#70: Fighting the pattern that keeps us stuck
Giving and receiving feedback; vulnerability; and equanimity
Earlier this week, I wrote a post on long-term thinking. With broad strokes, I shared thoughts on the critical elements to cultivate when becoming a long-term thinker: taking perspective on life, worrying about the right things, and choosing which race to run. And because I am deeply interested in system design, I looked at long-term thinking from a systems lens and presented thoughts on feedback loops —a core element of resilient, a.k.a. long-term systems.
When I write newsletter posts, I don’t always submit them for feedback, and I justify my decision by telling myself that I just want to quickly publish a post. But really, the vulnerable answer is that I am scared to receive feedback. I know this is true because when I receive critical feedback on my writing, like with this post that I wrote on long-term thinking, I become defensive.
The problem that I am describing is what I have identified as the pattern. It is a series of thoughts that I repeat to myself that then manifest into feeling and then eventually into behavior. Here’s how the pattern unfolds:
My thoughts tell me that my feedback provider doesn’t understand my writing style, my voice, or who I am as a writer.
The feeling is self-righteousness
The behavior is dismissing feedback
Once I saw this pattern in myself, I started to see it in many other people too, and I realized that his pattern is not my pattern. It is the pattern.
The pattern is our defense mechanism that protects us from being vulnerable: from feeling insecure. The pattern is the shield we put up to not feel unpleasant feelings that may be a threat to our identity.
Receiving critical feedback on my writing could mean that I’m not a good enough writer. That my writing is flawed and shoddy. That I shouldn’t be writing. That I made a mistake by devoting my time and energy to the craft of writing.
This kind of feedback to a beginner writer can completely kill their passion. It is harmful and dangerous and although it probably has grains of truth, if delivered in this critical way, can crush a person’s soul and they may never write again.
Now that I have matured as a writer, I am able to not take feedback so personally. I want constructive feedback because I know how important it is to my craft. I can look past the delivery and hone in on the message.
The ability to look past words, to look past behavior, is something I have learned from my spiritual practice. Spiritual teachings do an excellent job of making us aware of the pattern because the pattern is timeless. The pattern has been with us since the beginning of humanity. Even though circumstances change, the pattern continues. Understanding how to cope with the pattern is the key to a life of authentic joy, happiness, and meaning.
I’m not an expert in spiritual teachings. Neither am I a guru or even a teacher. But I am someone who has personal experience in the dangers of leaving the pattern unchecked. Those of you have a spiritual practice, may be familiar with the word equanimity. Equanimity, defined as: mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation — is the antidote to the pattern.
Equanimity is a space that every human has the ability to access. At its core, it is a heart space that is opened up when we extend our sphere of compassion. When we are able to see the goodness in every human being by seeing past their mask — by seeing past their identity.
From my experience, and from spiritual teachings, there are three things that get in the way of equanimity:
A common myth is that equanimity is passivity, but this is not true. Passivity is actually indifference — and indifference is an enemy of equanimity. An example of indifference is when you experience conflict and hurt and respond by saying that everything is fine. Indifference is an attempt to smooth things over. It is pulling away from life, whereas equanimity is being fully engaged with life.
The pattern pulls us towards indifference because it doesn’t want us to experience fear. Like an overprotective parent, the pattern’s unmet needs hold us back from fully experiencing and living. But, of course, if we don’t face our fears, if we don’t face the unpleasant and the scary, then we will not be fully engaged with the world. I see this happening a lot and I used to do it too. For example, you may turn on the news, see a lot of sadness and hurt, and immediately start looking for someone to blame. It’s the fault of the Democrats…or the Republicans… or NATO...or Marcon...or the Californians… or the Southerners.
When we are stressed and overwhelmed, maybe even burnt out, busyness can become a coping mechanism, like a drug. It can be used as an escape to not feel what is really happening right now in the present moment —all of the unpleasantness, the negativity, the fear. The pattern holds our flimsy identity in its firm grasp, persuading us that we need to keep doing and moving to maintain our worthiness as x or y or z identity.
The pattern has a way of convincing us that what is happening is our fault. So it makes us turn inwards, against ourselves. And because the pattern doesn’t want us to feel shame or embarrassment, we don’t share our inner world and everyone becomes our enemy. When the reality is that it’s not my fault, or your fault, or anyone’s fault. It’s the patterns fault!
So let’s fight the pattern. Together. In the only timelessly proven way: through compassion, kindness, and presence.
This post was inspired by Rob Hardy’s essay The Ungated Manifesto
For additional readings and teachings, I recommend Paul Graham’s timeless essay Keep Your Identity Small and Tara Brach’s prescient talk on Equanimity.