How to Step Out of the Drama Triangle and Find Real Peace

Original post from:

“Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours.” ~Epictetus

 Are you addicted to drama? I was, but I didn’t know it. I thought I was just responding to life, to what was happening. I really didn’t think I had a choice! The drama triangle is so pervasive, and can be so subtle, that it just seems normal. But it’s not, and there’s a much saner way to live, I found.

Dr. Stephen Karpman first described the drama triangle in the 1960’s.

All three of the roles—Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor—are very fluid and can morph easily into one another. We all have a favorite (usually the role we assumed most often in childhood), but most of us are pretty good at all three of them, depending on the situation.

My personal favorite was Rescuer, although I also did a very credible Victim from time to time. I was a Rescuer in my family of origin (middle children often are). I felt virtuous, strong, and necessary when other people turned to me for help or depended on me to take care of things.

But there’s always a downside. Being a perpetual Rescuer led to chronic stress, as I constantly monitored how everyone else was doing and was never available to take care of my own needs.

That’s when I’d slip into the Victim role: I’d feel sorry for myself, since no one seemed to appreciate how hard I was working to take care of them. Which made me feel angry and resentful, and before I knew it I’d find myself picking a fight with my husband or fuming at some unwitting clerk. (Yep, there’s the Persecutor.)

See how the drama cycles from role to role? They all have their payoffs too. It feels good to be a Victim, at least for a while. We get a lot of attention. We don’t need to take responsibility for our actions and their consequences, because we can always find someone else to blame for them. Often people will help us (those nice Rescuers).

And being the Persecutor can feel powerful, especially for someone who has never learned the skill of asking directly for their needs to be met. We get to “blow off steam.” We might even get to have our way for a while—but at what cost?

It’s an exhausting way to live. All of the roles are driven by anxiety and the ways we have learned to “control” it in our lives. The drama keeps us absorbed, and it keeps us enmeshed (unhealthily) with others, but it leaves very little room for real peace and joy. And no room at all for a truly healthy relationship to form.

But how do we step away from the drama triangle, when almost everyone we know is still playing the game?

The first step is simply to be aware of the game, how it works, and what roles you play most frequently. What role did you play as a child? Can you identify the roles that others in your family played? Are they still playing them?

The role of Rescuer may be the easiest to admit to, since it actually sounds praiseworthy or noble on the surface. This is not genuine philanthropy, however—it’s really about control and being in someone else’s business, thus neglecting your own.

If you’re accustomed to being a Victim, on the other hand, you’ll find yourself often looking for someone or something outside of yourself to blame. (In fact, the hallmark of all the roles is that your attention is usually directed outward.)

Finally, although no one likes to admit to being a Persecutor, if anger is your go-to emotion when things go wrong, you’re probably operating in that role. In reality, the anger is just a mask for underlying fear, shame, and powerlessness. Sadly, adult Persecutors were often Victims as children. In the drama triangle there are no good guys and bad guys—everyone loses.

Once you’ve become aware of your patterns, it becomes much easier to recognize the game and, eventually, step out of it. Since the drama triangle is all about being in other people’s business, stepping out of it requires you to remain firmly in your own!

What helped me with this was a concept I call the “zone of integrity.” Imagine a circle around yourself; this represents your business (your true responsibility). In the zone of integrity, you are responsible for being 100 percent honest, both with yourself and with others. This means acknowledging and honoring your own feelings and needs, and allowing others to be responsible for theirs.

It also means taking responsibility for your own actions and their consequences, and letting others do the same. This might require some “tough love,” both toward yourself and others. You might not be the most popular person at the dance for a while. Codependence (which is essentially what the drama triangle describes) is a system. It requires multiple players to function, so people will probably be upset when you opt out. In fact, you can count on it.

During my own withdrawal phase, I would regularly find myself getting sucked into the old dynamics, but it’s become easier and easier to spot when that happens and to use the “zone of integrity” concept to pull myself back into my own business.

Recently my mother asked me to help smooth over a squabble between some of my siblings—exactly the sort of thing I have done all my life. Even in the act of saying yes I suddenly stopped and thought, “Is this really my business? Do I really have to take this on?” And then politely declined.

It’s not always easy in the beginning to recognize whose business you’re in, especially when it involves your family of origin. These are the people who taught you most of what you know about the drama triangle, after all!

For me, I feel a very familiar sense of obligation and guilt when those Rescuer urges start kicking in, which prompts me to pull back and look more closely at the situation. It took practice for me to hear and trust those feelings, but now they’re easy to spot.

The zone of integrity, when I manage to stay there, feels so good. I still care about people, and help when it feels right, but I no longer feel obligated to rescue. That means that I don’t end up feeling victimized, or resentfully persecuting someone else in return. In the long run it’s much better for everyone involved.

My life now has a lot less drama, it’s true. You might miss that sometimes, when people are trading war stories at Friday night happy hour. What you will have instead is true peace of mind, much healthier relationships and a passionate addiction to staying in your zone of integrity. It’s worth the trade-off.

About Amaya Pryce

Amaya Pryce is a spiritual coach and writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Her newest book, How to Grow Your Soul, is available on Amazon. For coaching or to follow her blog, please visit

Web | More Posts

Get in the conversation! Click here to leave a comment on the site.

The post How to Step Out of the Drama Triangle and Find Real Peace appeared first on Tiny Buddha.


10 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me When I Was 18

Original post from:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ~Maya Angelou

Can you remember what it was like?

Becoming an adult. Having to take responsibility for your life. Having the world opening up to you. Having to suddenly start making decisions and setting a clear direction for your life.

Exciting, yet terrifying and confusing all at the same time.

Looking back, there are things you wish you’d known, right? Here are some things I’ve learned that I wish someone would have told me when I was eighteen.

1. You don’t find meaning; you create meaning.

For a long time, I was constantly looking for what I was “meant to do” in life. Doing so can feel overwhelming, confusing, and shame-indulging. But here’s what I discovered: Finding is passive; it means that something or someone has to show up in order to get what we want. It’s outside our control.

So, instead of finding meaning, it’s better to create meaning. To indulge ourselves in projects and activities that feel meaningful to us. When we do this, we go from passive to active. From lacking control to gaining control.

2. You’re not fixed; you’re always growing.

I used to think that I was given a set of talents, skills, and behaviors. That was until I realized that I wasn’t wired fixed, but changeable.

If I want to be happier, I just have to shift my focus. Maybe that means writing a gratitude journal, expressing my appreciation toward others, and practicing seeing things from a positive perspective.

Since you’re always in growth, you don’t need to be scared of failing, as everything is a stepping stone to a new talent, skill, or behavior.

The same applies for what we’re good at. If you want to be a writer, then start writing. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, then start reading, acting, and thinking like one. That’s the beauty of it all—you’re the creator of you.

3. Carefully choose who you take advice from.

People love giving advice. But here’s the thing: People don’t give advice based on who you are, but on who they are. If someone had a great experience starting a business, they’re likely to encourage you to do the same. However, if someone had a horrible experience with the same thing, they’re likely to, perhaps not discourage you, but at least point out things that can go wrong.

Here’s what I’ve found to be useful: Take advice only from those who have made the same journey (or a similar one) that you want to undertake.

4. You don’t need to know your passion.

“Follow your passion.” How many times have you heard this message and thought to yourself, “Argh, but I don’t know what my passion is!” Or, “I have too many passions and I don’t know which one to choose.” In general, I think this is rather crappy advice. For me, it caused more harm than good, because frankly, it stressed me out.

If you know your passion, that’s great. If not, don’t worry. Instead of focusing your attention on finding your passion, start following your curiosity. Just like a scavenger hunt, what pokes your curiosity is the next clue. And like Elizabeth Gilbert perfectly laid it out: “If you can let go of ‘passion’ and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion.”

5. Buy experiences, not things.

I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what type of designer bag I’d purchase. Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful things and have no problem buying them. But I’ve learned not to put my happiness in them.

When I think back on my life, what I remember are the beach parties in the Dominican Republic, the soirées I spent with friends in Paris, and the walks with my sister in Central Park.

Experiences are what change us. They help us open up doors to new people, cultures, perspectives, and potentially a whole new world. So, invest your money well.

6. Life is always now, not tomorrow or next week.

Oh gosh, if I had a nickel for every minute I’ve spent either worrying about the future or contemplating my past. It would probably make up more time than what I’ve spent in the present. Pretty bizarre, no? And I know I’m not alone when I say that.

Our mind, which I sometimes like to call our monkey mind, loves pulling our attention from the present moment. But this is where life is taking place.

We can’t have a full experience when our body is in one place and our mind is somewhere else (like sitting in a meeting thinking about what to eat for dinner). And that’s why we’re here, right? To experience life fully. So be present, allow those thoughts about the past and future pass by, just like clouds in the sky.

7. Don’t confuse means goals with end goals.

Vishen Lakhiani did an amazing video where he explained what I didn’t get for so long: end goals and means goals.

End goals define an outcome that describes exactly what you want. This can be seeing your children grow up, being truly happy, and traveling around the world. Means goals can be about getting into a specific university or company or making a certain amount of money. They are there simply to support your end goals.

When I became uncomfortable in my “dream job” in Paris I couldn’t understand why. It included everything I’d ever dreamed of: a good paycheck, travel, and fun colleagues. But I had confused a means goal with an end goal. What I truly wanted was to start a business where I could create, contribute, and connect with other people.

8. Connections, not grades, are the key to success.

Growing up, I was really focused on getting good grades. I thought that good grades would be the key to a successful life. They’ve helped me to open up doors, but the game-changer hasn’t been my grades, it’s been my connections.

Knowing the right people and connecting on a deeper lever is much more powerful than anything written on a piece of paper. Mind you, this, of course, depends on what kind of opportunity you’re after. But, for me, looking back, what served me during my years at university wasn’t the grades I got; it was the connections I made.

9. Everyone is doing the best they can.

I truly believe this. Everyone, no matter how annoying, self-destructive, or provoking they might seem, is always doing the best they can based on their mood, experience, and level of consciousness. I used to get angry or upset if someone was rude, pessimistic, or didn’t deliver projects on time.

Today, I know that I’m not in the position to judge. I don’t know what they battle. I don’t know what’s really going on in their life. All I can trust is that if I was in their shoes, I might do the same thing. This perspective has saved me a lot of energy, that I previously used to waste.

10. Know your “why.”

Often, we place a lot of focus on what we do or how we do it. Seldom we ask why we do it. If I would have dug deeper in my “why’s” when I was eighteen, I would have connected more to my desires. Like this:

Question: Why do I want to get this education?
Reply: Because I want to get a good job.

Question: Why do I want to get a good job?
Reply: So that I can earn good money, work on something I enjoy, and get a nice title.

Question: Why do I want that?
Reply: Because I want to feel secure and free, to explore the world, to create things, to feel respected, and to connect with myself and others.”

When I got clear about my “why” it became obvious to me that I wanted to work with people, have my own business, and to be able to work from anywhere in the world.

Digging into the “why” really narrows down what’s important. Not having a clear “why” proves that what we’re aiming at isn’t worth pursuing.

Eventually, everything will make sense

Sometimes we stumble and fall. Sometimes the road is rocky. Sometimes we question if everything will make sense in the end.

Looking back at your eighteen-year-old self, what would you have told him or her?

To be easier on yourself?

To stop worrying and have more fun?

To trust that everything happens for a reason and that things will work out?

From this perspective, what do you think an older version of yourself would have told you today?

To be easier on yourself?

To stop worrying and have more fun?

To trust that everything happens for a reason and that things will work out?

You get the point.

As Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

About Maria Stenvinkel

Maria Stenvinkel is on a mission to help people get a career they truly love. Download her free worksheet Get a Clue to Your Calling With These 10 Powerful Questions.

Web | More Posts

Get in the conversation! Click here to leave a comment on the site.

The post 10 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me When I Was 18 appeared first on Tiny Buddha.


Just Begin Again

Original post from:

There is no need to get mad and frustrated with yourself when you forget to stay conscious of where your thought goes.  The moment you remember just begin again.  No need to get mad or upset with yourself.  Just begin again in the next moment. You see, you always have the next moment to create […]


Your Sense of Self

Original post from:

How do you feel about yourself?  Are your thoughts, about who you are, based on what others think or on what is considered normal?  Or maybe your thoughts are based on how much you have gotten done or haven’t gotten done? Your sense of self is one of the keys to creating a happier life.  […]


What Helps Me When I’m Tempted to Compare Myself to Others

Original post from:

“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” ~Zen Shen

Wow, you’re a bit of a ;oser compared to this guy, aren’t you, Will?

He’s winning at life—great job, great house, obviously making better money than you.

I sigh deeply and continue scrolling.

He takes care of himself, no Buddha belly, unlike you.

It’s true. I begin to feel like a useless lump. I keep scrolling.

No yellow and crooked teeth, either.

“His teeth are pretty straight,” I think to myself, staring at the guy’s mouth on the screen.

Damn right, they’re straight, like tic-tacs coming out of his gums. Perfect and white, not like yours.                                                                                                                     

I sign once again and continue to scroll on Facebook.

Above is a typical dialogue between what I refer to as my Gremlin and me.

Does this voice sound familiar to you?

I’m talking about the troublesome terror that pops up like an unwelcome guest at the front door.

This nasty voice that loves to commentate and condemn—the voice that leaves us feeling unworthy and inferior, if we listen long enough. This, my friends, is the Gremlin of Self-Comparison.

I Imagine how different an exchange would unfold if it were another person (outside of my head) giving me the bashing.

If, for example, I was sitting on a park bench and a complete stranger walked up to me and said, ”Hey loser,” before pointing out how those around were superior to me. I imagine I’d walk off confused and leave this stranger alone after his unprovoked attack.

”Who is he to talk about me like that? He doesn’t even know me!” I would say to myself as I walk off.

I’d tell myself he must be deeply unhappy to treat other people this way, and I certainly wouldn’t take his comments to heart.

Most of us wouldn’t. We’d either ignore such criticism or defend ourselves.

So, here is the million-dollar question: Why do we accept talking to ourselves like this?

My belief is this: because it feels real, and we believe we are the voice. The truth is, however, we’re the listener, not the speaker.

But the voice of the Gremlin seems like a credible source. I mean, the voice comes from inside of us, why wouldn’t we trust it?

It’s helps to understand why we compare in the first place.

We are programmed that way. Comparing ourselves to others is a natural and inherent instinct. In prehistoric times this innate ability allowed us to swiftly analyze others and identify possible threats, yet in today’s society these quick critiques could be causing harm rather than preventing it.

Let’s face it: Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds are perfect catalysts for those episodes of self-pity and dissatisfaction, when we’re staring at our phone screens alone late at night, admiring how well everyone else seems to be doing.

We have to wonder, who are the newsfeeds feeding?

Could it be our Gremlins? Our insecurities? Our ego?

It dawned on me a while ago that I will never win playing the game of self-comparison.

No matter how much money I make, there will always be someone richer.

Even if I get in better shape, there will always be someone fitter and stronger.

But just knowing these things doesn’t mean I am able to stop comparing myself to others. I’ve had to accept my Gremlin is here to stay.

So what’s the alternative to trying to win against the Self-Comparison Gremlin?

I do my best to live by the following three mantras, as they serve me well in living with my Gremlin. Not “beating” or “silencing” my Gremlin. Living with him.

1. If I’m going to compare, I will compare who I am today with who I was in the past.

We’re forever growing, learning, and achieving. However, we fail to recognize and celebrate this when we’re listening to the Gremlin and concentrating on other people’s lives. Compared to who I was in the past, today I’m happier, wiser, and stronger. I’ve overcome anxiety, debt, disappointments, and heartbreak, and you know what? I’m still here.

We’ve all had challenges and we’re all still here. When we rate ourselves by the accomplishments of others, we overlook our own successes.

There’s one risk in comparing our current selves to our past selves: When revisiting the past, I may recognize that some areas of my life were better previously than they are now. I then have a choice. If I want to improve this area, I’ll set a goal. If right now I don’t wish to change, I’ll accept where I am. But what I won’t do is focus on everyone else’s progress and feel bad about myself as a result.

2. The people I’m comparing myself to are not flawless.

No matter how infallible and perfect others may seem, I’ll bet good money they have their Gremlins too. We are all equal in life. I’m no better than anybody else but I’m certainly not any worse. It’s important to remember that social media is only a highlight reel.

We all know real life is far more messy, raw, and flawed.

This is the beauty of being human.

3. I love and accept myself as I am right now (including my Gremlin).

Our Gremlins mean us well. Really, they’re trying to protect us by identifying areas where we may be “falling behind.” They’re only cruel because they’re scared—that we’ll somehow miss out if we don’t keep up with other people.

I named mine Colin. What I find helpful about naming the voice is I’m able to check in and ask, “Okay, who is talking up there? Is this my trail of thought or is Colin going off on one?” The more I learn to love Colin and appreciate his good intentions, the less he pops up. When he does, I thank him and send him a little love for being a part of me. I let him know I hear him, although I may not choose to listen.

I do my best to accept myself as I am, with my Buddha belly and less than perfect teeth. Because our imperfections make us who we are. My new favorite word currently is flawsome—meaning we are all awesome despite our flaws. Cool, right?

Wouldn’t life be boring if we were all exactly the same? Plus, if we were all exactly the same, perhaps there wouldn’t be any more Gremlins, and to be honest, I kind of like mine now.

About Will Aylward

Will Aylward lives to help others and spends his days coaching people to become more confident in themselves and their ability. Will’s loves are travel, drinking good coffee, turning strangers into friends, and making music. Will lives in Germany with his partner (in crime), Yvonne. Visit him at

Web | More Posts

Get in the conversation! Click here to leave a comment on the site.

The post What Helps Me When I’m Tempted to Compare Myself to Others appeared first on Tiny Buddha.


Game Over

Original post from:

Do you have someone in your life that is constantly treating you in a certain way that gets you upset or frustrated? Did you know that by getting upset, you are falling into their vibration of being? When you have someone who is intentionally, or unintentionally, causing you to get upset, you can do something […]


How to Stop Being a People Pleaser: 7 Powerful Habits

Original post from:

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

“When you say “yes” to others, make sure you aren’t saying “no” to yourself.”
Paulo Coehlo

When you get stuck in the habit of trying to please other people pretty much all the time then it can have a sneaky and negative effect.

Not only on you but also on the people around you.

Because as you try to please:

You put on a mask and try to guess what to do while getting anxious and stressed.
You sometimes feel taken advantage off by others who use your people pleasing habit and you often feel out of tune with what you yourself deep down want.
It can also have an unintended effect on other people as they may see through your mask, start to feel your inner discomfort and stress themselves and get confused or upset because they sense you are not being honest and straightforward with them.

So being a people pleaser is often an even worse choice that one may at first think.

But how can you change this behavior and break the habit?

This week I’d like to share 7 powerful insights and habits that have helped me with that.

1. Realize that with some people it isn’t about you and what you do (no matter what you do).

Some people just can’t be pleased. No matter what you do.

Because it’s not about what you do or do not do. It’s about him or her.

About how she’s having a bad month, a sick pet or doesn’t have a good chemistry with you.

Or about him being in an unhappy marriage, in too much debt or having a tooth ache that just won’t stop.

By realizing this and how you in the end can’t get everyone to like you or avoid conflict no matter what you do you can start to let go of this ineffective and damaging habit.

2. Learn how to say no.

When you like to please then it’s of course hard to say no.

But it is vital for you own happiness, stress-levels and for living the life you truly want.

Here are 5 things that have made it easier for me to say no more often:

Disarm and state your need. It’s easier for people to accept your no if you disarm them first. Do that by, for instance, saying that you’re flattered or that you appreciate the kind offer. Then add that you, for example, simply don’t have the time for doing what they want.
If they’re pushy, add how you feel. Say that you don’t feel that this offer is a good fit for your life right now. Or that you feel overwhelmed and very busy and so you cannot do whatever they want. Telling someone how you honestly feel can help them to understand your side of the issue better. And it’s also a lot harder to argue with how you feel rather than what you think.
Help out a bit. If possible, finish your reply with recommending someone that you think could help out or would be a better fit for what they need. I do this quite often when I feel I lack the knowledge or experience that a reader or a friend is looking for.
Remind yourself why it is important to sometimes say no: You teach people by how you behave. They learn about you and your boundaries from your behavior. So if you stand up for yourself and say no and are assertive about what you don’t want then people will start to pick up on that. And over time you’ll encounter fewer and fewer situations where someone tries to be pushy or steamroll you.
It’s OK to feel a bit guilty about saying no (but you don’t have to act on it). Just feel it and be with that feeling for a while. But at the same time know that it doesn’t mean that you have to act on it and say yes or do what they want you to do.

3. Reminder: People don’t really care that much about what you say or do.

Holding yourself back in life and trying to act in a way that is pleasing to others can, in my experience, to a large part come from a belief that people care a great deal about what you say or do.

But the truth is that while you may be the main character in your own life and head you’re not that in other people’s lives.

Because here’s the thing: people have their hands full with thinking and worrying about their own lives. They have their heads full with thoughts about their kids, career, pets, hobbies, dreams and worries or thoughts about what others may think of them.

This realization can make you feel less important. But it can also set you free.

4. Learn how to handle criticism and verbal lash outs (and the fear of that).

Tip #1 in this article is one thing that’ll help you to handle criticism and the fear of it. Because sometimes it’s simply about the other person and his or her situation in life right now and not about what you did or did not do.

A few more things that help me to handle negative or critical messages are:

Wait before you reply. Take a couple of deep breaths in a conversation or a few minutes if you’re in front of your inbox. By doing so you’ll reduce the risk of lashing out yourself or making a mistake. Calming yourself down a bit before replying is pretty much always a good idea.
Remember: you can let it go. You don’t have to reply to all the negative messages you may get via email, social media or in real life. You can just say nothing, let it go and move on. This does of course not work in every situation but it’s important to remember that you from time to time do have this option.
It’s OK to disagree. This took me time to really get. Because I wanted to get people to my side. To make someone see things the way I did. But it’s also OK to simply have different opinions about things. And to leave it at that. I found that life became lighter and simpler when I started to accept this idea and perspective.

5. Set boundaries for yourself.

If you say no to yourself, if you set a few firm boundaries for yourself then it will over time become easier to do the same towards other people too. And these boundaries can also help you to focus better on what matters the most to you.

A couple of my daily ones that have helped me with both of those things are:

A start-time and a stop-time for work. I don’t work before 8 in the morning and my work computer is shut off – at the latest – at 7 in the evening.
Work in a no-distraction zone. I keep email notifications and messaging programs off. And my smart phone is on silent mode at the other end of our apartment.
Only check email once a day. Otherwise it’s easy for me to lose focus and to have too many thoughts swirling around in my mind while working.

6. Strengthen your self-esteem.

Why’s this important?

Well, with a self-esteem toolbox filled with helpful habits you’ll value yourself and therefore your time and energy more and so it’s becomes more natural to say no when you need to.

And criticism and negative words will bounce off of you more easily and often.

Plus, you’ll be less concerned about getting everyone else to like you all the time. Because now you like and respect yourself more and your dependency upon what others may think or say drops drastically.

7. Keep your focus on what YOU want out of your life.

If you know what’s most important to you and you keep your focus on that each day then you’ll naturally start to say no and stop being so people pleasing. Because now your energy and time is mostly focused on your needs and wants.

You’re not just drifting along anymore without a clear focus (which is great because when you lack that then it’s easy to fall into the trap of just going along with what someone else wants).

So how do you do this practically?

Well, fine-tuning what you deep down want might take some time. But a good start is this…

Ask yourself: what’s the top 3 most important things in my life right now? It could be your small business. Your family. Your career, health, dog, photography hobby, soccer, improving your social life or simplifying your home. Or something else.
Create 1-3 reminders. Write down your top 3 most important things on a small piece of paper. And put it on your bedside table so you see it first thing every morning. You can also create 2 more notes with the same answers to for instance put on your fridge and in your workspace.

These two simple steps have helped me a lot to keep my priorities straight and to remind myself of them every day so I don’t start to drift too much from what matters the most to me.


The Delusion of Separation: We Don’t Need to Feel So Lonely

Original post from:

“The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.” ~Yasutani Roshi

You know those moments? Those brief, fleeting moments that shine through the grey of everyday life like motes of glitter caught in a sunbeam. The moments when you suddenly feel a connection to the world around you, when the quotidian alienation of modern life falls away and color pulses back in.

Walking through the torpor of another generic day, the background static of depression distorting the colors of the world, I often don’t realize I’m on a downward spiral until I look up and realize the sun seems a long, long way away.

The spiral staircase in my mind has steps that aren’t just worn smooth from use, but more often than not seem to be lubricated, too. At the bottom, the door marked “suicide” is always standing there, waiting… and how much easier it would be to push it open and walk through, rather than trying to climb back up those endless, slippery steps.

And then, out of nowhere, I lock eyes with another person and, unplanned and unplannable, we see each other.

I don’t mean we just notice one another, or that we look and immediately glance away before continuing our automaton stomping along the street. No, I mean we actually share a moment of mutual recognition: we see each other and share, for a long second or two, something fundamentally human. A connection.

Stereotypes and defence mechanisms flicker, before revealing themselves to be the smokescreen of fear they really are—a hazy distortion field which blurs our vision of what’s right in front of us. A barrier that we hide behind, but which has no more substance than fog.

The mind loves shorthand and shortcuts, but nobody can be accurately reduced to these crude symbols, and nobody really fits into the boxes that we’ve learnt to shove them into to make the complexity of the world more manageable.

“Manageable” is the spreadsheet, not the thing itself. It’s a lens, but like reading glasses, it helps us see something at one level, but distorts everything else if we look up and try to see anything more.

If stereotyping reduces, then these moments of connection distill. The essence rises and we can taste the purity of it. In these moments, looks aren’t deceiving, but revealing.

Recently I was walking across a narrow footbridge over a stream, heading back to the flat I was staying in. Just a few paces ahead of me, a couple of young men in tracksuits are leaning on a railing, chatting quietly. They hear me coming, and one of them looks around, a little tense as his instincts alert him to my approach.

We lock eyes. We don’t smile; we don’t exchange reflex pleasantries. But we both nod slightly and in that small moment wordlessly exchange several deeply human things.

A greeting; an acknowledgement that we see each other going about our day without need to intrude, question, or interfere; that we’re both enjoying the bright, beautiful morning; that there might theoretically be cultural and class divisions between us, but we are not bringing them into this simple interpersonal moment; that, in some ephemeral but weighty sense, we respect each other.

But even that sounds too cold. Because this, like all such moments, is definitely warm. The stranger on the terrace raising a glass to you in silent toast; the knowing look you exchange with a parent trying to control their young children; holding a door for a stranger and sharing a smile, or waving to someone on a distant ship and seeing them raise a hand in return.

These aren’t rituals, politeness, or other rehearsed and mechanical behavior. This is what all the meditation teachers are talking about when they exhort us to be present with what is, rather than the stories we impose on ourselves and the world around us.

It’s a brief mutual knowing, a wink around the corner of the matrix, when you both silently acknowledge the absurdity of the conventions that we live inside.

It’s the barista who doesn’t reel off the heavily scripted line when they pass you your coffee, because in the moment before they do, you see each other and smile, acknowledging in no words at all that the artifice is all pretty silly and you don’t need those lines to appreciate the exchange that’s taking place.

I’m not saying that we’d all become great friends and enjoy each other’s company if we actually got talking. But beyond those layers of accreted cultural, social, and personal compost, there’s a core of shared humanity, which, in these brief moments, we instinctively recognize and feel heartened by. When the zombie apocalypse breaks out, perhaps we will, after all, be able to rely on our fellow humans.

Zombies aside, I’m not being flippant. Disaster movies and the mass media love to scare us with visions of society and basic humanity rapidly collapsing in the face of major disasters.

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was soon portrayed as a terrifying regression to a Hobbesian world of man-as-wolf-to-man, but this was simply untrue. The fears of the government, police, and media became the lenses through which they and then we perceived and approached the situation. The reality was altogether different.

As Rebecca Solnit describes in her fascinating book A Paradise Built in Hell, not only do the vast majority of people not turn savage in the face of disaster, they rapidly begin helping complete strangers, setting up ad hoc shelters, kitchens, search parties, and hospitals.

And the survivors of the natural and manmade disasters Solnit describes, even if they experienced terrible personal losses, they frequently look back on these periods as some of the best in their lives. In large part, this is because they felt that rarest of things in the modern industrialised world: that they had meaningful and consequential things to do.

Why? Because they were suddenly talking and cooperating with other people in the same boat as them, from complete strangers to neighbours they’d never spoken to in twenty years, despite living next door.

It was as though external circumstances triggered a different human mode of operation, back to something more fundamental and less complex.

Studying the same phenomenon, Sebastian Junger calls this a return to tribal existence, but this isn’t a story of reversion to an idealized pre-modern existence. It’s simply the rediscovery of what’s already there: it’s the collapse of the fiction Yastunai Roshi described—the delusion “that I am here and you are out there.”

Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of times when I find myself actively avoiding any connection with the people around me. When I’m standing on the street, some part of my mind often starts whirring away hoping no one strikes up a conversation with me. What if they want something from me and make me feel bad for not giving it to them? Why can’t I just be left alone to my thoughts?

And yet being closed off to those external inputs isn’t much of a way to think or to live. It is, after all, based on fear. Fear of change, fear of disruption, and fear of a loss of control.

Those fears are simultaneously completely valid and entirely foolish: change is the only constant in life, so there’s no benefit in fearing it. And control is always an illusion and a constraint.

We imagine the moment of interruption as inherently negative, and yet we’ve got no idea what might happen next. Maybe this person simply wants to know the time, or they’re lost, and when we can help them out we end up feeling really good about it.

So far, so nice. And perhaps familiar. But why highlight these little moments, if we all know them?

Because each one seems to come as a surprise, or a slight relief. Because until they do, at least for those of us in big cities, we’re surrounding ourselves with countless Schrödinger’s boxes of uncertainty regarding the people around us. And so we cast our eyes downward, or keep our gaze frictionless when we look at the people around us, avoiding contact for fear of rejection or accusation.

It can feel so much easier not to open the boxes and keep things unknown, but the vertigo of what Pema Chödrön calls “groundlessness”—of leaning into the unknown with heart and mind open—is precisely where life happens. 

We must learn to relax with groundlessness—of having no certainties, nothing solid to which we can cling, and no promise our smile will be returned. As Chödrön explains, Buddhism encourages us “to remain open to the present groundless moment, to a direct, unarmored participation with our experience,” with no guarantees at all that everything will work out the way we might want it to.

The trick is not to look for a reaction. Not to expect anything at all (and thereby avoid the ego’s spluttering outrage that this or that person was so damn rude for not returning our smile or greeting). That’s just giving with strings attached.

Instead, moments of connection happen when something is given freely, without the higher functions of the brain coming into play. In the same way we smile at a cute animal or a child laughing, we can remain open to everyone around us, because they are also us, living a different life. There’s no need for “why”; we can just do.

When we act without expectation, there’s no disappointment. Which isn’t to say something nice will definitely happen, but whatever does happen will simply be data—not something weighed in the scales of our prior expectations and found wanting.

For me and many others, depression creates a sense of desperate isolation; it seems to close us off from all connection. But while the sun can seem so far away—a pinprick of light at the top of that spiral staircase—this is just another distortion.

In truth, that light of Bodhichitta—the “awakened heart”—is still inside us and always accessible. Like the idea that we are separate from other people, it’s another delusion to think that we can ever be separated from the heart of Bodhichitta within us.

Being alone isn’t the same as being lonely, and in those fleeting glances and connections we can be both alone and yet deeply connected with the people and the world around us. We just have to be present enough to be open to them.

About Jon Waterlow

Jon Waterlow is a writer and podcaster who has trouble staying in one place for very long. You can find him at, a podcast dedicated to Learning How To Human. He talks and writes about psychology, philosophy, spirituality, social dynamics, mental health, psychedelics, and more. Check out his free series on The 48 Laws of Power.

Web | More Posts

Get in the conversation! Click here to leave a comment on the site.

The post The Delusion of Separation: We Don’t Need to Feel So Lonely appeared first on Tiny Buddha.