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Dear Stranger at the Park …

I’m sorry if I came off as rude.shades and rocks

No. I’m really not sorry at all. The only thing I’m sorry about is that my first instinct is to still say “I’m sorry” when I don’t do what someone else wants or expects me to do.

I had stopped to get some food, eat and read for a few minutes, then get on with my errands and my evening. Striking up conversation wasn’t part of that plan, certainly not with strangers who imposed themselves into my space and ignored every physical cue I was giving that I really wanted to be left alone.

I was fine with telling you where I got the food, but when you kept asking questions I just gave you a nod and looked away. Thankfully you got it and left.

You likely walked away with an unfavorable impression of me, but really I don’t care. I know who I am, and I am comfortable with that, even the areas that could use work. I can’t control what other people think of me, and it’s none of my business anyway. I like myself a whole lot. No other opinion merits much value, if any. I’ve worked very hard to get here.

There are a whole lot of boundary-less people out there, and I used to be one of them. I did things I did not want to do for people who were not always nice or respectful to me, sometimes for people I really didn’t even like at all. But, I felt like I had to do this thing, these things they were requesting of me. To refuse would mean I wasn’t nice. I really wanted you – ALL OF YOU – to think I was nice. If you didn’t, it was just confirming some of the bad things I was already thinking about myself.

But I’d do these things I didn’t want to do, and I’d get resentful. Sometimes it would make me not very nice to be around. I could complain that I was coerced, but that wasn’t true. I had said yes, and sometimes I had even volunteered without being asked. It was nobody’s fault but mine.

Back in those days it seems like I had a lot of unhappy people around me … people who tried to prove their problems were the worst or their achievements were the greatest or whatever. They aren’t bad people, but they are wounded, and they were looking to other people and other factors outside of themselves to heal those wounds. One day, I decided I couldn’t be in the healing business anymore. I found out it was a bottomless pit and a never ending battle. So I gave up and focused on healing my own wounds instead.

And what do you know! Now I’m mostly surrounded by positive and happy people. Respectful and kind people. Once I stopped acting like a victim, I stopped attracting people to prey on me.

And so, stranger at the park, I guess that brings us to our encounter. My intuition told me you were the kind of person who did not easily take no for an answer, and I knew if I gave you any sort of entry point, that would be my own fault. I’d be pressed to answer questions I did not want to answer, desperately searching for an escape from something I allowed. So instead, I didn’t even let the cycle start. That’s why there was no smile or air of welcome from me.

I’m not sorry about seeming rude or unfriendly. But I am thankful to you. Today you showed me how much I have grown.

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Grateful for: Past experiences

Today’s gratitude installment: I am thankful for past experiences, or specifically in this case, relationships that are no longer a part of my life.

I am trying to make a conscious effort to no longer say that a relationship “didn’t work out.” True, we decided we didn’t want to be together anymore in the capacity that we once were. That usually means no longer having contact with each other. But just because we aren’t together anymore doesn’t necessarily mean that things didn’t work out. It means that in the natural progression of things, our lives moved on, and as such, our paths diverged.

But in those times when we were a part of each other’s lives, we had some great experiences. We laughed. We supported each other. We had some great moments and memories together.

In ending things, it helped me to decide what I want or didn’t want in the future. It’s given me an assessment of how well (or not well) I was able to relate to another person from an intimate perspective. I could compare it to my education: Even if I never again used the lessons I learned in school, I don’t feel it was necessarily a waste of time for me to learn them.

All of these experiences brought me to the place where I am now. As I work to make peace with my past, release my resentments, and move toward a place of maintaining serenity and spiritual contentment, the lens through which I look at my past has a huge influence on that. It’s impossible for me to move forward joyfully if I keep trying to drag past baggage along for the ride.

Today, I am grateful for the people of my past, no matter what pain or sadness it might have brought me at one time. I am choosing to release them with loving kindness.

Grateful for: Ownership, and Disownership

Here is just one way I can tell that I still have healing to do in this lifetime:

When I see someone doing something that just doesn’t seem “right” to me; when I see someone expecting another person to take responsibility for them; when someone acts toward me with what appears to be unkindness or selfish intent; when a painful memory from years past pops into my head …

And it bothers me.

The anger, resentment, irritability, whatever … that is a sign of healing left to be done. Whatever is pushing those buttons, chances are the buttons are actually woundedness from long ago. It’s not something that exists in the present, but I’ve still carried it with me.

Today I am expressing gratitude for ownership. I am able to own my thoughts, feelings, emotions, and overall spiritual well-being. I can own my happiness and take responsibility for it. I no longer view myself as a victim of life’s whims, because in every situation, I have a choice – whether it’s to walk away, keep on going, or just to simply choose a better outlook.

In that, I reclaim my power.

I also express gratitude for disownership. The thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and actions of another person don’t belong to me – even if that person says that I caused them. That’s because they, too, always have a choice. That’s not an excuse to act like a jerk and then feel like I have the right to get off scot-free. It is, however, a sanity saver when I catch myself feeling I need to behave or think in a certain way in order to gain someone’s approval or avoid their wrath. It’s also a concept that has helped me to offload mountains of guilt.

I hope that you’ll own this day, and all days, and seize it with all of your power – for kindness, joy, peace, and happiness.

“I Choose to be Free”

The title of this post is an affirmation I got today (Daily Affirm app, for those who are curious). After a few days of feeling a bit unsettled and tossed about, I felt like I was finally turning a corner and feeling like my normal self again. And it was a great reminder about how much of life comes down to choice.

Yesterday, a woman at my meditation group talked about learning the nuances of her emotions – optimistic, restless, anguished, irritated, and so on. I found that by learning the different shades of my emotions – and learning to feel them and correctly identify their source (sometimes, for me, they were not what they seemed) – I can make better choices for dealing with them. Sometimes that just means sitting through them and praying for help.

But what struck me most about this woman was saying is that how she learned to choose to stay to a more positive outlook – rather than sitting through an internal, self-created downpour and feeling like there was no way out of it. Instead of playing the role of victim, I can take responsibility for my outlook and therefore become empowered.

I was out with friends when we witnessed another woman first walk into a surprise birthday, and then receive a proposal from her boyfriend. I know that in the past I would’ve been straight-up jealous of this person. “Why can’t someone love me enough to do that for me? How come good things only happen to other people? Why aren’t I that lucky?” Me, me, me … poor, pitiful me.

Instead, I felt genuinely happy for her – I didn’t let jealousy eat away at my inner peace. But also, I realized I didn’t know a damn thing about that woman, her life, her pain, her joy, whatever. It was a celebratory moment. It wasn’t mine, but in a small way, I got to share in it.

I am choosing more to be grateful … to not fight the universe … to not fight and struggle with people and situations that are out of my control. I want to BE peace, and harmony, and loving-kindness.

That’s what I choose for me, and I am happy to make that choice.

Selling Fear? I’m Not Buying

Act_UpAlexandra Petri is an excellent writer for the Washington Post. She’s featured on the ComPost blog but also writes a delightful column that appears in the Saturday print edition. Sadly, I’ve been unable to find those print columns online. I really wanted to share her July 27 entry with you, because it was nothing short of brilliant. It talked about the fears that other people will try their hardest to also push onto you.

Since I can’t find a link, here’s an excerpt:

………………………………..

If you want to be absolutely safe in life, listen well. Imbibe my fears. Let them guide you.

Here is a vague smorgasbord of anecdotes, prejudices and bad experiences my uncle once had that will, I think, protect you from death or at least from new experiences that could change your mind about people, which are in some ways worse.

  • Don’t jog at night. Don’t jog during the daytime. Never jog. One hundred percent of joggers who were mugged were jogging in the first place. …
  • Don’t walk through certain areas of downtown Los Angeles, ever. One of your distant relatives once walked through that area, and he was savagely attacked by a saber-tooth tiger and dragged into a tar pit. …
  • Avoid bus stops, parking lots, schools, houses, cars, the pyramids, the suburbs, the city, lakes, oceans, rivers, Kansas, your own back yard, hole-in-the-wall cafes, fancy restaurants, the environs of the Eiffel Tower, places where they serve food that is different from the food your mother cooked, barbecues, street festivals, Grandma’s house. Terrible things have happened in all those places. …

So far, no one who said that a life lived in fear is not worth living has ever made it out.

Try, if possible, not to be born. If you are born, you will have to interact with people who are different from you, and you will learn, and you will change your mind, and you will discover all kinds of wonder and unlooked-for happiness, and, one day, you will die.

This must be avoided at all costs.

………………………………..

While Petri’s irreverent tone is joyful to read in and of itself, it’s also quite a serious look at the fears that people try to place onto others. I think this often happens between parents and children, but to some degree in any other type of relationship as well. People are afraid of things because of their own wounds, their own insecurities, their own bad experiences. Now they want YOU to be afraid too.

But doesn’t it all sound so ridiculous? And imagine it applied to larger things: Why you should avoid people of a certain cultural or ethnic background. Why you should never travel to foreign lands. Why you shouldn’t like something or want something or pursue your dreams – because they fall outside of the norm, because it’s different or strange, because people like us just don’t do that.

I’m writing about this because much of my emotional journey has been examining my relationship with fear. It’s the thing that’s kept me back from many things. Kept me from standing up for myself. Kept me from going after things I wanted. Kept me from living a truly fulfilled life at times.

I still confront fears at times and try to take inventory of them as a means of keeping them in check. I know they’re poking at me if I’m afraid of honestly and respectfully speaking my truth. If I’m afraid to take a risk, even if it would mean an opportunity to grow. If I’m more concerned with your feelings than with my own. Vulnerability and abandonment are two fears that have kicked at me for years. What if I say or do something that makes you not like me anymore? I’ve had to learn to put that thought in its place … to realize that the people who would walk away from the honest version of me are the ones who are best let go.

As I grow, I find my fears slipping away, holding less influence. As I find my courage, I find more freedom, more joy, more serenity. I find truth. I find the essence of who I really am. I hope that all of us, in some way, can find the means to be brave, to leave fear behind and instead be guided by faith. To let go … and truly live.

Andrew Hines

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