The tao of getting out of your own way
Hey there, guys. I’m writing you from Amsterdam, from a window overlooking a canal on a rainy day.
It’s easy to dismiss rain as ‘bad weather’ and to frown at the mention of clouds. But that just reminds me of the old Hawaiian saying: “No rain, no rainbows.”
Moreover, rain and clouds have their own beauty: the smell of damp earth, mellow sunlight streaming through cottony clouds and the dance of raindrops on the surface of the water.
To the Taoist, this would be the notion of accepting the world exactly as it is. Chapter 2 of the Tao Te Ching reads:
“When people see some things as beautiful,
Other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
Other things become bad.”
Now the rain and the clouds has gotten me thinking about the shadow side of relationships. Things like, conflict. Pain. Heartbreak. All that fun stuff. If you are a man reading this, chances are you have been hurt before in a relationship. Maybe betrayed. Stood up. Phone calls gone unreturned. She made you a promise and didn’t keep it. She left you for another man. Maybe some of these things happened more than once.
If you’re a woman reading this, chances are *you* have been hurt in a relationship. Maybe betrayed. Stood up. Phone calls gone unreturned. He made you a promise and didn’t keep it. He left you for another woman. Maybe some of these things even happened more than once.
The point is this stuff happens to *everybody*, all the time. We are the most successful organism in history not because we experience no conflict or challenge, but because we are most able to adapt to them. As I like to say, challenge is not a bug — it’s a feature. Deal with it.
Now the question comes of *how* you are going to deal with it. The first strategy is what I call the “woe is me” strategy. Basically, it means you take it all personally and say, “Why does this always happen to meeee?” and have a little pity party for yourself. You assume the position of the victim that the world does unto and whine yourself into powerlessness. You hold all those people who have wronged you responsible for your pain and hold grudges against them for ever and all time, world without end, amen.
As twisted and useless a strategy as this sounds, it’s probably the single most common one I’ve encountered amongst people. And every one of us has used it at some point.
Now let me tell you exactly what this does to you. It burdens you. It slows you down. It mucks up your entire mind and heart with this dark energy of self-righteousness and injury.
And, most important, it robs you entirely of your personal power. Because you are tying your well-being to the external actions of some other person — sometimes another person who is years in the past or hundreds of miles away.
Sure, being pitiable might get you some sympathy. But pitiable is the opposite of powerful. I’d much rather see you powerful.
Pitiable is also often a cheap disguise for bitter. I have spoken to enough men (and women) to know that there’s a lot of bitterness floating around. Some of them figure it out and use the strategies (enumerated below) to become better people as a result. But I know a lot of guys who take the bitterness to heart and take every slight very personally.
What happens then is that they generalize from a handful of cases to put some label on *all* women. “All women are (blank).” Then they bring this bitterness to their next interaction with a woman, which of course is doomed from the start. Or they accumulate an arsenal of weapons to trick and browbeat women, or to mask the fact that they don’t really like themselves.
Needless to say, this ain’t the best way to go, my friend. One of the best pieces of advice I got was from Don Miguel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements”, in which he says ‘take nothing personally.’
I know it feels pretty darn personal when, say, somebody dumps you, but taking it all personally just means that you think you’re taking yourself way too seriously and somehow believe the world revolves around you. And that just ain’t the case, buddy. Lighten up. And, even if not taking it personally sounds totally phony, it will make you feel better. Trust me on this one.
Slowly we’re getting to the second strategy: the strategy of empowerment.
Now if you take responsibility for everything that’s happened and all the feelings you’ve had, something miraculous happens. The agency is now shifted from an external source (where you had minimal control) to an *internal* source (where you have maximal control).
Responsibility is control. And control is power. Power is good.
I’m not saying that it’s your fault that she dumped you. I’m saying that you have responsibility for it happening, even if you were completely blameless in the transaction.
*You* were the other half of that relationship, not your grandma. Therefore, you were responsible. Responsible good.
Now, in typical Tao of Dating fashion, I’ve presented the challenge. Now I’m going to give you some ways of handling it — some ways of achieving this empowerment when it comes to relationship pain.
The first one is the toughest and most effective one. It’s called *letting go.*
Right now, wherever you are sitting, I want you think about all the pain you’re holding right now about women in your life. All the times she turned you down for a date, didn’t return emails and phone calls. Now let it go.
She divorced you and took the house. And the kids. Let it go.
She shacked up with the gardener and took your toolbox, too. Let it go.
She said she loved you but didn’t mention her fiance. Let it go.
She said yes, then said no, then said yes, then said no again. Let it go.
Pain happens. But suffering is optional. And it’s time you emptied out your bitterness account so it stops earning any more interest. Because your suffering does not affect her (or anyone else whom you perceive as having wronged you). It only affects you! It holds you back. It burdens you and slows you down.
Because when you hold the bitterness inside, it becomes more difficult to love yourself. And that diminishes your radiance.
So drop it. Lose all the grudges, all the perceived slights, all the little black dots you’ve unconsciously put next to other people’s names. Chuck ’em all.
Some people call it forgiveness. Some people call it indifference. I call it rising above. Clouds do not impede sunlight if you’re flying above them.
And when you rise, you become light. You glow. And people will gather around you, wondering what’s up. “Who is this guy?” There is something deeply attractive about a man who can suspend judgment indefinitely, to accept all as they are. Isn’t that what everyone wants — to be accepted as they are?
If you didn’t do the exercise now, that’s okay. Just promise you’ll do it soon.
The second method of empowerment is centering yourself in the present.
Right now, if you’re reading this, chances are you’re not actively bleeding. You probably don’t have an open head wound, respiratory distress or congestive heart failure. (As they said in medical school, there are only three emergencies in life: airway, breathing, circulation. The rest are details. ABCs, man.)
You’re also probably well-fed, clothed and dry, with a roof over your head. In fact, it’s raining outside right now, and I have not electrocuted myself on this computer, so life is pretty good.
The point is that at this sliver of an ever-moving, always still nanosecond called ‘now’, everything’s fine. Stuff goes haywire only if you start dwelling on the past (“She did me wrong!”) or the future (“She hasn’t done me wrong yet, but she will soon, darn it!”), which frankly don’t exist. So get out of the country music version of your life, take a deep breath, and bring some gratitude to where you’re sitting instead. Focus on what is, not on what isn’t. Realize that there is nothing missing, and you have everything that you need. Take on that glow of self-sufficiency, and watch the world gather around you.
And perhaps, in your infinitely astute perception, you have noticed that letting go and self-sufficiency are pretty much the same thing. Because when you suspend all judgment and let go of all grudges, you also have to include yourself in that equation and forgive yourself. And when you forgive yourself, you are acknowledging that you are okay. You are complete as you are. Nothing is missing. You are fully present. Life is good.