Learning How to be Effective

All my life, the people around me have said to me, “You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

For most of my life, I would respond angrily, “Well, who else is going to?”

I was angry because I perceived the world as being full of complacent people. They didn’t care about housing and food and clean water and racism and environmental destruction like me. They went about their lives without the intense passion that kept me questioning everything. They were content to be in cages built on injustice and inequality.

I felt so terribly alone with my burden of filling that void of compassion. I thought that if I denied myself rest and recreation, I could do more. Writing is what I know how to do. I could spread myself thin and write about everything that matters. If I did that, I might get others to see that everything matters, too.

It didn’t really make sense, but I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to recognize that.

The arrogance of control

Earlier this year I posted about how I write with a sense of unbridled urgency, never even allowing myself to take breaks. It seemed deeply important that I communicate my ideas.

It took so long for me to realize how arrogant that is. I once saw it as a desire to make the world a better place. It took a lot of careful study, reflection, and meditation to find out the truth: I wanted life to revolve around my terms. My own definition of what would make the world a better place is subjective. Reality is not under my control to dictate.

For most of my life, I fought hard against this. I asked questions that were rooted in my disappointed expectations. Why shouldn’t I have more control than one single human? Why didn’t other people seem to care? Why was I falling apart?

Trauma layers

My sense of urgency and desire to achieve the impossible (for perfection is impossible) are only part of the picture. They are symptoms of the trauma.

This year, there have been a great many “hard pills to swallow” on my journey toward reality. After I was diagnosed with PTSD, I sought out specific mental health care to address it. I found answers at last. I did not like the answers. I had to work hard to accept them, and I am still working at this.

My anger was rooted in the isolation and deprivation of my upbringing. I wasn’t angry at the other people who are working all the time to help others. I was angry because the wounds of my past were festering.

Furthermore, I was avoiding rest because of my complex trauma. Whenever I stopped trying to save the world, I’d notice the pain of my own wounds. I was trying to escape by staying busy with other people’s problems instead of mine.

It was really hard to admit that beneath my passion for helping others, I was hiding the crucial need to help myself. Extending compassion to myself is a new feeling. It makes me feel so many intense emotions that I often cry when I focus my passionate care toward myself.

I didn’t play much as a child. I hardly know how to rest as an adult. Now I am cultivating a lifestyle where I carve out time to rest and recover and do things I enjoy. Most of the time I don’t even know what I want to do. I’ve been too preoccupied with trying to meet needs I could barely understand.

Identifying my role

Being human is a profound disappointment for me. I have not completely reconciled myself with my own limitations. I still feel passionate about how broken the world is, but I realize now that I’m not alone in wanting to influence change. I don’t have to cling to lofty ambitions about my own role in the world.

As I’ve opened my eyes with soft awareness, I’ve found myself surrounded with people who DO care. I was not alone. There are so many people who want the world to be more just and equal. They are doing so many kinds of work that I could not have invented in my own imagination.

I am still figuring out exactly what I can do to be effective. I know that it starts with taking care of my own shit. I also know that it’s going to take more education to learn how I can best contribute to the causes I care about.   

The fight for a better world was well underway before I was born and will continue after I die. I can be part of that movement. I’m learning how to be effective.