This has been such a long period of time for all of us.
Some of us have handled certain parts of the pandemic better than others. Yet, however well we have or haven’t done, we’ve all had to deal with this new reality of limited interactions with other people.
Whilst I’ve had my struggles with the multiple lockdowns in the United Kingdom overall, and this may sound a little twisted, I’ve really enjoyed the limited interaction—the reduced need to see people. I’ve always enjoyed my own company, but I thought I’ve loved the company of others. But what has happened since March 2020 has made me question that.
Why have I liked this time so much?
It is a question that I’ve found difficult to answer because, as much as I’ve felt as if I’ve arrived home, there’s still part of me that wants to go out, wants to go to gigs, wants to go to festivals, and, generally, intermingle with people as before. Often, my little fantasies about these things have been either by myself or just with my partner. It’s as if I yearn for people, but at the same time, I don’t want to get too close emotionally, which is exactly why the time during COVID-19 has been so comforting.
But I like people, so what has been going on?
Since I’ve started meditating and practicing mindfulness, there have been times when I just suddenly realise something about myself. Almost in an instant, I gain a deeper understanding of the thoughts in my head and my own behaviours. It isn’t an intellectual knowledge but something else—something more fundamental. There were also epiphanies that have helped me radically change how I view my life.
Then, for ages, there’s nothing. I sit each day, but there’s nothing new, which is fine. So I just sit to practice and for no other outcome.
I’ve not had an epiphany for some time…until recently when something had happened that really hurt me.
For years, I’ve been trying to get all of my cousins to meet up in a big group. Ever since 2016 when we finally managed to meet up, I’ve tried on and off for ages until I gave up. It was like herding cats, which is understandable with a big group.
Finally, we’ve arranged to all go camping together this summer.
One cousin organized the campsite, and on our cousins’ group chat, I confirmed the payment to him as well as thanked him for taking care of that part. I then expressed my excitement about seeing everyone.
But almost instantly, photographic replies came back from another cousin showing that all of my cousins were together at a group meetup at that very second. Neither my sister nor I had been invited, which was a big surprise.
Not being invited stung. The feeling of being excluded had overwhelmed me, and my mind began to spin out of control. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt excluded by my cousins either.
Then, without warning, my mind flipped back to the 90s when a number of my friends were at different universities. I remember finding out, more than once, that a group of my mates had gone to each other’s universities to have wild weekends, and yet, I wasn’t even invited. I remember how it hurt like hell and how I felt excluded then. Like I was missing out on something. One of those friends even asked me recently why I’d never come to see him in Birmingham. I replied, “Because you never invited me,” and we both let it go. After all, it was in the past. But right then, after seeing all my cousins together, the hurt of being excluded felt immediate.
The thoughts kept coming…I’ve always been excluded. I was excluded from groups at school, and more recently, when I left my ex-wife because I had no chance of recovering my mental health in the relationship, I was excluded by nearly all of our joint friends.
Then, I started to think that I’m always checking up on people to see if they’re okay, to see if they need support. Why does no one do the same for me? People don’t care about me, which feels like exclusion of some sort.
The thoughts in my mind were spinning…why am I always excluded? Why dammit? I’m a caring person, so why do a few people care about me that they don’t even bother? There must be something wrong with me because this has always happened. People always decide not to include me. Why would this keep happening if it wasn’t my fault? Everyone can’t be wrong. I wish I wasn’t this failure of a person.
Whoa! Thankfully, despite the storm, I’ve picked up a few mindfulness skills along the way. I realised I was completely lost in the extremely negative thoughts that were creating a hurricane in my head, so I tried to step back and observe the action. I’m no Jedi knight. I was quickly drawn back in, but I just kept disengaging again and again, and slowly, I got some distance from my thoughts.
Why did seeing my cousins together cause such an intense feeling of exclusion to arise? Why is the feeling of being excluded so powerful?
I didn’t immediately get the answers, but over time, I finally saw that the feeling of being excluded was powerful, as it fed into a core belief that I have had to let go time and time again along my mindful journey. It is the feeling that I am not good enough; I am not good enough for anyone or anything. Not being invited to places, or even worse, still actually being deliberately excluded, just underlined that belief.
I rapidly came to realise that this had actually fed into a lot of my behaviour during the lockdown. That the reason I didn’t mind being locked down was that it provided little chance of being excluded and having the core belief of not being good enough reinforced in my mind.
It wasn’t just in the real world that I kept my distance—it was in the online community too.
In one online community that I’ve been a big part of, and even here on Elephant Journal, I’ve reduced my interactions because they triggered my feelings of not being good enough. Ignoring the time constants I’ve had recently, I suppose I withdrew a bit from these communities because not being involved meant I could avoid confronting the feelings of rejection that were below the surface. It even affected my desire to write because if I don’t write, then I didn’t have to worry about how my articles are received.
It wasn’t the lockdown that I was enjoying—it was withdrawing to protect myself from the possible pain that can arise from human interactions. I already know that I do like my own company; I definitely need my own company to function, but I also enjoy and want that interaction with other people, and I’ve kind of denied myself that.
Once I saw how all the mental anguish was related to an extremely negative core belief, I was able to detach from all those thoughts about being excluded for a final time.
My cousins’ folks all live up north in England. It was a national holiday weekend and a school holiday. If they were visiting their parents, it would make sense for all of them to meet. My sister and I live 300 miles away, so it’s completely understandable.
My friends who didn’t invite me to their universities were all in that weird space between childhood and adulthood, as I was too. I was also ignoring my mental health problems and drinking in an unhealthy way, so I rarely got invited to places during those odd times. We’re still friends right now decades later, so I’m not excluded.
And that is the thing about following a mindful path. It’s a practice that doesn’t mean you will always be like a Zen master. We’re all human and our brains are designed to think way too much sometimes. The difference with living a mindful life is that when one of those storms take you over, you’ve got a better chance of avoiding becoming a shipwreck.
Instead, with patience, we can navigate those choppy waters until we find our way to a safe harbour. And my harbour walls are made up of the work I’ve already done. The fact is, I’ve come to learn to like who I am and accept all of me, warts and all. That is crucial for me because I know I’m okay. Maybe not everyone gets or likes me, but I like me, and in the end, I’ll always get back to that point.
None of this means the squalls have ceased—they haven’t. But from the position of safety that I’ve built over the years, I no longer get drawn in.
More importantly, it means I’ve learned a great truth about certain behaviours and, therefore, I can make different decisions.
Mindfulness is truly a journey of a lifetime.