It wasn’t the first time. The first time was last spring, and I totally accepted her excuses – she was in a hurry, she didn’t want to disturb us, etc. I made a big fuss, though, saying we’d drop everything to see her, no matter the time of day or night. She was worth it.
In fact, she is someone that we as a family have made special trips to visit. She was my mom’s exciting, larger-than-life friend, whom I’d grown up kind of idolizing. After we missed each other in the spring, I offered to come see her over the summer. But, no, she was too tired. I offered a second time, and no, she was going to be away during the dates I suggested and did not suggest others.
I finally put it together: she does not want to see us.
I was devastated. My heart was beating out of my chest. I couldn’t catch my breath. I withdrew deep into myself, and the outside world muted and faded.
What Would You Do?
People sometimes think that the point of personal growth is to be happy all the time. Maybe for some it is. But for me, it’s more about learning to find your center anytime you’re disturbed.
I’m sharing this experience of mine to show you what re-centering looks like for me, so that a) you can use it, too (it’s free and reliable), and b) you know for sure you’re not alone.
What It Looks Like
I got the bad news at bedtime, and I was tired and wanted to sleep. So I put my head on the pillow and did the most basic sleeping meditation: I drew my awareness away from my thoughts and into the physical sensations of being in the bed: the heaviness of my head on the pillow; the softness of the sheets, the support of the mattress to my body; the feeling of cool breath on my nostrils as I inhaled; the feeling of warm breath on my nostrils as I exhaled.
In spite of my doubts that I’d be able to calm myself enough to sleep, I did fall asleep quickly.
In the morning I stretched, made a cup of coffee, and sat down with my laptop to do The Work.
I was tempted to journal first, so I did. But I quickly noticed that journaling increased, rather than relieved, my tension. You’ll know you’re telling a painful story because it makes your body hurt. But you don’t have to tell a painful story to deal with it. You can do The Work instead, which un-tells painful stories. Like the sleeping meditation I had used the night before, The Work is a meditation, an antidote to thinking.
I stopped journaling and went right to The Work. My first step was to fill out a Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet (JYN). The JYN allows you to see the situation or the person causing your pain from every angle, like putting it in a clear box and holding it in your hand while you rotate it in the light. In it, you say what they did; what you want from them; what advice you’d give them; what you need from them in order to be happy (not what you would settle for, what would make you happy); what you think of them (give voice to your most petty and judgmental thoughts!); and what you never want to experience again.
Once my JYN was complete, I started with the first statement. Statements often produce little shifts, and each consecutive statement builds on the insights that came before, and the little shifts snowball into a big shift, so that by the end you’re floating out of your chair with a feeling of freedom and elevation. Sometimes there’s just one statement that holds the key to your heart. That’s how it was for me this time. The statement was, “I want her to love us.”
Is it true? Yes, of course.
Can you be absolutely certain? No! The answer rang like a bell as soon as I’d asked the question. I saw in an instant how her love had always been conditional and how I’d decided early on to protect my family from it. I purposely kept us at arm’s length. I had always hoped she would extend herself to my family – rather than waiting for them to come to her and kiss the ring – but she hadn’t. Her connection was really to me, not to my family. She had stayed in our lives as long as my mother was alive. But now Mom was gone, and her friend was retreating from our family.
She had her reasons. People always do. It didn’t mean she didn’t love us, just as my decision to keep her at arm’s length didn’t mean that I didn’t love her. You can love a loose cannon while not letting it get too close. But that distance has consequences. Love needs intimacy to thrive, but intimacy with her was too risky.
The story was rapidly un-telling itself, so I jumped to the Turnarounds.
Turn the thought around to the opposite. I don’t want her to love us. What is the evidence that the turnaround is just as true or truer than the original thought? I’ve already given it: I chose the safety of distance over the risks (and rewards) of intimacy.
What’s another turnaround? She wants us to love her. Yes! I know how that feels! And that does feel in keeping with her personality – she’s rejecting us before we can reject her. Is there something I feel inspired to offer her, to show her I love her, distance or no? Yes. I will meet her where she is. I will offer to visit her once more.
I wrote to her right then and received the warmest reply. Things between us feel totally mended. This happens more often than not: doing The Work dissolves the problem not just inside of me but outside of me, in the world.
Reduce Suffering and Expand Freedom
It isn’t possible to end pain. It’s part of life. But it is possible to reduce suffering and expand freedom.
A powerful way to do that is by learning to manage your mind through meditation. I want you to know that meditation does not have to be hard, or something you must practice for years before you experience its benefits. The two meditations I shared with you today – pulling awareness from your thoughts into the physical sensations of your body and The Work – are easy and effective for beginners and adepts alike. I hope you’ll try them the next time you find yourself suffering.