I used to believe that the reason I had troubles feeling like I belonged, feeling accepted by others, was because the world was flawed and people were too judgmental.
This presumed first of all that I had no impact at all in how others reacted to me, that my view of my interactions with others was not at all distorted. Second, it presumed that the rest of the world wasn’t like me, that there are actually people in this world who are comfortable with everyone and never need to worry about what other people think of them. Also, that those people were bad and needed to change.
I used to believe that there was something wrong with me because I could never maintain a habitual spiritual practice or even keep up any kind of daily ritual.
We make a big deal out of people who take time to do yoga every morning when they get out of bed, monks who go through elaborate daily routines of prayer or fasting or silence and never waver or complain, bloggers who manage to post every single day without fail and never have to post the “sorry I got sucked into reality for several weeks” apology. I have a long, long history of setting myself on a new routine or ritual (diets, fitness routines, praying the rosary every day, intense journaling, meditation, cleaning lists) with some great purpose in mind, and then not maintaining it past a few weeks or months. And I felt like I’d be a better person, a more functional and productive person, if I could only find the secret to making those routines stick.
I used to believe that my life was somehow not like everyone else’s, that I was missing something, that most other people had things more under control.
It would seem to be so obvious that, in most ways, none of us are that unlike everyone else. Our personalities may be as unique as snowflakes, but our problems and concerns are not that special. And maybe it’s because I grew up in the tradition of “everyone is unique” that I grew up to think that my lack of satisfaction with my life and the state of the world was unique as well.
It doesn’t help that so many spiritual traditions support a mindset of “us against the world”. If only the faithful have the truth and the rest of the world hates the faithful, then suffering is to be expected.
But that’s no longer how I view spirituality. My spiritual life isn’t focused on something outside me, it’s focused squarely on my own spirit. When I turned my focus inward and started examining the way I thought, the way I felt, the way I reacted to the world around me, so many of my old beliefs began to fall away. It wasn’t pretty or comfortable, but I began to see the truth of things.
I am not so obviously wonderful a person that I can stand in the midst of a crowd doing nothing and expect anyone to embrace me. If I want to connect with others, I have to reach out. I have to give other people a chance to react to me rather than operating on my own flawed predictions about how they will react. If I want to find a place to fit in, I have to actually go searching.
Attempts at perfection will almost always fall short. If everyone had the ability to do only good things every day without fail, we wouldn’t revere the ones who manage to pull it off. And falling short of perfection doesn’t negate the benefits of trying. Those pursuits we undertake to make our lives better, to elevate our spirits, don’t require flawless execution to work.
Taken as a whole, we are all special and unique. But when you break us each down into thoughts and feelings, attributes, interests, problems and successes, none of us stands alone.