I had an interesting experience this morning. You see, I’m a flawed seeker. What does that mean? I believe I am a seeker of life. I’m seeking an extraordinary existence without regret. I’m constantly seeking different ways to use my body, my mind, my emotions and my spirituality, and to grow in those capacities. I’m constantly seeking a higher purpose and a higher path. But when I say I’m a flawed seeker, it means I often sabotage it. I’m a “five steps forward, two steps back” kind of guy.
I first noticed this behavior in college. I started each semester with a bang. A bull in a China shop, really learning, working incredibly hard, tearing through my grades and getting an edge over my classmates. But then something always happened about midway through the semester. I would go through a drought. This happened every single semester. For a period of time, a week or two, I couldn’t study. I just couldn’t do it. My mind wouldn’t stay focused and if I tried to study, it would be futile.
After a few semesters, I stopped trying to fight this drought and realized I needed to just go with it. I said, “Oh, here’s the drought, just try not to do too much damage.” So I rolled with the droughts. And that’s been my existence ever since. Any project that I start, I get into it with a fury. A tornado determined to crush the goal.
This conviction happens very consistently but then about halfway through a project. I hit this stumbling block, this drought. Now, I’m not sure what that is. I don’t know if this is self-sabotage. It was recently suggested that it may be a fear of accomplishment. I put out this extraordinary amount of effort toward a goal. Then, it hits me and I am concerned that I can’t sustain the effort. My mind self-sabotages. I’m not sure if that’s the exact case but it seems to make sense to me.
Another example is with my health. I’ll have an extraordinary couple of weeks of fitness and then I hit a wall. Something within me says, “John, you don’t normally put out this much energy for anything.” Therefore, my body shuts down.
This situation can be described as a deviation from the mean. We set a standard for ourselves and if we go above or below that standard, we’re eventually going to deviate back to our mean. If I’m exceeding expectations in a particular area of my life, after a period of time my body will kick in and decrease the motivation. I’ll sabotage myself to get back to where I feel I should be.
It’s kind of like a thermostat. If you set the thermostat at 70 degrees and it becomes too hot or too cold, the thermostat will adjust the furnace to keep the temperature steady. To make a change, we need to set higher goals that are more aggressive, more assertive, and really use affirmations and the power of vision to create a new standard, a new mean.
This all came to me this morning as I’m at a gas station, watching this lady smoke a cigarette. I’m watching her smoke her cigarette and I have tremendous judgment for her. She’s smoking a cigarette about 30 feet away from the gas pumps. My self-righteous self immediately said, “Are you kidding me? She’s smoking at a gas station. All it takes is a little bit of gas to spill and this whole place blows up.”
From a perspective of self-preservation, I judged her. But it went deeper than that. I’m watching her smoke and realize she’s ingesting a poison. No one questions the fact that nicotine is a poison and it does tremendous damage to our body. Nobody questions that anymore. The patients I take care of all know that and that’s why every time I ask them if they smoke, there’s a defensive posture and self-rationalization. People self-rationalize, saying they’ve cut down significantly. They want me to judge them on the fact that they’ve cut down their smoking and not the fact that they smoke.
I’m watching this lady who’s ingesting a poison and noting she is on the overweight side. My self-righteous self also judged her there. I’m watching this lady smoke a cigarette at a gas station who has not minded her health. This situation made me self-reflective.
Who am I to judge her? Who am I to think anything ill of her? I turn those fingers back to myself. What about me? You see, this morning I jumped in my car and I’m driving a few hours to go see my son. I’ve been on a health and fitness craze recently. I’m trying to work out consistently and eat a very low carbohydrate diet. However, last week I lectured here in Buffalo doing an emergency medicine course and the week before that I did a board review course.
Out of the last two weeks, I’ve lectured for nine days and some of them were 13-hour days. As a result, I feel emotionally shot and I immediately self-sabotaged my diet. Yesterday I over-indulged in ice cream. This morning, I stopped at a coffee shop and got two donuts. They were sour cream glazed donuts. You know the ones you eat and they start melting in your mouth and then the sugar is all over your fingers and you have the secondary treat of licking your fingers and revisiting the sugar from the donuts?
You eat one of the donuts and your blood sugar immediately goes to 300. If you eat the second one, your blood sugar tops 600 and even if you’re not a Type 1 diabetic, you go into borderline DKA. It’s absolutely fantastic. You get the Kussmaul breathing, sugar running through your veins, similar to any other addictive substance.
Let’s revisit this lady at the gas pump. This lady is taking in an addictive poison that’s going to harm her. What about me eating this donut? I clearly wasn’t eating it for nutrition; I was eating it for the fix. I was eating it to fulfill something within me, just as this lady was smoking her nicotine. So who am I? As I started pondering this, I threw half of the donut out the window.
Now what? All I can say is I’m going to keep trying. I’m going to keep trying to live a better life. I’m going to keep moving on as a flawed seeker. There are a lot of lessons I learned this morning. Firstly, who am I to judge another person? I wish I could stop that. I wish I could stop my mind from constantly picking apart what people do or say or see or how they behave. If it’s different than the way I behave or think, I immediately have a negative perception of them.
I wish I could turn that off. Not voicing my judgment doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it. Is it possible that I could get to a point in my existence where that judgment completely ceases? Instead, my being (and my practice) is filled with tolerance, compassion, love, no matter what. I guess that starts with me. For me to cease judging others, I have to cease judging myself while also holding myself to a higher standard. The way I behaved in the last 48 hours was undisciplined and not my best self.
I’m very big into audiobooks and the audiobook I’m listening to at the moment is called The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer. He’s talking a lot about looking at the voice speaking within our head, which I’m going to start referring to as “the yips.” It’s the yips that judge others. It’s this subconscious voice that just starts picking the woman at the gas station apart. “Look at her smoke, look at her weight, look at her hair, look at how close she’s smoking to the gas pumps.”
I’m going to focus on trying to quiet those yips in my head and I challenge you to do the same. If anybody has any advice on how to do that, please let me know, so I can share it with us all.