Author Archives: joeylott
Author Archives: joeylott
When I was in college, I undertook a misguided fast. I started by only consuming water for a few days – perhaps three days – I don’t remember exactly. After that, I drank only freshly-pressed juices for what I believe must have been considerably more than a month.
I had already been surviving on primarily raw vegetables and fruit – with occasional cooked beans – for a year. So I was thin to start. But I grew considerably thinner during my fast.
My heart rate slowed to under 40 beats per minute.
I was exhausted by the smallest effort. I would have to pause between flights of stairs in order to regain enough strength to ascend another flight. My apartment was up two flights, and sometimes I had to pause a few times on the way up.
I was cold all the time. I was nervous. I was depressed.
Basically, I felt terrible.
If you’d asked anybody else – even a complete stranger who’d never seen me before – they would have diagnosed the problem right away…I was starving.
Once I finally got a little bit of sense back in me a month or two later, I recall walking past a building and catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. I was shocked to see what looked like a walking skeleton staring back at me.
Because until that moment, I had no clue why I was feeling so awful.
I kept reading more books that told me about how filthy I was on the inside, how many dangerous toxins I had accumulated in my handful of years on Earth. How I needed to fast even more to purge myself of all those toxins.
I thought I had toxins in me that were causing my problems. It honestly had not occurred to me that I was responsible for bad choices that were directly producing my symptoms – that I was starving myself.
Even after I saw that reflection of the walking skeleton in the window and even after I started seeing a counselor for help with an eating disorder, I still didn’t fully believe that I was causing the problems with my choices. I still believed my mind and its distorted reality.
Given all that, you might think that once I finally gave up on that approach and I started eating adequate amounts of food and felt better that I would have seen through the delusion of my stories. At least the stories having to do with toxins and “curing” myself with food restriction.
But I didn’t. Not even close. I continued to eat in highly disordered ways, often returning to starving myself, for over another decade.
When I got sick with Lyme disease, I doubled down on my restrictive eating disorder. Because it gave me an excuse. I was afraid, and when afraid, I fell back on my old stories.
I had no idea that I was doing it.
I say that I had no idea that I was doing it. And that’s not completely true. What would be true is this: Out of habit, I completely ignored the wisdom that is always available that has nothing to do with conditioned thinking and reactivity. I identified as the conditioned thinking and reactivity, and therefore, as that identity, I was ignorant.
I could go on to cite dozens of other examples in which I behaved in similarly deluded fashion. How those bad and deluded choices harmed me and often other people.
But here’s the point: I didn’t understand what I was doing in any of those cases. I was so identified with my stories of me as a victim – I had deluded myself so greatly – that I didn’t understand that I was responsible. And that I was abdicating my responsibility.
I was misusing my one true power.
That one true power came out in all kinds of sideways and perverted ways. Suicidal ideation. Resentment. Vengefulness. Manipulation. Restriction. Abstention. Isolation. Compulsive research.
Because I wasn’t owning that one true power. I wasn’t telling the truth about it.
What is that one true power? It’s the power to recognize what the true order of things is. It is the power to discern between what is false and what is true.
And how do I do that? Just look relentlessly. Allow it all to flow as it does, and see that the person I thought I was never had any other power. I never had the power to stop it or control it or manipulate it. That as all merely delusion.
The truth stands on its own. It doesn’t need to be propped up by story.
I don’t need to tell a story to make it so. I just need to stop telling a story long enough to recognize it.
In my life, I learned to think, not feel.
Oh, I still felt. I felt plenty. Lots of anger, fear, resentment, sadness, hurt. Sometimes excitement, enthusiasm, happiness.
But especially with the unwanted feelings, I learned to turn to thought. I learned to view the feelings as problems that I needed to try to solve.
Not only did I learn to think instead of feel, I learned to think like a victim – to blame, shame, hide, etc.
So it’s probably not surprising that my chaotic, disorganized, victim-based thinking that I used as a way to get rid of strong, unwanted feelings has resulted in a lot of bad behavior over the years.
When I was maybe 8 years old…maybe a little younger…I got so angry that I punched a hole in the picture window in the front of my house.
I once was so angry that I threw a chair through a wall in my bedroom.
I seem to recall punching a hole in a door.
Later, as a teenager and young adult, I realized that I couldn’t continue being so outwardly violent. So instead I turned that violence inward.
I was still angry, scared, confused, sad, hurt. And my strategy was still the same at the core: try to think my way out of the problem that I perceived my feelings to be.
But instead of throwing chairs through walls, I contemplated suicide. I starved myself. I had elaborate fantasies about how I would escape everything and everyone.
I had turned feelings into the enemy. And feelings won every time. I could never win. Not truly. Because I couldn’t outwit feelings. I couldn’t outrun them. I couldn’t hide from them.
Finally, I had to admit total defeat. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I finally waved the white flag. And even then, I actually had no idea how much more I would lose. I thought I had lost all the way. But I hadn’t even begun to truly lose. That was only the beginning.
So learning about feelings has been a long, difficult, confusing thing for me. Which is ironic because, as I’ll share, one of the qualities that I’ve discovered about feelings is that they are effortless. Having and feeling feelings doesn’t require skill.
What requires skill – at least in my experience – is learning how to stop over-complicating things.
Everybody is feeling feelings all the time. And in my experience, I don’t have to do anything more than that. I don’t have to label the feelings. (I don’t have to avoid labeling the feelings, either.) I don’t have to dig deep into the feelings. I don’t have to probe for hidden feelings. I don’t have to hold on to feelings. I don’t have to amplify feelings. I don’t have to diminish feelings. I don’t have to get over feelings. I don’t have to get past feelings. I don’t have to do anything.
In fact, the less I do, the better.
Because at least for me, old habits die hard. And I still hold out the crazy hope of winning. And by winning, I mean getting rid of feelings I don’t like and only having feelings I do like. Secretly, in the dark corners of my mind, I still view unwanted feelings as the enemy.
So anything I do, I am almost certainly going to do it with the intention and hope of getting rid of the unwanted feelings. I’m sneaky like that. I fool myself and think that I’m trying to allow feelings or welcome feelings, but actually, I’m trying to get rid of them.
Which leads to more thinking and more chaotic, disorganized thinking. And more violence. And that’s not how I want to live.
So the less I do, the better.
There may be much more evolved, better people than me. In fact, I fully expect that many, many people are much more evolved, better, more conscious, more awake, more generous, happier people than I am. And maybe for those people, there are things they can do that facilitate the flow of feelings and welcoming them and spreading love and joy into the world.
But for me, less is more. The less I do, the better. And maybe, if you find that you are a little like me, you’ll find this is true as well.
So I cannot pay attention to my thoughts, because those thoughts will tell me that I’ve got to do something. Figure something out. Understand something. Know what it is called and where it came from…so that I can fix it, get rid of it.
See? I’m sneaky. So I cannot pay attention to my thoughts if I want peace.
I release the tension in my head. And then there is only space and feeling.
If I do anything, I muck it all up. So I have to keep doing nothing.
And bit by bit, clarity dawns. The light rises up over the horizon. And in a flash, reality is fully illuminated.
There is only space and feeling…and light. And I cannot tell you what differentiates them. Because they seem to be undifferentiated in that moment. And the insanity and misery of having tried to get rid of the feeling gets illuminated and I see the big joke. Or “The Big Joke”.
Because it was me all along. The space and feeling and light. It was me all along. I’m not going to get rid of it because it’s me.
And it’s perfectly evident. I don’t have to search for it. Or understand it. Or grasp it.
It does not require skill to manifest this. It only requires great trust…or resignation…or both.
Because in doing nothing – making no effort, letting go of the tension, the armoring – I don’t acquire anything. I just lose what was never true to begin with. I lose the sense that I am this thing separate from my feelings and that my feelings are my enemy and that I need to think my way out of the pain and misery I feel.
And that is a miracle.
For many years I used to wash my hands compulsively.
I wasn’t a “wash-em-till-they-bleed” sort. I didn’t scrub them bare because I didn’t have a germ phobia.
Instead, I “washed” my hands by rinsing them under running water. And I did it because I was trying to wash away the bad feelings.
I had bad feelings. And those bad feelings were everywhere in my body, but I felt them most strongly in my hands.
I was terrified to touch anything when I had those bad feelings in my hands because I didn’t want to contaminate anything with those bad feelings.
By grace, I discovered how to stop doing that. I learned how to let go of the inner tension that I used as an armor against the bad feelings. And by doing that, I stopped having the compulsion to wash my hands.
For years since, I have experienced almost no compulsions to wash my hands…except normal, presumably healthy compulsions to actually wash my hands for hygeinic purposes. When appropriate.
I still experience bad feelings, though. Not to the same degree. Not even close.
But when I am still and quiet, I recognize the same basic thing still at play. Something happens that provokes some fear or discomfort in me. And I still have the same kind of reflexive armoring – the inner tension, the compulsions to get rid of the bad feelings.
Much subtler, but still happening.
Perhaps that will always be the case. And to be honest, I am so grateful for the act of grace that has transformed my life and allowed me to be here today and write this and have a family and sometimes be happy…instead of obsessed with trying to get rid of overwhelming bad feelings all day long by way of compulsive hand washing…I am so grateful for that, that I can’t complain about anything, really.
I am deeply grateful.
Still, I see the same pattern playing out subtly. For example, if I feel frustrated or if I feel that I’m being judged unfairly by someone or if I feel hurt or sad or like a failure…I try to get rid of the feelings. I cling to inner tension because I still hold out hope that it will do something good for me.
And so I see the possibility of letting go even more.
I know from experience that is the way to true happiness. Not short term fixes. Not just getting rid of unwanted feelings. But a deeper okayness.
It’s tempting sometimes to fear letting go “too much”. All kinds of fears, reasons that I might need that inner tension to stay safe or to be a good person or whatever other thoughts I might have.
But ironically, holding on to the inner tension has the opposite effect. It doesn’t keep me safe – it isolates me. It doesn’t make me a good person – it makes me distant. It doesn’t make me likable – it makes me a fraudulent people pleaser. It doesn’t make me happy – it deadens me. It doesn’t make me social or dynamic – it makes me overwhelmed and insecure.
Every day I have many opportunities to practice what I know to be true. And every day I fail many times. A small voice in me encourages me to do what I know is the right thing – to make contact, to lend a hand, to open my heart, to give the time, to make space, to pause, to comfort, to have patience. Whether that is for my wife, my children, my parents, my neighbors, friends, strangers, or myself. I know what the right thing is in every moment.
And often, my fear and resistance get the better of me. I remain guarded. I cling to that inner tension. I don’t let go. I don’t open. I don’t act with humility and generosity and kindness.
But sometimes I do the right thing. Sometimes – and it’s many times every day – I open, I pause, I connect. I let go of the clinging. I let go of the armor. I let go of my way or the highway. I let go of my ideas of how things should be. I embrace the gift of this moment as it is. I open my eyes and see clearly.
It’s the hardest thing and the easiest thing. And it’s always the best thing. It is the one choice I get to make. And when I make that choice, my life is better, richer, happier.
Sometimes I get caught up in thinking that I have to do something big or be someone great. I sometimes think that I have to get everything right and never mess up.
But the truth is, all I am really asked to do is to show up fully right now. Bad feelings. Good feelings. Or any other kind of feelings. It doesn’t matter. And risk it all. Risk contamination. Risk failure. Risk humiliation. Risk not being enough.
Just show up fully. Just say yes. Just open now.
And that’s it. That’s all that is asked.
I cannot undo what has been done. I cannot guarantee what will happen. But I can show up fully now anyway. No matter what I’ve done. Or what you’ve done. Or what I fear might happen. No matter how much I hurt or how ashamed I feel or how flat or angry or sad or worried I might feel. No matter how good of a person or how bad of a person I might be…
All that is asked is to show up fully now.
And if I mess up? Well, there’s always now.
I sometimes think I would like it if my life was all easy.
But my life is not all easy. And I know that yours isn’t all easy either.
And I also know that this is a blessing that our lives aren’t all easy.
Not that I believe we should shun ease. Nor am I suggesting that ease is necessarily bad.
But it is a blessing that our lives aren’t all easy because that unease acts like pruning shears. It cuts away all that is untrue and unnecessary.
It forces me and you to look at what we’ve been carrying and what we’ve been believing and ask ourselves, “Is this true? Is it worth behaving as if it were true?”
It keeps us honest.
Honesty is complex. Because what is true in one moment may not be true in the next moment. So we cannot cling to ideas or memories or beliefs to guide us.
That’s why I need the unease. It is my guide. It tells me where I’m mistakenly clinging to something untrue.
Of course, my mind has tried to claim this as a strategy in order to gain some kind of control over life. It’s done it again and again. It thinks, “Unease is the way. I’ll produce unease and shun ease in order to have power, and power is what I want, therefore I’ll be happy when I choose to be uneasy.”
That doesn’t work, though. That’s just misery.
But fortunately, the second I wake up to my mistake, I am pruned – liberated of what is not true.
This isn’t what I think I want. Because I don’t get to be the winner in this scenario.
Often, what I wake up to is a mess. I wake up to the mistakes I’ve made. The pain I’ve caused myself and others.
That’s not fun.
But it’s honest. And honesty liberates me from what is untrue.
It doesn’t provide a magical solution to the problems I thought I had. It does shed light on things as they are. And then, if I’m humble enough to do so, I get to take steps along that illuminated path.