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Locked-up Abroad: Self-Imprisonment Edition

11 min read

MMA Fighters and Ledge-Jumpers

I innately know when I am miserable (in-misery) and in need of a time-out but my insecurities have conditioned me to believe otherwise so sometimes it takes me a bit to acknowledge that’s where I am; denial is not just a river in Africa, folks.  My recent foray into the darkness of misery and into the even darker pit of denial has shined a light on a few things; not the least of which is that my thoughts about the darkness and my reactions to those thoughts perpetuate the misery.

I call the thinking and reacting parts of myself “insecurities” or my defensive soldiers.  Misery may love company but my insecurities NEED both misery and company to exist.  No doubt there are a million personas and forms that misery takes on however there are a few versions that have shown themselves to me of late, including MMA Fighters and Ledge-Jumpers.

MMA fighters are prickly, defensive and ready to rumble; every word is a fighting word including their humor which can be scathing and laden with below-the-belt punches.  They kick with blame and punch with judgment although ironically all they really want is love and affection.  One of my misery-insecurities is a prize MMA fighter!

The ledge-jumpers appear, at first glance, to be completely different.  They say they just want someone to listen but what they really want is to be rescued.  Step by manipulative step they climb up to a ledge then begin screaming for someone to help them down.  I have witnessed ledge-jumpers turn into MMA fighters on more than one occasion.  Don’t believe me?  Tell a ledge-jumper to “relax” or that they are responsible for their own feelings/situation and watch what happens.  One of my misery-insecurities is also a ledge-jumper.

I have recently become aware that in my ignorant desire to help others I ended up feeding their insecurities instead of actually supporting their higher-selves.  I offered words of encouragement, acts of kindness and symbols of love in the hope of inspiring their higher-selves but in reality, my insecurities were placating their insecurities and vice versa.

The attention they received from my “being there” and the validation I received for “being there” provided enough distraction to temporarily satisfy both of our insecurities. Their insecurities always came back for more and my insecurities always obliged.

…And Arsonists

Insecurities subsist upon and therefore seek morsels of attention, affection, kindness, pity, validation, appreciation, acceptance, etc. However, the effects are only temporary because insecurities are insatiable creatures by nature; they literally NEED validation to exist.

Some insecurities may seek the company of others – friends, therapy, religious organizations, groups, etc. – while other insecurities may seek the company of alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, etc. which are often far more consistent than people when it comes to validating their existence.  We all know that none of the aforementioned methodologies work in the long term and in fact, often complicate matters and put us further away from the goal of peace.  However, this does not stop us from trying.

My insecurities have tried most of the above in the past but this time they told me we were going to take the “high road.”  We were going to seek “positive” outlets such as self-healing, self-care, happy thoughts and the path to enlightenment.  It turns out that the high road was fraught with just as many challenges as the other distraction options for a variety of reasons.

One reason is, any which way I slice it, my insecurities unconsciously seek out anyone or anything that will validate/feed them in order to give me a temporary respite or distraction from the suffering they cause.  I have learned that it is not possible for me to be present and self-aware if I am distracted; even if I am distracted with “positive” things.

The other reason that the self-healing/self-care/happy-thought path did not work for me is because that path was actually exactly the same path as all of the others; the pavers may have been nicer or messier but it was always going to bring me back to the same exact place – misery.

Everyone knows that all insecurities are fear-based hence the definition of the word:  unsafe or not secure.  However I have recently discovered that ALL of my thoughts are products of insecurities so therefore all of my thoughts are also fear-based.  Yep, that’s right – even my happy, positive, loving, compassionate thoughts and self-healing mantras have their bases in fear because they are merely reactionary responses to fear.

In essence, I was trying to put out a fire with a flammable liquid; the flames may have died down or changed direction momentarily but the fire was never fully extinguished so it was always going to rage again under the right conditions and rage again it did.  Additionally, I was getting further away from the true source of the fire.

My Crime:  Compassion Confusion

At some point I felt that most of the people I spoke with were either suffering, miserable and/or angry with me.  I agreed to be a `human punching bag/safety net because people were obviously hurting and I did not want to add fuel to their ire-fire.  I was suffering too because my insecurities told me that I was failing them.

As a lifelong MMA fighter and ledge-jumper, I could clearly see through the MMA fighters’ metaphorical kicks of blame and the ledge-jumpers’ hysteria and directly into their pain.  I tolerated the blows and took the midnight phone calls; when one cheek got sore, I turned the other one.  When my face was black and blue, I bent over so they could then kick me in my ass.  I was open to it; I allowed it and I encouraged it because I was COMPASSIONATE, goddamn it!

I trusted that they would employ the tools of self-healing that I have been espousing for the past four years and do as I do:  Self-reflect on their behavior; heal themselves with acceptance, forgiveness, compassion, kindness and love; apologize, ask for forgiveness, have gratitude for the opportunity for personal growth and move on. (I see you laughing at this notion.  I now laugh at it too.)

I was on the “path to enlightenment” you see, and I did not have a frame of reference for it because I had never been “enlightened” before; I assumed that enlightenment must feel like an ass-whooping.  Why wouldn’t it?  All of my role models for enlightenment had suffered, or so I had been conditioned to believe – Jesus was crucified, Buddha was an outcast, “witches” were burned, Ghandi starved, Dr. King was hosed, etc. – who was I to escape the “suffering?”

I gave all that I could to the ledge-jumpers and took all I could from the MMA fighters; that is, when I was not engaged in ledge-jumping and MMA fighting myself.  In the end they continued to live in the same exact manner as they always had and I ended up depleted and bruised.

Self-imprisonment in Paradise

One day a few months ago I woke up exhausted and figuratively sore and bloody all over.  I couldn’t feel my heart expand the way it used to and I realized I could not even muster up enough energy to give myself loving kindness anymore, much less send it to anyone else.

My old insecurities had awakened from their slumber and were now at the helm.  They turned my once-glorious sunrise meditations and beach walks into thoughts of just swimming out to sea and never returning.  Every conversation I had was indeed an opportunity for personal growth but instead of growing, I sunk deeper and deeper into the abyss.  I had forgotten that my miserable self loves company and I was confused when every interaction made me more miserable instead of lifting my spirits.

I had also forgotten a very important fact that my higher-self would never forget:  I am the ONLY one who holds the key to the source of my misery therefore I am the only one who can free myself.  My higher-self knows that I am my own jailer and therefore my own liberator.

Ah, but if only my higher-self had been the warden on duty – I discovered that my insecurities had been running the show and what a shit-show it has been!  My insecurities were looking for love and appreciation and instead they were receiving rejection and blame at every turn.  The MMA fighters’ blows were landing hard and I had nothing left to offer the ledge-jumpers because I was on the precipice myself.

I was miserable, empty and in a very dark place.  A friend of mine here in Samui once said to me “there is no darker place than when one finds oneself depressed and miserable in the middle of paradise.”  I can now say that I concur with that statement because I have now experienced being “locked-up abroad” by my insecurities; I imprisoned myself in paradise.

In an attempt to stave off the ennui that was hitting its apex, I reached for all of my costumes in succession:  my MMA fighter gloves, my ledge-jumping jumpsuit and my cape of enlightenment.  The process was akin to putting on the skinny jeans I used to keep in the back of my closet for when I got back down to my “ideal” size; I may have lost the weight and the jeans may have technically fit but they didn’t feel quite right because my body had changed, the fashion had changed and most importantly, my self-image had changed in the time that had elapsed since I had originally rocked them.

The greatest advantage that darkness in paradise offers is that it makes hiding from oneself difficult.  There’s only so far into the murky pit that one can go before one’s eyes open and notice that the path to self-awareness in paradise is covered in white sand, lit by sunshine, surrounded by turquoise waters and lined with palm trees.  It also offers fresh coconuts, mangoes and $10 massages along the way.

My first step out of the darkness was opening my eyes to the reality of my present moment which snapped me out of it like an elastic waistband on comfy sweatpants.  And boy was I grateful for that forgiving elastic because I was extremely swollen from all my insecurities’ feasts over the past few years.

The snap-back to the present brought the gifts of gratitude and the awareness of choice with it – like finding two hundred-dollar bills in the pocket of those old sweats!  As soon as I remembered that I was free and here on this island by choice, I was then able to accept accountability for all of the choices that I was making which included the choice to feel like shit in paradise and to allow others to diminish my value.

I knew I had to get out of those old, tight, ill-fitting jeans…

A Strip Search

Once I remembered that I was free and no one was coming to save me from myself, I decided to stop fighting the darkness and go through it the only way one truly can – alone.  I knew I had to start from scratch and that meant leaving behind everyone and everything I thought I knew.  I had to strip myself of all of my pre-conceived notions of self and get humble and naked.  I stopped trying to distract myself with company and I took everything off including my MMA fighting gloves, my ledge-jumping jumpsuit and especially my cape of enlightenment.

I put myself back into Vipassana-mode and went into silence.  I meditated for hours each day and listened to S.N.Goenke’s Vipassana dhamma talks.  I ate and drank only what my body required and rested when I was tired.

I limited my human interaction to the bare minimum.  I stopped exposing myself to social media and Netflix (the only TV I watch).  When my phone was on, I turned off all notifications which allowed me to continue to use it as a timepiece and listen to my dhamma talks; it also allowed me to control the flow of communication with the outside world.  I discovered and utilized the “block” feature on my phone and in real life for those who used me for sparring practice and as their safety net.

S.N. Goenke reminded me of the concept of anicca: Everything is temporary – the bad and the good.  He also reminded me that pain is nothing more than sensation but the craving and aversion to the sensation are where the real pain and misery lie. I recommitted to non-judgmental observation of self – body, emotions and thoughts – without wanting more of the good stuff or wishing the bad stuff away.

The Gift of Solitary Confinement

The darkness and silence told me that I was nowhere close to being enlightened.  I discovered that my insecurities had been sustaining themselves, unbeknownst to me, and that I had been stuck in a constant vicious cycle.

My deceptive and brilliant insecurities were marauding to be all “love and light” and deep down they were perpetuating themselves and feasting on the insecurities of others. Turns out we don’t die when we eat shit, we just feel shittier and shittier.

I recognized that I was attached to feeling joyful and its absence caused me misery.  I also recognized that every MMA fighter and ledge-jumper that I spoke with fed my insecurities; those conversations were both exhilarating and exhausting.  My insecurities told me I was fulfilling “my calling/my purpose” and spreading love, light, compassion and inspiring people to live their truth.  They told me that I was helping people to heal; to become more empowered and facilitating their growth.

I may have done some of that however it has become clear to me that despite my best intentions, I could never have truly succeeded because:

  1. The desire for growth in anyone, including and especially in myself, is an arrogant lack of acceptance of the individual as he/she is and as I am.
  2. A desire for healing in anyone, including myself, is predicated on the belief that we are somehow injured, broken, in need of repair or not already perfect.
  3. All of it was masterminded by my insatiable insecurities.

In retrospect, the ass-beatings that I received from the MMA fighters were deserved because I was not being altruistic, compassionate and loving; I was being arrogant and grossly co-dependent.  And I was at least as desperate if not more desperate than the ledge-jumpers because I NEEDED them to heal; my insecurities depended on them.

I had thought I was performing alchemy by taking in negativity and spinning it into the gold of forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, kindness and wisdom. I had thought that I would be the beneficiary of everyone’s healing and one day all the love and light would be reciprocated or, at the very least, paid forward.  I have recently come to understand that I don’t know jack-shit, least of all anyone else’s growth or life path; it was the arrogance of my insecurities that had those thoughts and deigned to believe otherwise.

Furloughed

The awareness and clarity that I received as a result of my recent period of silence liberated me from the weight of my insecurities in an immeasurable way.  I have entered a new era of being; one that allows me to see my insecurities as they arise and acknowledge them without acting upon them.  (Not all of them and not all the time of course – I am not Buddha).  In general, I no longer feel the burden of having to tolerate blows of blame or to talk people off the ledge; in fact, I don’t feel the need to talk at all.

If I do feel compelled to communicate then I am consciously aware that it is one of my insecurities at work.  I had the pleasure of watching one of my insecurities just this weekend when she showed up two days in a row to argue politics with two complete strangers; I hate politics but apparently she still has some shit to prove.  Indeed, even the act of writing this blog post is being done by one of my insecurities/defensive soldiers. She wants to inspire you and she needs you to know how ‘woke’ she is.  (‘Woke’ is not the same as enlightened but that is for another post).

My insecurities define me by my worth to other people and by my value in this world so they constantly apply pressure to me to be something or to do something.  A great many things became clear to me once I stopped being anything and stopped doing everything.

I recognized that my insecurities had confused compassion with self-flagellation.  I took the frantic calls of the ledge-jumpers because I have an underlying sense of guilt about my dream-like lifestyle so I felt like it was the least I could do; it was a way to assuage my guilt.  I tolerated nastiness from the MMA fighters because I know that I have been very nasty in my life so I looked at it as karmic and getting my just desserts.  All of it was literally dessert – for my insecurities.

I now understand how my fear and insecurities feed off of each other and keep each other alive:  My fear of being one thing instructs my insecurities to create a mental image of the opposite of that thing then continuously fact-checks it.  In other words, my insecurities project an image of what I should be based on the image of what I don’t want to be then constantly checks back in with the fear to see how we are measuring up – ‘tis both a brilliant perpetual motion machine and a twisted gluttonous cycle!

My insecurities’ mere existence is enough to feed, validate and perpetuate the fear because my insecurities are wholly relational and purely reactional to the fear; one cannot exist without the other.  My fear’s favorite meals are the biggies – guilt, shame, regret, self-loathing – however it enjoys between-meal snacks as much as the next guy so it noshes on the “good stuff” too – happiness, pride, compliments, satisfaction, appreciation, affection, etc. – all of the above keep my fear’s belly full and its engine humming right along.

Had I continued to define myself as “love, light and compassion” or as any of the roles that I defined myself as in Rogue Mama or as anything for that matter; then I would have given my insecurities the equivalent of a never-ending smorgasbord.  I shut down the buffet when I let go of the insecurity of needing to be anything to anyone including to myself.

I used to believe that we could and should help to heal each other and that it was important to “be there” for others but I no longer believe that to be entirely true.  I have come to recognize that my repeated tolerance of unkind and self-victimized behavior may have actually prohibited and stymied the self-awareness in the very people who I thought I was helping and especially in myself.

As long as the MMA fighters have someone to blame then they will remain self-victimized and never look in the mirror and accept themselves as they are. As long as the ledge-jumpers have someone to placate their insecurities then they will continue to feed and never experience their own strength.  And as long as I feel the need to be anything to either of them then my own insecurities will live to fight another day.

I still believe that having compassion means turning the other cheek but I now understand that sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do for ourselves and for each other is walk away.

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