Summer lessons of sticks and stones

Summer lessons of sticks and stones

Who said words can never hurt you?

Suzanne along coast of Nova Scotia

Suzanne in Nova Scotia

Well, they were wrong, at least about me. For almost two months I’ve been balanced on the edge of a sword that showed up laser-like out of nowhere and is only now showing signs of letting me off. Mean words have been part of it, and they hurt. I am here to discover my part in it, however great or small.

I am writing about my tough summer not so much to complain (though there may be that); but to help me, and perhaps you, better understand and embrace ourselves and our anguished world.

I share my out-of-the-blue hurts because I believe we awake ones can make the difference the world needs us to make only through keen awareness and deep compassion for our own anguish. (Our denial and attempts to escape our anguish definitely included).

Like it or not—and paradoxically—if I’m to be of selfless service to you (or anyone really), I’ve got to keep clearing the way for—and before—my Self. So here we go.

Pushing Nothing Away

We know that I, and you, too, since you’re able to read this, are blessed beyond belief. Any distress of ours pales against the millions—no, billions—of people experiencing lives of suffering and deprivation almost beyond our capacity to imagine it. Then again, thanks to all news all the time, less and less is left to our imagination, if we’re willing to look. And I am.

In Nova Scotia, where I spent the summer without TV, international stories abound on CBC radio. We heard sensitive, in-depth reports about routine assaults on Afghani women who dare to leave the house; the suicide hanging of a Halifax NS girl gang raped, then bullied on the Internet; a Quebec town and dozens of its citizens blown to bits by a runaway train, and, most horribly, the hundreds of Syrians writhing to death from government sanctioned nerve gas poisoning.

So there’s no question some of the piercing I’ve felt recently is fueled by the movingly crafted, heart-rending earfuls coming at us fast and furious. I have written here before that I want to open my heart so wide I can contain and embrace it all, pushing nothing and no one away. That’s why I choose to pay attention to stories of others’ despair. It can be a lot to hold these days.

But the world’s big miseries, I am embarrassed to admit, have sometimes been less troubling to me lately than my own minor ones. To my surprise, I’ve been buffeted this summer by an unprecedented string of sometimes extreme, sometimes subtle stings aimed directly at me.

People ranging from an old friend to a new neighbor, to the outrageous owners of an inn where we were guests, have treated me more disrespectfully, at times outright rudely, than I’ve ever been treated in all my lucky life. All of a sudden. It’s hard to know what to make of it.

Wake up, little Suzie, wake up

As a friend I was telling about my hard summer asked me the other day, “Don’t you wonder what you might have done to attract all that negative energy?” I do, Andrea, I do.

Although I can usually see that the offenders themselves are in pain, and that their ill behavior may have less to do with me than them, it still hurts at least a little every time. I work through it and get over it every time, too. But the cumulative effect of the many and varied insults (not to mention some significant professional disappointments) has left me feeling sad and defeated.

And that, dear readers, may be exactly what the universe, aka God, has in mind. Don’t we have to keep breaking down if we’re to break open, liberating our dear hearts and crushing ego’s seemingly endless ploys to distract us from the love that we are? Unfortunately, we do.

When we forget our true selves for even a minute, the universe kindly seeks to remind us. If we miss the soft, subtle cues, God ups the ante to whatever it takes to wake us up and bring us back home to the heart. Thank God!

No question since the publication of my first book, Bare Naked at the Reality Dance, I had lost my way a little (or maybe a lot). I got too busy too fast working, and looking outside, for the acclaim and, yes, the fame I’m sure many new authors seek. But becoming dependent on others’ recognition and approval wasn’t a happy-making plan for me as a yogini and spiritual seeker.

This summer’s many humiliations are forcing me back to—and back on—myself. I am beginning to remember that I alone must be my best friend, my own mainstay again.

Lessons I’m being clobbered with

Now that I think—and write—about it, it’s pretty simple. There are at least two lessons I am being clobbered with. First, while I am much improved from just a few years ago, I apparently still have things to learn about humility and the self-love it takes to sustain it.

Second, since some people won’t respond well to me (or perhaps to anyone) no matter how unassuming I am, it will behoove me to care a whole lot less about what others think of me.

So, yes, I’ve probably invited some of this summer’s strange abuse by showing up too forcefully. Had I been paying closer attention to others’ emotional needs, I might have toned down my power and passion around people who may find it (me) threatening. I’d have been more humble.

They say that what we put out is what comes back to us. It makes sense. I brought on disrespect by being less than fully respectful, however restrained my arrogance may have been. I see I can be more considerate—and far less judgmental—of everyone I meet, an important lesson for me.

And yes again, “little Suzie” has foolishly (if understandably!) continued to hope everyone she meets or shares her writing with will fall in love with her. And it doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to realize that the more we crave attention and approbation (let alone love), the less likely we are to attract it. The “everybody loves Suzie fest” ain’t happenin’ and it’s time I got used to it. It’s probably a darned good thing actually, given my nature and nurture tendencies to be too self-absorbed. (And, okay, some not-so-distant relatives were bona fide narcissists.)

The bottom line is this: For a seeker after lessons in self-love, compassion and selfless service, rejection trumps adulation every time. How better to learn to love ourselves—and, by extension, others.

The antidote to the pain of the insults and rejection is to sit with it every time. I must love and hold myself through each particular episode as best I can. I must stay with the painful feelings until they are burnt to an ashen crisp Shiva would be proud of. I must stay with the hurt till I can return to that great, still heart of mine, letting it nourish me, rather than look for love outside.

So, go ahead, great universe. Bring on the affronts and disappointments, if you must. Bring them on until I get the message of humility and nonattachment so clearly that, even less than caring about how I show up with others, I won’t give a damn about showing up at all. I will simply be, which, if my beloved Bapuji is any indication, is surely the most selfless service of all.

Meanwhile, I can’t wait to hear from you, dear readers. Please tell us how you use the occasional slings and arrows of outrageous fortune thrown your way to learn your lessons and grow. Let your words fly and dare to comment—for the growth and good of us all!

Categories: Inspiration, Self-Care, Surrender

  • Mary P.

    WOW! That was beautiful & amazing. I am speechless with open arms to give you a big hug. Hang in there dear one. You ARE loved.

    • Suzanne Grenager

      What an uplifting message you left me, kind Mary! Thank you more than I can say for your consistent love and support of me and my words. I am beyond blessed to have friends like you.

  • Rachel P.

    Do you know the crumpled paper lesson?

    The teacher gave each student a clean, crisp sheet of paper. She then instructed the class to crumble up the piece of paper – toss it around, get angry with it, stomp on it… – after which she told the students to return to their seats (with their piece of paper), flatten it out on the top of their desks, making it as flat and perfect as they can, and finally, apologize to the paper.
    When all the students had done their best to iron out the paper and apologize
    to it, the teacher picked up the paper on the first classmate’s desk, held it up
    so the entire class could see it and said
    “If this piece of paper had been another person, and you had done all those
    things to him or her, by making them feel less than perfect (through your words
    or actions), these are the scars you would leave. That person would never be
    the same, no matter how many times you tell them you are sorry, no matter how
    many times you try to smooth things out…”

    Regardless of how old we get or how thick skinned we think we are the actions and words of others help to define our self-image. SAYING we don’t care what others think of us and LIVING that claim are two entirely different things.
    And do we really WANT to not care what others think? Isn’t part of this self-love thing the desire to be the best “I” we can be? And if “I” am walking the talk, and sharing with others the patience, respect, appreciation, admiration, and adoration I’m giving to myself, isn’t it only right that others notice and share a bit of good will of their own? If only we lived in that perfect world……………

    All that being said I guess my point really is that it seems the crummy words
    and less than kind actions of others cause us to doubt our own inherent
    perfection. Attempting to embrace that doubt and direct our energy at not
    only shrugging off the negativity but projecting even MORE tenderness both
    within and to the person clearly having a not so good day will only help us

    A lot of years and a ton of draining criticisms have taught me that, for me at
    least, there’s no other way.

    Mean, spiteful people, or sometimes those hurting themselves, will ALWAYS unleash, and I will always stand tall
    (after I curl up under the covers and cry for a while of course).


    • Suzanne Grenager

      Sounds like we are on the same (crumpled :) page, dear Rachel. Love, love the “crumpled paper lesson,” and especially your wise prescription for dealing with the almost inevitable hurt we feel at unkind words: “”Embracing,” by which I know you mean *compassionately facing* our self-doubt and sending “more tenderness” to the seeming offender sounds exactly right to me. And you do stand tall, girl, not least because you are strong enough to “curl up under the covers and cry for a while.” Thank you for your eloquent sharing of yourself and your rich, informative life experience. And, hey, why not direct others to your life-affirming comment!

  • Marian Methner

    Good Morning Friend. This morning the following poem appeared ala One Sacred Practice , daily meditation. Just for you, and just for all of us who have suffered and ducked slings and arrows.

    Admit something:

    Everyone you see, you say to them,

    ‘Love me.’

    Of course you do not do this out loud;


    Someone would call the cops.

    Still though, think about this,

    This great pull in us to connect.

    Why not become the one

    Who lives with a full moon in each eye

    That is always saying

    With that sweet moon


    What every other eye in this world

    Is dying to


    – Hafiz, quoted in Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart

    • Suzanne Grenager

      Wow, Marian. Quite the serendipity that *this* poem should “appear” right after you read (and sent me an email) about *this* blog post — the very one about me wanting to get over wanting everyone to love me. :) Of course to be loved is what we all want, but the idea of turning it around to shine the “moon” light of love back on everyone we meet is…well, brilliant.

      In fact, even more serendipitously, the idea of being the moon (rather than the sun of my sign) and shining people’s light right back to them has been a conscious practice of mine ever since an astrologer yoga student read my chart on my birthday about 25 years ago and gave me that guidance! Thank you for reminding and reinforcing me with this beautiful sharing.

  • Susan

    Hi Suzanne. I know how you feel but have come to no conclusions on what it means. I don’t even try to figure out what mean or “lacks of kindness” actions or inactions that cross my path. I was once told that pain I felt caused from the news or anyone’s suffering was not my business. I thought the person cold for saying such a thing. But over the years I get it, more and more every day. As our hearts open we are more aware of everything around us, both good and bad. We are connected like it or not. Being aware and connected to the circumstances is just awareness. The circumstances can’t define us. They are often out of our control. That’s the part that always gets to me; the out of my control. My other that as I was reading this is that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I think your heart is beautiful. I love you just the way you are. I wouldn’t change a thing.

    • Susan

      Sorry, my thoughts flew out too fast. What I mean to say is that I am not defined by simply being aware and connected to the circumstances . I am often only a bystander as it should be. They aren’t mine to change which makes them out of my control. It should read my other thought as….

    • Suzanne Grenager

      Oh, God bless you and thank you, dear sister, Susan, whoever you are. Your unconditional love for me, and perhaps for many of us, and your wise words — about how connected we realize we are when we open our hearts and become aware — speak of your spiritual maturity. You are so right to imply that really all we can control is how we look at it — the “good” and the “bad.” I am grateful and glad you showed up today and shared your insight and compassion for the benefit of all of us who seek inspiration here.

  • Jody Myers

    Hi Suzanne

    Finally I am reading your summer post. It’s been a whirlwind for me since moving to Halifax and now I am flat on my back with what I suspecr is walking Pneumonia…and I can relate to all that you have posted above but for different reasons, getting the lesson of non attachment and humility…and OHHH to BE, there are times when I think of how Bapuji just let the world pass him by while he worked on his inner world, polishing it like a diamond. Hope you are well, hope you are feeling relaxed and are able to BE a bit more these days…hope California is wonderful for you. Peace and love Jody

    • Suzanne Grenager

      Jody! How lovely to hear from you here, better late than never for sure. I am so glad we are connected through Bapuji, a great light — and, yes, a most precious jewel — in both our lives. California IS wonderful though we have only just started to get our place here furnished and will be going back and forth between coasts for months, if not years, to come. Now, I am very sorry to hear that you are down for the count, as I recently was with shingles. (It occurs to me that this communication is more like an email than a blog comment & reply — but, hey, as our former guru used to say, so what?! I send you love!

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