When I was a younger, I was bullied and excluded a lot. It happened in elementary school, and in middle school, and in high school. The people and the circumstances changed. But the feeling inside didn’t. It felt numb and distant and hot. It still feels that way. It felt that way this past weekend.
It is hard for me to not carry inside of me the belief that I deserve to be excluded or ignored if I act a certain way. To avoid being excluded, over the years I have learned to push out and be charming and witty and social. I like that “me” much better. Other people like her better. I am ashamed of the “me” that is awkward and silent, that doesn’t know how to be part of the group. I am angry she still exists.
If I am not blaming myself, I get angry at the world. At the way that we hurt each other so deeply. At how heartless it can feel. But as much as I hate the system, the truth is that I have been in the other position. I exclude others. I would exclude the “awkward me” too.
There’s a middle place in between the shame and the blame. It is soft. It is the part that can actually feel pain. No story that anyone is right or wrong. I just let myself hurt. And strangely, it feels oddly peaceful in this soft painful place.
I can feel that my mind wants to pull me out of there. It feels nervous, like it has nothing to do. It wants to get back to the shaming and blaming, where it can comfortably gnaw away for eternity.
I have this one particularly strong reoccurring belief that there are some incredibly cool, gorgeous, perfectly loved people who never have to visit this place–so if I am here then it must confirm that I am a loser. I really used to believe that story. I would inevitably respond by doing anything to avoid admitting I felt pain. Now, the story has loosened its grip, but it hasn’t entirely left. It gets really close and scary and I have to remember not to buy into it. It’s just a story. It’s not real. I practice letting it go by me. I can feel the whoosh as it whizzes by my cheek.
Today, when I did yoga, I made my whole practice about staying in that tender open place. At first, I felt like an animal who is so used to protecting her wound that she doesn’t even realize that she is doing it anymore. I was nervous and skittish on the mat. My breath sucked in with a rush every time I thought about how awkward I can be, about the pain of being ignored or disrespected. I left my body regularly.
Gradually, with each breath, I asked myself for permission to enter that space, to feel how hurt I was. Slowly, slowly, I relaxed. Slowly, I opened up to myself. I stayed present with the pain. It really hurt. I cried.
And then, when I came home, I felt the desire to share this place with you. I am learning to stay in the spot that hurts. I can even open it up and let you in here. I want you to know that if you have a place that hurts, you can learn to stay there too. I think a compassionate wisdom arises when we learn to stay in this place, and can greet each other from that place. It feels welcoming and kind. I am glad for the thing that brought me here. I want to be a person that knows this pain.
As Pema Chodron (“When Things Fall Apart, p. 109-110) says:
“Compassionate action, being there for others, being able to act and speak in a way that communicates, starts with seeing ourselves when we start to make ourselves right or make ourselves wrong. At that particular point, we could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where we could love. This place, if we can touch it, will help us train ourselves through our lives to open further to whatever we feel, to open further rather than shut down more. We’ll find that as we begin to commit ourselves to this practice, as we begin to have a sense of celebrating the aspects of ourselves that we found so impossible before, something will shift in us. Something will shift permanently in us. Our ancient habitual patterns will begin to soften, and we’ll begin to see the faces and hear the words of people who are talking to us.”