Dear Gods of Whatever: a prayer from a highly sensitive person

Dear Gods of Whatever,

This is a prayer to care less.

This is a heartfelt wish to have it not matter.

To be the Queen of Whatevs.

To let it all roll off my back, like a nonchalant duck.

I think there are those people, people who are cool and calm and collected. Who shrug their shoulders and laugh it all off.

The blessed ones.

They can handle the awkward comment, the whining dog, the unanswerable question, the brutal unfairness of the world.

They seem to know they will survive, they will move on. It will all fundamentally be okay.

Why do I move so quickly to life-ruining conclusions? Why does my stomach churn at a mere thought? Why do my eyes tear as I imagine complete devastation?

So I pray to you, Gods of Whatever, to help me to care less.

To be more callous.

Less empathetic.

Please --- just make me a tiny bit more of an asshole.

Amen.

Good news/bad news: reporting for jury duty

IMG_3784 I was so ready. I had reading material (one print book, one Kindle) my laptop (so I could do some writing) and a knitting project (one unimpressive-looking scarf because I am not a good knitter since I can't follow a pattern and can only knit flat things).

I was so ready for jury duty.

When I told people I had been called for jury duty they made sad faces and sympathetic sounds. But I was excited about it. I wanted to serve justice. To participate in my community. To listen to the evidence and contribute to a compassionate but fair outcome.

Yes, it is entirely possible that I have watched too many courtroom dramas.

Regardless, I went down to the courthouse and sat around a large conference table with twenty of my fellow jurors. The room was quiet at first, people were nervous and awkward, but slowly we started chatting. I talked to a woman who was the assistant principal of a school. Someone else was a nurse. Someone else had been called to a jury four times in the past ten years.

After about an hour, we were summoned to the courtroom. It was beautiful, in a cold and stuffy way. There were columns, large paintings of old white men, and the thermostat was set to about 60 degrees. The bailiff announced that there were twenty-two jurors present because apparently counting us was part of his job. The judge introduced herself, thanked us for coming and said that we are an important part of the system. And then she said:

"I have good news and bad news, and it's all the same news."

She said that this was a criminal trial but the defendant didn't show up. And depending on how we felt about serving today, we might take the news either way. But regardless, we were free to go. We all looked at each other, surprised by the anti-climactic turn the day had taken. We gathered our books and knitting and laptops. And we left.

Yoga philosophy talks about Tat and Sat. What is true and what is real.

What was Tat and Sat was that the defendant didn't show up and there would be no trial today. But everyone translated that truth differently:

  • One juror: thrilled that she got her day all to herself
  • Another juror: sad that now he had to go to work
  • The defendant: probably happy he was not in court, but likely not a great choice in the long-run
  • Me: disappointed that I could not be part of the jury and also kind of sad that I wouldn't have all that "boring" time in which to finish the amazing book I'm reading

It just reminded me that we tend to think of things being inherently good or bad. We weave a complicated story about the implications of every little thing. We cling so tightly to our own perspective,  it seems like it's factual and unalterable. But while we might not be able to change the circumstances of much of life, we can decide to take a different perspective.

I've seen people change their perspectives about things that seem so clear - a cancer diagnosis shifts from a nightmare to an awakening. Losing a job becomes an opportunity for a reinvention. A failure teaches far more than any success ever could.

I left the courthouse and walked through my beautiful downtown of Charlottesville on a stunning fall day. We've been through some tough times in my town. But we're coming through it, determined to be better because of it. I drank my tea and felt newly-fallen leaves crunch under my feet and I felt immense gratitude for all of it. The complicated mess of life with its unexpected turns. It's all about the ability to exercise equanimity in the face of endless uncertainty.

And together we can help each other through the good news, the bad news, all the news.

——–

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Revisited - Recipe for happiness: squash the expectations

*I'm working hard on my new book and finding myself with little time for new blog posts. I decided to bring back some older posts, that you might have missed... Hope you enjoy! i-f7dC4Xd-L

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This is apparently the mathematical breakdown of what it means to be happy. I totally agree, don't you?

Actually, my idea of happiness doesn't ever include exponents, but what this equation means is totally fantastic.

There was recently an article in The Atlantic that offers this equation and says that happiness doesn't depend on how things are going. It depends on whether things are going better or worse than you thought they would.

Happiness is all about expectations. 

This is entirely true in my experience. My life used to go like this:

  • I get crazy excited about something (starting a Facebook page to share my blog)
  • it starts off the way I hoped it would (I post stuff, I have 9,000 people following the page)
  • then, that's not enough, I change my expectations and emotionally crash because I don't have the upgraded version of that exciting thing (why do I not have 90,000 people following the page?)

And when things don't go at all as I expected? If someone doesn't respond the way I want them to respond, or I work really hard on something and it flops - suddenly I'm curled up on the couch claiming I'm eternally destined to be a dismal failure. It's a screwed-up roller coaster of emotional angst.

And it's the nature of the human condition.

It seems we've always been that way, and that's why 2,500 years ago, the Buddha said that life is suffering. (He used the Pali word dukkha, which could be less dramatically translated as "unsatisfactory" or "stressful.") We suffer because we are constantly clinging to something that is slipping away. Everything is slipping away because everything is impermanent and nothing lasts forever.

Which seems kind of dark and horrifically depressing, until you realize this is just the reality of the world and there is an answer for dealing with it:

    • The Buddha called it equanimity
    • The coach from the UVA men's basketball team told his guys to not get "too high on themselves or too low"
    • The Gin Blossoms said, "If you don't expect too much from me, you might not be let down."

It's all about managing expectations. Of course there are things we want. That's good. But when we tie our self-worth and inner peace to whether or not we get them, that's when the trouble starts.

I want to do well in life.

I want everyone to like me.

I want to have a nice glass of scotch without it giving me a massive headache.

I can't always have all the things I want. But I want them anyway. And sometimes, I expect them. Which, if I look at that another way, can seem like I'm saying that I am entitled to have those things. And an attitude of entitlement is gross.

So, is the answer to never want anything? Or to wander around like Eeyore expecting life to generally suck? No. It's finding that beautiful middle ground. It's about living in a place of contentment, where what you have is enough, and your expectations are humble - so you are pleased when things are going well and only slightly ruffled when they are not. It's riding that wave of life with gratitude, rather than fighting with the tides because you'd prefer if the ocean was a puddle.

Let's stop thinking the world owes us something, let's work hard but let go of the emotional attachment to the outcome, let's be kind without looking to get something in return. Suddenly, 99% of what happens is a joyful surprise.

And that is a really happy thing.

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