The fear of what others think of you. It's one of the most pervading challenges we'll deal with in our entire life.
Why is it such a difficult challenge? Because it seeps into almost everything we do, each and every day.
I find it funny that we feel most free, most liberated, when we're doing things in a way that we don't care about what others think of us or what we're doing.
But the pull to care what others think of us is so strong, that even after experiencing a liberating experience such as that, we continue to be held in its vice.
One of the first projects I worked on when starting Buddhaimonia was a series on the top regrets of the dying (which is no longer in the archives unfortunately, but I'll be updating the series and reposting it as a single post sometime in the future).
Do you know what were essentially the two major regrets? They were:
- Living in a way that the person cared (or cared too much) what other people thought of them and their actions. - Not being authentic and following what they truly wanted to do with their lives (which in almost every case was most associated with #1).
We'll come back to that in a moment. First, the shoes...
A little less than a year ago, I got a new pair of Toms.
I love Toms, I love the style and appreciate what the company stands for. I've worn them for the past couple of years, but unfortunately I have a penchant for tearing mine up in a short period of time.
Below is a picture of my old pair and the new pair I got. I felt the need to take some pictures of my old Toms- we had been through a lot and I wanted to remember them.
As you can see, they're pretty torn up, especially the toe area (probably due to me being barefoot most of the time, I rarely wear socks).
Well, as time went on, that fresh and beautiful new pair of Toms began to ware as well.
This new pair has now gone through much more than the last:
Yeah, I know. You don't have to say it- they're crazy. But they're my crazy.
But this isn't a blog post about my shoes, this is a post about what I realized as I continued to wear my shoes as they became more and more torn up.
As time went on, I began noticing that I felt uncomfortable putting them on when I was getting dressed up to go somewhere public, particularly when it was a busy place like a mall or gathering with friends.
After some time, it hit me- I was worried about what others would think of me.
Wow. They must not have any money.
Really...are you poor?
These are all the things that I realized ran through my head as a part of wearing my shoes out in public places (not always, but most of the time).
Most of us would absolutely hate to admit it (it’s not easy for me to write about it), but we don't like being thought of as these things. And that's perfectly OK, the majority of us were brought up to think these things were bad and to do whatever we had to either avoid them or change our situation so that we weren't them. It’s not our fault we turned out thinking that way.
For most of us, this is a part of our negative self-talk. A very critical part.
One of the difficult parts about dealing with it is it's so subtle. My old pair was beaten up, and I felt the same way at times, but it never hit me. I never noticed it (but I always felt it- waking up can take time).
After gaining some clarity about the situation over the past year, noticing more and more how I felt when I put the shoes on to go out, I decided to make it into a little exercise, or meditation if you will.
I decided to continue wearing my shoes- as confidently and proudly as ever- and to simply become mindful of the various thoughts and feelings that would arise in me.
This was different from other mindfulness practices, though, because I wasn't just observing. There was a special effect which happened as a result of becoming aware of these thoughts and feelings in this way: I began sanding away at my ego.
I began to notice that each time I'd wear my shoes out to a busy location, thoughts and feelings would fly at me from time to time (at this point my mindfulness practice had magnified my ability to notice them, so they felt quite strong).
And each time I'd recognize them with my mindfulness, I'd feel that uncomfortable feeling of having to face up to a part of my negative self-talk and a certain wrong perception.
As time went on, and I continued to practice in this way, I felt as though my ego was shedding away, at least to some small degree.
I was almost always uncomfortable, and I rarely liked the thoughts and feelings that arose, but over time it did become easier to handle. And after a few months, I began to feel quite liberated.
I felt proud of my shoes and happy with myself in my own skin (more so than ever). Thoughts still came up from time to time, and I still felt the sting occasionally, but the change was quite noticeable.
And you know what else I realized? Excuse the language, but...
Nobody gave a crap.
- No one ever cared about my shoes. - No one ever thought anything about them. - No one ever even noticed them.
They were all too busy worrying about themselves.
We're all too busy worrying about ourselves.
Every day that we step out and live our lives in a way that we care about what others think of us, it's just an exercise of the ego flexing its muscle over us.
These people I passed by in malls, stores, and gatherings didn't think those thoughts about me- I thought those thoughts about me. It was all ego.
But if we can have courage and put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, challenging the ego in little ways (even if it's just a tiny step forward), then we can begin to realize a great sense of liberation.
So get out there and get uncomfortable, in a way that really challenges your ego:
- Get uncomfortable
- Have courage
- Be mindful, be compassionate
- Stay strong- freedom will come with time.
Remember, all it takes is little steps forward. Get creative.
So, how do you plan to get uncomfortable?