Sunday, September 18, 2016

Peeling off the Labels

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I am not a runner.  At least that's what I've always thought about myself. I am not athletic. The only "sport" I ever really was decent at was water-skiing, but if you don't live on a lake and own a ski boat, it's not exactly an activity that you can do every day.  I walk and do the yoga thing. I bike a little bit, but I wanted to up my cardiovascular activity, and running seemed like the quickest way to improve my fitness level and also to quickly get those steps in each day that my FitBit tracks for me.  So I decided to try running a little every day. I figured it would probably take me a few weeks of trying before I could even run a mile. After all, I'm a little bit broken, right? For heavens sake, I'm in cancer treatment. How could I possibly run a mile yet?

I started by running a block and then walking a block and just alternating back and forth a few times.  I did that for a couple of days. And then, on the third day, I wasn't really paying that much attention, and I realized I was still running into the second block. And when I finished those two blocks, I realized I was working hard, but not so hard that I needed to stop. And then I just kept going until I found I had reached that one mile mark. Once I stopped listening to the voice in my head that was telling me how hard it would be to run a mile, I found I could actually do that mile without too much difficulty. By disregarding that label of "broken" that I had given myself, I found that the label was false. All those other labels, that I am not a runner, that I am not athletic, they are false too.  When my mind stopped telling my body what it couldn't do, it did just fine.

We assign labels to ourselves and to others all the time.  We define ourselves by our jobs, by our friends, by our beliefs, and by so many other ways.  I am a mother. I am a bad cook. I'm an extrovert. I am smart. I am not that smart. I'm great at math. I'm terrible with numbers. I am fat. I am not lucky. I am a liberal. I am a conservative. I am a cat person. I am a dog person. I am this. I am not that.  But when we start to label ourselves, we start to believe that is who we are.  We start to give the label more power than it deserves. In fact, if someone tries to take that label away from us or assigns us one that we don't like, we can even feel like we are worthless or that we have failed in some way.

I think we all know we should never read online comments, but sometimes curiosity takes over. It can be so discouraging, can't it? There is so much anger and judgement of each other. So many labels are being assigned. People do it in person, of course, but it seems to be even more prevalent with the relative anonymity of the internet.  Total strangers call one another fools, morons, evil, idiots, bitches, and much worse. It doesn't seem to matter if it's politics or if it's a book review or even a recipe suggestion. We don't understand why this stupid person who believes something different can't see how stupid they are being. And it gets us nowhere. We just end up feeling upset. We feel fear and anger over the things being said. And we don't just feel it in the mind. We can feel it in our bodies as we tense up and feel the emotion rippling through. Our bodies are always listening. Even if we don't believe we are stupid, having somebody label us as stupid gets under our skin.

Of course, none of those labels are really who we are. Labels are transient things. We can change our names. We could change jobs. I can change my hair color or my weight. I can change my religion or my political persuasion. I can change my opinion. I can change my mind. I will still be the same person. I am not really any of those labels.

What it we all stopped labeling ourselves?  What if we all stopped labeling each other?  How much more peace would we all have? We have so much unhappiness because of labels, because of our thoughts. But thoughts aren't true. They are just thoughts. Labels aren't true. They are just labels. Just words. We endow the thought with the power of reality, but a thought is not real. It's just a bunch of electric chemical impulses that happen in our brain. We lie awake at night because of thoughts. We yell at each other because of thoughts. We suffer because of thoughts.

Our bodies hear all of these thoughts and respond.  I am old. I am ugly. I am weak. I am lazy. I am fat. I am angry. I am tired. I am sick. We use these words, these labels, against ourselves, and our bodies listen and respond accordingly.

I have labeled myself as a cancer patient. I have given this label a lot of power, and I know I have let it take over my thoughts frequently. What if I stopped thinking of myself as a cancer patient? What if I stop thinking about what might happen and just live in the moment? What if I peel off the cancer label. How will my body respond?

Have you ever seen a flower that you didn't know the name of? You didn't need to know it's name to appreciate it's beauty. You could just appreciate that it was there. When we see beyond those labels, beyond the symbols we assign to things, we can discover the beautiful presence that is simply there. We are not labels. We are not thoughts. We are simply here, and we are beautiful.

What if we all peel away all the labels that we use to define ourselves? Who is underneath those labels? That's who we really are.

Let's peel off those labels.

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