We say things every single day that are rather predictable. We ask polite questions. We say we are sorry. We even say please and thank you. I’m realizing lately that these things mean absolutely nothing without the associated feelings; and the feelings that are required are insanely hard to feel.
Think about saying you are sorry. Think about the origins of the phrase in your life. You were little, you probably broke something by mistake, and an older person told you to say you were sorry. So you said it, and magically, the situation was better. You were forgiven because you said that you were sorry.
But what did you mean? What did you feel? You were probably just mimicking the tone of voice of that older person, since you didn’t see what was so wrong with hitting that baseball into the ugly lamp, and you probably did a pretty darn good job. That trick turned out to work for a long time. It still does to the people who want to simply hear you say these words.
I wish that when I was little, someone taught me that words are more than sounds. That saying I’m sorry is not the same as forgiving myself. That saying please is not the same thing as truly respecting the giver. That saying thank you is not the same as feeling gratitude.
I wish that someone had taught me to stop, to check in with my feelings and my body, and see what it was I was feeling before saying these magic words. I wish someone had taught me that living a life is not the same thing as talking about one. I can put a lot of energy on these things now, but it seems like there are many automatic processes that are so deeply ingrained that it is hard to uproot them all as fast as I’d like.And everyone, from the adults to the kids, seem to be following these unspoken rules that words are enough on their own without the associated feelings of vulnerability, pain and forgiveness.
These things only matter when you feel that ache and void that is telling you that you are not fully living. Something inside makes you feel like your own ghost, and you can’t quite put your finger on why that is. This is one place to start. Think about the things you say the most often, and pay attention. Pay attention to what they are supposed to mean, in their greatest sense, and what you are actually feeling.
And do the same to other people. Notice when someone says they are sorry and means nothing. Notice this because it is going to show you that you are not crazy for feeling odd about their apology. Notice that the reason you may have a hard time with truly being compassionate to some people is that you are listening to their words and expecting them to mean something. A lot of times, they do not.
Before you begin analyzing others, you have to begin with yourself. And before you begin to judge how you feel when you say these words, you can think of how you want to feel without those words. Sit down and feel what it is to be sorry, and to forgive yourself. Feel these things without habitual phrases justifying your tendency to flee from them. Then, feel what it is like to say please, to truly ask for something from someone, and respect them in that process. Think of what “I love you” means to you, and the feeling that is associated with it. Feel these things without the words.
Then, let the words come back.
The truth is that people love to avoid feeling vulnerable, feeling pain, and going through the effort it takes to actually forgive themselves. It is much easier to say some magic words and move on to the next thing. But I personally believe that this cultural process of ignoring the deeper reality and sticking to the surface is much like teaching our children that you can climb a picture of a tree, if only you look at it and say “I want to climb you, Mr. Tree.” It will never happen, and that kid shouldn’t grow up thinking that they have climbed a thousand trees just because they have said the magic words and looked at a picture. Climbing the tree takes more strength and intention than looking at a picture of one, and the feeling of accomplishment would actually be there in the real situation.