Have you ever not done (or almost not done) something because of an icky feeling?
You know what I mean by icky? Any feeling from mild discomfort to out-and-out panic-inducing distress.
And the things we don’t (or almost don’t) do: Diving off the top board, speaking at a meeting, leaving a bad relationship, saying ‘no’ to someone when they are pushing you to places you don’t want to go, wearing a bikini in public next to your slim and pretty friend (okay, that last one might just be me).
Of course, standing exposed, whether on a diving board or in front of a meeting, might also come with nerves or excitement. Leaving a bad relationship might come with doubt, worry about the future, and grief—because we will grieve the end of a relationship, even a bad one, like a death. Saying ‘no’ to that person pushing you—whether for illicit sex, drug running, or just for a night out to somewhere you don’t want to be—might come with anger, sadness, or peace. These feelings are clean. Not icky. They flow.
But, back to the icky feeling. We’ll do most anything, it seems, to avoid feeling it. We’ll tell distracting stories, find excuses (which we will call very rational, practical reasons), blame others, bury ourselves in work or family tasks, make jokes at our own expense. We’ll turn down invitations, tolerate abuse, swallow our voice, and cry regret silently into a pillow.
Why do we avoid it? Because the icky feeling masks fear. Fear of looking a fool, fear of being rejected, fear of someone thinking less of us, fear of blabbering nonsense, fear of belly-flopping—literally or metaphorically. And what is beneath the fear? A sense of shame, believing ourselves not good enough.
Here’s where the biggest distraction comes. The earnest desire of ourselves and others to convince us that we are good enough, to relieve the shame. It might even work, for a while. In fact, it might work so well that the novice takes a plunge from the top board . . . and delivers a spectacular belly-flop. (As a caveat, I’m definitely not ignoring practicalities; both diving and speaking at meetings require heeding rational considerations.)
Of course, instilling a false sense of invincibility doesn’t address the underlying issue.
What’s behind the feeling of ‘not good enough’? It’s two-fold: first the inkling that there is something so much more to us than fear and insecurity; coupled with believing ourselves to be a transient and insubstantial person or body. In other words, there’s the echo of who we are as pure potential, clashing with a strongly held, but misplaced, belief in ourselves as limited beings. No wonder we will do anything rather than feel it.
But what if we do feel it? Rather than the endless shoring up of that which can never be secured. Rather than trying to pin the tide on the beach. Rather than running, hiding, excusing, acceding, or blaming. Just feel it. Feel the full blown ickiness of believing ourselves that person, that body.
What if we face the belief? The belief that we could ever be a body, a mind, a personality, a name. In other words, face the hollow belief in what we are not. What if we take every idea of who we are and hold it to the light of scrutiny? Because the one thing that feeling cannot bear is scrutiny.
We get to know belief for what it is. Not to correct it, not to fix it, not to paper over the cracks. Just know belief for what it is. Know it. And feel it.
Notice I’m not giving you an out here. Sure, by seeing through the belief in what we are not, we will naturally come to recognise who we are. And then, equally naturally, the ickiness dissolves into the whole. But there’s no free pass. There are no shortcuts. Stay with the feeling, and I will be there with you. For as long as it takes.
As for the bikini body? Spending time with a friend outweighs hiding in shame, any day. Icky feeling or not.