I’ve been thinking about how to explain what I meant about my impression that you were taking your mind “personally”, and what an alternative to that might be. Whenever I’m offering something that borders on advice, I feel the need to preface it by acknowledging that I am, of course, a work in progress, and not an expert on anything besides how to drown my emotions by binge eating, so I certainly make no claims to authority. All I can talk about is what I found to be true for me, and what I found to be helpful for me, and then put it out there, and maybe something I say might be helpful to you. There’s very little dialogue in our culture about inner work. I mean, there are lots of hero stories about people changing, but the nitty-gritty of how you do that is something that’s always been mysterious to me, so I try to talk with people about it as much as I can so I can get more tools for my tool bag.
So, there was this way that I used to interact with myself, which I’m thinking of when I talk about taking my mind personally, where my mind traps and emotional liabilities and certain dysfunctional personal and relational habits, were something that I saw as my personal flaws, and I had a lot of shame around them, and used to try to order and will myself out of them. It was narcissistic in a certain way, the idea that my flaws were so unique and terrible. A negative narcissism. Probably the started to shift post-O. I knew there was something really wrong with the way I conceived of relationships and psychology––all the pain in my life around him and my own mistakes told me that loud and clear––and I was desperate to understand what had happened between me and him, and more generally how these things should work. So I started listening to all these Zen talks. And some of them I didn’t like and dismissed, but some of them really clicked. I say that because it’s important for me to specify that it wasn’t that there was a hole in my life and for some reason I grabbed Zen and shoved it into that space. It was something that I’d been into a little before that, and there were a lot of teachers who didn’t make sense to me, and a few who often did. And the ones who did were really wise. And I mean that in a really specific way. I’m thinking of this counselor that I had in the day hospital program that I did as a teenager, and I remember her talking about emotional mind and rational mind, and wise mind being where they overlap. Gil Fronsdal is my favorite; most of what he says both makes complete sense rationally, and also clicks for me in terms of my intuition and experience. I was listening to talks something like five or six hours a day for months; it was a really intensive relearning process for me, and there were a lot of things that happened in that time. Anyway, to focus again, one of the perspectives that I started to get in that time was that it wasn’t so much my mind as the mind. By this I mean, and you can probably hear in the way I talk about things, but it’s less, wow, my mind is fucked up, and more, wow, human minds are fucked up. of course, people have their own dysfunctional or painful patterns, but I tend to see it now as, there are certain patterns that are common in human behavior, and for whatever reasons, some of us have some, and others have others. And they’re not our fault; they’re just our responsibility. Literally, it’s our job to respond to the patterns in ourselves that are dysfunctional and try to find healthier ways of relating, but there’s nothing personal about having some faulty wiring. It’s just how being human works. This was a really big thing for me––understanding that making mistakes and being flawed is just part of being human, rather than some horrible thing I was doing. And getting out from under that shame freed up a lot of energy to then actually work on the patterns, and be more honest with myself and others about them.
Another important understanding along these lines was that some of the dysfunctional things in my personality or patterns are there for good reason. Some of them are things that were functional at one point in time, and have simply outgrown their usefulness. a lot of them are things that started in childhood, in response to a really messed up family situation, and helped me survive it. Yes, at a cost, but nonetheless, they helped me cope with something impossible. And now I’m an adult, and I get to choose who to have relationships with and live with, and so I can choose things far healthier, and people far kinder, than the ones I had no choice about being related to, and this means that I don’t need the same tendencies that I needed then to survive. L, you and I have talked about how we’ve seen this play out in our families––in response to my needs being ignored, I saw my needs and myself as shameful and undeserving. Of course that was painful and caused great suffering, but it also helped me survive being a child. It helped me from collapsing into feeling totally powerless, and thus, totally hopeless. I thought, if I could just be better, maybe I could get what I needed. Of course I was wrong, of course all kids deserve to have their basic needs met, of course I am basically good, but that belief kept me from drowning in despair. And, as an example, understanding that some of those destructive patterns were protective at one time, has help me interact with myself much more kindly around them. They stop feeling like something my brain is doing to attack me, and instead I can say to myself, this pattern was here for a purpose, and thank myself for having the cleverness to create it at the time when it was needed, and then also remind myself that I don’t need it anymore, and set the intention to let it go, and listen to my other motivations, and act out of them.
This also gets back to the thing about things being about human experience, rather than my personal experience, in certain ways. My oldest sister reacted to that same family situation in a really different way. Where I shrunk (literally), she got loud and demanding and manipulative to try to meet her needs. It just occurs to me, too, that where I lost weight and got really thin, she got really heavy––I wonder if that was, for her, part of the manifestation of that same thing. Anyway, I’m talking about this because it’s an example of different ways that humans tend to react in a certain kind of stressful situation. I’ve met other people that reacted like me, and others that reacted like my sister, and so I just see our different ways as two of the common ways that the human mind reacts that kind of stress, rather than two uniquely messed up individuals.
More to say about judgment in general… On my To Write list.
Oh, one last thing I wanted to say. About responsibility––I’ve had a very strong habit of thinking about myself and my life in terms of what I should do. To me, “should” means morally, and in an anxious, alone way, “good”. In other words, the questions for me for most of my life have been about what’s morally good, and what would make me, finally, good, deserving of happiness or love. And I saw my flaws as my fault, so obviously from there, I had to fix them. I should do this and that to correct them. Another concept in Western Buddhist psychology (though not unique to that thought system), is the concept of stewardship of oneself. We don’t get to choose all the things about ourselves, we can’t always make ourselves one thing or the other, all we can do is our best to take care of ourselves, by being good to ourselves, and by being good to others. With this idea, the dysfunctional habits that I felt I should fix because they were so bad and shameful, become the dysfunctional habits that I want to heal because I care about myself. And I’ve got a be the one to do it not because it’s my mistake in the first place, as I used to think, but because I’m the only one who can. If I need to pee, no one else can do that for me, no matter how much they might want to help, or I might want help. It was very useful to me to think of working with my mind in this way. My responsibility because no one else has the power to respond to it in the way that I do, because it’s my own mind. So it becomes sort of a simple logical thing, rather than moralistic. Does that make sense?