I am still trying to make peace with what I can and cannot control in my life. You’d think after sixty years I might have figured this out by now, but this part of my life still feels like a work in progress. There are some days when most parts of my life feel like a work in progress. This can keep me feeling young and it can also make me feel spiritually stupid at times. I can accept that moments of stupidity are a part of the spiritual journey, so long as these moments don’t cause any harm. It might sound like a modest goal, but a life without harm is a solid spiritual achievement. It is a strange period in our country’s history where doing harm has become acceptable—even popular with certain segments of our population.
I stopped watching the news years ago because it made me feel helpless, which, in turn, made me feel frustrated and angry. It can be a challenge during pandemic and political crisis to find the middle ground the middle ground between helplessness and anger. After feeling helpless that the YMCA had been closed for so long, I went online and ordered a 25-pound dumbbell. Needless to say, the dumbbell I ordered doesn’t help me deal with human dumbbells, political or otherwise, but I have been doing bicep curls for much of my adult life and so it makes things feel kind of normal.
When using my dumbbell the other day, it occurred to me that instead of investing so much energy into trying to keep things normal I might be better off accepting that what is normal is constantly changing. This fall season definitely won’t feel normal without college football—at least in Ann Arbor. I understand that that there will be college football in places like Alabama and Mississippi, because they feel differently about football and they also feel differently about the pandemic.
I accept that we can’t control how other people feel—that sometimes we can’t even control how we feel about ourselves. Maybe control is overrated when it comes to feelings—at least for people who don’t have a problem exploding and harming others. Most of the people I work with don’t have a problem with explosiveness. Instead, they have a problem with harming themselves through overly harsh and rigid self-improvement plans. It is a myth that pushing yourself to become a “better person” will automatically make you feel better about yourself.
Good people can feel depressed. Good people can feel disappointed. Good people can feel heartbroken. Good people can come up against circumstances that are beyond their control.
If you find that you’re having problems with the Shame Dragon, try looking it in the eye and say, “I’ve done the best I possibly could under the circumstances.” The Shame Dragon will probably insist that you haven’t done your best and chastise you for organizing a pity party for yourself, but you can explain the difference between compassion and pity is the element of respect. With compassion, you respect the challenges of your life, so that you can also respect the challenges of another person’s life. It is hard to treat others well if you treat yourself poorly. As a psychologist, my job isn’t to help my clients to become better people as much as it is to help them appreciate the people they are right now.