Losing My Way

I have been struggling recently to stay the course.  Overall, I have managed to keep myself Cool, Calm & Collected. Apart from a school holiday disruption I have maintained my yoga and meditation practise and managed to emotionally negotiate a sudden job change for my husband. I have picked up a couple of new clients myself and everything is swimming along nicely.  My children are fed, healthy and on time for all of their various appointments. Our family schedule is brimming, but we make time for quality time with our expanding extended family. We would like more time to spend with our friends – but everyone’s in the same boat.

The struggle I am having right now is with handling judgement and OPOs.  OPOs?  Other People’s Opinions. I have been on the receiving end of OPOs recently and I have not handled them well. The Yogi in me knows that opinions are like belly buttons – everyone has them. The Zen part of me understands that opinions are a reflection of the holder of the opinion rather than the recipient of it. My Buddha nature knows to smile, be tolerant and accepting of all opinions and recognise the Buddha nature in everyone else. But when I am facing OPOs “in the moment”, my Yogi, Zen and Buddha nature leave the building.

I take full responsibility for my role in losing my banana. Both of the recent, most painful occasions were over the dinner table after sharing much wine – but when Person A told me that staying home with the kids full time and not contributing financially to the household was copping out, well I nearly leapt over the table and pulled his throat out. In this moment I discovered that I, in fact, had not fully come to terms with my domestic situation and he had clearly hit a very raw nerve. Buddha was nowhere to be seen, but Ego was right on my shoulder screaming “ATTACK!” I was deeply humiliated and offended by the comment and deeply embarrassed and ashamed of the way in which I responded.

I talked it through with Annemaree Rowley when I returned from holidays. She reminded me that when we are angry with others it is always a reflection of what we do not like about ourselves. This is a phenomenon known as “projection”. After more talking I came to realize that it wasn’t the CONTENT of what he said, it was the JUDGEMENT. If I look back to all of the major conflicts and arguments I have been involved in – those ones that still make me wince when I recall them – it is when I have felt judged. Judged, or offered mostly unhelpful, unproductive OPOs about parenting, my children, my intelligence, my family, my financial status and on and on. When OPOs don’t match my version of reality, conflict arises. This is where it starts to get interesting.

This is the playground of the ego. This is where being right becomes more important than being happy (kudos to Dr. Phil for that one). In “biting back” to an uninvited, unhelpful OPO is in itself an expression of judgement thereby perpetuating the violence of judgement. This is the sort of stuff that the Dalai Lama has internalized completely so if he had been at the dinner table he would have giggled – which would have made me want to rip his throat out too. But I think you know what I’m getting at here.

It is mind-bending stuff really. My intolerance of intolerance is itself intolerant, so I am what I loathe. I told you.  Mind-bending. Whilst I may not always have the ability to take on this concept in a cool and calm manner, being aware of it means I can recognize it arising. This is mindfulness. So my second encounter with another unhelpful, uninvited OPO last week – whilst not handled perfectly, was recognized as it arose and handled…. better. Mindfully.

I came across a quote by Alain de Botton quote recently  which helped me identify the conflict:

“A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses that to come to a complete vision of who you are.”

This defines the turmoil I have found myself in because not only is this what hurts me the most, it is the way in which I have both knowingly and unknowingly inflicted the most harm. I have raised snobbery to a high art form at times! I can be extremely judgmental – it’s an acquired skill as a marketer! You have to make broad assumptions about sweeping chunks of the population based on piecemeal evidence in order to generate profits. This concept, whether in the personal or professional realm, panders to our egos by creating a feeling of inclusion or exclusion. If you’re in you’re in, if you’re out you’re out – like those horrible days in the playground.

As if by magic, I was lying on the floor of Annemaree’s deep relaxation class and she read the following from a meditation she had written herself:

Judgment of yourself holds hands with unrelenting fear you know.

Judgment of others stops you from attending to yourself!

 Of course, when we succumb to this form of behaviour, we then project onto others.  We seek fault in others and criticize so that we don’t have to look at ourselves.  We fill in the gap in our hearts with judgment, often being so totally self-absorbed that we don’t understand just how detrimental unkindness can be to another.

 Often it comes in the form of ‘ribbing’ or ‘teasing’ with an insidious camouflage of mate ship or friendship.  Often it is recited in little quips across a dinner table which although delivered under the guise of humour often humiliates and undermines the receiver. 

 Or judgment may be delivered in the form of a compliment with a ‘but’ beginning the next sentence!

 We become critical of everyone and everything, never realising for one moment that everyone around us need kindness and compassion too.

Having felt that I have lost my Yogic way recently, that I disappoint other people, that I do not live up to their expectations, that I disappointed myself, I gave myself an hour this morning to sit down and eat some worms about it all. Then I gave myself permission to just drop it and move on.

So I return to my breath, I live in this moment and – without taking it all too seriously – I will TRY to be the best version of myself within each moment and speak only with kindness – and not rip the throats out of ignorant sods.

Until next time we meet,

Om & out

AQAxxx

This article has been contributed by Cool, Calm & Collected’s student, writer & eternal work-in-progress, Anita Quigley Atherton.

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My Yoga Journal: Enlightenment might be nice – staying sane will suffice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My name is Anita Atherton [Hello Anita]. I have been doing yoga and meditation for about six months now [Oprah applause].  I just wanted to say that I wake up every day feeling happy and positive [Insert Oprah “Everyone in the Studio Audience is Getting a CAR!” applause].

But seriously, I am in a much better space than I was six months ago. I had no idea how bad it was until seeing how good it can be; but this is something I have to do on my own. I can tell people how great it is and what a change it makes – but most people don’t want to know.

At first I was terribly hurt and offended, but each day my wisdom, empathy and compassion grow and I appreciate that for me too, it wasn’t until I was ready to seriously make some changes, that I was ready to receive any help.

I remember a university teacher of mine telling me years ago to “take the Mickey out of yourself before anyone else can”. This was with respect to conducting a sales presentation, but it resonated with me for a long time. It became my “shtick” to overcome extreme shyness.

Growing up, I was shy and self-conscious – I am very tall, my ears stick out and I used to turn the colour of beetroot if anyone looked at me sideways; I felt silly.  In high school – I felt like that  pretty much all of the time. However, I was studious and conscientious and it paid off in terms of results.

I went straight into University after leaving school which is right about where the wheels fell off. The main thing I remember in the first year was hearing that Marketing graduates could earn up to $32k in their first year of employment.  I was 18, I had my driver’s license and my first car, and this was my ticket to financial emancipation!  So the subject matter was excruciatingly tedious and mind-numbingly boring (for me), THIRTY TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS?  Where do I sign?!

Truth is, the subjects WERE incredibly dry – economics, statistics, accounting – I hated them all in their own special way.  My work ethic went straight out the window, I failed subject after subject time and time again – but I made some firm friendships at the pub on campus!

Outside of school, I didn’t know that life could be enjoyed and not endured.  No-one said to me that maybe I was failing at these subjects and partying too hard because I was doing the wrong course. Rather I came to believe that I was failing this fine course because I was partying too hard and not working hard enough.  So, believing that I was not very intelligent or hard-working after all, I heeded the “Take the Mickey” sales advice and adopted a new persona to see me through the course and my subsequent career.

And everyone bought what I was selling.  My self-deprecating humour was framed as “ability to laugh at oneself” – really a shield to protect enormous self-doubt and insecurity.  Outwardly I was calm, confident, successful, funny, popular and easy-going.  But that wasn’t really me.

The “real me” was the voice in my head telling me what a fraud I was.  Every single day she reminded me that I don’t work hard enough, that I’m not intelligent enough, that I don’t really know what I’m doing.  She told me I drank too much, smoked too much, that I am pathetic, that I am fat, ugly and lazy. She told me that my friends didn’t really like me because they didn’t know the real me.  She told me my husband would leave me if he knew what I flake I really was. She told me I was a bad mother and my kids would probably end up alcoholics as well. She told me I was too weak to do anything about it, she told me it was too late to change.

She was a real bitch, actually. If she were an external friend I would have un-friended her on Facebook a long time ago!  Instead, I put her in charge and believed every word she said.

Living with this inner turmoil was a living hell. I suffered with chronic anxiety.  Medication and alcohol provided such sweet, sweet relief from that yakkety-yak that I turned to it more frequently and in larger quantities.

If my husband asked me to do even the smallest thing I could snap. That cow upstairs had such a long to-do list lined up for me, whilst telling me I was fat, ugly and lazy – and reminding me of every unkind thing anyone had ever said or done to me and devising knock-out blows for a revenge strike upon those unsuspecting persons… well!  If HE thought I had time to fit in what HE wanted…it got ugly.

Weirdly though, for a long time the pain was of great comfort.  A case of better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, I guess.

The pot of gold at the end of this bleak “rainbow” is that I took a small step in a different direction towards yoga and dabbled in meditation.  Look, I can’t explain how or why it has happened for me, but that bitch upstairs has now left the building.

It is my aim here to be a yoga enthusiast, not a bore. Whilst here I feel comfortable sharing my experience, I have learnt to keep it to myself as well.  I have found along the way that many people – often those closest to me – actually do not want to hear that I am happy and have actually lashed out in the unkindest of ways. While I’m looking up not down and smiling not frowning and all that – many people seem quite keen to throw me and my skipping rope under a lorry.

The cow who used to live upstairs would have told me that they were right. Who the hell did I think I was anyway?  Did I think I was better than them?  Why did I deserve to be happy?  Why me anymore than the next person?

But I don’t care what she thinks.

I am not addicted to smoking, medicating, spending, drinking or people-pleasing anymore.  I don’t desperately need people to like me. I like myself very much and I can say no. I don’t get on the scales anymore – this fabulous body delivered my two gorgeous children AND it can now do a pretty decent shoulder-stand.  *I don’t suck my tummy in anymore because according to yogic principles a soft belly equates to a warm heart– and besides, tight abs hinder digestion. Hello! Is there a downside to this ancient practise?!

I know how to live fully within each moment – or drag myself back there if my thoughts carry me away. If the old tart that used to live upstairs pops in, I give her my best Buddha smile and offer her a cup of tea – but she never stays.

Until next time we meet,

Om & out.

AQA xxx

* Stephen Levine, an American meditation teacher who has written extensively on healing counsels that the state of your belly reflects the state of your heart.  By consciously softening your belly again and again, you can let go and open to the tender feelings in your heart.