• wrong once

    Ego and Pride, Compassion and Healing

    wrong onceOver the last couple of weeks, I have found myself thinking about pride and the ego. There are no end of spiritual teachers who are falling all over themselves to tell us how awful pride and ego are. How they are the root of suffering. How they separate us from God and set us up for a fall. That we can’t live freely and fully until they are driven from our psyche or at least neutralized.

    All of that is true, I suppose. But every time I read something about how awful our ego and pride are, I find that it just doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t find it helpful at all, frankly. Which is why I have been thinking and meditating on it recently. What are other people seeing that I am not?

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason that all the railing against ego and pride doesn’t resonate is because it’s lacking in compassion towards poor, frightened, misguided ego and pride. Ego and pride aren’t our enemies to be fought and resisted, it seems to me. Rather they are parts of ourselves which are doing their best to survive in a world where we are lost, confused and frightened.

    I first became aware of the power of pride and ego in my teens. I’ve always had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding. But I had started to recognize that it was unreasonably painful to be wrong. It was actually hard to grow and learn new things because doing so meant facing my imperfections and errors. For some reason, the idea that I was wrong was often unbearably painful.

    I realized that this was, first of all, ridiculous. The expectation that I would know everything and not need to grow and be right in all my thoughts and opinions at 16 was absurd. Logically, I could see how dumb this gut level reaction to things which challenged me was.

    The other issue was that even at that age, it was my plan to continue learning and growing until the day I died. I seriously would say, even back in high school, that I looked forward to aging because I was excited to see what I would know and learn by then. (I’ve always been weird, yes.) Having to deal with this internal resistance and pain every step of the way was going to be a real problem.

    As I thought about the problem, I realized that there was something really deep in me which felt it wasn’t OK to be wrong. That my worth as a human being was dependant on having it all together. I realized that there was a part of my psyche which was afraid that I was always in danger of being exposed as damaged, wrong, unworthy and therefor unlovable. It was this part of me which found the experience of changing or being wrong an intolerably painful threat.

    I saw that pride was, for all its bluster and bravado simply the tool that the broken part of me threw up in an attempt to protect itself. It was strong, yes. But brittle. It didn’t like being challenged and did its best to remain invisible. The trick, I realized was to get it to relax. To let the broken part of me know that it was OK. If I am wrong, that’s OK. It’s not a threat.

    “There’s no harm in considering a new idea,” I would tell it. “Let’s just ask ‘what if?’ and see what it would look like. Maybe we’ll even like it better than what we’re working with right now.”

    In time, my pride became less forceful. My ego started to feel more comfortable and confident. It didn’t feel like it needed to be protecting itself and me all the time. Rather than fighting pride and ego, I began eagerly looking for signs that they were having a hard time. When ego and pride get prickly, that means there was something just itching to be healed or some false belief just dying to be soothed away.

    Many people speak of dying to pride and ego. But I really prefer to view it as healing pride and ego. And yes, it does often feel like dying. Healing often does.

    Sometimes ego and pride still cause problems for me. I have a persistent problem recognizing when I need to just acknowledge someone else’s feelings rather than arguing that they shouldn’t feel them, for example. I know that I don’t have as much joy in my life as God intends because my pride tells me the things meant to bring me joy aren’t important or impressive enough.

    I hope that one day I’ll be healed and whole enough that ego and pride will just relax and melt into the rest of me. But in the meantime, they don’t frighten me. Sure they represent sin. But Jesus died for all that. I don’t need to deny their existence in order to look good – to myself or others. I refuse to blame them for all my suffering or think that they are an enemy to be vanquished. They’re just a sign that I’m still in the process of being redeemed. And a tool to be used to that end.

    So my advice is this: if you’ve been convinced that ego and pride are a threat, an enemy and the source of your suffering, please reconsider. Might it not be that ego and pride are just as much the result of your suffering as the cause? That they are as deserving of compassion as anything in human existence? And that when you befriend rather than fight them, they can be valuable tools and allies in your quest to be conformed to the image of Christ in you? It’s been my experience anyways.

  • grief3

    The Gift of Delayed Grief

    My early twenties weren’t exactly a stellar time. Within a short period of time I was raped twice. I found out I was pregnant shortly after I decided to take Jesus’ words that it’s better to enter the kingdom maimed and had broken up with then boyfriend. The people around me didn’t exactly rise to the occasion. One woman I told about one of the sexual assaults told every-freaking-body. A man she told became so belligerent towards me that I had to interrupt his screaming rant to let him know that if he laid a hand on me, I would call the police and have him hauled away. One of my dearest friends died after a life-long struggle with a rare blood disorder.

    I had been studying to become a high school English teacher, but would now need help so I could complete my student teaching in order for that to happen. Instead, I was sent out into the world without so much as a chair to sit in or a bed to sleep on. I became homeless and wound up in a homeless shelter/half-way house for single mothers. My roommate was an orphan who stole a ridiculous amount of money from me. The other women there were children of drug addicts, forced out by violent step-fathers, recovering from addictions themselves, etc.

    Some of the people around me felt free to demand that I go into hiding and then place my child for adoption so my siblings, relatives and community wouldn’t know of my shame. (The idea that perhaps a person who has already had their right to self-direction grossly violated shouldn’t be told what to do with her own baby didn’t register, of course. And no, this wasn’t the ’50s. It was the mid-90s)

    After I had my son and decided to follow God’s leading and raise him myself, family and friends refused to have anything to do with me. Some went so far as to tell me directly that I wasn’t welcome to come around anymore – particularly if my son was with me. I did manage to eventually finish my degree, but what sort of work to pursue with a degree in Literature and Communications still eludes me. I was poor, alone and directionless beyond knowing that I needed to care for my son.

    There were a few brighter spots. My then 16 year old sister was supportive and actually happy about her new nephew. A local church held the only baby shower I had until a couple of my husband’s friends’ wives threw a spectacularly under-attended shower for me when I was pregnant with my 5th child. So, at least I had a stroller when my son was born. Continue reading

  • Forgiveness – VIDEO

    ‘K – something you need to know about me; I am freakishly un-photogenic. Seriously. Not that attractiveness is terribly important, but I am much better looking in person than on this video I’m going to share with y’all. Even my 13 y.o. when he was helping me format the video commented, “you don’t look anything like this in real life, mom. It’s really weird.”

    Which is all cover to make myself feel better before coming out from behind the text and sharing my video with you. The video’s my top 5 strategies for forgiveness. Something which I have had my fair share of experience with. Ahem.

    (If you were on facebook last night and saw me freaking out – this was what had me all in a tizzy. Thank you to all the peeps who gave me a boost. BTW, if you’re not following The Upside Down World on facebook, you should go do that. After you watch the video:)

    If you enjoy the video, please pass it around. And all of the ideas I share here are also found in my book The Upside Down World’s Guide To Enjoying the Hard Life. Along with 40-some other tidbits of brilliance. It’s totally worth the $5.98 that you should go spend on it right now. As long as I’m bossing y’all around! ;)

  • fine-timepiece-repair

    “You’re so sensitive!”

    “You’re being too sensitive.”

    Oh are those ever familiar words.  All through my childhood they trailed after me like a tin can tied to the end of my shoelaces, with each step in danger of sending it bouncing across the floor.  The sound of those words clanging along behind me made me wince until I could hardly bear to move from my spot any more.  One day, when the strain of being planted in one spot got to be too much for me, I got wise, cut the string and walked away.  For a long time though, the memory of that ugly sound haunted my steps.   But many, many years of freedom from the constant accusation “you’re too sensitive” faded even that away until I was able to move about my world with an ease I had not dreamed was possible back when I was trying to be quiet and still enough not to send that tin can clattering across the floor.

    I am sensitive.  I am very sensitive.  As I explained in the section of my book devoted to part of my spiritual memoir:

    I was the sort of kid who felt bad for the fake Santa’s at the mall when little kids would cry in their laps.  An old woman struggling to pull change out of her coin purse in front of my at the grocery store made me tear up.  If the other kids were teasing the girl from special ed classes who smelled funny and dressed badly, I felt compelled to step in to help her even though that was a great way to find out that I also smelled funny and dressed badly.  If you were someone I actually cared about, an angry word or harsh action could wound me down to the depths of my being. Continue reading

  • Spread the Joy – Enjoying the Hard Life

    hardlifecoverBack in college I briefly dated a guy who taught me how to drive a stick shift. We borrowed my friend Romi’s little Ford Escort and drove around deserted back roads so I could practice. I was awful. My date was very sweet and patient but after several hours of me stalling at every stop and losing speed as I struggled to find the next gear and the occasional grinding, he finally said, “I don’t want to make you feel bad, but it seems like you should be catching on by now.”  Shortly after that, I dropped him off and drove back to my dorm without a single hitch. I never had another problem driving a stick shift after that night.

    The story always makes me laugh because it’s so typically me. It’s like I have to make every mistake possible before I can figure out the right way to do things. And then I’m golden. The downside is it’s probably best to steer clear of me when I’m learning something new. The upside is that on the other end, I can tell you about any mistake a person can make and how to find your way out of it. And it’s in this spirit that I wrote The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life.

    If there’s a counter-productive, neurotic or unhealthy way to approach life, it was probably a habit of mine at some point in the past. In this book, I share 45 of my favorite ideas, practices and attitude adjustments which have allowed me to overcome my worst tendencies and enjoy my often difficult life. The essays are quick, easy to read, good humored and practical. No lectures or theological treatises. Just lots of ideas for how to be more mindful, self-compassionate, forgiving, happy, grateful and at ease with yourself, your life and the people in it. There’s even an index to help you find which essays to turn to when struggling with everything from anxiety to guilt to forgiveness to relationships and more. Continue reading

  • pmsangel

    PMS, Reinterpreted

    Do women tend to have higher natural emotional intelligence (EQ) than men? Most people think so although research hasn’t settled the argument yet. But if women do have higher EQ, I think I know the reason: PMS. (Men, you need to hear this, so don’t check out on me now!)

    There’s this weird thing which happens with PMS. Every month you have a day or two where you are completely convinced that your life is awful, with no redeeming qualities, hardly worth living. You will find yourself collecting evidence to support this perspective. The money problems. The kid’s dirty clothes. That hole in the wall that’s needed patching for as long as the baby’s been alive. It’s all your fault, evidence of your failure. And it’s hopeless. You know for a fact that all those people saying things like “you don’t lose until you quit” are delusional unicorn-friending idiots. At some point you start to understand women who abandon their kids to smoke meth in a motel outside of Vegas with a truck driver. It makes perfect sense in fact.

    But here’s the thing: while you are busy wondering if you actually have the cajones to go to the local truck stop and start talking up potential new boyfriends, it never, ever occurs to you that any of this is anything but gospel truth. It’s not until the next day when you discover for a fact that you are not pregnant that you realize – it’s just hormones! It’s not actually real. Continue reading

  • A New Year’s Resolution for the Overwhelmed, Forgetful and Easily Distracted

    I hate New Year’s resolutions.  Hate them.  The worst part of New Year’s day for me was always when the qxh (quasi-ex-husband) would pull out a piece of paper and write “Trotter Family Resolutions” across the top.  So we could “pull them out at the end of the year and see how we did”.  Great, another completely unrealistic standard to feel bad about not meeting.  Just what I need! 

    The other day I read an article which advised that the key to keeping this year’s resolutions was to set up specific targets.  Like “I will exercise 3 times a week and lose 25 lbs by April 1.”  Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!  Seriously.  That’s what it said.  Like the two are related.  Continue reading

  • Telling the difference between an excuse and a reason

    I’m not one to put much stock in sterotypes, but I was raised Catholic.  And I have Catholic guilt.  Bad.  But I’ve worked really hard to get rid of it and I’ve learned some things along the way.  Like that the problem with Catholic guilt is that it relies on a very inaccurate view of how the world works.  It’s mostly sustained by the holy trio of bad ideas:

    1. Somehow everything is my responsibility

    2  Everything that goes wrong is my fault. 

    3. What I want or think is almost certainly wrong.

    Catholic guilt’s hard to get rid of because of the specter of pride lurking just over your shoulder.  If you reject the triumvrent above, it’s because you are giving into pride.  Giving into pride is giving into a delusion.  Taking the risk of being delusional requires lots of evidence and really, what have you ever done that’s so special any ways? 

    One of the things which I have had to learn as part of the process of moving past feeling guilty for bothering people with my breathing is how to tell the difference between an excuse and a reason.  Continue reading

  • reality

    3 Immutable Laws of Life

    Adam Saveage of Mythbusters famously likes to say, “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work so well in real life.  While it is true that there are many ways of looking at life, there are 3 basic facts of life which one must be reconciled to at some point:

    1. Life is hard.

    2. Life is not fair.

    3. You cannot change other people.

    These are not bugs in the system of our life.  These are the features.  There is nothing you will ever be able to do to change them.  There is not enough money or power or influence in all the world to earn an exception with.  If you can make peace with these 3 basic fats, life may not necessarily be easier, but it will be easier to take.

  • Thinking About It

    Know Thine Self

    Getting to know yourself can be one of the biggest, most difficult jobs we will ever undertake.  But you can’t properly love yourself – or even really like yourself! – if you don’t know who you are.  If you don’t know who you are, how will you know what about yourself there is to love?

    Occassionally take some time to listen to yourself.  Sit quietly and think of a topic or question you are interested in.  Usually, when you do this a pat answer will immediately pop into your head.  This is the standard answer that you think is supposed to be the right one.  Let that answer fade away and listen for what pops into your brain next.  Notice any feelings that come up.  Ask yourself lots of follow-up questions.

     

    “Why do I feel this way?”

    “Why do I think this?”

    “Is it true?”

    “Does it make sense to me?”

    “Is this what I want to be true?  Why?”

    Just listen to what you have to say.  Usually it’s much more interesting and enlightening than the pat answers you normally come up with!