I love everything Andrea Scher writes on her blog, but a recent post was especially meaningful to me. In it she shared an experience about how hard it can be to sit with the feeling that someone could be upset with you (and how we often make up the fact that someone is even upset with us in the first place). It's a great post and you should go read it here, probably right now. There's a lot of wisdom in it.
Andrea's post reminded me of a story that Pema Chodron shares in her teachings about being on a three-year retreat and her feeling that another retreatant, who had been a close friend of hers, was very upset with her. One night the situation had gotten so bad that Pema couldn't sleep and went to the meditation hall and just stayed with the raw pain of it. She then saw how much of her personality had been built around wanting to avoid this feeling.
As she writes in Taking the Leap: "I had a completely clear insight that my whole personality, my whole ego structure, was based on not wanting to go to this groundless place. Everything I did, the way I smiled, the way I talked to people, the way I tried to please everybody - it was all to avoid feeling this way. I realized that our whole facade, the little song and dance we all do, is based on trying to avoid the groundlessness that permeates our life. By learning to stay, we become very familiar with this place, and gradually, gradually, it loses its threat." She puts it this way in one of her talks: "You get pretty fearless."
I loved reading Andrea's post and being reminded of Pema's experience because I was in a similar situation recently. I'd been at an event that was pretty far out of my comfort zone and afterwards I could feel myself doing what Pema describes so perfectly as "the little song and dance we all do." In this case, I could feel myself trying to rewrite the experience, which was fine while it was happening, to make myself look better, to take away any possibility that I'd come off looking anything other than totally OK.
And then I caught myself, because isn't most of this type of behavior sort of unconscious, kind of like the background stuff your computer is running while you're doing something else? I saw what I was doing and it felt exhausting. The song and dance rewriting of history was just exhausting. And unnecessary. It was over. People would think what they would. They always do anyway. And what did it matter? I was still here. I was still alive and in another moment.
And with that realization I became a little more fearless, I must admit. I could feel the discomfort of what people might have thought of me and it was something I could live through. It was uncomfortable, but it didn't annihilate me. And isn't that what we fear, really, underneath all the unnecessary singing and dancing? Our time can be used better, trust me.