Our time and energy are our most precious gifts to give, and they’re also finite. Sometimes it’s really a practice in itself to direct your energy toward thoughts that strengthen you, rather than those that weaken you. It’s easy to get caught up, or snagged on someone else’s thoughtless comment or careless act, to become embroiled in other people’s dramas, or to allow yourself to spin over mistakes you’ve made. Rejection creates this scenario for many people, as does feeling disrespected, unseen, unheard, ignored, excluded, or harshly judged. We can lose hours, days, weeks obsessing over how other people feel about us, when our time would have been better spent getting right with ourselves.
Human beings are complex. We all have our interior worlds, our inner dialogues; in many ways, being human requires our ability to deal with solitude. Obviously, we can reach out. We can seek connection, love, joy, shared experiences. We can uncover our gifts and spread them in whatever ways are available to us. But if you aren’t happy on the inside, no person and no thing can fix that for you. Often, we’re so focused on the externals, we neglect to do the work that would really bring us peace and joy. So many people spend the large majority of their lives trying to prove that they’re here and they’re worthwhile by pointing to things outside themselves. A lot of people have their identities wrapped up in what they do and what they have. If your self-esteem is determined by factors outside your control, you can see how this leads to trouble.
It’s not what we have, it’s what we give, and it doesn’t have to be grandiose. You can change a person’s day by really taking them in, even just for a moment. You can smile at a stranger, hold open a door, allow someone to merge in traffic. These are small things, but they have a huge effect. When we move through the world and people are kind and considerate, it really fills us with a sense of hope and well-being, but having said that, if someone cuts us off in traffic, we don’t want to let that experience rob us of our own peace. There’s no need to let a stranger raise your blood pressure.
Sometimes we have to draw a line with someone. Maybe you have people in your life who struggle, and as a result they can be inconsiderate or self-absorbed or sometimes thoughtless. The truth is, we can all display these tendencies from time to time, and we probably will. Sometimes we have a day or a week, or many years when we feel victimized or angry or lost, and we lash out because we’re unhappy and we can’t figure out how to fix it. We point fingers and come up with our reasons, and make it about other people or circumstances, and as we flail and rage about, we unintentionally hurt those around us. Some people live their whole lives this way. You are certainly free to direct your time and energy toward making other people responsible for your lack of peace, but I don’t recommend it. No one is going to save you, but you. We each have to do our own work, and for most of us, that gives us plenty to do. Anne Lamott has this great phrase for those who suffer from, “Good Ideas for Other People’s Disease.” Isn’t that awesome? Aren’t we all great at figuring out what other people should do to get it together?
You can’t control people or circumstances, nor do you want to try. The more you let go and practice acceptance (which doesn’t mean you allow yourself to be disrespected or abused), the less you suffer. The more you seek to create steadiness and peace inside yourself, the better off you’ll handle the inevitable and ceaseless ups and downs of life. The more you direct your mind to the present moment, the more peace you’ll find. Breathing deeply feels good. Being awake and aware feels good. Being enraged or depressed or anxious for extended periods of time, obviously does not feel good. Are heartbreaking things going to happen? Yes. To some degree or another we’re all going to face loss, grief, confusion, shame, guilt, envy, jealousy, fear and rage. We’re all going to lose people. We’re all going to have to move and shift with changing circumstance, and sometimes we’ll be grieving, mourning, heartbroken and listless, and those feelings will be understandable and appropriate. This is when you hope you have a spiritual practice that’s going to be there for you, along with the people in your life whom you love. This is the dance. You can fight it. Of course we’d all like to be able to count on things, but the only thing we can truly count on is that everything is always changing.
Think carefully about where you’re sharing those gifts of time and energy. You’re not going to save other people, so I wouldn’t squander your resources there. That doesn’t mean you don’t try to find help or support for those in need, but it does mean you don’t try to manage someone else’s path; usually when we do that, it’s because we’re avoiding our own. Things that will surely bring you down—gossip, violent thoughts or actions, self-loathing, clinging to your anger. Things that will absolutely lift you up- remembering all the good that’s present in your life right now. Taking ownership of your story, and righting the ship if necessary. Doing the work to heal, and seeking out whatever tools you need to help you with that endeavor. Reaching out when you need help, and offering it when you’re in a position to give it. Trying to help those you love be their best selves by celebrating them and encouraging them when times are tough. Doing that for strangers, too. These are all great uses of your time and energy, and the beautiful thing is, the more you direct your energy toward helping others, the more you’ll feel meaning and purpose and fulfillment in your own life. Good for you, good for everyone else.
Sending you love,