fit and getting rid of them…just buying the containers doesn’t mean the task will be accomplished. So many excuses and seemingly sensible justifications can arise in limbo. In the action sentence ending in “-ing.” Am I speaking to you?
It may seem like I’m nitpicking at a complicated concept here, and perhaps I am, but trust me. You’re talking to a full-fledged, lifelong people pleaser. Something I know for sure is people pleasers find ways, sneaky little ways. We find loopholes. See, the tricky situation gets even trickier still. People pleasers don’t just need to pleas others, we need to please ourselves too. Granted, we fall at the bottom of the food chain in terms of who to please (there’s hardly time for ourselves when there are bosses, friends, spouses, partners, parents – heck, even strangers – who have demands and opinions!), yes. But in the very nature of people pleasing is our inherent capacity to not unlearn these bad habits…to not finish drawing these tendencies of ours to the surface. See what I’m saying?
We please ourselves by finding cracks in our good intentions so we can stay weighted down, stay as people pleasers, claiming we’re going to move away from this behavior and yet remaining fully infected with the condition.
So, how do we shift out of limbo? How do we not just complete the process, letting our tendencies come full fledged to rest upon the surface of our consciousness, but also take a magnifying glass to these tendencies? How do we find the courage and capacity to sit down and inspect these tendencies without judgement or fear?
I don’t know about you, but I’m starting with a word shift. A word shift that moves towards a mental shift. A redefining, if you will. I’m going to start seeing “people pleasing” as toxic. I may have always said it was toxic, but a part of me that I’ve smushed deep down (a part that clung on hard, digging her nails into my thread of awareness as though it were a thick, ropy cord she were trying to ascend) has still managed to view the behavior as honorable. Gross, right? So my word shift serves the purpose of understanding that people pleasing is toxic. It is not honorable. Being a kind, compassionate and caring person is honorable. Leaving no space for our one’s own opinion, thoughts and demands, crowding out this precious information one ought to hear from oneself with the (often completely inconsequential) opinions and demands of others, is toxic. Not allowed. Banned.
Caring and kindness over worry and fear. It’s a simple choice. In fact, is there even a choice at all?
So, my fellow PPs and my non-PPs, fret not. No matter how many years of PP-ing one might have under one’s belt, it’s never to late to rise fully to the surface. Awareness is the first step in changing anything, as well as in understanding anything. And, if you recall, my whole intention with avoiding “resolutions” was to avoid feeling the need that I have to change at all. That I’m imperfect or flawed in some way. In drawing my PP tendencies to the surface, I am not just allowing myself to scrutinize them up close and find understanding in their presence, but I’m inviting this shift to be one of permanence.
All of life is a process, but there’s a difference between enjoying the process and getting stuck in it. Continuing the movement, facilitating the fluidity of our growth, that’s what life is about. That’s what awareness provides for us. So may we not hinder it, this year or any year. May we invite growth and kindness into our hearts, our minds, our spirits. May it pervade the space once dominated by the need to please. In doing so we may even crowd out worry and fear altogether, leaving them no choice but to pack up and hit the trail, without so much as even the temporary use of our inner compass.