Things I Used To Believe, Back When I Knew Everything

My mum has a saying: ‘She who expects nothing will never be disappointed’. It used to irk me because I thought it was deeply pessimistic, flew in the face of ambition and self-improvement, and implied pretty questionable self-esteem.

Turns out I was wrong about that. Whilst I’m still not crazy about the phrasing, the philosophy itself is at the heart of yoga and Buddhism. No expectation, no resistance, no judgement are basic concepts of both those ancient schools of wisdom. We create untold suffering within our own minds with our expectations of how things should be, and our subsequent egoic outrage when circumstances fail to deliver. If we meet each moment with complete openness to whatever arises, rather than a checklist of standards which must be met or dammit we’ll stamp our feet and downright refuse to enjoy the moment, we can’t half save ourselves a lot of angst. If we decide to work with what presents itself, rather than furiously resisting what already exists, we might actually get somewhere and be a lot happier in the process. If we use our accumulated wisdom to evaluate a situation and discern the best course of action, rather than emotionally judging everything as good or bad and giving life marks out of ten, we might feel far less anxiety, defensiveness, anger and fear.

Look, I didn’t say it was easy. Simple, yes; easy, definitely not. That’s why yoga and Buddhism are practices – we continually train  in staying present with what arises, both internally and externally, gradually gaining greater mastery over our minds and sense of inner peace. We trip up again and again and again, and we observe and learn, and we try again and again and again.

And it turns out Mum was dead right about that expectation thing all along. Which was REALLY annoying.

That realisation prompted me to think about the other self-limiting beliefs that I used to harbour, and what changed my mind. Some are rather more profound than others, but here they are – some of the things I used to believe, back when I knew everything.

That I couldn’t be in a relationship – any sort of relationship – with someone whose views are diametrically opposed to my own.

 This has its limits, obviously – if you skin kittens alive for fun and are wildly bigoted towards everyone who’s not like you, we’re probably not going to be best buddies. But some of the people to whom I’m closest think very differently from me about a broad range of things, and that’s ok. Two phrases spring to mind: ‘ thinking you have all the answers is the definition of fundamentalism’; and: ‘when you speak, you’re just repeating what you already know; but when you listen, you might learn something new’. We all see life through our own prism of experience – in fact one definition of enlightenment is seeing things without that prism, as they really are – but until we get there, we can choose to respect each other’s prisms and agree to differ. Just leave the kittens alone, ok?

 That diet foods were good, and good fats were bad.

 Recognising food as fuel – not comfort, not reward, but fuel – was the key to my about-turn on this. Have you seen the rubbish that’s in all those sugar-free, fat-free, manufactured fake foods? What would your body rather have: a bunch of horrible chemicals that do who-knows-what to you, or nuts, avocados, peanut butter and olive oil? I used to deny myself all those real, nutritious farm-foods and buy ‘slimline’ factory-foods, in a misguided belief that it was the ‘healthy’ choice. And yet, since abandoning all that in favour of eating real foods that don’t come in a packet, my ailments like recurrent eczema, thrush and cystitis have totally vanished, as have my food cravings. I feel strong, I have bags of energy, and my weight has effortlessly stayed in the same healthy range for years. Funny, that.

That alcohol doesn’t contain calories.

 I mean, I think I knew it did, I just didn’t want to believe it.

That counselling and meditation were a load of bollocks.

 Ahem. Right, that’ll be me eating a large helping of humble pie then. Because both of them have changed my life immeasurably for the better.

That the world will implode if I speak my mind.

 Confrontation is high on the list of things I REALLY don’t like, and probably always will be – hey, I’m a lover, not a fighter! But there’s a difference between avoiding conflict because you’re diplomatically handling a situation and reaching an acceptable compromise (see Kofi Annan), and avoiding conflict because you’re being a bloody doormat. I still have to force myself to speak up at times, and it doesn’t always come out right (I’m far more articulate in print than when I’m put on the spot), but I stand up for myself these days. I do my best to keep it simple if I need to raise an issue; I try to do that thing of using ‘I’ language rather than accusatory ‘you’ language, avoid ‘always’ and ‘never’, and stay on point; and I make sure I have an idea of the result I’m looking for. I still find it uncomfortable and want to make everything easy and lovely and for everyone to be friends, but I no longer consider my own needs and peace of mind an acceptable sacrifice, and I recognise that I have as much right to a voice as everyone else.

 That A Terrible Thing would happen if was seen without make-up

 In my 20s I used to remove and apply make-up in my tourbus bunk rather than have anyone see me bare-faced. Now I’m in my 40s and I couldn’t give a rat’s ass – I do wear light make-up most days, but I don’t care who sees me without it and am very happy to hang out with the gang and put the world to rights after a post-gig, full-scrub shower. So far no-one has run screaming, and when I see pictures of me in my fresh-faced, line-free 20s I just think: Pell, you knob. Honestly, I wouldn’t go back to that age for all the youthful perkiness in the world!

And so here I am – older, wrinklier, happier, bolshier, and fully aware that I don’t know much at all. Now that’s what I call progress!

I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences with this, so let’s talk! Tell me: what did you used to believe, back when you knew everything?

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