After a long day of skiing, I found myself in a hot tub with a misogynist—a friend of a friend’s. In the brief time that I soaked in the hot water, he harshly criticized his wife for her parenting, while not helping their children himself; he ignored any conversational contribution I made; and, he was overly solicitous of an attractive, young female who entered the waters. I was triggered. I don’t like how I look in a bathing suit—body image is still an area of work for me. The progress that I have made is that—LIVE TIME—I was aware of my reactions, and able to observe and label the misogynistic behaviors.
Even with these enhanced observations, I slid down the shame spiral into that deep, dark pit that I know all too well. Buddhism advises to be grateful for our mistakes as they point to places for growth (see for example, Pema Chodron). I haven’t been able to embrace that (yet). My mistakes seem to always come at a cost to someone else, and I feel remorse that someone else need suffer for me to learn. However, I am coming to a place of gratitude for having a trigger pulled—and, I am a walking slot machine of trigger levers. If I can see when I am triggered, then I don’t have to react and learn at someone else’s expense.
When I walked the Camino Frances in the summer of 2019, I realized that the Universe loves me infinitely—as it loves you infinitely, and it loves infinitely everything else in this amazing universe. (If ‘Universe” doesn’t work for you, please insert whatever higher power name is most helpful.) That was a great gift. Beware great insights—they often require great change to integrate. As Oscar Wilde said, “When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” When I came home, I realized that if I am loved infinitely, I must be infinitely worthy. Since then, I have worked to accept and love all of myself. My progress in loving and accepting myself, rather than judging and shaming myself, has made it safe for me to observe my triggers.
The hot tub friend-of-a-friend was expressing some unaddressed fear that has led him to treat women as objects—maybe some sense of inadequacy, existential dread? Who knows. And, because of it, his relationship with his wife and children has increased conflict, he missed the opportunity to get to know me, and he made this other person uncomfortable. I wish for him that he might realize his infinite worth and do the work of realizing his triggers. Noticing my self-shaming response to his misogynistic behaviors led me to physically experience the harm of unaddressed fears—to feel the pain carried in my body.
I want to embrace every part of myself—no matter how irrational, self-absorbed, scared, or petty. However they came to be, my fears love me and seek to protect me. The fear of not belonging, of being unlovable and unloved, is part of the human experience. I embrace it in myself, and feel greater empathy and love for others as I accept this part of the human experience. However, accepting the fear of not belonging does not mean that I accept misogynist, colonialist, white supremist, capitalist, ableist, ageist, and other dehumanizing social structures. Self-inflicting these degrading beliefs on my body helped me to see how ubiquitous and deadly these social structures are—and how my shame contributes to their perpetuation. These pieces are not of me, and I do not want to embrace them. I want to acknowledge them, but not accept them.
As I make my life journey up the winding mountain path of enlightenment, I have all the tools I need in a light, well-fitting backpack. I now realize that I am also dragging a heavy, overflowing trailer of bullsh*t—and, if not careful, littering the trail with this garbage. I want to find ways to safely recycle these toxic materials. Imagine how easily I will be able to ascend when I am not burdened by a trailer of hazardous waste—maybe I can even put the trailer to good use, to help a fellow traveler in their pilgrimage? Being that we live in a world of isms that confers privilege to a few and deprivations to many, we will lug hazardous waste into all our relationships. How can we work together to neutralize the toxins, help each other put on hazmat suits? For me, an important first step is to notice the tension in my body, the places of dis-ease—to call out my triggers, empathize with the underlying need, and label the bullsh*t. And, of course, get out of the hot tub!