“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”–Albert Camus
I’ve been quiet as of late, but my mind remains in a state of unrest. This disquiet has been building for a while, layer upon layer of negativity casually drifting in and weighing me down. It flows into my life from quite a few people in my atmosphere who chronically complain about their relatively good lives. I’m not talking about the occasional venting of frustrations or even an off week or two; we all need to release our feelings of disappointment in the presence of those we trust and we all experience ups and downs. We all experience times of imbalance in relationships.
The negativity I speak of seems to be cemented at the cores of these individuals, and they carry with it a flagrant lack of responsibility for their own actions, which in turn causes more drama and more reasons to whine. This continues for years. Should you try a “first-world-problem” joke, they brush it aside. Should casually attempt to point out that a misstep at point A led to the issue at point B, but their problem can be fixed (usually in a very simple manner), your advice is ignored and they carry on down the road of blaming everyone else. Should you continue to open yourself up to them and merely listen, they mistake you for a dumping ground. They deplete you of your energy and joy. There is no win/win.
Their continual pessimistic views settle into my skin like poison and worm their way into my veins, flushing the lightness out of my system while planting seeds of irritability. I try to let it roll off me the way rain washes down a window pane, but my shield can only withstand so much. My usual defenses- meditation, exercise, fresh air, funny movies- haven’t been enough lately. When I’ve left their presence, whether it’s in person, email, text, or phone, I have always felt drained. Empty.
I’ve spent some time examining my reaction to the negativity; not reflecting on the reaction itself, but the “why” behind my internal response. Am I unable to sit with someone through their own suffering and offer gentle support? Do I have unrealistic expectations? Am I seeing parts of myself in other people and it annoys the hell out of me? Does my patience “muscle” simply need a rest? I mean, it has been one hell of a trying year. Am I hypersensitive at this time?
After much consideration, I acknowledged that this time I couldn’t solve the issue entirely from within; I had to examine the outside source. I needed to politely eject myself from relationships that are not (and have not been for a very long time) basically uplifting and supportive before I started to view life as a dark shadow and infect others with a jaundiced outlook.
“With some friends, the three poisons keep growing,
Study, reflection, and meditation weaken,
And loving kindness and compassion fall away.
Give up bad friends — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.”– Tog-me Zong-po
If you have a cancerous growth, you excise it before the cancer spreads and destroys other parts of your body. I think that sometimes you need to do the same with ongoing bad relationships before they contaminate other areas of your life, before you turn into someone you don’t want to be. I decided to completely remove myself from the life of one person and maintain a polite distance from a few others in order to save myself from drowning in their unhappiness.
Distancing myself has helped tremendously, but there’s a slight residue that has yet to fully clear. The energy of the people in your life can have a profound effect on you, and it is not easy to dispel the negative vibes. I thought it best to allow some time for contemplation and mental clarity before fully engaging in the world again. I suppose I liken it to getting the flu: get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and try not to spread the illness to others.
It’s taking me a bit of time to return to my previous level of mental well-being and overall happiness, but I’m nearly there. I feel lighter. I sleep better. I’m taking better care of myself and I’m smiling much more. The weight has been lifted.
Be careful of the company you choose.