Unique and the Same

I’ve had ideas swirling in my head all day. My thoughts seem random, yet connected. I’m not sure how to express them in a coherent fashion, yet I feel compelled to write.

I was talking to Greg about how sometimes I want to feel unique and special.  And yet, at other times, I want to feel I’m not alone. This dilemma makes me recall when I’ve been in therapy and the therapist tries to “normalize” my experience by saying, “I think everyone feels that way.” Sometimes this can feel validating, and at other times, it feels dismissive. Why is this?

Greg said it reminded him of a poster he once saw that says: “Remember that you are unique, just like everyone else.”

After this philosophical discussion, we ate dinner, not really talking. Thank goodness I’m married to another introvert who is comfortable with silence.

I still couldn’t figure out what I wanted to write, so I went downstairs to walk on the treadmill. I watch DVDs while I’m walking, and I’m on Season 2 of Mad Men. In the episode I was watching, Don Draper is having marital problems, and he is visiting with an old friend who offers some sage advice: “The only thing keeping you from happiness is the belief that you are alone.” What a great line! I thought this was surely a sign I needed to go upstairs and get busy writing.

Still, nothing came. I decided to do my meditation practice for the day.

This is week 4 of Sharon Salzberg’s Meditation Month and the focus is on Lovingkindness meditation. In this type of meditation, you focus not on your breath, but on certain phrases such as: May I be safe; May I be happy; May I be healthy; May I live with ease. You then extend these phrases (along with heartfelt intention if possible) to someone in need, then to someone you may know only casually, then to someone who you find difficult, then to people everywhere.  (For more details on this type of meditation, click here).

The person who popped into my mind when it was time to think of someone who may be in need was a previous client of mine. She had a child with a very rare and complex health condition. The condition wasn’t visible to others, so she was often given standard parenting advice that simply did not apply to her situation. Well meaning people would say things such as, “That’s just normal teenage stuff” or “You just have to use tough love.” These statements, meant to help her feel less alone, actually did just the opposite. She often told me she felt isolated from others, and that she was “crazy.” She seemed to feel better in our sessions when I found a way to validate her experience that, yes—her situation was different and unique. Somehow, paradoxically, that is what helped her feel less alone.

Looking back on it now, I wonder if I could have done more if I had helped her realize that somewhere (although not necessarily in her peer group), there are other mothers with similar challenges, going through similar painful circumstances. Would that have helped her feel less alone? It’s so easy to second-guess myself, but I  really don’t think I would have done anything differently.

Well, I’ve thoroughly confused myself further, and probably you, as well.

If I can come up with any take-away points, they’d be:

  •  Life is hard. It’s okay to acknowledge that fact.
  •  We’re all in the same boat.  We all want to be happy. We all want to suffer less and be at peace. It’s not always easy to find that place. I’m learning that meditation can help.
  • We’re not alone, even when we think we are.
  •  I need to use the word “AND” more. We are unique AND we are the same.
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3 thoughts on “Unique and the Same

  1. lots of good food for thought…you know what jumped out @ me ? 🙂 when you said this :”Thank goodness I’m married to another introvert who is comfortable with silence.” When my wife and I have coffee together in the morning, sometimes there will be times of silence and other times we talk up a storm. I see it as a level of trust and intimacy in a relationship where you don’t always have to fill up the time with noise and words. I’m enjoying watching you process your life and your self talk. it is refreshing!

  2. You’re not confusing at all; rather comforting in a very healing, straight to my heart way.Unique and the same, all one. Thank you for sharing your honesty and helping me too. Yay for lovingkindness meditation!

  3. I had a friend that became blind over the 3 – 5 year period. He was in his late 30s/early 40s when things really started declining. He said the worst part about his condition as it worsened was that he looked completely normal to everyone whereever he went… the grocery, a restaurant, just everyday places. And so they had ‘normal’ expectations of him, like that he could see the buttons to push to complete his transaction in the checkout line, or that he could read the label of a product on the shelf. He felt so alone because he was so different now but no one knew it, no one could tell by looking at him. I think everyone suffers in some way, whether we can see it or not.

    Oprah always said that all pain is the same…. I think regardless of the cause of your pain, you are not alone in that you feel pain or suffering.

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