Is it weird in here, or is it just me? – Steven Wright
Life is full of platitudes and paradigm shifts these days: the inspiring graphics are all over Facebook and Instagram. Walking the talk is not as easy. For me, part of mindfulness is in unplugging from out-dated, hard-wired reactions and beliefs when pain and confusion show up.
When pain and confusion show up, some people let loose on the interwebs with their hurts. Friends pile on with how wrong this all is, while critics attack from the opposite view. Those hard-wired reactions to pain and confusion get a little harder and little more wired. Then we wonder at the slow pace of conscious change! There is another choice though.
I had one of those painful and confusing experiences recently, and I am just enough on the other side of it that I wanted to write about the mechanics of how I am using the pain to grow clearer, happier, and less judgmental. This is a window into my process, a process that likely will continue to ripen after I put these initial thoughts and feelings out into the sunlight of a public article.
Reality is an illusion – albeit a persistent one. – Einstein
Part 1: The Story aka one version of reality
I was recently forced off a nonprofit board I began serving on last summer. Turns out there were a few who didn’t appreciate my input. I was repeatedly throttled back in my contributions; I followed instructions as best I could. At the same time, I did occasionally “Question Authority” when I was confused or disagreed. Some considered me a disrespectful troublemaker; I found that some people took any questioning to be disrespectful. (Not to mention, the legal responsibilities of being a corporate board member.)
Illustration at right by Dana Paresa.
I actually enjoy learning and looking for improvements in process, in outcome, in design, etc. I know this slows things down and that some people prefer not to change things. Resistance to new ideas and occasional dissent is a challenge here in Hawaii – where collaboration is so highly valued. One question, though, is collaboration over-valued at the expense of curiosity? Another question, who gets to decide? Chenoa Farnsworth, of Hawaii Angels, identifies the challenge in the startup community: “I think probably the biggest challenge we have is just that connectedness…I think that’s a matter of making that a priority and saying we need to get connected globally.”
Pretty much everything I got came through people I knew. .. I want the truth. You never get an honest assessment in Hawaii because the community is too small. … How can you have true criticism when everybody knows everybody? Nobody wants to step on each other’s toes. – Dana Paresa
Part 2: The Pain and Confusion
The whole thing happened very quickly; I was told a majority were insistent on removing me. If I didn’t resign immediately, it would force the board to fire me, thus creating a volatile situation. That volatility would also be considered my fault. Turns out only some of the board wanted me removed; those who valued my contributions were not consulted. The kid in me lobbied for a “divide and conquer” strategy. But I realized, “Why?” I did not need this board position and this board did not need me. I do not like upsets either. It took quite a lot of self-talk and letting go of the feelings of rejection to drag kid me out of the ring and remind her:
None of this matters. – The Guys
That is one of the foundations of consciousness for me. We are all here playing a variety of games. It’s easy to get caught up in this or that game and think this really matters. It doesn’t. The members of this board have no power over me nor I over them. So, I made the decision to resign, to simply walk away.
Next, my kid self wanted me to just disappear – she considered that my removal was going to be publicly seen as my fault and a stain on my reputation if I did not fight it and defend myself. Kid me hates the feelings of shame and embarrassment that showed up; she was sure this was all somehow “my fault.” If I had been a more enlightened person, I would not have attracted these detractors into my life. (Cue all those quotes about “haters gonna hate” and “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” by Albert Einstein. Kid me really gets puffed up about that stuff! For the record, I think that mediocre minds can also encounter violent opposition.)
Clearly, my exploration of consciousness was not yet complete.
Part 3: Opportunity for Consciousness
For me everything is an opportunity for consciousness. As magic happens, the day after I resigned, I saw a note from the writer Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook about a TED talk by Ziauddin Yousafzai, father of Malala Yousafzai, the young girl shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to go to school:
“UNLEARN THE LESSON OF OBEDIENCE” – This girl is extraordinary; this father is extraordinary. He finished his speech by saying that people always ask him what he did to make Malala into such a strong warrior. He says it’s not what he did; it’s what he DIDN’T do: “I didn’t clip her wings.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
Now, don’t for a second think I am comparing myself to either father or daughter! But the reason we find these stories so compelling, I think, is because they open a door to new ways of being for us. But we enter these doors not by waiting outside for a jet transporter who can overpower all of our naysayers, but by taking baby steps – even crawling – to honor our own truths in the most “insignificant” of situations. I reminded kid me that it was OK if I were perceived as being disobedient or wrong in my attempts to point out discrepancies, add new communication strategies, or question a few traditions.
It is in these little little daily hurts and confusions that I flex and strengthen the muscles of consciousness. Each of us, even those with whom we vigorously disagree, are from the same source. When people push against me, I can choose to get stronger, regardless of whether I stay and fight or walk away. Conflict can lead to consciousness when I remember this:
Perfectly reasonable people disagree about everything. – The Guys
Part 4: The Way Forward
So, I had gotten a lot of insights, but what do I do now to make use of this pain to literally create new wired connections in my mind-heart-body? Go very big and get out of the trenches.
The Universe is 100% for me and 0% against me. – The Guys
That means, this experience is not about the tit for tat or blame or ultimately even about that board. They can continue now as they were before; it’s none of my business. This experience now is about becoming more of me, and less of “not me.” I am passionate about many of my positions; others, I can easily abandon. I have goals I have not yet achieved; I trip and fall on my way to them regularly. I respect the right of anyone else to be more of who they are – by divine right. I respect each person’s choice to engage or not.
Since the Universe is 100% for me, I can take responsibility for creating everything that shows up in my life, then deciding what to do about it. Meanwhile,
If you don’t change, you’re dead, so I try to keep changing. – Wavy Gravy
I love change. If you don’t, please find someone else for your team. 🙂 I’ll do a better job of letting people know, in advance, that is what I bring to the table.
To learn more about our kid selves, our adult selves, and our soul selves, I offer The Three You’s.