The Thief of Joy

If you didn’t already know the great Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote (and, perhaps you don’t), how would you begin this sentence?

“_________ : The Thief of Joy.”

If you could pop any word in there, which would you choose?

I personally quite like Comparison: The Thief of Joy. It just…is. Am I right? It just holds, with all its weight, the perfect place in that sentence. The perfectly villainous role of that which steals, siphons, and thieves one’s joy.

Truly, though, I find myself repeating this quote in mantra-like form to myself on a regular basis. As of late, it’s been not only a daily occurrence, but more likely a thrice-daily occurrence. Why, you ask? I can’t really answer that. But I suppose it’s because I’m feeling very #thisis27 (yes, I just used a hashtag in an informal essay); I’m finding myself observing my life, surroundings, thoughts, decisions, career, even my physical form in a different light than ever before. In a mid-to-late-twenties light. It’s glaringly bright…

I’m Queen of comparison. Myself to others, this Thursday to last Thursday, today to yesterday, right now to 45 minutes ago…and I’ll tell you what: it’s EXHAUSTING. Not only that, it’s absolutely WASTEFUL.

I mean, really. How much more wasteful could one be with one’s thoughts? Well, actually, I suppose I would place regret and jealousy slightly higher on the scale of wasteful thinking…but comparison comes in a close third. Seriously, what are we trying to accomplish when we compare? We may be comparing ourselves to who we once were, 10 years ago, even earlier in the week, who we are to who we thought we’d be (by now). Sometimes we’re comparing ourselves to others – renowned masters of our art, airbrushed figures on glossy magazine covers, people whose lives and stories we could never possibly know, careers and salaries and structures of perceived success so completely inanimate and irrelevant to us that it’s shatteringly sad how potent an effect it can have on our (very real, very independently our own) world…

Whether we’re comparing our current selves to our old selves, our(anytime)sevles to others, or our lives and the sacred snippets held within them to anything else out in the world: is no more realistic, no more justified, and no less harmful.

If you want to talk about a thief in the night…talk about comparison. And yes, there are countless other bands of thieves stalking our psyche, pilfering the essence of our joy from right under our noses…but comparison is a particularly foul, repugnant criminal. Mostly because we are fooled into letting this offender into our lives. It wouldn’t even be in our thoughts, meddling with our worlds, if we didn’t allow it in. Comparison has gained access to our precious existence one way: through us.

I’m reminded now of another famous quote, by the great Mahatma Gandhi,

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

Wise words. But, in reality, it’s our own dirty feet doing the walking. Others cannot gain entry to our internal monologue. We let them in.

We cannot have control over anything but our own thoughts, our own reaction to the world around us. Even our most subtle, subconscious thinking can be edited, revised, trained into submission. Gentle, loving submission, that is. The kind of submission that trains the mind to say, yes I may have these harmful thoughts from time to time, thoughts in which I compare myself or my life to something or someone else, knowing full well it does me no good – that it only brings about misery and frustration – and I will vow to notice these moments and silence them with kindness. They may sneak up on me, but I will commit to redirecting them towards a more profoundly beneficial space. Instead of falling, I will rise.

And we will repeat that, or whatever our own unique soliloquy sounds like, to ourselves again, and again, and again, (and then some more), until it because so natural we could do it in our sleep. Then, perhaps, the harshness of comparison will not even poison the still, and sometimes thrashing, waters of our dreams.

As with most anything, comparison has two sides. The light and the dark. And they are all one. Part of one big animal. One beautiful and fierce and loving and vicious animal. Comparison can make us feel good, feel better, more accomplished, grown. But it is a double-edged sword, and when we become familiar and comfortable letting in the golden-lit practice of comparison (the one that sheds warm light on our current state and leaves us coming out on top), we also allow its shadow to come with it. Inevitably. They are attached. Sewn together at the seams. They are one. And, before we know it, we fall screamingly and silently victim to the dark side of comparison, too.

There is no separation.

So the only way to proceed, with as little pain as possible, is to come up with a mantra, a soliloquy, a sweet story of reality that can help ease the burden that can be this human mentality. To wipe our shoes clean before entering our own thoughts. To sweep up, dutifully, after the sacred ground has been soiled. Because it will be. We make mistakes. We act (and think) impulsively. We make messes. We get ambushed by foul thoughts and dirty comparison and fall down rabbit holes of despair and destruction and self-loathing. But our grace is in our rising. In our ability to climb back out. To mop away the footprints. To polish the floors. To recognize that the clean wouldn’t be clean without the dirty, and “now” wouldn’t be “now” without “then.”

I think the true beauty is in accepting that we cannot compare our “now” to our “then” because they are all part of one path. One trail. One story. “Now” simply wouldn’t be without “then.” They are not disjointed, they are not separate entities, and one cannot be without the other. To criticize one aspect is to condemn the whole journey.

As for comparison to others, well my friends, we are all in this boat together. Although sometimes it seems more like an arc, wedged between the elephant and the lion. Towering size and intimidating, perceived savagery on either side. There is no room to breathe.

We may be on this arc, but it’s our choice to jump off and swim. There may be sharks in that water, naturally, and who knows what else. But at least we’ll have removed the option to engage in such demeaning behavior. At least we’ll have made the decision to jump. To swim. We’ll have decided to not be wasteful with our precious thoughts, our precious energy.

Because, surely, to spend our energy swimming – for dear life – with intention and purpose, is a much better use of this great blessing we have been given. Surely it is much greater a task to care for this gift of intellect, keeping it groomed and well-maintained, than it is to be ruled and trampled by it. Using the very ability that allows us to so deeply compare and analyze, with discernment, choosing instead to see this potential avenue and kindly refuse to take it.

Surely, the holy hand that dealt us this intellectual and spiritual capacity would not want it squandered or stolen. So may we handle our fragile humanity with grace; may we remain aware and present, in thought, word, and deed; may we never mistake our train of thought for one on which we are a passenger, rather than the engineer.

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The Jackass Whisperer

Well, hello you! I’ve missed you (yes, YOU).

It’s been such a winter. A beautiful, rainy, cold, wintry winter (that seems an odd, redundant description, but in Northern California we are actually having a true winter for the first time in years). I’ve been writing heaps, but instead of tapping out essays on Body Karma, I’ve been helplessly following suit as my ravenous pen devours endless pages of my personal journal (and, actually, journals themselves – yes, plural).

Sometimes it’s in the quiet (in this case, a spell of silence upon this platform) that we hear ourselves most clearly.

For me, life has been brimming with love and abundance. It always is, though, isn’t it? The difference lies only in whether we choose to see it…or not.

The holidays were simply lovely. It was the first holiday season in 5 years that I’ve lived back in my home county, close to and surrounded by family, and it was nothing short of magical. Even having 90 minutes between us felt like an eternity when life was busy with school and work, often only coming home every other month at the most. While I adored my time living away, studying, building an independence I hadn’t yet known…I honestly don’t miss those days! I cherish them, but I’m so grateful to be here, where I am now. There’s so much truth to the saying that we don’t know what we have until we leave it. My small town, easy access to the human beings who make my world go ’round, the sweet comfort that is the familiar rim of mountains standing guard around my valley…six months after moving back I still get butterflies being here. In the same place I used to run around, taking complete and utter granted for the beautiful place I call home. Well, perhaps not taking for granted, but certainly not realizing its power.

I was 21 when I moved out of the North Bay, and 26 when I moved back, and it’s always so interesting to note what has changed – about ourselves – and what has stayed the same. I think the most noteworthy shift has been in my own awareness. In my own endeavor to offer steady support to my own self, unconditional acceptance. Now, full disclosure, this is a daily chore, maintaining this perspective; it waxes and wanes like Lady Luna, and burrows so deep into the earth some days that I have to puzzle over whether I ever really held it at all. But, then it reappears. Through dedicated searching, quiet sitting, vigorous practice; through blood, and tears, and sweat. It returns to me. Or I to it, I’m not sure which.

I used to judge myself so harshly. Can you relate? I used to be my own biggest, if not loudest critic. In the last 5 years, I now see that I have come to a different place in relationship to this painful waltz we all know so well as that of self-esteem and self-judgement. I came to learn that we will always encounter external criticism. The world is not running low on that, I’ll tell you! We can’t rely on the support of others. It’s brilliant and intoxicating and just plain amazing to have it, yes, but the level of unconditional support that we positively need as creators, caretakers, doers, shakers, makers, and human beings out in this every-changing world, is one that cannot be sought after outwardly. It is very much an inside job.

It is, in fact, a full-time job remaining in support of ourselves. This is a job that falls by the wayside for many of us, time and time again throughout our lives. When we are challenged, disliked, torn down; when we are feeling weak or drained, depleted or as if no one is in our corner. The moments when we most need to stay at our post, as the sole supporter of our own grand adventure, are when we most often crumble. Why is it that this super potent and essential role is one we so easily step out of? Or, more truthfully, fall ass-over-teakettle out of.

We like to get all tangled up in what others think of us. We get snarled up in the slimy seaweed that is the judgements others place upon us. But, the truth of the matter is, we all just project onto each other what we fear and judge about ourselves and our own lives. So how could it possibly have anything to do with the other person? We are merely projecting our own values, thoughts, opinions, and insecurities onto separate entities. Entities that, frankly, do not even “play by the same rules” as we do. How could they? The don’t live in our brains. They haven’t had the same 25, 40, 75 years of experience that we, ourselves, have endured. They don’t have the same context in which to view this world, society, relationships. They don’t have the same emotional DNA or physiological blueprint. So how, in God’s sacred name, could we ever compare ourselves to each other or, much less, judge one another as if any of us knows better than the next?

I was listening to this great podcast today on judgement, and one of the guests shared a quote that resonated so powerfully with me, after this past year. It was, “Don’t try to win over the haters, you’re not the jackass whisperer.”

HA!

I mean…right?

We are all human beings here to love, serve, uplift, and unite. We are all beautiful and perfect and utterly wrecked. Looking at someone else as a jackass is, in itself, a sweeping judgment. But then, in this crazy ragamuffin world we live in, sometimes there just needs to be laughter. Sometimes the chaos of thoughts and words and feelings swirling around us, as if shaken up like a snow globe, gets to be too much. Sometimes those biting comments directed at you, from people so drowning in their own self-loathing and pain, just get old. Sometimes compassion climbs into the back seat and the snippy, boundary-setting slice of your psyche takes the wheel. Sometimes you find yourself smiling in the face of the haters and chuckling, passing on the invitation to care. I am not the jackass whisperer. I think that’d make a mighty fine bumper sticker.

We’re all just doing the best we can, really. There are three kinds of business. Mine, yours, and God’s. End of story. Thinking someone should or shouldn’t look a certain way, think a certain way, speak a certain way…is pointless. It’s a waste of life force. That doesn’t mean we won’t have stances, opinions, values, and beliefs. We must, naturally. But we eliminate the overwhelming majority of times that we fall victim to the pain and angst that are byproducts of judgement and caring about being judged. We open up so much space to focus on brighter, more positive things…like firming up our own self-support system. Like creating more beauty in our lives. Like getting clearer about what matters to us, and how we can better serve ourselves so as to better serve this world.

It’s actually way harder to disconnect from judgement and tap into this limitless, more loving consciousness. Judging others is second nature, to many of us. Getting riled up over being judged is an urge so strong it’s almost unnatural to refuse it. But, as with anything, practice makes…well, practice makes better. 

So let’s not fancy ourselves Jackass Whisperers, in 2016. Whether the jackass is our neighbor, someone across the world, a job we didn’t get, or a car that cut us off in traffic…it is up to us, and us alone, to crack a smile and step out of the ring. It’s a losing battle. One that drains and depletes us of our precious energy. Let us, instead, choose to laugh. Let us shimmy back into our own corner. Let our freak flags fly. Let us own our mistakes, our triumphs, our half-assed attempts, and our blood, sweat, and tears passion. Let us stop expecting perfect, and start celebrating good enough. Let us stop living in the past, or the future, and start living right here, right NOW. Let us refuse to put on our Jackass Whisperer hats, and instead let our hair ripple in the wind, celebrating our own existence, and our shared humanity.

Happy New Year, beautiful souls!

 

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