Examined Life

Examined Life: Love and the lost art of friendship

Photo by Linda Castleson

EXAMINED LIFE We all know when it’s here. The chocolate hearts, the smell of cut flowers, the pink and red greeting cards and stickers and advertisements promoting dinner specials, couples massages, and just about anything that can, in any way, be connected to Eros. Modern culture (and capitalism) has gone off and running with this annual celebration of romance, which likely originated in a barbaric Ancient Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia before catapulting into commercial popularity (via Hallmark) a couple thousand years later. Today, Americans collectively spend close to 20 million dollars celebrating the Love Holiday, which makes some of us happy and some of us sad and some of us wondering if there might not be a better use for the 20 mil. But there is one thing on which we can all agree: Everyone knows what’s up on February 14.

And we’ve always known. Since we were young, we’ve learned that romantic love is the pinnacle of social experience—that you’re incomplete without your prince/princess/better half/missing piece. But the anecdotal suffering that this fairytale perpetuates for the partner-less, along with current sociological research, suggests we’re placing too much emphasis on romantic love—and not enough on friendship. The dollars tell the same story. Americans spend money on the things they care about, and we’re not spending millions of dollars to celebrate our pals each year.

Deep social connections have always been important. Historically, our species lived in tribes, and becoming disconnected from the tribe could result in your demise. In spiritual practice, close community has always been valued strongly. In Buddhism, the sangha (or community of practitioners) is considered to be just as important as the teachings. Today, studies show that social integration is one of the most important factors for a healthy and satisfying life, for both single and married folks. And we also know that a lack of solid friendships increases the risk of depression and suicide. Remember when Elvis sang, “I’m so lonely, I could die”? It wasn’t hyperbole. For many people, loneliness and isolation can quickly devolve into a precarious life-or-death situation.

Light social connections, of course, are easy to have. Personally, I have 1,134 friends. On Facebook. You may have less or, if you’re more of an extrovert than I am, you might have a great many more. But of those gobs of likers and political-posters and joke-makers and meme-sharers, how many of those friends are really … friends? That’s not to say acquaintances aren’t important. We benefit from having good coworkers, fun activity partners, and friendly neighbors; these connections contribute to the fabric of our interconnected lives.

Real friendships, however, are different. Like marriage, real friendship is a contract. You may not sign an actual paper (or have to pay lawyer fees if the friendship doesn’t last), but we’d be a better functioning society if we took our friendships more to heart. And friendship has been a lost art for some time. CS Lewis was bemoaning the devaluation of friendship in his 1960 tome The Four Loves, way before social media, quite literally, changed the definition of the word “friend.”

So, what is a real friend? It may sound hard to quantify, but here are five basic principles to embody—and look for—in a true friendship.

  1. Dependability and kindness Yes, this is number one because it’s that important. Good friends show up for one another in a consistent, open-hearted way. They stay in touch and check in if they haven’t heard from the other person in a while. They’re happy to sacrifice their own personal comfort to care for one another in a time of need. They return calls and messages quickly, and show up to—or inquire about—important events. They feel comfortable asking for reasonable favors. They care deeply and are present in one another’s lives.

  2. Authenticity and devotion You want to be able to be yourself around a real friend, and vice versa. That means sticking it out through hard times. A real friend won’t break the friendship contract because the other person is suddenly depressed or ill or acting neurotic. A real friend stays the course. There’s a positive-thinking theory that says we should only have successful friends who challenge us to grow, but guess what? Depressed friends challenge us to grow, too! From a Buddhist perspective, having friends who are experiencing success will teach you to have mudita or sympathetic joy; caring for friends who are going through a hard time will teach you karuna or compassion. Also: Studies show that positive thinking is more contagious than negative thinking in friend circles. If you’re in a good place in your life, consider it an honor to be there for a stressed-out friend, and lift them up. (Of course, if a friend is no longer dependable or kind, that’s a different story, and you may have to reevaluate the connection.)

  3. Evolution Friendship, like any important relationship, presents an avenue for developing oneself. That development might be emotional, creative, physical, or intellectual, but the sign of a true friendship is that you are evolving within it.

  4. Dedication despite romantic relationships Even if you are in a secure relationship with a wonderful partner who fills all the roles of best friend, lover, and advisor, you still need friends. For one, studies show it’s good for your marriage to have friends! Plus, there are people out there who need you. Friendship is an essential way of contributing to the world in which we exist. And if you’re newly in a relationship, remember: Your friends still need to feel needed. So, even if your partner shows up for all the trials and tribulations in your life, ask your old friend to show up, too. And return the favor whenever possible.

  5. Shared value of friendship In order to have strong friendships, both people must value the sanctity of friendship. You may think you do, but there’s likely one item on this list you could work on—and probably one you’d like a friend to work on. If both of you value friendship, you can have a conversation about your friendship contract and work together to strengthen it.

If you’re feeling lonely and isolated, it may very well be that your real friend ability and/or your real friend supply is depleted. Check in with yourself and ask if you’ve been showing up in the way you value. Then, write down the names of the people closest to you, and consider the above list. How do they fare?

Oftentimes a friendship is failing because the two friends no longer have the same friendship needs. Having unavailable friends can be worse than having no friends at all—and take a toll on your self-worth. If you feel like you’re showing up more than your buddy, you’d do well to have a talk; if that’s not successful, consider moving away from the friendship—or at least, holding it with less importance—to make space for another committed friend to come into your life. Everyone should have at least five real friends (near or afar) who are willing to invest in the connection, and if you’re spending a lot of time hurting over an unavailable or unkind friend, you’re missing out on time that could be spent investing in a new, more available friend.

Many friendships will come and go over time. Just because you and a friend are in a deep friendship for part of your life doesn’t mean it will last forever. But with care and commitment, some friendships can last a long time, even a lifetime. And on Valentine’s Day, that’s just as worthy of attention as a capitalist version of Lupercalia.

Examined Life: New Year’s resolutions … good practice or delusion?

Photo by Karen Macklin

Welcome to Examined Life, our new column that explores the intersection between politics, culture, and living mindfully in the Bay Area and beyond. 

EXAMINED LIFE No one knows exactly how long the concept of a New Year’s resolution has been around but evidence suggests the Babylonians, some 4,000 years ago, made annual resolution-like promises to the gods that they would clean up their acts in the year to come. Of course they wanted to clean up their acts—we all do. We all want this year to be the year we finally get out of debt, improve our health, get married (or leave the disappointing person we’re married to), have more sex (or less sex with the wrong people), eat fewer cookies, start the great American novel, or learn to paint/play foosball/play paintball.

Generally speaking, the resolutions people make at the beginning of the year are good, even if often self-centered. Sociopaths aside, we all have the same basic desires: safety, peace, and contentment. But instead of practicing feeling safe, peaceful, and content, we instead go after external goals that we believe—and often without evidence—will lead us to feel safe, peaceful, and content.

It usually doesn’t work. For one, our resolutions usually ask us to accomplish a large and significant thing, often without a realistic game plan, and without taking into consideration the conditions that have made this goal to date unachievable or the myriad of unpredictable obstacles that will arise in the yet unrehearsed year to come.

But let’s say you do actually “manifest” the thing you want—which means you applied some effort and external conditions (i.e., environment, societal privilege, upbringing, luck) were agreeable to your cause. You can be sure that, after you nail that resolution, another desire will immediately become apparent. I know people of all walks of life who have set intentions for the new year and, after dedication and hard work, achieved them only to realize that a) they didn’t actually want that thing, b) that entree came with unappetizing side dishes and/or c) that thing was awesome for a minute—or maybe even a year—but did not (surprise!) bring everlasting fulfilment or protection from suffering.

This incurable dissatisfaction you have with your life is not your fault—it’s part of your organism. You are wired with a nervous system that tells part of your brain to always be on the lookout for danger (i.e. finding a new problem once you solve the old problem). As such, there is a 100 percent chance that—even if you quit smoking, drop 50 pounds, stop recycling your exes, start practicing yoga, make gobs of money, or finally delete your Facebook profile—you will still find issues with your existence that need fixing. Your life will still be hard. You will still, at times, be lonely. You will still fluctuate between a desire for more stability and more freedom. You will still be afraid to die.

Does that mean we should just give up? Are resolutions a waste of time? Should we should just sit back, drink a bacon milkshake, and go through the motions as we pollute our bodies, the airwaves, and the planet with toxicity of every possible type? No, people. It’s a good thing to want to be better, do better, and, especially, create a more sustainable, kinder world. And the somewhat arbitrary marker of January 1 (no offense, Gregorians) is as good a time as any to take stock of your life.

Making resolutions (or intentions, as yogis and meditators like to call them) is not the problem. The problem is the type of resolutions we make and the unrealistic results we expect from them.

To start, we make grand resolutions. That’s because we don’t think that attempting to change small, unskillful habits or unhealthy mind states are resolutions worthy of a place on our annual New Year, New You Bucket List. But creating small skillful habits of healthfulness, cleanliness, and kindness have more impact on our daily well-being and are more likely to train the very circuitry of our brain that gives us any agency at all over our larger life situation.

On top of this, we subconsciously expect that if only we can achieve this one thing, our lives will fall into place. But the truth is that if we achieve this one thing, we have simply … achieved this one thing. The other areas of our life will still be whatever they are, and in flux regardless. If we want truly to be happy, we have to do more than achieve resolutions. We have to come to understand the part of us that wants, and will always keep wanting, no matter how much we have. We have to love that part. And we also have to see just how silly it is.

For a moment, pretend you are a cute little kitten. Now think of your ultimate happiness, the future result of getting all the things you want, as a laser beam cat toy. As the light keeps changing place and direction, you chase it all around. But even when you put your paw on it, it cannot be caught. That’s because, little kitten, it’s not even a thing. It’s just a light. There is nothing to catch. When you realize this, you will eventually get bored of the laser, which has no real promise, and start looking around at what’s actually in front of you. And life will suddenly get a lot more interesting.

During the last week of 2017, I set out on a solo road trip from Miami to Birmingham to see some friends, visit a retreat center, and get some reprieve from the cool Bay Area winter. I was met with a number of disappointments, including car rental troubles, poor GPS mapping, a bizarre cold front in the south, and the news of a cat-sitter gone MIA. In the planning of the trip, I never would have imagined standing in a two-hour queue to retrieve my car in Miami, driving through frigid rain in Central Florida, or having to secure a locksmith while in Alabama to break into my San Francisco apartment so my cat could be rescued from uncertain conditions one day before NYE.

And yet, each time I experienced some setback in my travels (and they frustrated me, for sure), if I stayed open, some unexpected delight eventually appeared. In fact, some of the best memories from the trip—swimming with manatees in Crystal River, attending a dharma talk with Michael Singer in the forests of Alachua, and running around laughing in below-freezing weather in Birmingham with a dear friend on New Year’s Eve—were unplanned, indirect results of not getting what I wanted.

So, I ask this question to you, to me, and to the aforementioned laser-obsessed kitten: What if we really never will get all the things we want? What if we won’t even get half of them, even the ones we think we REALLY want? Sometimes this feels like a scary thought, life being short and all. We want the things we want. And yet, if we sit with the unavoidable truth of this, some relief begins to arise. If the dangling carrot of ideal conditions is only an illusion, we can stop postponing our lives until the imagined day that every single thing lines up perfectly. We can resolve to open to the wildness of our lives, and travel through the unexpected detours with curiosity and wonder. We can live our lives in present moments … and not simply in future resolutions.


An Intention-Setting Short List

Instead of making your usual resolutions this year, consider doing just these 5 things.

  1. Clean up your relationships. Take responsibility for your shortcomings. Replace resentment for others’ shortcomings with an understanding that “failed” relationships are simply the result of two people having differing needs in any given moment of time. Recommit to the healthy relationships. Let go of the unhealthy ones or, at least, let go of your unmet expectations around them. You’ll be amazed at how much space this opens up in your mind and heart.

  2. Create intentions around ways you want to feel, instead of things you want to accomplish. For instance, instead of resolving to get a higher paying job, which may or may not be in your control, spend time contemplating, journaling about, or meditating on the quality of abundance. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still send out applications and go on interviews; it just means you’re not leaving the possibility to feel abundant in the hands of unpredictable conditions. (It also means you’ll show up to the interviews more confident and less desperate.)

  3. Start a daily gratitude practice. Yawn, I know. But this is brain training of the highest order. At the same time each day, write down a few things you feel grateful for. If gratitude feels hard to muster, use the word appreciation. If that feels difficult still, simply write down anything you received over the course of the day, as minor as it may be. (A funny text from a friend; a smooch from the dog.) Noting what we presently have, even as those things change daily, tames the ever-wanting part of us and strengthens the part of the brain that experiences contentment.

  4. Create a new skillful habit (or two). It can seem tempting to go big or go home. But grand or nonspecific resolutions don’t usually bring real transformation to our lives. Instead of resolving to be neater, consider starting a practice of making your bed each day, the moment you get out of it. Instead of resolving to start meditating daily for a half hour, consider doing it for three minutes right before breakfast. Small, specific resolutions like this—which are linked to things you’re already doing—have a higher success rate and have a positive effect on every day of your life. Check out Stanford researcher BJ Fogg’s new Tiny Habits program for more support.

  5. Stay open. Be less attached to a specific outcome and more available to what life serves up. Some of the best things that happen to all of us are a result of not getting what we wanted.

Examined Life: Reclaiming sacred spaces in the Digital Age

Welcome to Examined Life, our new column that explores the intersection between politics, culture, and living mindfully in the Bay Area and beyond. 

EXAMINED LIFE Do you remember the last time you stepped out into nature or simply had a moment of silence to reflect on what it means to be alive? First, you felt this all-encompassing awe and wonder. Then, the sobering recognition that this feeling is the exception, not the rule, in our daily lives. That’s because we have all lost our minds. Of course, humans have been losing their minds since forever. The problem is that we’ve now lost the places to which we once went to recollect them. We’ve lost our sacred spaces.

Sacred spaces are places where we go to be alone with our thoughts and feelings, and contemplate the wonder of existence; spaces where we gather with other human beings to revel in artistic expression or natural beauty; spaces where we break bread together, and gather to share our troubles and delights. The hiking trail, the dinner table, the arts venue, and the road trip—places that were once sacred—are all abuzz today with texting, checking in, and posting.

I hiked a volcano in Hawaii this year and had reception in the crater. Every time I go to a local live music venue, half the crowd is viewing the show through small rectangular screens. Recently, I attended a silent meditation retreat where I was surprised to see that many participants, once careful to leave their electronics at home or in the car, now had to be coerced by staff to surrender their devices in a bizarre faux-spiritual ritual. Just five years ago, I’d walk into the room to teach a yoga class in San Francisco, and the students would be on their yoga mats, quietly waiting for class to start. They still are, but now they’re on their yoga mats checking Facebook. 

As individuals, we’re not to blame. The human mind is fragile and easily misdirected by shiny, alluring, temporarily pleasurable distractions. Our devices have been engineered to fit the bill perfectly. Basically, we’re addicted—and we all know it. (Bay Area musician Cello Joe even wrote a hilarious song about it.) But what does this addiction mean, for our minds and for the future? 

Addiction, as you know, is a relationship with an activity or substance that we can’t break without serious difficulty. But though addiction is hard to end, it begins quite simply: We experience a very human feeling of discomfort—like loneliness, anxiety, or run-of-the-mill ennui—and we reach for some kind of balm or distraction. When we’re in an emotionally healthy space, we may self-soothe with community, nature, art, or exercise. Or, if we practice mindfulness, we may learn to tolerate the discomfort without reaching for anything. But if our nervous systems are taxed or we don’t have immediate access to healthy emotional relief, we reach for a quick fix. Dopamine. 

Dopamine is a happy-feeling neurotransmitter that is awesome at taking our minds off our present heartbreak or existential crisis du jour. This chemical is necessary for our brains, and is released during profound and deeply rewarding experiences through a slow and steady pathway. However, it is also released in intense and short-lasting bursts during activities or substances that offer immediate gratification. When we receive dopamine as this quick fix, we come down hard and fast, and then feel agitated until we get more. Over time, as a result of these repeated quick bursts, we desensitize to dopamine and need more and more of it to feel good—or even normal.

This is how major addictions like alcohol or gambling get going. But it also explains why, according to a recent study by a research company Dscout, the average person engages with their smart phone 2,600 times a day. While obsessive emailing and googling won’t ruin our lives the way heroin will, the addictive mechanism is similar. Our brains have been hijacked by a cyclic chemical process of which we are not in control; in essence, we have lost our minds.

In addition to temporarily hijacking our minds, another unfortunate result of this process is that, over time, it changes the brain and distorts our memory. The result: We literally forget other less immediately intense, but more meaningful and lasting, ways to access pleasure. So, we’re not intentionally disregarding those sacred spaces we once had. We’ve actually forgotten the point of them. In our inebriated states, we can’t see any reason to protect them. 

But it’s essential that we do. 

Smart phone addiction poses a very special kind of problem for those affected (i.e., most of us) because device abstinence is simply not an option for most people. Our phone, as you’ve likely noticed, is not just a phone—it’s our whole life in digital form, and it’s very hard to logistically do without. According to a recent study by Hackermoon, only about 50 percent of phone time is used for texts and calls. The rest of the time, we do questionably useful things (like watch videos, engage with social media, and play games), as well as essential and practical things (like get directions, send emails, track our bank accounts, pull up our boarding passes, and even, ironically, meditate). For the first time in history, all of the facets of our entire lives—the necessary along with the potentially addictive—are completely interwoven. So, while you might nobly desire to curb your dopamine-spiking social media-posting habit, you still need to use your calendar. Since it’s all in one place, it’s nearly impossible to visit the calendar without also visiting social media. And then you’re back in the loop of distraction.

There’s really only one antidote to this insanity, and that is the practice of discernment. This is the art of intentional choice-making, and it has played a major role in every great social and spiritual movement since the dawn of time. To practice discernment, we have to orient not to the short-term pleasure an activity might yield but instead to the long-term more profound benefits of any given action. Healthful eating over ice cream, the fragile life of the planet over quick financial gains, our long-term relationships over short-lived affairs: These are all acts of intentionality, not impulse. In this way, discernment is at odds with addiction because it is less about an immediate dopamine reward, and more about living a meaningful life. 

The practice of discernment is essential to protect our sacred spaces, which are, in turn, the best places to develop deeper discernment because we can notice, in those spaces, how awesome it feels to be free. Quiet, tech-free spaces give us access to the most essential parts of ourselves; if we lose these spaces forever, we’ll eventually forget what it is that we have lost, and thus have no hope of recovering it. We must establish times and places where we simply turn off technology (both the useful and the pleasure-seeking aspects). Think of it as rehab or detox for your mind. And if that doesn’t sound attractive, think of it as a time to dream and engage again with wonder and the infinitesimal space of consciousness that is your birthright. 

Our lives are deeply interconnected, which means we are all responsible for creating these spaces together, whether it’s the dinner table, the retreat center, the basketball court, or the yoga studio. Create social contracts with friends, family, and colleagues to put technology aside for a meal, a meeting, or the whole weekend. Make the bold choice to leave your house without your phone when you’re walking your dog or going food shopping, and just be present to the mundane miracle of existence. Invest in a cheap flip phone (I have one for just this reason) that can be your emergency contact number, so you’ll have no excuse not to turn off your smart phone at night, at meals, or on your days off. Most importantly: When you make the choice to power down, notice how empowering it feels; the imprint of that feeling will encourage you to develop more discernment.

And remember that sacred space is not only an external construct. The space of your own mind is also sacred, and—with some effort—can be maintained even when we do use technology. This takes a different type of discernment. It means that each time you reach for the phone, you pause for a moment and check in to see if you actually need it. If you do, stay focused on that purpose and don’t allow yourself to be pulled into another app or screen. And if you don’t, consider reaching for something else. Like a feeling of freedom. Like the understanding that it’s okay to be exactly as you are in this moment—lonely, anxious, fatigued—without checking out in the digital abyss. Reach for space, itself, and then abide within it. In moments like these, saying no to technology is saying yes to your relationship with all things sacred, including yourself.

Examined Life: The subtle power of ‘me too’

Welcome to Examined Life, our new column that explores the intersection between politics, culture, and living mindfully in the Bay Area and beyond. 

EXAMINED LIFE It seems like every day another wealthy, powerful man is in the headlines for harassing or straight-up assaulting multiple women, each scandal seemingly larger than the last. To male onlookers, it might seem like there’s been some weird upsurge in sexual violence perpetrated towards women in recent years. But women know that’s not the case. This stuff has been going on forever. The only difference is that now women—at least some of them—have enough power to report it and be taken seriously. On the one hand, we should be celebrating the little victories, like outing people like Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein. On the other hand, it feels like we’re slowly moving a huge boulder of silence and shame, and the result is an unearthing of millions of cockroaches. It’s gross and uncomfortable to watch it all.

Like many people, when I logged in to Facebook last Sunday, expecting the usual baby announcements and vacation photos, my feed was full of posts—by women I knew well, women I didn’t know well, and women I barely knew—all writing #metoo as their status. Some left it at just that, others created a visual meme, and others recounted disturbing stories of sexual harassment and assault. It took a moment to understand what was happening. Then, I felt a growing ache and rage inside. Was it possible that nearly every woman I know has been harassed or assaulted?

Emboldened by the bravery I was witnessing, I posted my own Me Too, sharing the multiple experiences of groping, objectification, stalking, and harassment to which I was prey both as an adolescent in New York and later as a grown woman in San Francisco. While it felt liberating at first to share my story, I soon became overwhelmed by the vulnerability of the action, the memories of the experiences, and some of the responses I was seeing (both to my post and elsewhere). The next day, I chose to delete it. I’m glad I shared it, but I couldn’t keep looking at it. And that means it still has a pull on me. It has a pull on all of us.

Me Too didn’t start as a hashtag. Social justice activist Tarana Burke got the idea for the movement in the mid1990s when she was a youth camp director in Brooklyn. After finding herself speechless upon hearing a camper’s horrific story of abuse, she realized that it was important for her to find a better way to connect with abuse survivors. This revelation led to her starting a movement in 2007 called Me Too, primarily focused on communities of color, in which survivors connected with one another through empathy.

This movement was recently amplified when, on October 15th, actress Alyssa Milano posted on Facebook a request that women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted write “Me Too” as a social media status. Within 24 hours, women chimed in from the US to Latin America to Pakistan. For about 48 hours, it was hard to see anything on social media but thousands upon thousands of Me Toos.

And then it all disappeared. In part, that’s a good thing—no sane woman can look at this stuff every day and keep on keeping on. But we should also be concerned. These stories are people’s traumas, and the first step to healing trauma is for the survivor to feel valued and heard, preferably for longer than a 24-hour news cycle.

Also somewhat concerning is that not everyone fully understood the point of Me Too. Many people were incredibly supportive, but some remarks from other women, while well-intentioned, missed the mark:
a) Why are we making this about women? Men are responsible for this behavior. They should be posting apologies rather than us outing ourselves!
b) Why are we saying all men are evil? Some men are great, like my husband and brother, for instance. #besthusband
c) Why are we bringing negativity into our lives? Let’s think positive, ladies!
d) This never happened to me but so sorry it’s happened to so many people. [sad face]

Here’s why these responses aren’t helpful:
a) Me Too is an empowering movement for survivors. Yes, it’s important that men, as a group, stand up and show support for the expression of these stories. But blaming and shaming men is not the point of Me Too. Absolving women from shame is.
b) Me Too is not saying that all men are evil. It’s not even saying that all abusers are evil. It is saying, however, that we live in a culture where objectification and assault are still widely acceptable. When you turn this issue into a platform to talk about your wonderful relationship, you lessen the healing power of Me Too.
c) Telling a trauma survivor to stop trippin’ on her trauma and get it together is an unskillful and potentially triggering response. Me Too is about being honored for your story, not criticized or minimized for it.
d) Cool, glad you’ve been one of the fortunate few who’s never been harassed or pawed, but voicing that in this context is Me Neither, not Me Too. (Also, it’s pity, which is not empowering.)

Me Too is about being heard and seen, believed, and supported. Much of that support comes from empathy. Empathy creates community. Community creates numbers. And numbers create organization and change. For many of the millions of women who posted Me Too, it was the first time they admitted that someone copped a feel, asked for a sexual favor, rubbed a penis up against them in a store, made an inappropriate comment about their body, or assaulted them on a date. That admission is a huge step and the most empowering immediate response, as Burke points out, is empathy from fellow survivors. The second most empowering response is a commitment from men to deepen their comprehension and re-attunement. (And I have seen a lot of just that, which is encouraging and moving.)

As a teacher in the yoga and mindfulness community in San Francisco, I am asked by women who are just starting to tell their stories of gender-based oppression and abuse how to reconcile this owning of their pasts with contemplative practice. They are pointing to an understanding of the Eastern religions that we are not our stories, that our stories are merely an aspect of ego mind, and that to be liberated, we must let go of our stories. And, sure, technically that’s true. But for most people, you have to come to terms with your past before you can release it. You can’t root out the cockroaches if you don’t unearth them—though they will be there regardless.

For most people, there’s not some super highway of enlightenment that takes you from trauma to nirvana overnight. You can’t transcend the self if you have a fractured sense of self in the first place. The work for many women (and all abuse survivors) is to develop that healthy sense of self, to learn how to love all of you, even your wounded parts. We need to tell our stories until we no longer need to tell our stories, and that will be when we feel fully heard.

I think of every brave woman who posted a Me Too story, most of them probably sitting alone at their computers, typing their heartbreak and fury onto a screen, desiring to be held by community and released from shame. In a recent tweet, Burke wrote that the Me Too movement was intended “to not only show the world how widespread and pervasive sexual violence is, but also to let other survivors know they are not alone.” She went on to call it “empowerment through empathy.” In other words, the empathy is part of the action. And it’s a part we can own. It reminds us we are in this together, and that makes it a superpower. I believe you. I see you. Me too.