Sunday, July 13, 2014

REJECTION - I’m OK . . . You’re OK

I live in a world where there is always someone willing to tell me what or who I am.  I can do something as simple as post a new profile picture on Facebook, and others are quick to share their thoughts on what I’m thinking, feeling, intending, wanting, and doing.  It could be said that through this external feedback, I should be able to get a pretty good idea of what I’m really like.  I should also be able to tell who accepts me, and who rejects me.  After all, I've posted things that have caused others to "unfriend" me!

What seems most accurate is that everything said about me is true!  I am all things that you see in me, I just self-identify with some viewpoints more than others.  Therefore, it becomes my responsibility to get OK with myself.  It’s not your job to convince me that I’m good, bad, or otherwise.  And believe me, I don’t need you too.  It would not matter anyway, I’m only going to agree with you if your description matches the thoughts I already hold about myself.

Lately I have had to face what seems to be an inordinate amount of rejection.  Now let me state that this is one of the key issues I deal with when it comes to my self-esteem.  I could cite a lot of psychobabble about how I was adopted, therefore rejected by the very mother that should have wanted and loved me, and maybe there is some truth in that.  But beyond that, I have faced rejection many times in my life, just like everyone else.

Beginning when we are children, friends get mad and go play with someone else, we break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, families fall apart, we lose our jobs, and people die and leave us.  Life is a lesson in dealing with rejection, and hopefully figuring out that it’s not personal.  That is usually not an easy thing to do.  I believe that by nature we are loving, caring, and connecting beings.  It’s really only our thoughts that make us feel like we are separate from everyone else.  It’s the stories we tell ourselves about how we are personally to blame, or someone else surely is, for all the things that we let tear us from each other.  Sadly, for some reason the mind is often a more powerful force than the heart.

Several years ago I attended a two-week school for The Work of Byron Katie.  Katie has found a way to examine all stressful thoughts to get at what’s really true.  It’s quite a simple, yet effective way to unravel our negative thinking.  During the training, one of the exercises required that we take a walk, and in our minds pose the question “How do you handle rejection?” to everything we encountered along the way.  

A second part of the exercise required us to approach people and say “I’m hungry, will you feed me?” or “I’m thirsty, will you give me something to drink?” or "I'm lonely, will you sit and talk with me?"  We were not allowed to carry any money with us so that we could immerse ourselves in the experience of homelessness.  This part seemed more daunting to me, so I set out on my journey along the streets of Santa Monica, California, with the intention of completing the exercise in a way I’m not proud of.  I decided to cheat.  I had an old high school friend that lived about 8 blocks from our starting point, and I determined that I would go to his house and ask him for company, food and water.  

As I walked, I half-heartedly started working on the first assignment.  I asked a car how it handled rejection, and heard a reply of “Hey, I just go to a new owner, or end up in a junk yard where I get a long vacation while having the opportunity to give 'life' to other cars.”  I asked the sidewalk and heard “What’s rejection?  Aren’t people supposed to walk all over you?”  You get the idea. 

As I got closer to my friend’s house, my mind started going crazy with thoughts of how I would be interrupting him, and how he wouldn’t want to talk to me.  Finally I sat down on the grass feeling a bit frustrated with the entire exercise, and started crying over my fear of being rejected.   

While sitting on the lawn an acorn fell in my lap.  I picked it up and asked “How do you handle rejection?”  Very clearly I heard the following response in my mind, “Why, it’s what I live for.  By being rejected I am allowed to fall to the ground where I might take root and grow to become a mighty oak!”  I was stunned.  It seems silly, but it was quite profound.  

Armed with my new perspective, I continued on to my friend's house, but discovered he wasn't home.  All that worry for nothing!  However, a suspicious neighbor was curious about what I wanted.  We began talking, and I discovered he was quite lonely and wanted some company.  We talked for about an hour and he shared with me some of his challenges and his sorrow over the recent passing of his dad.  For a short while, he had a friend, and neither of us was lonely.

Next, I headed to a nearby park, where I met a homeless family who asked if I was thirsty.  I said I was, so they gathered up the last of their money and handed it to me, charging me with the task of walking a few blocks to a liquor store and buying the man a "40-ouncer" and me a bottle of soda or water.  I had no idea what they were talking about, but happily ran the errand for them.  When I got to the store, I discovered that I was simply buying a large bottle of beer.  At first, I wasn't going to buy a drink for myself because I felt guilty taking money from someone with so little to give.  However, I realized that if I were truly homeless, I would accept their generosity, so I bought myself a bottle of water.  While walking back to the park, carrying my brown paper bag with the drinks in it, I was crying, and I cradled it in my arms like is was something precious.  After all, these people had given the last of their money to a total stranger, and I was humbled.

Later, while walking along Venice beach, I stopped to listen to a street performer, and he invited me to join in.  After singing a few songs together, he asked me if I'd eaten.  When I replied that I hadn't, he reached into his guitar case and handed me enough money to buy a slice of pizza from a nearby vendor.  By the time I rejoined my group, I had been given food, drink, and companionship . . . all from total strangers, with seemingly nothing to give. 

At the end of the exercise we were each given $20 to eat at a restaurant along the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica.  When I came out of the restaurant, I had about $10 remaining.  I saw the street performer again and went up to him and told him my luck had changed, and I wanted to share with him as generously as he had shared with me, so I gave him the money.  He thanked me and said he was hoping he would see me again because he wanted to marry me!  By pushing through my fear of rejection, I had the opportunity to meet people who accepted me unconditionally.

As I look back over my life, I realize it’s true that “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”  Every time I have been rejected, I have been given an opportunity to become someone greater.  The experiences from my past have made me who I am today, and I am the only one who can tell myself whether that is a good or bad thing.  In other words, I am the one that rejects me . . . even if it’s you that walks away.   

So, continue to tell me what you think of me.  I will listen, and go inside myself to find the truth of it all.  And by now, I have hopefully discovered that because of my experiences with rejection, along with my experiences of unconditional acceptance, that I’m OK.  And because I know that I’m OK . . . even when I think negatively about myself . . . I will look at you and know that you’re OK too . . . just as you are.  Then maybe we can spend our time connecting with each other, instead of worrying about whether or not we are up to the task of trying to help someone else feel good about themselves.  We can just be together, and love.


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