The Danger of “Me”

I have a bad habit of fixating on my agitations. If I have a negative encounter with someone, or a conversation that leaves me flat, I walk away wanting to get to the bottom of those feelings. Why do I feel this way? What about that person’s words was hurtful or bothersome to me?

There’s something to be said for self-awareness, for figuring out what makes us tick. But there’s some harm in that too. While it’s important for me to understand my weaknesses, it’s a bad idea to always be living in the center of the latest thing that got on my nerves.

I’ve noticed in some of my favorite workout videos, the instructor encourages me to lean into the pain of the exercise and really “live in that moment.” It kinda helps. Maybe I become so settled into those feelings that it propels me to the end. A friend of mine who’s a personal trainer said the more you settle in, the more the muscle can stretch.

“If you can try to relax into the pain,” she explained, “it makes the exercise easier.”

I was thinking about this recently, struggling with my desire to over-analyze while forcing myself to stop over-analyzing. “I don’t want to think about my feelings anymore,” I chided myself. “Why can’t I just get over it!”

Somedays, it’s just not that easy.

When I’m working through struggles in life, I want to learn. I don’t really want to ignore these feelings because I want to move forward. But the risk you run, in being aware, is being overly-so. I don’t want to miss an opportunity for personal growth, but I don’t want to always being living in the center of my frustrations.

Sadness, I heard recently, is focusing on ourselves. True joy is focusing on God.

When we put our focus on God, we have a better chance of living in grace and peace and joy. We learn from the past, we have gratitude for all God has given us. But then, and mostly, we go back to God.

According to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, those of us who travel on our spiritual journey face two directions — “when we look at ourselves, we are saddened by our failings; when we look at God, we rejoice in his love.”

There’s a tricky balance in self-awareness and personal growth. We have to be aware of our flaws and learn from our mistakes, but we don’t want to get so bogged down in self-analysis that we lose sight of God’s love for us. We have to focus on that love, that love keeps our focus off ourselves.

“Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” we say during the Act of Contrition at Mass. And we beat our breast.

And then we move on.

My friend the personal trainer explained something else to me about living in the pain.

“Focusing on the pain might not make it easier at the moment, but it will make it easier the next time you do it and afterward. Also, relaxing increases oxygen and blood flow.”

In other words, it helps us calm our bad self down.

When I read those words, I realized that part of learning from our mistakes is just the important reminder that being a human is hard work, and there’s a reason for that. This, being human and trudging through the human condition, is not what our soul was made to do. Of course God made us and wants us to enjoy this life. But we are made for an eternity with God, and that is why we must always, ultimately, put our focus back on Him.

“During Lent,” said a meditation I recently read, “the liturgy reminds us that the purifying suffering of the cross is the only way to the everlasting joy of the Resurrection.”

May we put our focus on ourselves long enough to learn and grow and (when needed) repent, and then turn our gaze back to the Father, the only place we can find the peace our soul desperately craves.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.