Last week I was away to write, ostensibly on a book. But I also worked on other things, taking creative excursions as they came up. THIS ONE CAME UP. I always battle my own demons that surface when I am quiet and have ample space. Which is one reason I need a block of time to get anything really done. With any chunk of space, I spend a portion of it wrestling in the mud. So, yes, this blog excursion is about one of this last week’s really fun companions that, apparently, I packed in my suitcase and brought along to my daughter’s apartment in St. Louis.
The demon of comparison showed up last week, one day really loudly. I call her Kat, or Katty, (no offense if that is your name or nickname). She seemed to think she could hang out in that space. She didn’t want me to be alone, yet she wanted me to feel alone. In all the years I’ve known her, she’s never been nice. Not nice at all. She is definitely not a friend. She talks a lot and doesn’t listen. Her voice is sometimes sickly sweet, sometimes snarky and sarcastic. She excels at “charitable condescension” (thanks for the phrase, Barbara Brown Taylor). Anyway, this last week Kat had a lot to say in a lot of places. Shall I list?
I believe she started in on my body. She’s very vocal here. She’s had some really demeaning things to say about my almost 51-year-old skin and midsection.
She also found it important to comment on my age. She seemed particularly interested to point out all the things I haven’t accomplished or done by this stage of my life that she seems to think I should have checked off the list. She is an expert at picking out younger people (but anyone really will do) who have (or appear to have) accomplished more than me. She’s not fair in her comparisons here. She usually starts in with the stand out few in whatever area she’s on and then keeps finding more fodder.
You name it, I believe Katty weighed in on it last week.
But the biggie was my writing and all that comes with that (apparently there is a lot). There’s the usual, “Who do you think you are? Somebody else has written this, and better.” “You aren’t the expert here—stick to your lane” (ummmm…not entirely sure what my lane is anymore). Anyway, Kat goes in for the kill, whatever I am working on. This post? “Who the heck cares about your Lenten practice?” or “You sound whiney, ungrateful, privileged, like you are posturing for something,” etc., etc….She tries every trick to shut me up, down and out.
If Kat had had her way, I’d be wallowing in shame and self-disappointment, drinking wine for oblivion rather than pleasure, diving into Netflix instead of sitting at my computer plunking out words. If I let Kat sit down and make herself comfy, ALLLLLLLL of what she says would take me out of myself and find me lacking.
The biggest tool Kat has found in recent years for grabbing me by the throat is social media. I put even stricter limits than normal for myself around it last week. Thank God. And guess what? Kat got quieter. She even shut up for chunks of time. But then, I’d go on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter (to ostensibly check and see if the kids had posted and given me a window into their day) and she’d get up and literally start dancing. Like the macarena. She’s darn good at it, too. She’d pull me in for a little while, all the time finding fault with my moves.
So, based on last week’s experiences, as we enter Lent on this Ash Wednesday, I know what my Lenten practice is going to be: noticing where I am comparing and making attempts to reduce that. That will mean limiting anything that takes me by the hand and leads me into it (hello, social media). Notice I did not say, “Give up” anything that leads me into comparison. I have several rebellious littles that live inside of me that will say, “Oh, yeah…???” to anything I lay a hard and fast prohibition on. It is better if I find ways to limit. They seem to be able to handle boundaries. Funny how that is.
A few quick thoughts on the detrimental aspects of comparison:
When we compare ourselves, it is self-betrayal. I am actually not going to try to explain this. This is a fruit-bearing question to ask oneself: “How is my comparing myself to others betraying myself?’
It takes us out of where we are now—the lives we have been blessed with and given. It plants us in the Land of Discontent, the Land of Scarcity, and the Land of Not Enough. Or, on the other hand, it pats us on the back and makes us feel better than others, which is another fallacy and lie. We are all humans, working out our lives with the ingredients we’ve been given. We each have been given certain ingredients on the shelves of our pantrys and in our refrigerators that we’ve been told to make a meal out of. I’ll admit, some of us got some easier ingredients to work with than others but with ingenuity and some time, we can all make something nourishing that will feed ourselves and others.
When we compare ourselves, everyone loses. We either reduce people and things in size, making them less than they are, or we inflate things and people, making them more and better than they are. Neither is helpful or bears good fruit.
We all have things that deaden us, slow us down, sideline us, keep us from living fully in the now if we allow them to. I am particularly susceptible to envy and discontentment. Comparison is the mode of transportation that gets me there. That may not be your kryptonite. Other things may pull you on board and take you places where you don’t want to go. So here are some questions for you to noodle on that might help these 40 days leading up to Easter be richer and more illuminating. Many of them are the same question asked several ways.
What emotions repeatedly come up for me? Around what do they usually show up? What does this tell me?
What drains me? What fills me up? What am I doing or not doing that contributes to either the drain or the fill up?
What is something I sense has an unhealthy hold on me?
What keeps me from being quiet, centered, mindful, myself? What’s my go-to distraction?
Where am I afraid?
What is something I do that brings me joy and causes me to lose a sense of time? What would it look like for me to have more space and time for that? What needs to get shuffled to the side or boundaried so that I can do that?
What is my intuition telling me I need more of? Less of?
What connects me to myself, to others, to God? What disconnects me?
What is the thing, when I think of giving up, adding or limiting during Lent that makes me afraid or scared? How can I be curious and explore what is behind my fear here?
I often use Lent as a time to explore different spiritual practices that sound like fun or may give me a different view into things. I like the idea of giving up grinding (check out @thenapministry on Instagram). Or a weekly excursion to a new area of of my city or area, putting my phone away (with its mapping aids) and just wandering, exploring, noticing and experiencing a new place. Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World is a wonderful resource for a fresh look at what might constitute as spiritual practices that we have hitherto never considered (hint—almost anything can be a spiritual practice if done intentionally and mindfully).
To conclude, one thing that brings me back to my life and myself, and helps me sit up and pay attention in a way that is life-giving is poetry. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite go-to poets. I love this following poem on her dog Percy for the question that it raises. It seems like an eliciting question to ponder these days as we wait and hope for stale, dead, unnaturally squished places in us to become fresh, new, and resurrected.