“The people who irritate us inevitably blow our cover.” –Pema Chodron
I have this fantasy where Pema Chodron and I go hangout for an afternoon at Peet’s. She is wearing her brown and gold and saffron Tibetan Buddhist robes, and perhaps she’s having jasmine tea while I’m sipping my small single-shot soy latte with no foam, and we’re just chatting about life. Then she says something that just gets straight to the core of everything, such as “The people who irritate us inevitably blow our cover,” and I reach up to high-five her across the table and say, “Pema! Good god! Yes. YES! That is so. right. on!”
This is not unlike how I respond when a friend says something that excites me in real life (it has been observed that I have some, um, exuberant tendencies), but of course, the weirdness is in imagining high-fives with a famous Tibetan Buddhist priest….at Peet’s.
I don’t want salves. I don’t want pithy mantras. I don’t want the thing that makes it okay in the moment.
I want truth. I crave truth. I’m hungry for truth. I don’t even care how ugly it looks–there is something inherently beautiful about looking straight at the ugliness of an unwanted thought. Transparency is terrifying, and at the same time staggeringly beautiful; a relief.
Yes. Someone just told the truth. Yes. Thank you.
The Truth About the People Who Irritate Us
The truth is that I’m a Life Coach, and I support others in radical transformation. I hold space for my clients like a fucking rockstar; I’m high on life after each session. I’m not afraid of bearing witness to pain; I’m also an enthusiastic supporter of full-on lived-out-loud joy. That’s all true.
That said, there’s another parallel track of truth running alongside that train: people who irritate me blow my cover. I can go into “don’t wanna” mode: I don’t wanna hold space for them. I don’t wanna have compassion for them. I don’t wanna support them.
I imagine that some version of that is true for you as well.
It’s even more nuanced than that, though–on a deeper level, we actually want to hold space and be compassionate and be supportive people, but when we’re feeling irritated or frustrated, we’re in pain. It’s hard to want to do something for someone who is playing a part in our experience of pain.
So, that becomes the difficulty. The people who don’t irritate me get the full on panoply of my support and enthusiasm. The people who do irritate me see me acting closed off, guard-up, judgmental. I can only imagine what some family members and former friends think when they see this website, talking about love and compassion and integrity and courage when their experience of me has been anything but. I share that in the interests of transparency.
The people who irritate us blow our cover. This is good.
Good? Yes. You’re a smart duck, so I bet you already see what I’m leading up to: When I say “the people who irritate me see me acting closed off, guard-up, judgmental,” that’s a choice. We choose our responses to life, to people. Sometimes, when we’re experiencing pain, we choose to shut off and shut down.
In those moments when we shut down and close off around those people, we are operating from a Story of fear (“I can’t let my guard down around this person”) or another form of fear, retaliation (“Why should I be nice to her if she’s not nice to me?”).
The Story doesn’t matter so much. What matters is noticing that we’re operating on default, and that this response to irritation does not actually do anything–it does not even make us feel good.
So basically, anytime someone irritates us, this is an opportunity–the jig is up. All of our hideouts are exposed. We are confronted with pain, and now we gotta deal with it. If you are like me, at first you sigh and think, “Shit.” If you are like me, you also want something bigger and bolder than a life lived on default fear responses.
They’re Doing It, Too
That person irritating you? They’re thinking the same things about you. They’re irritated by you, too. Really, we’re not so very different than that which we’re disliking. When we run a Story, we identify our Ego with that Ego. Then it becomes a double-Ego sandwich that only results in pain.
Who’s going to stop the cycle? Why not you? What’s the Ego vs. Ego thing getting you?
It’s not masochism to be non-resistant to the irritations of life so that you can do the work of sitting with them and accepting them.
It is masochism to keep replaying the old tapes of how that person is and why they irritate us and how we’re so right while they’re so clueless and wrong.
The Difference Between Truth & Abuse
I said that I’m hungry for truth, and that I don’t care how ugly it is.
I’m not hungry for abuse.
Sometimes there are people who will say, “I’m just telling the truth!” after they deliver a searing indictment of your character.
I’m not suggesting that you start taking that in and thinking, “Why, yes, they’re just telling the truth and I’m this way and that way…”
In those cases, they’re not telling “the truth.” They’re telling you about themselves. They’re blowing the cover on their own Story about their experience of their own pain.
This is an interesting thing to listen for. When we separate the content enough so that it’s not personal, there’s an interesting gateway for compassion. When we see where someone else is stuck, it’s easier to be willing to work together.
You can usually tell whether or not someone is delivering truth or abuse by how you feel, energetically, in response to the statement.
When my partner, Andy, locks eyes with me in the midst of an argument and says, “I think you’re playing small, right now,” a feeling goes through my body, and that feeling, largely indescribable, “just knows” that he has delivered some truth. In that moment, I know that I am playing small. He is not telling me that to make me feel like an asshole. He’s asking me to play a bigger game.
It’s uncomfortable to sit with. I don’t like it. I want to be perfect and always play the bigger game of perfect partnership.
He’s blowing my cover. But it’s the truth.
If someone shares something with you and you primarily feel insulted, there’s a very good chance that what they’ve shared, while it might have an element of truth to be parsed out, is rooted in their pain. You have no business taking on their pain as your own.
At first, it might be hard to tell the difference. That’s why noticing becomes the first step. Taking something in, breathing with it, asking yourself about everything from the thoughts that play in your head to the sensations moving through your physical body.
There’s this radical thing that we can do to parse it out–take a moment. Breathe. Stop the conversation until we’ve had some time to think, to question, to ask ourselves what exactly it is that we’re feeling.
We were given these amazing bodies, capable of feeling so many sensations. How about using them?
Take in truth. When you read, see, hear, feel truth, you’ll feel as if someone has just extended you a helping hand to pull you out of a sticky situation. When you’re sitting with abuse, you’ll feel as if someone has just edged you closer to a cliff and is refusing to let you get onto firmer ground unless you agree with their point of view.
Either way, we get to choose. I re-dedicate myself all of the time to the tools of courage, reframing and redefining fear, examining my Stories, forgiveness, and perhaps most importantly, practicing gentleness with myself when–sigh–I went into an interaction with every intention of showing up with love, and then I fell back on defaults.
Every time we decide to choose and choose again, we’re doing our work.
What are you choosing, right now?
“Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.” –Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You
I’d been searching for years to understand what’s been bothering me about coaching, when I read this line. That’s it, right there–the thing that fundamentally bothers me about the coaching industry, a helluva lot of coaching websites, and the general perception of coaches, everywhere.
The over-emphasis, the downright preoccupation that can happen, with skewing Coaching as the “happy-happy-goals!-joy-joy-affirmations!” work that you turn to when you’re tired of going to therapy and confronting the dark stuff. Coaching is stereotyped as reciting affirmations and loving yourself, while therapy is where you go to do the “emotional work.”
I am not aligned with this idea that difficulties, darkness, or emotions are excluded from the work that one can do with a coach. I’m aware that this can be considered a controversial statement, both from the therapists and coaches alike.And just to be totally clear–I’m not a hater on the therapists or therapy.
This is my truth: My own life has been an evolution into my darkness, that has resulted in a revolution into my own light.
I’ve seen firsthand the power of looking at, turning over, getting curious about, confronting and being with all that is difficult within me. I’ve never in my life gone twenty-four hours without feeling an emotion, so I cannot imagine how I, or any of my clients, would somehow exclude “emotional work” from being part of the coaching process. And yes, I’ve done some of this work with therapists, and other parts of this work with coaches who understood the necessity of not excluding emotions.
It’s important that more coaches start doing the difficult work of parsing through their darkness, because not only do coaches need it–our clients need it.Our clients, and in fact the entire world, desperately needs the message that in fact, you are normal if you cry, you are normal if you feel like a mess sometimes, you are normal if you carry guilt or shame that needs working on. People are suffering in silence thinking that “normal” is something else entirely.
We need to stop pathologizing emotions, and touting some version of a perfectly well-balanced human being that is perpetually cool and collected as the ideal. This is not a “new” statement–but certainly, the coaching industry is rampant with examples that would make it seem as if those pesky emotions are not something you need to deal with, really–why, you just need to believe in yourself!
Nope, I say. I’m calling bullshit on that one.
Note: I’m not saying that there are not gradations and degrees of what is functional or healthy within a given society with a given set of social and cultural norms and values. Of course, there are emotional extremes that do not function as healthy or normal within the society we live in.
–I am saying that I see an emphasis on trying not to feel anything in our society that is equally as unhealthy as emotional extremes. Drug it, shop it into submission, eat it away, work and rack up trophies…anything to avoid that soul-sucking shame, that inner critic that says you’re a worthless piece of shit.
No. That is no way to live. That is not living 100% fully alive. I beg of you, step forward, practice the courage of feeling afraid and diving in anyway, so that you can see the miracles of transforming that avoidance.
I can sit with a client’s soul-sucking shame, the inner critic that says that you’re a worthless piece of shit. I can do that, sit with that, because I recognize my own soul-sucking shame, my own inner critic that gets triggered to say that I’m a worthless piece of shit.
(Kate, does it still happen, even now that you’re a Coach? Of course. I get afraid, and old critical voices resurface to be looked at again, or a new voice emerges that seems bigger and scarier because it’s unfamiliar. And rather than seeing that as some kind of weakness on my part, I know now that it’s a sign that I’m evolving further, shifting, stretching, practicing courage as I step away from a limited way of being and into something that is initially quite scary, but that holds the key to my freedom).
The affirmations, the relentless emphasis on goal-setting, the externalization of “I’ll feel better when XYZ happens”–that’s the new pathology. Much of what I see within the Life Coaching industry just reinforces that, and that’s where I think we’re going wrong–that’s what I want to see coaches step forward to courageously shift within themselves and then within their practices.
That’s what I offer my own clients, and that’s what I hope more people will start to offer, as well.
Click to tweet: Stop externalizing happiness. That’s true liberation. http://clicktotweet.com/o7XLz
Oh, for crying out loud, I’ll just say it, first: I want money. I like money. I like having more money than less money and I like buying “stuff” with that money and still having more money left over.
I cannot be alone in noticing that there are those who freely admit to liking their money, and those who, when asked such a question, will smile demurely while everything else about their body language suggests white-knuckled restraint, and say with measured tones, “Well, money is nice, but there’s more to life than money.”
First Big Statement: Of course there’s more to life than money.
Here’s the thing: that second person is not necessarily living a bigger or bolder life than the “I love myself some money” person.
The person who tries to “play it cool” around money is living a Story about money–that it is bad, that it is wrong to have too much of it. The amount of money that person has is really irrelevant–
–because the suffering that they won’t get away from in that Story will follow them, no matter how much money they ever make. Money is bad money is bad money is bad will go with them wherever they go, like a nagging headache.
If someone makes $200 a year, but they don’t have that “money is bad” Story dragging around with them, or some other Story (such as “I’m worthless because I make so little”) they are living the far richer life.
Stories separate us. Stories become our fuel for judgment, and our fuel for limiting our lives.
For instance: what is “too much,” anyway? This is another Story; a complete mental construction of right and wrong that is based on…nothing. Absolutely nothing, except some idea that I made up that it means…something.
Power Over Your Money Story
More confessions: I have a Story that people who have and spend money like Paris Hilton are “bad” people. I notice that this is a judgment and causes me to separate from another human being. I notice that I don’t really know her, and that having Stories about her really only limits my own money flow–because if I carry a Story that people who have more money are “bad,” then I’m not likely to be comfortable making more money, myself, for fear of being one of the “bad” ones. I notice that it’s not my business how she spends her money, but it sure as hell is my business how much compassion, acceptance, and love I have for another human being.
Doubtless, there are people who will read that and want to send me an email saying, “Kate, I’m so with you on the Paris thing. I can’t stand that bitch; the way she spends money makes me sick.”
I’d like to ask you not to send me that email. I’d like to ask both of us to consider why we allow a Story about someone else’s spending habits to “make us sick.” I’d like to ask everyone to consider whether or not our attitudes about money are making our lives sick.
We have power over these Stories–we choose them, and we get to choose to take on a different one.
Doing Your Thang
I am not suggesting that where we see money being mis-used, we just say, “Hey, it’s cool, do your thang.” We can notice that these multi-million dollar corporations paid nothing in taxes in 2010 and speak up to say that that is neither right nor fair in a society that has chosen to structure itself in such a way that everyone is supposed to contribute something.
It’s important that when BP causes a massive oil spill, people speak up when they try to write off the cleanup costs as a tax-deductible business expense.
If a poor person steals, we say something. If a rich person steals, we say something. We say it not because of Stories about money but because it’s not morally right to take something that is not ours.
But Paris Hilton, buying purses that cost thousands of dollars, or whatever the hell she does with those millions? None of my business (or yours).
Second Big Statement: How we approach money is related to how we approach life.
Imagine if I’d started this piece by saying, “I want joy. I like joy. I like having more joy than less and I like being joyful and still having more joy left over.”
You’d (hopefully) say: “Kate, you rock!”
So why not say that with money?
If I approach money with an attitude of restraint based on fear, or making myself bad for wanting it, or with insatiable need, then this is a golden opportunity to notice where I’m holding those attitudes somewhere else in my life, and it’s just getting projected onto some flimsy pieces of green pulp.
Get Out of Denial
Money is just one channel to offer us gateways to things that we want in our lives. Let’s stop denying that! In the quest to make sure everyone knows that “money isn’t everything,” we’ve gone to the opposite end of the spectrum and tried to make it…nothing.
Denying that money is a vehicle in life is the equivalent of denying that we have sexual feelings–that sometimes, even when we have the most amazing partner on the planet, we can still look over at some hot person and think, “Mmm, yummy.”
It’s not wrong to want certain things in our lives, whether those things are literal “things,” or experiences, or teachers who can guide us, or books, or to give to others, or…
The simple wanting of those good things is not some sign that you’re inherently flawed and need to get your desires “under control,” nor does it mean that you’re living an empty and meaningless existence, or that your partner isn’t The One.
We’re not bad or wrong for wanting more joy. We’re not bad or wrong for wanting more money–and we’re definitely not bad or wrong for wanting as much sex in our lives as possible (hell, I know I’m not!).
Need More Need More Need More
Back to the “money isn’t everything” part. When we bring in Stories, that’s when things get up-ended, again.
Let’s review: It’s not bad or wrong to want more joy, or more money, or more sex.
Now notice: What does “wanting more” mean for you? Is it “wanting more of a good thing” or is it “wanting more because there’s never enough”?
It’s probably not going to feel good to carry a Story that no amount of joy is ever enough (so I need more! I need more! I need more!) or that no amount of money is ever enough (so I need more! I need more! I need more!) or that no amount of partnership is ever enough (so I need that partner to fulfill all my needs! That partner couldn’t, so I need that partner over there! That partner couldn’t, so I need that partner over there!)
See what I mean? Joy is great, money is great, the sex (and emotional intimacy, of course) is great.
Insatiable, unfulfilled, never-enough, perpetual and perennial wanting? It has elements to it that can feel passionate (craving and desire can have an element of deliciousness to them), but every spiritual master you’ve ever met who says that this endless pursuit is hollow and empty is dead-on.
The trick is knowing the line–and it is tricky. The line is different for all of us, and only I can know when I’m thinking that the guy or gal across the room is a hottie because I’m appreciating the hotness, or because I’m feeling unfulfilled in my own relationship and in need of a “grass is greener” distraction.
We’re cautioned not to use money or sex to get to the joy, and we’re cautioned so strongly because it is so, so fucking easy to mix them up.
Wow! In Three Easy Steps…
“Notice. Choose. Act.” –Challenge Day
I will offer you the tried-and-true, no-fail, 100%-guaranteed method for working with money. Are you ready?
There are only three steps: Notice. Choose. Act.
Notice your money stuff. You’ll probably spend a lot of time, here. Notice and notice and notice.
Choose. Choose new patterns. Choose new money Stories.
Act. Follow up your decisions with action.
The steps are decidedly un-sexy (hint: most of the “real work” in life is not sexy, in part because it usually involves crying, snot, and lots of tissues).
Keep practicing, even if it’s not sexy or glamorous. This is courageous work.
Want to live with true richness? Uncover your money Stories, and powerfully choose from there.