When times get a little rough, when we have chronic strife, we can choose to complain about another person and make them wrong, make them small in any way our brain chooses to present evidence for that – or we can choose to learn. We can choose curiosity.
I know which I choose.
I have to actively make the choice; as I sit with anger coiled like bitter fire in my belly, the anger resolves into words – it recites the wrongs to me. It recites the good things I’ve given and the wrongs I’ve perceived and received, in my imagination. As I breathe and listen, I start to hear a pattern. The self-righteous bluster is flat, like the old-time stage scenery that was painted skillfully on plywood, shaded to look like structures of depth and substance. The more I look at it, the more I see deep grief underneath. The grief of a dream tarnished, a dream I’ve rebuilt, a dream I’m afraid of losing- a dream that was created by a child, a very young me.
The grief turns into questions. “Was it real? Am I a fool?” and flashes quickly into labels like “Betrayal.” Then it moves to list what I did wrong, where I messed up. It holds some truth, here – I could have done better. I can do better. But the self-hatred that shows up is a twisted form of the “bargaining” stage of grief. I breathe and observe.
Then anger begins again. The list starts repeating itself. I don’t do or say anything; I used to journal, but I found that writing gave the anger more substance. I am a storyteller; when I write things, I paint them in great detail in my mind, most of which are edited off the page. The world takes on life; the things I write breathe in me, and grow. I do not wish to feed and give life and substance to this bitter dragon, so I watch, and wait.
I consider compassion. Not empathy-that isn’t a road to take here – identifying and plunging in with a heart all to ready to imagine, feel, and perhaps project, is not wise in this instance. Compassion is bigger than that. Compassion breathes and says “Yes.” Yes, what you are experiencing is valid. Yes, you are held and supported. Support doesn’t mean I agree with the stories that create what I’m experiencing, or what you are experiencing – it means that beyond the stories and the pain, there is support that sees my, your, brightest light. Support can also mean taking no action at all. Compassion doesn’t seek to control. It simply IS, and I breathe it in.
I stop writing stories about what the other person is thinking, feeling, choosing. I stop trying to follow the labyrinth of “WHY” to find some way to comfort my rational mind, which seeks to understand and seeks to answer every criticism it can imagine is leveled in my direction. Trying to understand, or think I understand, is a form of control. I breathe again and feel the knot loosen.
I survey the future I had built for myself: the vision, the lovely castle in my mind and heart. I breathe in again when a knot of grief, followed by resentment, quickly followed by story (“can’t they see what I saw?”) forms. It loosens quickly, almost sheepishly. Good.
This is the warrior’s path. This takes patience, self-compassion, and commitment.
I have this commitment to myself, and to the life I have been given. I made this commitment years ago, when I put on boxing gloves for the first time in earnest, and chose healing instead of despair. When I chose to walk on coals far hotter than anything I’m experiencing now. When I chose every day to face violent storms again, and again, and again – choosing day after day, even though my legs would freeze up and refuse to carry me some days; even though my hands would shake and refuse to hold my pen; even though the symptoms of the war I fought sometimes showed up in humiliating ways, stripping me in public, rendering me unable to hide PTSD; even when the symptoms made each miniscule step forward an enormous effort- an effort that took everything I had. I have often made mistakes, been unskillful and emotionally irresponsible, but I showed up. I learned to deeply celebrate the smallest of victories. I fell into self-reproach when I stumbled, but I kept showing up. I got myself to the counselor. I got myself to the boxing bags. I made the healthy food. I walked away from abuse. I chose myself. I apologized and took responsibility. I suited up, wrapped my hands, allowed my tears to fall in prayer, and showed up with relentless determination.
From that time, I know a core of strength lives in me that nothing can destroy. I’ve obscured it lately with self-reproach and unkind words, self-blame. I have assaulted myself, as though if I could figure out what was wrong with me and uproot it at the source, I would finally be chosen. I would finally be seen.
I kept learning, kept taking responsibility, kept building more lesson plans for myself and seeking out what I had done wrong. thinking I was still on the warrior’s path, the path of wisdom.
Do you see the disconnect, here? I only saw it this morning. The ego got fairly tricky on me, and decided to disguise itself as betterment. As “healing.” As thinking I know what someone else is choosing, and what they’re experiencing. “This person is angry at you because you are flawed and you messed up. You messed everything up. Again.” There are so many flaws in this belief. This is all a form of control. It’s ego, thinking I know what is going on in someone else. Seeking to control someone else’s choices and the perception *I invented*, by changing myself. It’s choosing an imaginary someone else before myself, my real self.
It’s Black Panther’s brother, choosing death “instead of slavery,” when really, he was choosing death instead of the firewalk that is swallowing pride, making peace, honoring himself, and choosing to live. Choosing to learn. Choosing the fight towards freedom that comes with walking the warrior’s path.
Other people’s choices HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. Others’ perceptions aren’t my business. And so I release it.
I return to my power by realizing my worth. By focusing on myself again, my own life, and what a deep gift it is, and has been. I return to my power by focusing on what I choose. By choosing my own life.
I ask a question: If what someone else chooses for their life has nothing to do with me, and “self-improvement” is not what I thought it was, how, then, can I transform this? I thought I had let go. Apparently, it’s a matter of letting go, then letting go again. Maybe we’re never really “done” with releasing. Maybe that’s one of the most important lessons to learn in this life.
Love and release. Love and release. Love doesn’t seek to bind. Love allows. Even when my mind doesn’t comprehend another’s choice, love says “Good. Choose. Choose for you. If you don’t choose me, it isn’t personal.” Release. Love myself.
This is what I can learn, here. Lessons and self improvement that come with a sense of self-compassion, love and curiosity, those are the lessons I will follow, now.
Because how can I be walking the warrior’s path of love, if I refuse compassion to myself? So I just gently bring myself back to the path. This time, I feel so much lighter. I feel joy – this will be a dance.
I breathe again. I hold the fluttering bird that is wounded me in this instance. Her eyes are dull with pain, and she’s thrashing around a bit, one broken wing trailing stiffly through my fingers. I can feel her heart stuttering wildly, panicked, in my palm. She’s nearly incoherent – “he was- I thought – we had- he said – he hasn’t – he chose – but I brought – I was- why can’t -” these are the words that she gasps. I just hold her, breathe, soothe her. I imagine her surrounded in warmth, safety, comfort, and also freedom- I don’t restrain her with my hand. She is free to fly at any time.
I whisper to her, so gently, the way I’d talk softly to a child who had awakened from a nightmare – “it is all unfolding as it should. whatever you are trying to make happen, release your hold. come back, now. Come back to my heart, and when you are ready, open up again with me. believe again with me. trust again with me. love again with me. it is all unfolding as it should. You will see; the painting of this life will be a beautiful masterpiece, when we are done.” I stroke her feathers, and feel her calm. “I know it hurts. It is okay. Let it hurt. Let go of blame. Let go of reasons. Let it hurt, accept the hurt, and let go of any thought of why or predictions of what. Just be.”
The choice I make again: what can I learn from this? What can I learn in curiosity and playfulness, without reproach to self or others; how can I expand from this, how can my life and my heart become a bigger place?
This is the warrior’s path. It is deceptively gentle at times. It seeks stillness in the midst of story, talk, jagged energies that blame and criticize, rumor, choices not made from the highest self – and, as I just learned, it also recognizes self-harm in the seductive form of self-reproach and self-blame; it walks back to center, takes responsibility, which doesn’t look like shame- it looks like a gift. The gift of learning and improving.
How wonderful, really – the opportunity to see where my aim was off, my arrow didn’t fly true, and improve my aim,
The warrior’s path winds to the center of the labyrinth and tries again. Patiently, without pride, without carrying anything but determination and curiosity, slow step by slow step, firmly, never giving up.