“I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in jaw-dropping places in my life-in the mountains, at a picturesque restaurant, watching a sunset, on a boat heading to one of the San Juan Islands–where words got in the way of fully feeling and enjoying where I was.”
~Katherine Jenkins. “Lessons from the Monk I Married.”
The life of a pleaser is filled with careful consideration of many things: Another person’s tone of voice, the way someone sets down a glass tumbler on a table, endless mental lists detailing the best way to do one thing or another. The life of a pleaser is exhausting, confusing, and often lonely. Pleasers please because they were taught somewhere along the way that they aren’t enough just as they are, that pleasing is the path to validation, and the way to mitigate someone else’s unhappiness or displeasure. Pleasers do this for years, and when they begin to stop—or to express a different kind of voice—they are often labeled by those so used to their old ways as being “troubled,” “bitchy,” and (most often) “selfish.”
I’m most certainly a pleaser, but, thankfully, in my early stages of recovery. You’d think I was a Catholic school dropout by the amount of guilt and worry I carry on a daily basis. Someone slams a cupboard door shut or huffs off down a hallway? Was my boss extra quiet this morning? Should I go back to college? I instantly clench up and try to figure out where I’ve made a wrong step. The recovery process involves recognizing the moment, recognizing the feelings of worry, inevitably, feeling anger (“I really didn’t do anything! Screw this!”) and then the tiresome back-and-forth mental dialogue of how to fix it—should I fix it? The actual healing piece is finding ways to let it go, to accepting no responsibility for anyone else’s choices, behaviors or happiness.
As I move through my process of finding and expressing my voice, of finding forgiveness in myself and others, and relearning the messages that emotions convey, I have found great solace in finding time to be alone. When your mind is a Thanksgiving Day parade most of the time, the quiet of solitude is a necessary, healing salve. Over the years, I have found that carving out quiet moments is the fastest way for me to renew myself and who I am for anyone else. I exercise alone for this reason—it’s my time to hear my breath, to sense how my blood nourishes my muscles. I take short hikes alone, so my breath is tasting pine sap in the air and not trying to find words for a moment. These solitary times, twined into times of laughter, weeknight happy hours, and heartfelt chats, keep me balanced.
This last weekend, I spent three days with special friends, all kind, deeply caring humans, each trooping through this life in his and her own way. Most of them have known one another for decades. The fact that I’ve been included for just about five years still makes me, in some ways, new, and an outsider. Add this to the fact that the group has really only just begun to see me as more than the girlfriend of their long-time friend. The attachments to one another are deep and special. The personalities varied, but mostly all outgoing and strong.
On the last day of the trip, I hurried through a shower and a couple of sips of coffee so I could make my way to the beach alone. Anytime I’m at the ocean, I have a ritual of walking and meditating alone. On this morning, I needed to clear my head of the noise, of the pleaser, of the worrier. As I pushed my feet through the heavy sand, making my way closer to the surf, the sound of the waves beat against my mind like high tide against a bluff. Slowly, slowly, with each step, my buzzing mind became muted. Slowly, slowly, the thoughts became gliding birds rather than a swarm of bees.
I found a log and sat facing west, imagining the curve of the earth falling away beyond the churning water. The sky was a damp gray blanket merging with the choppy waves, tonal shades of melding browns, tans, damp wood, slicked stones. The surf and wind were so loud that all collided into a roaring kind of quiet. I placed my palms upright toward the sky, resting them on my thighs, closed my eyes and breathed as far into my lungs as I could. I breathed in the quiet and the roar. I breathed out the worry of the night before—the snippy retort I made, arguing over a silly internet story. I breathed in the sea mist that was settling into my pores, curling my hair. I breathed out the worry of being unheard, unknown. I breathed in the smell of kelp and salt, and breathed out the rattling wonders of future, of best choices, of doing more and better.
I was aware of the heaviness of my feet braced against the ground, the feeling of warm cotton on my arms, of a strand of hair picked up by the wind and pulled against my hood. I heard a short, high cry of a gull and opened my eyes. Right in front of me, no more than 20 feet away, a bald eagle glided past, chased by the noisy gull. The eagle was so low I could make out the color and shape of each splayed wing feather. I could see his eyes scanning the sand beneath him. He pushed his wings slowly forward and back, in no hurry, with no concern for the tag-along chattily following behind. The eagle floated above the beach another 50 yards, languid atop a draft of air. I watched his shape, so strong and level, pressing with no real effort against the wind. His very being was silent, yet so pronounced, the sharpest image among the gray morning mist of the beach. Slowly, he turned in a graceful arc toward the bluff. I watched him gather more wind beneath his body with each strong push of his wings, finding altitude to crest the grassy outcropping of falling away cliff, creating distance between himself and the seagull behind him. The gull bobbed and turned sharply back toward the water, away from the quiet eagle. Soon, my peaceful guide was a dark spot high beyond the beach grass, far down the shore.
After a few more minutes, when I could no longer see the great bird in the sky, I stood and brushed the sand from my damp pants, pulled my hood closer to my ears and then took a deep stretch. Arms up, back curved, lungs full. I turned my quiet mind back toward the house, back toward my friends, just the way I was in that moment. Not a pleaser. Just the me of that moment, restful in my solitude, with only the sand to navigate, a pearlescent broken shell tucked in my pocket to rub in between my fingers, and the ocean to taste on my lips.