For most of my twenties stuff just happened to me.
I got fired from my sweet touring job because the drummer was an asshole. My girlfriend broke up with me because some guy snaked her out from under me. My car broke down because some asshole wanted me to drive on a bumpy road with their girlfriend to see some stupid rocks.
This is how life went for me. Things would go poorly and I would blame someone else.
Then when I was 28 I moved into a monastery. I thought I was just going to be there for a few months. It would be a good story to tell to women I met on other adventures.
But the first time I had tea with a Zen master something shifted.
We were talking about the challenges I felt I had in life, the woes that had befallen me, the people who had done me wrong. At one point I said, “I have a hard time connecting with people, because I’m so much smarter than most of them. I just don’t know how to do it sometimes”
I cringe every time I think back on that moment. But the Zen Master didn’t flinch.
He said to me, “Consider Shizen (the other Zen Master at the monastery), she’s one of the smartest people I know. She’s a doctor, she’s written several books, but she connects with everybody.”
The words stopped me in my tracks. I had a few objections, but slowly I let it sink in. I was making this shit up. I was being a victim to myself, my life, and to everything that happens to me.
Slowly I began to change how I felt about my life and I began to see that I can decide what happens to me. And here’s you you can too:
REALIZE THAT YOU DON’T HAVE CONTROL
The illusion of control is the ego’s greatest lie.
One of the things I started to see when I meditated for hours a day was that I largely don’t have control over what happens in my life especially when it comes to what other people do, think, or say about me. I can certainly change my response, my relationships, and my choices going forward but I found that I didn’t actually have control over most of it.
Life happens, people change, sometimes you find love, other times you find loneliness. Your choices still matter but it doesn’t change the simple truth that much of life occurs outside of our ability to influence it.
As I began to accept them, I was able to relax. Instead of life being this personal drama where everything was a vast plot point in my own story, I began to see so many events like gravity. They were things that were just happening vs things that were happening to me.
GET PRESENT TO YOUR IMPACT
You affect people and your life more than you realize.
As I spent time mindfully watching myself with other people I started to notice that the way I listened to people made a difference. When I looked at them with a subtle judgment about the way they told a story, they felt it. They would share less, they would be more cautious.
But when I tried to listen more deeply, and be more present without objections or inner dialogue people opened up to me. They shared more of themselves. They actually became more interesting to listen to… And I started to want to listen to them.
When you start to notice how what you do affects others, you may start to notice that there are certain things you want to do differently. You want to be more interested in what your boyfriend is saying. You want to be more patient with other drivers. You want to be a bit different because you can see how what you’re doing has an effect.
I found this kind of desire so natural and powerful. It wasn’t a need to change myself to please someone else, it was a desire to be different with life so that people and life would be different with me.
MOVE FROM BLAME TO RESPONSIBILITY
Not everything is somebody’s fault, but anything can be your responsibility.
For most of my twenties, I looked for people to blame and I usually found someone.
But as I sat in silence in the monastery trying to practice compassion, I made a simple mistake. If it wasn’t their fault, if it was unkind to blame others, then maybe the solution was to blame myself.
I can distinctly remember hours of weeping in the midst of self-woe at how I had screwed up my life. It was my fault my girlfriend had cheated, my fault I had lost that job, my fault that my friends had treated me poorly.
My love of drama hadn’t changed; it had simply turned back in on itself. It took me a while to see that the drama wasn’t helping. I was still playing the same blame game I always had. So I let it go.
I began to see that for most things I had a part to play in how they went, but so did the people around me. Yes, I had treated my girlfriend’s love for me lightly and yes she had decided to start seeing someone else. Yes, I didn’t communicate clearly with my friends and yes they made assumptions because it was easier that way.
The more I let go of blame the more at ease I felt. But I didn’t stop there.
I also began to see that I could choose to be responsible for things. If I wanted to have a better relationship with my mother I could make sure we talked, even if she wasn’t the one who was going to call me. If I wanted to be safe when I drove, I could give other drivers more space.
While there was no ONE person to blame for anything, I could make myself the ONE person who was going to try for things to go differently this time.
And once I made myself that ONE person, I was able to create what I wanted.