Last week, I returned home from a retreat in California. What I thought was going to be a creativity workshop being taught by two of my favourite authors ended up being more like two days of therapy being provided by them. While I know that the work was important for many of the people in the audience, it was work I had already done for myself over the past couple of years. Acknowledging and pushing through my fears? Yep, I’m basically always doing that. Actively pursuing things I want and creating an engaged life? It was fun to write the list of ways I’d done that recently. And trusting my clarity? I’ve been doing that, too (and is what helped me quit all the projects I’d been working on).
As I wrote each of the prescribed letters to myself, and then exchanged the words with strangers, I started to feel like I shouldn’t be there. I wasn’t going to the deep, dark places other people seemed to be venturing into. I wasn’t crying or having any kind of emotional reaction at all. I was just writing facts on paper. When others opened up and shared parts of themselves with me, I felt guilty for only giving them a few facts in return. I also hated that the whole setup reminded me of the documentary I Am Not Your Guru. It felt like a gross waste of money. So, when I realized day two was going to be a repeat of a workshop I’d done in London, I decided to skip it and sit with these thoughts.
Looking back now, I can see that might have been the most important thing I did all weekend: taken a step back. It gave me time to think about why I had signed up in the first place, as well as why I was disappointed in what it had ended up being. Sitting alone with my thoughts also prevented me from bringing other people down with me. Because, yes, I was disappointed and I did feel like I wasted my money. I could have moaned or complained. I also could have taken to social media and told others how annoyed I was. Or worse yet, used the event hashtag so the attendees/organizers could have heard my opinion too. But I knew it wasn’t meant to be shared.
And the reason I knew I shouldn’t share this is because that was my experience—not theirs. And it didn’t feel fair for me to alter someone else’s experience in an attempt to match mine (especially when mine was negative).
This has been, perhaps, one of the hardest things for me to learn—and actually practice—since embracing mindfulness: the art of not complaining. And I won’t pretend I’m good at it. Honestly, I think I’m just getting started. There are stats that say we tell anywhere from 2-10x as many people about a bad experience, compared to a good experience. Why is that? I don’t know, because I truly am just starting to think about this. What I do know is that the art of constant complaining is the main reason I deleted my Facebook profile + page, and finally decided to walk away from Twitter. I used to do it too, so zero judgment from me, but I simply grew tired of being dragged down.
So, instead of dragging anyone down at the workshop, I went for a hike then sat outside by one of the fire pits and wrote in my journal. After listing all the things I was feeling about the experience (including frustration about the non-stop pitches to visit the gift shop, which I did talk about on Instagram in a way that would hopefully open reader’s eyes to how often it happens) I asked myself why I was there. Why had I bought a ticket for this event? The answer had a few layers of influence.
- I saw one of the author’s share it on Instagram.
- It felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
- I didn’t think there would be many tickets available.
- I was in a bad place and wanted something to look forward to.
Now, let’s really break that down:
- Influence #1: my love of the author’s work (which is why I follow her).
- Influence #2: a desire/dream.
- Influence #3: a scarcity mindset (which is behind many impulse purchases).
- Influence #4: my mental health.
Notice that none of those things are anyone else’s fault. They all had to do with me. I had no one to “blame” for wasting money but myself. I made the decision to buy the ticket. As for not enjoying the content of the workshops, I can take some of the blame for that too—and it’s not all bad blame. The reason I didn’t enjoy the workshops was because I didn’t need them. And the reason I didn’t need them was because I’d already done a lot of that work for myself. If I hadn’t gone, I might not have realized just how far I’ve come this year. So, what would I complain about? Why is that anyone else’s problem? Why is it a problem at all?
When we talk about becoming mindful consumers, we are looking at how outside things/experiences affect us on the inside. What we eat affects how we feel, what we read/watch/listen to affects how we think, what we consume affects what we create, and so on. We can talk about how all of those things influence us, and two weeks ago I did suggest you start keeping track of what you consume. But the “mindful” part means being conscious and aware of what’s happening in the present moment, and that includes recognizing your role in influencing each moment as well. We can’t blame everything on everyone else. Who we are today influences us as well.
This is one of the reasons I won’t leave negative book reviews. There are lots of books I read and don’t enjoy, but it’s not the author’s fault. It’s my fault I didn’t enjoy it. Either I already knew the advice (similar to the workshop, this is actually a good thing) or didn’t agree with the content or didn’t relate to the writing style. But it’s not the author’s fault they didn’t write the perfect book for me. They don’t know me. That’s too big of a demand! So, why would I complain about it—especially in a public forum, which could alter other people’s thoughts and stop someone from reading a book that could really help them? Who am I to think I should have any control over that?
My friend David once wrote that mindfulness is the opposite of neediness—and practicing it means “observing something without trying to immediately change it”. It’s noticing and accepting. And in the example of the workshop I attended, it was noticing that I was influencing my negative experience, and accepting ownership of that rather than blaming it on anyone else. Sometimes it seems easier to place blame or to act like a victim of circumstance. In fact, it’s a lot harder to recognize your role and take responsibility for it. But being able to see—and accept—that you are part of the equation makes you a better communicator, problem solver, and member of all your communities.
The original point of this newsletter was to get you to think about what influences you. But now I’m curious: how are you influencing yourself? And who are you influencing?
This was originally shared in my newsletter.