If only we could stop thinking that each of us is so special!
It’s not that we don’t have our differences – of course we do. You love what you love, which isn’t necessarily going to be what I love. For example, I love my purple and silver kitchen and the trees in my garden. What’s not to love about trees, but my kitchen? That’s what makes life more interesting.
But it’s not usually what we love that makes us feel special; it’s what we experience.
By the time we reach midlife, we’ve probably charted up enough experiences to make us feel absolutely special, for better or for worse. But feeling special because of what we’ve experienced in life is an illusion.
Feeling specially connected because you, I and all of humanity experience life itself, with all its ups and downs, is a subtle shift in understanding about what makes us special. It is this shift that can be life-changing.
Let me explain.
We experience any event in life through our thoughts. It’s impossible for us to experience an event not through thought. So even when you read this blog post, you’ll experience it differently than another woman reading the exact same words on the page, because each of you will have different thoughts about the same post.
By the time you finish the post, you will have formed an opinion about it. It would be nice to say that I can make you feel a positive emotion by the time you finish the post but actually, I can’t make you feel anything. I can point you in the direction of inspiration but if you’re bogged down by thoughts about anything from tax reform to the amount of laundry that is crying out to be folded, I can’t get into your mind and deliver inspiration. Only you can make that happen.
The same is true of events that have the potential to make you feel bad.
If you’ve just won an employee of the year award or your photograph has just been retweeted by someone with millions of followers, or something equally as exciting, even if a driver cuts into your lane during your drive home, causing you to slam your foot on the brakes, you’re going to think much less of the driver than if it happened while your mind was full of thoughts about how your boss annoyed you in a meeting today. If your head is full of those kinds of thoughts, the driver becomes a bigger deal.
While reading a blog post and encountering a thoughtless driver on your way home are tiny events that aren’t likely to make you feel special, I’m using them as examples of how when any event happens, it is our thoughts and state of mind in the moment, that determines the impact an event will have on us.
Let’s move on to bigger examples.
If you’ve spent years juggling your career and motherhood by moving fast, not having a moment to yourself but in the end feeling like “you’ve got this” because everything appears to be under control, and then suddenly you have no more energy to move non-stop, run between meetings, chauffeur your kids, and make 60 cupcakes for an upcoming event, you may experience this shift as a failure, because you thought that you always kept life under control as long as you kept moving. What happened is that you were stuck in your thinking about how life used to be (and how special you were for always keeping everything under control) and now you’re stuck in thinking about some spanner in the works (you might call it your damn hormones) that’s creating less control and making you feel less special, or special in a failure kind of way.
Alternatively, if you sense that you’ve lived for too long without feeling unconditionally loved, you might think that your experience in and out of relationships reflects your worth or how much you deserve to be loved. Your thinking about unfulfilling relationships has made you feel special, and your special relationship story may now sit close to your heart influencing not only much of what you do in the present, but also how you believe your life may look in the future.
These are additional examples of how our thinking of events determines how we experience them.
However, I’m not suggesting that just because you’re living with negative thinking about any aspect of your life, you now need to change that negative thinking through attempting to flood your mind with positive thoughts. That takes a lot of effort and is unlikely to have a lasting impact. What I’m pointing to is an awareness that every experience that you believe makes you special is created through thought (because we experience everything in life through thought!).
Once you recognize this, you can understand that if your special feeling is only derived from thought, your special feeling can change when new thoughts come along. Again, we don’t have to work hard to make new thought come along. As soon as we hold all thought lightly, and as soon as we recognize our thoughts as our personal version of reality, which can in fact change at any moment, we become more open to fresh thought arriving, since this is what always happens when we let thoughts flow.
The visionary pioneer in women’s health and OB/GYN Christiane Northrup M.D. describes in this video the surprising number of patients who've told her: "Thank God I had cancer. It saved my life!" We can assume that when those patients received their initial cancer diagnoses, their thinking about their cancer and thus their experience of cancer was very different.
Even when we experience traumatic events, or a series of events that we believe now define us in a special way, our thinking about them can change.
Everyone has the capacity for new thinking about any event, and since we all have that capacity, we can all shift from feeling special because of what happened to us, to feeling part of something bigger than ourselves.
#metoo shows us just how this works.
In an article in The New Yorker, Lucia Evans accused Harvey Weinstein of sexually assaulting her in 2004 and described how she shouldered the blame since then: “It was always my fault for not stopping him. [Afterward] I had an eating problem for years. I was disgusted with myself … all these unrelated things I did to hurt myself because of this one thing.”
Nothing can change an event of sexual assault that has happened, but hopefully Evans and many other women who have suffered sexual assault have had a shift in thinking around the traumatic events that occurred, thanks to the power of #metoo.
#metoo helps every victim of assault realize that her experiences stretch way beyond her. Her experiences even stretch beyond those who committed the assault. #metoo shows us the big picture of friends and co-workers of abusers who have spent years not speaking up, and of a society that holds abusers in their midst and allows them to continue with their behaviour, even when the abusers themselves know their behaviour is wrong, evidenced by the silence they've demanded from their victims.
Embracing the big picture of our own experiences (traumatic or otherwise) allows us to see that rather than viewing our experience on a one-dimensional timeline – a single line that represents our history – we can view our timelines on multiple dimensions. Every woman’s life develops from an infinite weave of interconnectedness – our timelines are connected to an infinite number of other timelines. Every experience is born from multiple dimensions and exists in multiple dimensions. That is the big picture.
“I care less about what other people think of me,” is one sentiment I hear time and again when I ask women how midlife has changed them. It’s an example of seeing a bigger picture and of wisdom bubbling to the surface, and it’s a sentiment that can propel women forward and allow them to embrace new possibilities. And yet at the same time, when I listen to women at midlife, I also hear their “special” stories.
I try to help women see that our stories become “special” when we believe that: a) they only exist on a single timeline (our own); and b) that each story's conclusion is fixed and can no longer change. When we view our special stories within this limited understanding, it's easy for us to equate our stories with our worth.
For one woman, her story will be about her failed relationships; for another it will be about how her mother never loved her; for another it will be about the job she doesn’t have or the money she hasn’t earned; for another it will be about the mother she didn’t become, and another about the choices she made in motherhood that she regrets; for another it will be about the opportunities she never chased; and for another, about the guilt she feels surrounding a trauma.
As I've seen in my work and in my own once "special" story, in every woman's story there's “a lot of me on the mind,” a lot of weight on each woman's shoulders, and a lot of thinking that has got stuck, weighted down, preventing new thought about any experience from entering in.
Every experience already exists on a larger tapestry of life and no outcome of any event is complete because our thinking about our story can always change, even decades later. And when our thinking changes, suddenly what we believed made us so special, appears shared and part of a bigger story. And at that point we realize that our story was always a story of humanity that exists on multiple dimensions and that each story was created in the only way that it can be, through the human experience of thought. And it this realization that allows us to feel connected, and less special in a good way; and it allows us to open up infinite paths to our future.