“Are we at least willing to catch ourselves spinning off…Do we at least aspire to not consider ourselves a problem, but simply a pretty typical human being who could at that moment give him-or herself a break and stop being so predictable?”
Pema Chodron
I have been experimenting.  Pema Chodron, a prolific and quite accessible Buddhist writer, implores us to stop trying to make things black and white, and I am trying to do just that.  By things I mean situations, predicaments, people, events, the way we feel about ourselves at a given moment.  We usually almost immediately label them as good or bad. She asks us to stop living in a way that is so dualistic. It seems like a simple suggestion but I realize I cling to black and white labels…they make me feel safe.  I decided to take a simple form of the concept into my every day life and notice how often I labeled something as good/bad, negative/positive, scary/not scary, fun/boring, easy/hard, stupid/important, healthy/not-healthy, and so on. I cling to labels!  We all do. We want to know how we should feel or act so we can have a plan and the quickest way to do that is to label something.  Labeling our feelings in a dualistic way seems compulsive but it doesn’t necessarily help us.

How often do we needlessly evaluate a situation as all good or all bad?  How many times a day do we scrutinize and label ourself as “unhealthy” from eating one small treat, or “stupid” because we forgot something, or “lazy” because we decided to rest?  Pema states that “trying to find absolute rights and wrongs is a trick we play on ourselves to feel secure and comfortable.”  Most of the time, I don’t thing we even realize we are labeling.

Pema asks the question, “How do we stop struggling against ourselves?” What does it say about our mental states that so often, the only time we are calm is when we are dulling it with a glass of alcohol, a carbohydrate snack, or television at the end of the day? (I have used all of these tactics to attempt relaxation). None of these things are inherently bad. If you know me, you know that eating frozen yogurt in bed is my ultimate pleasure, but it can’t be the only time of day we feel without struggle…and it often is, particularly when we are looking at ourselves with a critical and unkind lens.  The point she is hammering home…I think…is to stop trying to control our life so much, to stop trying to make it void of obstacle, to stop pretending we can make the events in our life so predictable and pain free, so without mess.

Challenge 1: 48 hours of noticing what labels you use in your mind.  Are you calling a meal you are eating good or bad?  Was your day at the office stressful or relaxing?  Did your children have a respectful day or a disrespectful day?  Was your time at home disappointing or enjoyable? Was that meeting stupid or important? Did you eat a “bad thing” or a “perfectly healthy thing?  Was that new person you met “interesting” or “boring”.  Are you being a “good partner” or a “bad partner”?  Was that thing you made “beautiful” or “ugly”?  What other examples might you have of labels?

Challenge 2: Think about what you might notice about your labeling?  When you try and be gentle with yourself, does this help reduce your labeling?

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