On being an Outsider

Just a quick one today, it’s a gorgeous day and I want to go sit out and eat hummous on bread and drink green tea whilst reading my new Yoga Journal.

Building on what I was talking about yesterday: the book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. In it Christopher K. Germer talks about ‘personality types’. In his thinking it is useful to know what patterns are predominant in your personality if you want to cultivate self-compassion. Self-compassion comes easier to some personalities than others, for example it is difficult for ‘caregiver’ types to be self-compassionate because they are much more comfortable with the idea that others deserve care, not themselves.

Now I was a bit sceptical when I read this part of the book. By and large I don’t like the idea of dividing people into ‘personality types’ whether it’s astrology or ayurveda. I find that people will force themselves into the moulds of these labels, whether they apply to them or not. Plus most of the time they’re so broad as to be completely redundant (for instance in western astrology if a horoscope trait doesn’t apply to you it may be that another planet was in another house… hmm) So I read through the types: butterfly, floater, perfectionist, workhorse… with nothing applying to me. Then I got to outsider. Wow it was me!

I’ve talked a little bit about considering myself as a bit different. Nothing I can really put my finger on, just a general unwillingness to do what everyone else does ‘just because’. I’ve always been curious, always questioned why people do things and whether they’re the right things for me to do. Even that small trait has always marked me out. Of course this makes me create a gulf between me and ‘them’ as if everyone else is one entity and I’m separate. I’m always wondering why people act the way they do: why are people so inconsiderate when driving? why do people drink until they damage themselves? why do people care so little for others’ feelings? why why why all the time until I can’t help but come to the conclusion: I am DIFFERENT!

Back to the book. At first I thought that it didn’t apply to me because Germer only talks about people who are marginalised, for instance because of their sexuality or race. As a straight white woman this doesn’t apply. But then he goes on to say:

Even exceptional personal strengths like artistic ability and spiritual sensitivity can be invalidated by the dominant culture and make us feel like outsiders.

He goes on to use this fantastic metaphor which I’ve often thought of since reading.

Consider the metaphor of a fish swimming in water: as the fish lives and breathes, it draws water through its own body. We’re like fish in the water of our culture, and when the water is polluted with racism, sexism and ageism, we draw those prejudices inside.

It makes so much sense! My thoughts and views are different to a lot of mainstream society, what I value is not valued by what I perceive to be most people. Because I go against the prevailing view my thoughts are devalued and so I feel devalued. Reading these insights has given me security. Someone knows! It’s a fantastic feeling as an outsider to find someone who knows.

I’ll leave you with another quote, by Ecuadorian essayist (how exotic!) Juan Montalvo. This one sums up my descent into depression in one line.

There is nothing harder then the softness of indifference.



There is!

I was meditating the other day. Recently I’ve been doing a centering meditation which involves concentrating on your breathing and then asking yourself for some words of wisdom to use as a mantra. Something to heal you that comes from within. It’s been doing wonders for me, when I felt defeated I sat and got ‘keep going’, when I was feeling separate I got ‘I am a part of everything’.

There was nothing remarkable about this last meditation, I was feeling insecure and a bit of a failure (about this blog if I’m honest) and nothing much came to mind. That’s ok, I just sat there. A couple of minutes from the end (I know because I cheated and I peeked at my timer) a thought struck me, I realised I was feeling happy and it wasn’t because of meditating, it was because I’d finished my alloted ‘tasks’ for the day and I could relax. This unsettled me because it reminded me of a time when I was working in the book shop after I left school and my dad commented at the end of one workday that I was seeming happier. I told him it was only because I’d finished work for the day and to this he said “that’s enough, for most people”. This struck me as the most uniquely depressing thought, it can’t be true. Can it? Is happiness just the absense of bad things? There has to be more to it!

So I’m back on my zafu thinking about this and I realised: I’m not that confused girl being told pessimistic ‘truths’ anymore. It’s crap what my dad said, absolute crap! Life is not just a procession of meaningless, unpleasant duties and happiness is not just the relief from not having to do these meaningless, unpleasant duties for another 16 hours. Now my life is rich and I know what happiness is. I spend my days doing yoga, meditating, painting, thinking, learning, talking, listening, reading, enjoying the world around me and I know that there is more! There is!