The Other Me

I realized this week that the person I most often compare myself to doesn’t exist. More importantly, she never will—at least not in this universe.

This is one of those moments to pause and appreciate the depth and complexity of one’s own psychoses. Comparing product reviews on Amazon: good idea. Comparing oneself to other people: bad idea. Comparing oneself to a fictional character: priceless.

This imaginary version of me really has the whole life thing figured out. She always goes to bed on time. She enjoys reviewing HOA bylaws, and she has much better fashion sense than I do. Whatever I have just done, she did it better. I’ve never known her to make a mistake.

Where did she come from, this other me? On the one hand, it’s not mysterious. Our culture markets discontent with impressive frequency and pervasiveness. On the other hand, it’s interesting that a being woven of “should have” and “if only” has such substance that, until now, it never occurred to me that she’s not real.

I think she convinces me of her existence by appearing to be possible, but she’s not. It’s like wanting every blossom on a tree to be in full and perfect bloom at the same time (yes, I do this) all year round (thankfully, I don’t do this). Not gonna happen. As the Tao Te Ching says, “Sometimes things are ahead, and sometimes they are behind.”

The tricky part comes a couple lines before that, though: “The universe is sacred. You cannot improve it.” That means the real me is the sacred one, even on days when I only get six hours of sleep, binge watch superhero shows on Netflix, and eat too many store-bought cookies while wearing pants that don’t fit right. Somehow, that was my best for the day—“You cannot improve it.”

I’m not suggesting we don’t put effort into learning and growing, but as Richard Rohr says, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Of course, we are advised to love our enemies, so perhaps I should take my imaginary perfect self out for a hot fudge sundae and corrupt her a bit.

Nothing Less than Love

This week I learned something from the source of all ancient wisdom: Facebook. Well OK, from a quote from the Tao Te Ching that my mom posted. The part that jumped out at me said,

Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

That’s a gigantic claim. Using definitions from dictionary.com, it means, approximately, “Having deep sympathy for yourself and a strong desire to alleviate your own suffering, you can bring all beings in the world into harmony.”

How does that work? I stop getting down on myself for not doing the dishes and suddenly there’s a ceasefire in Syria? Sounds preposterous.

A couple of days later, I saw this quote from Jim Finley that I’d written on an envelope: “refusal to let anything less than love define who you are.” Ah-ha, instructions on how to be compassionate toward yourself.

We generally define ourselves by our internal judgments — by what we think we have and haven’t done well — or by others’ opinions of us, both of which are much, much less than love and will never lead to reconciliation. They’re designed to do just the opposite, to keep us off balance so that we’ll continue to lean on them for support. The problem is, they can’t bear our weight.

Love, on the other hand, is freeing and freely given. It doesn’t reserve itself until we’ve reached some self-defined and non-existent perfection. It is always and only present, always giving itself away as our lives, as Finley would say. When we let Love define us, when we admit that love is what we are, we can see it accompanying us through our suffering, we can have compassion.

But there’s still that bit about reconciling all beings. Looking with the eyes of love, we can see that preposterous things happen every day: a woman gives half of her last tortilla to a child traveling alone to escape violence, an alcoholic stops drinking, the Berlin Wall comes down. This whole compassion thing might be worth a try.

 

You Cannot Improve It

I experienced a moment of not worrying about anything last night. My sister and I had just finished video chatting about our backpacking trip. I was reading a friend’s post on Facebook and listening to my sister and my dad, who is visiting, catch up.

Nothing was more in order than it usually is. It was after 9:00; I hadn’t begun this blog post; the dinner plates were still on the table. But for unknown reasons, none of this particularly concerned me

Maybe because it is summer, and in summer, unless you are a farmer, it is a little easier to let things slide, to revel in the earth’s bounty, to believe that everything is going to work out. Or maybe we simply don’t care so much if it doesn’t because after all it is warm and sunny outside and the jacaranda trees are blooming.

Or maybe the Facebook post  gave me piece of mind. It showed a post in the xkcd forums that consisted of an entertaining series of historical quotes, beginning in 1871, about how we’ve always thought that life is speeding up, that people are too distracted to think deeply, that the new form of communication is ruining our use of language.

I wonder if this larger tendency of the human race is reflected inside my head, if the endless hamster wheel of how I and the world could be better “if only” is really no more worrisome than the fear that reading newspapers in the train car kills the art of conversation and makes people antisocial.

Chapter 29 of the Tao Te Ching says, “Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it? I do not believe it can be done. The universe is sacred. You cannot improve it.”

Bird song is floating in through my window. Just for today, I might try believing Lao Tzu.

Note: The blog and I will be on vacation in the high Sierras next week. Here’s wishing you all a few breaths of alpine air.