For a good portion of my life, I thought that it was incredibly important to not react to situations. I admired the stoics who would not bat an eye at any at situations beyond their control. I admired the Christians who would rather be fed to lions than yield their beliefs. I wanted to see the same doggedness in me.
When people saw me, I wanted them to see that I was dependable and honorable. I don’t think there is anything wrong with working towards a goal like that in a general sense. However, somewhere along my life-line, I think that some of my ideas about becoming always honorable and dependable slowly morphed into not letting people know how I truly felt. When I was feeling weak, it was far easier to pretend that I was still strong. When I was feeling hurt, it was far easier to make believe that I was not. When I was feeling lonely, it was really easy to imagine that I was filled with feelings of friendship and love instead.
Strangely enough, I believed I was doing the correct thing by not admitting my true human frailties. I know that some of this was due to the fact that there had been multiple times in the past where I attempted to let people know how I was feeling. Sometimes, the reaction I got was fear or misunderstanding, and that was reason enough for me to be less open about my deepest feelings. For you see, not only had I wanted to be rock-solid, people who knew me had grown to expect me to be the same. Because I was trying so hard, I certainly didn’t want to disappoint them or myself!
I was solid alright, but only on the outside. My insides were pithy, soft, and in turmoil because I tried to shove my feelings far away from my consciousness where they only festered and grew worse. And exactly like a hollow rock being worn away in a stream, I felt this inner turmoil rising to the surface of my life the more I kept up the facade of being dependable and rock-solid when I really wasn’t.
One thing I used to counteract those feelings was running. It allowed me to yell, scream, or get upset without anyone but me knowing about it. On a long run, I could allow myself to get angry at another person, and run until I wasn’t angry anymore. On a short run, I could run until my breath was so ragged and my legs were so spent, that in that space between exhausted and “half-dead,” I would come to terms with some of my feelings (for a while). While it worked remarkably well, it wasn’t the healthiest way to go about things, because if people didn’t know they were upsetting me, they would very often do the same upsetting action again, requiring another very long run!
Running worked very well indeed for a while, but eventually I contracted some knee issues, which broke my ability to release my stress through running. Within a few months without my crutch of running, the vague feelings that something wasn’t right grew larger and felt more pronounced, making me ever more fearful. It eventually became more than I could bear. Aside from not being able to run, I was reaching a crisis in my head about where I was going in my life. I felt hurt, but couldn’t logically fathom why. I felt that I could not communicate any of these to those around me because I was afraid of their reactions whenever I started a deep conversation. I was pushed on all sides with no release in sight, and I had a vague realization that I had reached a jumping-off point.
I could not live the way I was living. So, I made the changes that I thought were right in order to both simplify my life and move in the direction I felt was the right one. However, they were only external things. I was still left with me, my feelings, and my false expectations of myself. I tried many different remedies seeking more approval, money, happiness, and love everywhere I possibly could, but I was always coming up short. There was always another horizon to strive for, another fleeting moment that I wanted to last.
Then, something changed my life. I got to the point where I finally surrendered my incessant self-deception of “stoicism” by seeing others who seemed genuine, happy, and rock-solid most of the time. Unlike me, these people admitted their innermost feelings, and I could vaguely see that somehow, it made them stronger. Like a pinprick of light in an otherwise darkened room, I leapt towards them, with hope and the willingness to change in my heart. I knew that everything I had tried up to that point had not worked out for me. I could not get approval if I was seeking it. I could not get love or happiness if I was pushing for either of those things. The only thing I could get more of by working harder was money, but the more I had, the more I spent and the more I needed. It was a vicious process of seeking, finding, and always seeking more. So, I made a change, but not the external kind of change. I made an internal decision to listen to some people who seemed to have it together, and do whatever they did and whatever they told me to do.
By deciding to surrender completely, I started changing who I was from the inside out. I began a journey that finally started feeling right. There have been times in the past where I thought I had finally “got it.” I thought I was finally where I needed and wanted to be. Those moments proved to be false and fleeting. But this time, for some reason, felt especially right and especially true.
One of the many things I discovered along this journey was just how deceived I actually was about my previous outlook, my feelings, and even the things I most believed in. That sense of being dependable and honorable was mostly eluding me because I was only working to be dependable and honorable on the outside. I was trying to ignore my innermost self, my feelings. Even if I was doing it for “noble” reasons (as I often thought), I realized that I had to honestly look at how I was feeling before I did anything.
All of a sudden, I got a glimmer of truth, and other things in my life started making sense. I realized that those people I looked up to were completely aware of their feelings, and did those heroic things anyway. They didn’t shirk away from what they thought was right, in spite of the fact that they felt the temptation to do so. They were true to themselves, their whole selves. They were true to themselves by owning their thoughts, feelings, dreams, and hearts, and then proceeding in the direction they thought was the right one.
I want to do the same in my own life. I want to be dependable, but true to myself. I want to be honest with people, whether it’s about something that makes me uncomfortable (like my feelings) or something small and silly. When I do that, I can be at peace with my feelings, and that truly is a really good feeling!