Sunday, March 15, 2009

Goodbye Self-Pity

I’ve been caught up for the past few days in the emotion of self-pity. Both my husband and my daughter have had the flu over the past couple of weeks, and thanks to being spared from the affliction myself, I became their designated caretaker. This means that I did a lot more work than I normally do, I endured two cranky people while I did it, and I gave up other activities that I wanted to be doing. So, as the whole episode finally wound down, I found myself feeling kind of resentful—poor little me, working so hard, giving up so much, and getting nothing for it.

At the same time, I’ve also become more aware of how my thoughts sometimes function as a means of distracting myself from uncomfortable feelings that I don’t want to deal with directly. Often, instead of allowing myself to fully experience a bad feeling, I would focus my attention on the future, making some plan for a new activity, getting excited about it, and mentally preparing for it, as a way of avoiding having the very unpleasant experience of really processing the emotion. However, I purposefully didn’t allow myself to redirect in this way, and I tried allowing the feeling of self-pity to just be as it was. This created another kind of dilemma though, because the feeling really wanted to express itself. Resentment always seems to want to be compensated for its suffering. In my case, the impulse was to say something to my husband that would make him aware of how inconvenienced I had been by his illness, and would motivated him to do something nice to make it up to me. But, I did not permit myself to do this.

Coincidentally, I have been reading Gina Lake’s fantastic blog this past week, and her post on Getting and Giving in particular resonated with me. Because of it, I’ve developed this solid determination that I’m not going to allow this “I’m lacking something and I need to get it to feel better” way of thinking hijack my own ability to create happiness for myself. So here was a perfect test case, and I drew the line. I would feel the emotion, I would allow the emotion, I would accept the emotion, but I would refuse to be controlled by the emotion. If you’ve tried this, you probably learned what I did, which is that emotions that don’t get their way tend to grow stronger and more obnoxious, at least for a while.

I ended up doing a fairly lengthy meditation on the emotion yesterday, because I know from experience that if I meditate on a bad feeling long enough and with enough focus, it will eventually become (in a paradoxical way) pleasant to experience. So, I held my attention on the feeling itself, and on my desire to find a way to live peacefully with this emotion, but still not let my actions be controlled by it. I probably meditated about an hour and a half in the afternoon, then again at bedtime, until I fell asleep.

The weird thing was that when my husband came to bed in the middle of the night, he inadvertently woke me up, and even though I’d been asleep for a few hours, I felt as if I’d been meditating the whole time. I had this intense feeling of being totally aware of my body and its energy, as if for the first time. I could feel both its heaviness and its insubstantiality. I felt my own insignificance, like I was nothing but a speck of dust in an infinite universe, and yet I felt every bodily sensation as if I were the only thing in existence. It seemed a lot like being born anew and having a very primal self-awareness. Then, I began to worry that it might not go away, and I would remain in this kind of consciousness for the rest of my life, making it very hard to get anything done. But it did pass, both the self-pity and the hyperawareness, and I am feeling just fine now.


  1. This is a valuable lesson for all of us. Emotions rise and if we let them, they fade away. Being aware of whatever is going on within use is one of the most valuable things we can do for ourselves.

    I did some very intense dissolving exercises with a Qigong Master once and experienced much of what you described. As I melted away I sensed the same insignificance and then the total interconnection we have with everything around us.

    Yours is a great example of what we should be doing to promote our own happiness.


  2. Thanks Roger! You are very kind to me, and I appreciate your encouraging words. I am really just like everyone else here, doing the best I can with my life, given the imperfect knowledge and abilities that I have available to me. This next part is probably not as well expressed as it should be, but I’m going to say it anyway and hope that it makes at least some sense to you. Often, when I perceive the world, I feel like I’m looking at myself in a mirror, except it’s kind of curved and distorted like a fun house mirror, only a hundred times worse. I move a finger and something out there moves. I’m working hard to make sense of it, but I’m not sure how the parts match up. I feel separated, even though I know it’s nothing but me. I just want to figure out how to be optimally responsive, I want to be able to part the waters of experience and leave no wake.

  3. Hi Clarissa,

    Sorry it took so long to respond. I have been traveling a lot the last few weeks.

    What you are describing sounds perfectly normal. Each of us does our best yet we often find ourselves in situations we are not prepared for. I am also a person who perceives more than I would sometimes like to. This is neither good or bad but simply what is. The world is a mirror of each of us. A mixture of both good and bad that is the cause of a great deal of suffering. Each action we take, I love the metaphor of moving your finger, affects something else if only in a small way.

    It is helpful for me when I stop trying to make sense of things I will never understand. There are many things that cannot be quantified or reasoned through. These are the things we just have to accept. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there are simply things we will never be able to explain. We have to also ask if we really need to.

    Remain open to everything. It is not a matter of accepting everything but the understanding that we are limited in what we can control. Each of us will leave some sort of wake behind us and this is a good thing. Embrace it and simply ask yourself, "what is this" without really expecting to answer the question. It is a way to open your mind to the experience without building a story around it.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!