Emily Howlett: Mindfulness and Deaf identity

Posted on March 11, 2015

I’ve been involved with a few things recently that have really got me thinking about me. Not in a me-me-me selfish way, I hasten to add… But, then again, would it be so bad if it was in a selfish way? Is there never a time when being selfish might, actually, be… ok?

One of the things that have got me “going all hippy” as a close, but idiotic, friend said, is becoming more involved with Mindfulness.

A while ago, the ever-wonderful Rebecca Withey wrote about Mindfulness for the Chicken (you can read her article here), and her enthusiasm caught my attention immediately. Then, as ever, something happened involving jam, and then life got in the way, and before I knew it I’d never managed to find the time to look any deeper into it.

Well, not so long ago I decided to rectify that. And, although my journey is just beginning (I’m pretty much still hovering inside the front door), I can tell I am going to really enjoy learning to be present, taking control of my own thoughts and, most of all, learning to be kind to myself.

Mindfulness practice is not as scary or time-consuming as I thought. You can literally go as slow or fast as you like; paddle in the ripples or dive into the waves.

Even at a basic level, Mindfulness allows us to see our thoughts for what they are; just thoughts that we can choose whether or not to follow and act on. It allows us to see our prejudices and habits, and consciously break them if we want to.

It allows us to take responsibility for how we respond to the behaviour of others and the world around us, rather than thinking we have no control over how these things make us feel. Mindfulness allows us to be compassionate and kind… Eventually. I hope.

You see, being kind to myself is not something I am naturally good at, believe it or not. It feels unnecessary and weak. It feels selfish. It feels indulgent in a world that doesn’t really appreciate indulgence of the spirit.

The world is busy and full of things that demand attention, situations that expect things from us which we can’t necessarily give, and people who wish we were just a little bit different. Or not so different.

Essentially, this world does not encourage us to be kind to ourselves. It encourages us to push and pull and never be satisfied. To always be available, and never to say ‘no’. Often, the world persuades us to lose sight of who we really are so that we can ‘fit in’.

This is just one example, but I know from experience how hard it can be to wear a Deaf identity proudly among hearing people, and also sometimes within the Deaf community.

It’s very easy to say, “Oh, I’ll let that slide this time. I won’t say what I really think. I’ll laugh at a joke about me that I actually find offensive. I won’t ask anyone to repeat what they said because I missed it. I’ll fit in.”

Every time we force ourselves to ‘fit in’ we make a cut into our true selves. The cut might be tiny, or very deep. It might leave only a faint scar, or it might become infected.

And, whatever size they are, these cuts add up until the collective pain of them is constant. At which point we try to ease the hurt by changing even more, or putting up defensive walls, or trying to find some other way of escaping the fact that we aren’t actually being kind to ourselves.

And, of course, the result of all this turmoil is that we start to become the things we are trying so desperately to avoid. Because we are deceiving ourselves, we start to see deception all around us.

Because we feel negative, we throw that out into the world and then feel surprised and validated when it is mirrored back at us.

This usually means we either try harder to fit in, or give up entirely and become aggressively disappointed, both of which only serve to strengthen the discord.

To keep going with my previous example; you can’t change people’s attitudes towards your deafness if you use it as a weapon. You can’t change people’s view of you by still only showing them that same view.

Sometimes, all it takes to start getting back on track is taking a moment to be kind to yourself. To say, “Ok, that hasn’t’ gone well, but it’s what I do now that’s important.” To acknowledge that you aren’t your thoughts, and you don’t have to act any way you don’t choose to.

So, I’m learning that being kind to myself is not a bad thing. Yes, it is selfish; but that’s ok. It’s ok to say, “I am Deaf, and I don’t want to use your language instead of mine,” just as it’s ok to say, “I am tired, and I don’t want to go out tonight.”

Because, ultimately, being selfish can become the least selfish thing you might do; once you are honest and kind to yourself, you are more likely to be honest and kind to others.

The world has a tendency to teach us that, if we just change this a bit, and don’t say what we really think right there, and maybe accept that thing instead of fighting it, eventually we will attract the attention of someone who will make us feel good about being who we are. This is bulldust. Come on, you don’t need Mindfuness to know that.

The thing you might need Mindfulness for is this; realising that, if you’re happy with who you are, you don’t have to change one bit for anyone or anything. You’ve already got the someone who will make you happy being you.

It’s you, of course. Don’t change yourself or your identity for anyone else. And if you want do want to change, don’t let anyone else stop you

Now, bring me some jam. Kindly. Me-me-me.

Emily Howlett is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. Emily is co-director of PAD Productions and makes an awful lot of tea. And mess. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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