Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Choose Dependable Shipmates

In a previous post, I talked about how to identify--and how to deal with--the people in your lives who suck away all your energy and leave you feeling wiped out and utterly drained. I refer to them as black holes.

But in your quest to live your life more consciously, more joyously and more honestly, you may find yourself dealing with people who are not quite black holes, but who may be a negative force in your life nevertheless. The question becomes: What to do with them?

If you think of loyalty as one of the highest virtues, as I do, it can be extremely difficult to know when or if to cut ties with a friend or acquaintance, especially if they've been in your life for a very long time.

I've been struggling with this as of late, as people who have been friends for a long time have been behaving in ways that are draining, inconsiderate and sometimes downright hurtful. If these people were behaving this way with direct malice or awareness of what they were doing, the answer would be fairly easy: you can cut ties with someone who is trying to hurt you. That's a no-brainer.

What's not so easy is when someone you care about is totally oblivious to the pain they've been causing you. For some of these people, confrontation is an option. You can initiate a discussion with them, where you ask them why they're behaving in a certain way and get an honest conversation going where you get things aired out and figure out how to get back into harmony.

If you think you can do this, I'd definitely try that approach first.

If, however, you find yourself trying to gently broach the subject of what's going on in your friendship and are quickly met with stonewalling, defensiveness, even anger--well, the chances of salvaging things go down.

If you are able to completely cut ties, this might be an option. Just do it. Move on. However, if, like me, you hold out glimmers of hope that your friend will wake up to their bad behavior and be open to improving your relationship, cutting ties doesn't feel like an option.

What I've realized recently is that when you can't talk to a friend about problems in your friendship, the only thing that will work is for them to come to you. And the only way to make that happen is to make new friends, and move on without cutting ties.

You might still be able to respond and be polite, but you will need more distance to protect yourself, and your boundaries will need to be much clearer. As you begin to spend more time with other people, your older friends may miss you. If they don't, well, what's the loss there, really?

If they do miss you, however, and you pick up on that, you can begin to ease back into conversation about your friendship. See if they've softened their defenses. See if they actually, actively want to be your friend.

My husband and I were both raised to be incredibly loyal, devoted people. Yes, we're busy, but when someone expects us to be there, we do our damnedest to be there. I think we are sometimes shocked by how few people feel this way.

I think it's harder than ever to find people who are loyal and honest and open, but since they must be out there, we'll just keep looking. If you can honestly assess yourself and say, "Yes, I'm a good friend" and yet your friends are flakes who constantly let you down or betray your trust, I exhort you to do the same. Again, none of this is easy, but having a few good, trustworthy and dependable friends is essential. None of us can go it alone in this world, so find your shipmates, and don't hesitate to leave the flaky ones behind. When the weather gets rough, you'll be glad to have spent the energy on this search.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

When Telling Stories Causes Suffering

One of the ways you cause yourself suffering is by making up a story. What do I mean by this?

Let's say you have a friend whom you've invited to a party, and she says she can't make it. Maybe she gives an excuse, maybe not.

Whatever she says or doesn't say, you can cause needless suffering by telling yourself a story. "She doesn't want to come because the last time I saw her I made a political comment she didn't like, and now she likes me less. Or maybe it's because she's upset that I didn't call her back that one weekend when she invited me to see a movie. Or, maybe she just finds me boring and doesn't want to spend a Saturday night hanging out with me."

Whatever. You could go on and on. And because people do behave according to some internal motive, it's possible that any of the above reasons are the ones she doesn't attend the party with you. But without asking her point blank, it's impossible to know for certain the reason why. All of the stories you've told yourself are pure conjecture, and none of them might be true. It could be that her grandma died. Or she has swine flu. Or she is having one of those weekends where she wants to sit on the couch and read a huge book she's been meaning to get to.

The point is, you cannot know. But in the meantime, what are you doing with the stories you're telling yourself? Causing needless suffering for yourself. Feeling hurt and depressed. Wondering what's wrong with you.

None of these things are useful. If you truly fear that something is wrong between you, don't make up stories. Uncover the truth. If you've been a bad friend, she'll tell you. (And if she can't talk to you, or she changes the subject, then you've learned something about the nature of your relationship, which you can then utilize later to make a decision about how to proceed.)

This story-telling can cause problems anywhere in life. Before I began practicing yoga and tai chi, I had developed a pretty bad case of runner's knee, especially after I completed a rigorous training schedule for a marathon. Even after the marathon ended, the pain went on and on--not just for months, for years. I ran through it, it would flare up, I'd rest, and it would feel better. Then I'd run again, and voila, back to the pain. The pain was just pain. But the suffering came in when I would tell myself that I'd never run again or that I had permanently damaged my body or that I'd get fat like that health teacher I had in high school who told us she'd injured her hamstring and had never been able to be physically active again.

Every time the pain would flare up, I'd tell myself these stories. I'd grow sad and frustrated and angry.

Though I didn't know it at the time, yoga and tai chi would heal my knees completely and I'd be able to run again. None of the stories I'd told myself turned out to be true. I believed those stories at the time, though, and suffered more than I would have just by feeling the pain.

So, what stories are you telling yourself? Are they true? If you think they are, do you know they are? Really, do you?

In yoga, I've learned that feeling discomfort can be observed without any narrative. I can just feel, just be, and the burn in my legs just is. I can become detached and observant, like a Buddhist monk. (Well, maybe I get close, anyway.)

The next time you hear yourself making up stories about why something is, or how something will be in the future, stop yourself. Ask yourself if you have any basis for the story. If not, take a deep breath and clear your mind. Just be. Just feel. No thoughts. No judgment. No stories.

Less suffering.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Flight Level 390

Wow, I totally missed October, didn't I? Ah well, I'm back for the beginning of November, anyway, and ready to type.

Lately I've actually been wondering if it's time for me to move on from this blog and start a new project. I don't know what the answer is yet--and feel free to send me your vote--but the reason is that I am so much happier in my current career that I don't feel nearly as compelled to write about how to escape a bad job or life situation.

That's pretty self-centered of me, isn't it? I'm happy, so why worry about all the people who are in the position I was in only a year or so ago? Well, trust me, I still care, but I lack the immediate experience of misery as a motivation.

I still believe strongly in working out what you are suited for and how to follow a path that is the truest and best and most authentic one for you, but lately my ideas have gone beyond the workplace and career.

Still, I don't want to wander aimlessly and drift about, writing abstract, meandering posts about all the big philosophical and societal stuff that interests me, because then this would just be a navel-gazing blog and all about me, rather than about the reader's experience.

Recently, I discovered a blog that has totally captivated me. It's called Flight Level 390 and I can't tell you how amazing I find it. It's written by an airline captain, and it is the most compelling writing I've read in a long time, in either web or print. I have no idea if others will find it as interesting, especially as I am biased toward aviation topics (my dad was a pilot), but he's doing something here that I think is maximizing the potential of a blog. He's capturing something real, but distilling it into something beautiful and breathtaking. I guess I'd like to make sure my blog is doing something as fresh and as real, or otherwise, what's the point?

Anyway, I'd love to hear from you. What's on your mind? What do you think--what do you want from this blog? Is it time for me to move on? What do you still want to think about, talk about? Where does the topic of bliss finding rank for you these days?

I'm all ears, because I believe in listening. So talk to me, and trust me, you will be heard.