Have you ever noticed how when you’re in a bad mood the world seems out to get you? Or the inverse, when you are feeling great the world is also full of joy? Today I am thinking about self-compassion and how important it is that we take care of ourselves first so that we can come to the world with a positive mindset.
An old story comes to mind.
A weary traveller came to the gates of a new city and asked the gatekeeper, “What kind of city is this? The last city I left was full of thieves and evil people.”
The gate keeper answered, “We have those kinds of people here too.”
The traveller moved on not wanting to stay one more minute in such a terrible place.
Later that day another traveller came to the gates and asked the gatekeeper, “What kind of city is this? The last city I left was full of creative and interesting people, everyone was kind and I left many friends.”
The gatekeeper answered, “You’ll find people like that here too.” And the traveller entered the city.
The gatekeeper did not lie to either traveller – there were both kinds of people in her city. But the wisdom is in recognizing that that which we look for we will find. The first traveller sought only to find the evil and darkness in others and would likely find it. The second traveller saw only light and would likely find the same.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone like the first traveller who is hurting so much they seem to have no choice but to fixate on the negative things that have happened to them? A friend once spent an entire day lamenting to me about the hurt her family had caused her, how their cruelty had poisoned their relationships, and how she was an innocent recipient of this pain. On the way out of a family event her father asked her to please wait as he had picked up dinner for her. In that moment it really struck me – was my friend truly being harmed and hurt by her family? Yes. Was it because of their careless disregard or intentional desire to cause her harm? No. She was simply choosing to observe and remember those situations when they had disappointed her. She was looking for their faults and not their kindnesses and like the first traveller, she found it.
My friend’s inability to accept love was causing her pain. We remember pain longer than ease because in our primitive history it has been the avoidance of pain that contributes most greatly to our survival. For example, if we remember caves may be mountain lion dens we will not be eaten. On the opposite end, if we find a field of flowers it may be beautiful but if it does not lead us to find honey or food our primitive brains forget as it is not imminent to our survival. This survival tactic worked well for our primitive selves and we can all be grateful to our ancestors for remembering every danger that kept them alive so that eventually we could exist. However, these are no longer primitive times. If all we remember is danger and pain, looking for mountain lions – we will miss all of the flowers.
We lead lives full of potential and possibility but when we focus intently on the negative we loose sight of the joy and love in our lives. Negativity may initially generate a response from others – attention, pity, or support. If a person continues to come to us with their negative story and we do not share their perspective – we see that person like the first traveller, better to let them move on than waste our time trying to introduce them to good people. The perspective of the traveller, is the travelers responsibility, not the gatekeepers.
It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and love ourselves first. It may be difficult to shift your attention, to see someone else’s care for you. But with practice even that first traveller can learn to look for the good so that their toxicity does not spread into personal relationships and their life. In my friend’s case – her father was showing love and care to her – it’s her job to see and appreciate it.
What makes this work most important is that if gone unchecked that negativity will consume you and every relationship we hold dear. We become the mountain lion, the dangerous predator consuming and destroying the love and connection the world offers us. Much like that first traveller, we walk alone and miss so many friendships and opportunities simply because we were not looking for the flowers.
How do you protect yourself form mountain lions? How do you make self-care a priority so that you don’t become a mountain lion yourself?
Also, no mountain lions were harmed in the writing of this piece. This work is not based on any one mountain lion living or deceased, it is the authors attempt at metaphor. She has no animosity to the mountain lion community – please do not eat me. I just needed an animal that lives in caves and might, in a hypothetical situation consume a prehistoric cave invader.