After my last blog post, my friend Susan wrote and said, “I liked what you had to say, but what about the corollary of ‘I don’t care where I am, I just don’t want to be here’?” She went on to say that she had gone dancing that night – an activity she usually loves – but had a terrible time because “I brought my ‘I don’t want to be here’ self with me.”
So I have some ideas about this, of course. A great myth propagated by our society – and sometimes my very profession – is that we should feel good all the time. People spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid feeling bad; we don’t like feeling bad and we want to change it. That makes sense, but it’s not very realistic. There are times when we are going to be grouchy or mad or sad or uncomfortable inside our own skins. As the poet William Stafford says,
Look: no one ever promised for sure
that we would sing. We have decided
to moan. In a strange dance that
we don’t understand till we do it, we
have to carry on.
So the key is to not resist where you are. Here are five ideas on how to do that:
1. Accept your bad moods and learn from them. We resist the “bad” emotions of anger, sadness, anxiety, and irritability and yet they are just emotions – they are neither good nor bad. What they can do for you, though, is act as a signal that something is amiss for you. Instead of resisting the emotion, go with it and see from where it arises. What new thing can you learn about yourself from your mood?
2. You’re here now, so look around and see what you can learn. Even if you bring your “I don’t want to be here” self to the party, you’re there now anyway. Is there some reason you came to where you are? Is there a person you’re supposed to meet or a lesson to learn about yourself? Take a breath and let go of the idea that you should want to be where you are. The fact is, you’re there so what opportunity is presenting itself to you? Maybe the opportunity is just a chance to learn to be okay with being somewhere you don’t want to be for awhile.
3. See how you got there and maybe you won’t have to go there again. So, you’re in a place you don’t want to be. How did you get there? Perhaps you weren’t listening to the voice inside you that was saying, “I really don’t feel like doing this tonight” or “I’ve had bad experiences in the past with this person” or “I know I won’t feel well physically if I eat this thing I’m allergic to” or ______ (fill in the blank.)
4. Don’t waste your energy wishing you were somewhere else. Here’s a really simple example: I used to just hate being stuck in traffic or at a red light when I was running late. I wished really hard that I would be anywhere but where I was. I would get really upset and grip the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white, tense my whole body, grind my teeth, and either silently or out loud curse the person or light that was adding to my lateness. Since I tend to be a late person, this took up a lot of my energy and I would arrive to my destination drained, tired, and cranky.
After years of doing this, a couple of thoughts occurred to me. One was the reality that all of my tension and upset did nothing to influence either the stoplight or other drivers’ behaviors. I was expending all my energy on some sort of magical belief that I could change the situation if I just got uptight enough about it. The other thought that came to me was that lightning had never struck when I was late. Not that I wanted to continue being late all the time, but the truth was that nothing terribly bad had ever happened because of it. Sure, I felt embarrassed or uncomfortable sometimes, but the end of the world as I had anticipated it through my mental and physical gyrations never actually occurred.
Now, instead of wasting my energy, I think two thoughts: “I have no control over that stoplight or the actions of other drivers.” And, “It’s my own fault I’m late. It’s embarrassing, but not the end of the world.”
You can use this same system when you are expending a lot of energy wishing you are somewhere other than where you are right now. If you have no control over where you are, let it go. If you do, do something about it. And ask yourself if it’s really the end of the world to be where you are.
5. It’s okay that you don’t want to be there. Don’t overemphasize how bad it is to not want to be somewhere. Where you are emotionally or physically is probably not the worst place in the world. You don’t have to like it, though, no one says you do. Yesterday, a friend and I were sharing our experiences of deep grieving from several years ago. Neither of us ever wanted to be in that emotional place and we certainly did not like it. But there we were. And what did we do? I didn’t like where I was, but I was there, so sometimes I divided the day up into five minute intervals and thought, “I’ll just get through the next five minutes,” all day long. My friend said she just put one leaden foot in front of the other until she started to move out of that space where she didn’t want to be.
No one promised we would sing; we have decided to moan. And that’s okay.
William Stafford, An Introduction to Some Poems, in The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Graywolf Press, 1999.