As i was waking up this morning, i noticed a familiar desire to stay in bed, to not go to the class i had been putting off all week, to continue to avoid people. Had i really been avoiding people? Since i returned from Germany, i seem to have been interacting with a lot of people! Though except for being picked up from the airport and some interactions with people at stores, all my social interactions had been over email, over the phone or Skype. I had chosen to go to the beach to watch sunsets instead of going out dancing with people i know.
Maybe it was because i’ve been listening to Brené Brown talk about “the hustle for worthiness” or because i read Tara Brach’s “Awakening From the Trance of Unworthiness” that i was more attuned to what i was doing this morning. I have been isolating myself. And, honestly, a lot of that i very much enjoyed! I still remember leaning into the wind a couple of days ago, noticing how it could almost hold me. I remember the delight of almost being pushed up a dune by it – and realizing how much more work it was to scale the same dune yesterday because the wind wasn’t as strong. I felt completely at peace. Actually, i felt happy, sitting on top of a dune with gorgeous views. I felt totally and utterly accepted. And being at the beach had given me a sense of belonging here in San Francisco. A sense that hadn’t been there before i watched the sunset, before i watched the ocean. So, it was more solitude than isolation that i was seeking.
Before that i had been sick with a cold – and none of my friends asked if i needed anything. I haven’t gotten any surprise calls or emails to welcome me back. No one stopped by to visit. This morning all of that came to a head when a voice inside of me screamed at me: There is something wrong with you! Nobody wants to spend time with you! That’s when solitude shifted into isolation.
The voices in my head are going in circles. There is something wrong with me, they say, so i should isolate myself. When i do things on my own, they scream that i am isolating myself and there must be something wrong with me because i am doing that. I should go out and socialize, which then becomes painful because they are telling me that i am not good enough to belong with these crowds. Ay!
I think there are several things going on. There is a large dose of singlism at play. The idea that going to the beach watching a sunset by myself is pathetic is clearly singlist. Choosing to spend time by ourselves can be a way to nourish ourselves, to enrich our lives, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Then there are what i’ve focused on so far: The inner voices that keep telling me no matter what i do, i am inadequate, i am somehow deficient, and if no one calls me it’s my own fault because people just don’t like me the way i am. And then there is something i’ve written about before, that i think many of us don’t want to hear, don’t want to admit, at least in our Western individualistic culture: We are social beings. We want our self-worth mirrored by others. Well, at least it helps. And that often doesn’t happen because of our cultural busyness and our assumption that we should do everything on our own.
What i find interesting, though, is my experience of utter (self-)acceptance, inner freedom, and silence of those voices when i was at the beach (no wonder i’ve been craving to go there!). It’s as if interacting with other human beings triggers the inner voices, washes me in thoughts of deficiency. I can hold onto my sense of self-worth when i am by the ocean. It falters whenever i am telling myself i am not okay the way i am, whenever i think i have to prove myself somehow. And in social interactions, i think that i have to prove my worthiness – that i am worthy of interacting with. And any lack of social interactions, i take as a rejection of me (while desperately holding onto the theory that people are just too busy).
What seems to be the key in this shame spiral is the idea that i have to prove my worthiness. Somehow i have to earn it. And that, too, is a cultural message, just like singlism. Some of us are driven into busyness by our desire to prove our worthiness. Others, like me, try to mentally beat ourselves into shape. Or, maybe, my search for a community comes out of that desire as well: If i had a permanent mirror, i would have to face these painful voices. Sounds almost couplemanic!
The sad thing is: None of this works. Nor is hiding, for my choice to be by myself has shifted into wanting to hide. That is no longer a choice. That is shame. I am not back in my routine where i have regular interactions – and get hugs! – here in San Francisco. I missed folk dancing on Monday because i was sick. So, to counteract my shame, i could spend the day watching my inner voices with the danger of falling into them. Or i could drag them kicking and screaming to that class i’ve been avoiding and see what happens. Someone might actually talk to me! In other words, i need to break the cycle that is feeding the shame. After all, others cannot mirror my mattering when i avoid them! Plus, then i can go back to enjoying sunsets because i want to be solitary, not because i think i don’t deserve to be in a crowd dancing.
Most importantly, i want to hold onto the lesson from the beach: I don’t have to prove anything to matter, i can just be and enjoy what life brings me: cold wind and a gorgeous sunset. Mirroring of my mattering through others helps, ultimately though, my sense of self-worth needs to come from the inside.
Addendum a couple hours later
I feel sad because i missed the class because i hadn’t planned getting there well enough to leave enough time. Instead of feeling the sadness, though, i started looking through my emails, desperately trying to replace the physical connection in the class with something. Fortunately, i stumbled on a talk by Sherry Turkle that reminded me of what i was doing:
You end up isolated if you don’t cultivate the capacity for solitude, the ability to be separate, to gather yourself. Solitude is where you find yourself so that you can reach out to other people and form real attachments. When we don’t have the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people in order to feel less anxious or in order to feel alive.
I am avoiding the solitude because i don’t want to feel the sadness… I could just sit and be sad! Something the Buddhists recommend (well, they recommend to sit and be whatever is present, not necessarily being sad – only if that’s what’s present!)