Thinking about the things I can LIVE without is easy. I’m intensely unfond of clowns, raisins, and the Beatles. My idea of hell involves a creepy grown man in makeup with oversized shoes singing “Hey Jude” while holding a tray of cookies loaded with those revolting shrunken grapes. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy for me to live a life sheltered from those exemplars of my disdain. That is all good and selfish. I have a natural talent for avoiding things.
My challenge is recognizing those things drawn to me by my own dark gravity and orbit around while blocking my sunshine from other people. These are a cheater’s dozen of the things I can love more without:
1. Having an opinion on everything.
I’ve never been commissioned to appear on any radio or television show where someone solicited my sage commentary on anything. Yet, I sometimes feel this soul-deep need to opine for no better purpose than to vibrate air between myself and another person. I have just as much wisdom to offer up on Black Lives Matter as I do on the topic of orthoscopic bunion surgery. However, without conscious self-regulation, when a moment of silence wafts into a conversation, I’m naturally compelled to disturb that gloriously still oxygen with a bust of impromptu phonemes strung together without careful consideration. The truth is that I don’t need to take a position on anything.
There can be a lot of love in the quiet of listening.
Humans use other humans to triangulate, navigate, and ultimately create a working map of the world. We figure out what is appropriate and functional in life via a continuous feedback loop received from other people. If I act in a certain way or say something, my radar is pinging those around me to determine if these expressions of my person are relevant to the situation. A smile of acceptance tells me I am approximately within the bounds of reason, and a grimace or some other negative signal informs me that I deviated from the acceptable.
We all recognize people who are social experts and notice people whose game in that area is less than polished. Sarcasm robs the feedback loop of valuable truth for people who still need rock-solid tutoring on how to behave. Some people are literally looking over our shoulders and “cheating” off of our social exams. To lather my conversation with dark comments where intention and literal meaning are juxtaposed is a deliberate, and all too often mean-spirited, kick to the dog that only wants to be my friend.
There can be a lot of love in speaking the plain truth, and there is at least some small honor in being a jerk unambiguously if needs must.
The secret to happiness is low expectations — Barry Schwartz
I can’t argue against the notion that my happiness is directly proportionate to the degree that I am dependent on particular outcomes. I’ll wake up any given Wednesday, or ten minutes from now, and silently, unconsciously place my sense of well-being as a long-shot wager against any number of exact expectations in life. And as predictable as the house advantage in a casino, a greater proportion of those anticipated eventualities land far from the vision hosted by my imagination.
The problem is twofold. First, I trade my potential enjoyment of the positive inherent novelty of unanticipated joys that flow through my life for a wallow in the well of disappointment. Secondly, by focusing intently on a defined goal, I blind myself and squander opportunities to tune my journey in a way that might yield far greater satisfaction along the route.
Expectations of other people are also a way that I can prove to myself negatively that I am not psychic. Once I place you in my crystal ball with a schedule planned for your acceptable behavior, I’ve lost the capacity to enjoy the autonomous person who is the reason I liked you in the first place.
There can be a lot of love in savoring the unpredictability in myself and others.
It took me a very long time to unpack this idea; the degree that I arrogantly condemn other people’s behavior is strikingly similar to the brutality of internal dialog I produce in my head about myself. A person can really only prove this to themselves. Take any condemnation concerning another person and you’ll find a matching complement to it in the negative dialog we carry on within our own heads. You can literally make yourself feel better about yourself by recognizing and halting your own gavel in the silent judgment of others.
There can be a lot of love in minding my own business, even if it’s only in my head.
5. Envy and jealousy.
Envy and jealousy are two separate things, yet they both have similar results. Envy is a two-person emotion. You have something that I want. Jealousy is a three-person emotion. You are giving someone something that I want. In either case, I have unconsciously robbed myself of the capacity to appreciate what I do or can have, entered a mindset of scarcity, and staked my well-being on conditions beyond my control. Adopting either practice is self-perpetuating and fosters an inability to find joy in the happiness of others.
There is a lot of love in recognizing the wealth of abundance in the world.
6. One-person arguments.
If you’ve ever been angrier at the hypothetical response someone has given you than the original slight that made you rehearse an argument in your head solo, you’ve been the creature in the black lagoon of one-person arguments. Never in my life have I gained any insight into another person’s perspective when they weren’t present. Yet the rehearsal quarrels continue in the vain quest to calculate every possible snappy retort should that argument ever actually take place. I have yet to precisely predict anyone else’s dialog word-for-word after “Hi.”
There is a lot of love in leaving the angry brainstorms at bay and starting any real conflict with: “The story I’m telling myself is….” I am a wishful mind reader. The moment someone lowers their guard and paints a portrait of their inner world, my fight melds into fascination.
Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die — Saint Augustine
I’d have a biblically long lifespan if I could get a refund on the time I’ve squandered singing that “somebody done some Charlie wrong song.” I have a relatively short memory for personal slights yet a tenacious tendency to process them intensely when they happen. I’ve listened to kind-hearted people tell me:
“If they knew better they would do better.”
And, the crowd-pleaser:
“They are not doing it to you, they are just doing it.”
However, I’ve known better and still didn’t do better in addition to offending people on purpose. The only practical salve that has soothed the raw wounds of perceived injustice is the realization that by giving free rent in my head to tenant overdue eviction it only manufacturers my own misery.
There is a lot of love in turning around in the saddle and riding time’s horse in the direction it is going.
8. Secret covenants.
I have made iron-clad contracts scribbled in the air and forged other people’s signatures on them quite often. These “secret covenants” are my surreptitious expectations upon other people where, in my head, I have conducted a fair trade for something and assumed they would know my desires in return. If you’ve ever expected a spontaneous raise for putting in extra effort at your job or silently anticipated a loved one to reciprocate some loving gesture, then you can relate.
There is much love in being forthright about my needs and not covertly horse-trading while maintaining the fantasy that other people can read my mind. There is also compassion to be excavated in understanding that the world is full of other people who might be quietly making these expectation covenants with me.
Worry in one hand and spit in another and see which one fills up first.
Having proven to myself ad nauseam that I’m not a psychic through myriad plans and outcomes that have never materialized, why do I spend so much time trying on hats in the haberdashery of hypotheticals? A Roman Stoic philosopher named Seneca once said that “we suffer more in imagination than reality.” It’s not the shot that really stings; it’s the nurse approaching with the needle.
My only useful remedy to the weight of worry is to discard the mental anchors of those things I cannot command. The remaining load needs to be lifted as quickly as possible. Procrastination makes the predictable unpredictable.
There is a lot more room left for love in focusing on things I can actually control and facing those challenges voluntarily.
Everyone reeks of time. It is the pungent odor of the hours, days, and years we have witnessed perish in worry and other foolish endeavors. If it were not for the consequence of the moments I have frivolously discarded, I would have the patience to hold space for others.
There is a lot more time for love when remembering how I’ve previously whittled away the hours.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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