Okay, I was all set not to depress you anymore with more talk of how miserable I’ve been feeling the past few days, but it occurred to me that this might actually be useful.
Sooooo. If you’d like a peek into my head right now, here are a few, oh, lesson-like things that I’ve been mulling over — stuff that turns out to be pretty relevant to the whole “rewriting your habits” process.
These are just some of the useful pieces of knowing I’ve picked up in my life — little bits of wisdom that took me a long time to acquire — and they connect to many more situations than the one I happen to be in right now.
Obviously these understandings aren’t necessarily easy to apply. But they can serve a useful function as reminders.
And sometimes that is exactly what the doctor ordered.
So here you go. Four frustrating but important life lessons that have been a huge part of my inner dialogue as I cope with the loss of my friend.
Frustrating life lesson #1: It’s never about you.
When somebody does something that hurts, it invariably feels as though it’s about you. But guess what? You’re wrong. It pretty much never has anything to do with you.
It’s always the other person’s “stuff” that makes them do whatever they did.
And then it’s your stuff that comes up in reaction to that.
My friend killing himself was not about me, but about him.
By which I mean this: of course I want so much to scream and cry and ask, “How could you leave me?” or “How am I supposed to accept never seeing you again?”
And I’m allowed to scream and cry, and I do. But my question isn’t really relevant, because he wasn’t leaving me.
It wasn’t about me. He was leaving his own pain and it has no connection to me.
I’ve had my own share of painful life experiences, and reflecting on them, it’s easy to wonder how people or circumstances could have dished out that kind of awful, awful hurt, but ultimately, I know that it wasn’t about me.
It is always about that person and that person’s issues. Sometimes you just happen to be in the way.
Frustrating life lesson #2: You can’t help everyone.
Because I live my life in helper mouse mode, there’s a part of me that would love to be able to help everyone.
And having had a … shall we say “interesting” life, I’ve been fortunate to have learned a lot about a lot. And, more importantly, I’ve been able to help any number of people through my work.
It brings me enormous joy to watch my clients and students make all sorts of amazing breakthroughs using my techniques, concepts, exercises, etc.
But I cannot help everyone. I cannot help most people. And I couldn’t help my friend.
There’s not much you can do aside from shrug and recognize that this is part of life: not being able to help everyone. And coming to terms with that. Yes, it sucks, and at the same time, that’s how it is.
Frustrating life lesson #3: Avoid assumptions
Ever see the film The Long Kiss Goodnight?
It’s not the best film in the world and maybe not even in anyone’s top 500 list, but it features one of my favorite movie lines of all time — and from no less an actor than Samuel L. Jackson:
“When you make an assumption, you make an ass out of ‘you’ and ‘umption’“.
My main memory of the film is the packed theater in Tel Aviv with a boisterous audience who cracked up at every single joke but that one, which got way, way lost in translation.
Anyway, the point is this: just about any assumption you can make is inevitably going to be wrong. Or only partially correct.
And yet — being human and all that — it’s almost impossible to not make assumptions.
Since you can’t stop, you can at least bring some awareness to the fact that this is what you’re doing.
Your explanations and educated guesses are not necessarily grounded in any reality, so it’s important to be careful not to let them become your reality.
Frustrating life lesson #4: Judgment is limiting
I know, we all judge away all the time and aren’t likely to stop. No guilt here. You don’t have to stop.
Again, it’s more about noticing that you’re doing it, and allowing for the possibility of another explanation or some extenuating circumstances that you couldn’t possibly know about.
Right now my loss is really, really hard to bear. There’s a part of me that’s furious with my friend for disappearing on me this way.
At the same time, I recognize that it also isn’t fair for me to judge him so harshly for wanting to be free of his own pain.
After all, my pain is also sometimes (like right now) monstrously heavy. And while I can’t imagine that I would ever think about taking my own life, I can imagine what it would be like to just want the pain to end.
Each person has his own pain and we can’t know each others’ pain. All we can do is to try and extrapolate from our own pain, but it is never the same.
If you’ll let me go all pop psychology on you for a minute, I’m realizing that my judgment around my friend’s death has been preventing me from connecting intimately with his life.
And as I keep working on my ability to just allow him to have his pain, it’s getting easier for me to find my way back into my love for him.
Working through your stuff: it’s why you’re here
Oh, what the hell. One more frustrating life lesson for the road.
We all know this one already, intellectually speaking, but it’s always good to remember this. And sometimes you’re lucky enough to experience it as more of a visceral heart understanding.
You can’t work on their stuff. You can’t fix their stuff.
You can only work on your stuff.
Not even trying to fix it necessarily. Just observing and taking notes. Practicing letting it be there. Creating space for yourself. It’s really the only process you get to influence completely.
Gradually you get better at noticing when you are more able to let stuff go.
Gradually you get better at giving yourself a little love and understanding when you can’t let stuff go.
Gradually you get better at not forcing love and compassion on yourself when you’re just not in the mood to accept it.
And it gets better.
You have deep reserves of inner strengths to access. You have the ability to ask for help when you need it. You have perspective. You have a direct line to moments of peacefulness.
At the moment I’m feeling relatively thankful for these lessons, as hard and hair-tearingly frustrating as they can be at times, because they are old friends and they’re helping me slowly pull through this experience.
As are you. So thank you for that.