a couple of years ago

Bad feelings

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.

Joey Lott

Joey Lott is the author of numerous books, including The Best Thing That Never Happened and The Little Book of Big Healing. He lives in southern Vermont with his wife and children.

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