Old wounds, lightly salted

My co-workers always invite me to join them for lunch, but when I go, they ignore me. They don’t ask me questions or elicit my opinion like they do for everyone else in the group. It’s like I’m not there until the check comes and they ask for my share of the bill and tip. I feel like I would be better off not going with them, but I think it will create problems in the office, because they are kind of snotty at times and will probably gossip about me if I’m not there. What do you think I should do?

Stop waiting for a fairy godmother to shine a spotlight on you and for all heads to swivel in your direction, eagerly anticipating your words. You know you belong. The invitation to lunch tells you so. You’re just not chief in the tribe. The hierarchy is less important than what your passive pouting points to: a need to heal. It’s difficult to plow ahead in life when burdened by the fear of being invisible. Now hear this: Those feelings tendril back toward much older, and probably more painful, experiences. Feeling ignored allows you to rub salt in one of your childhood wounds. Sometimes you use these luncheons to justify feeling bad about who you are.

Most workplaces operate according to primitive emotions and unconscious motivations (haven’t you ever watched Mad Men?). A workplace, like a family or a committed relationship, becomes a container to hold all that we are. Yes, that means the public masks slip and the messy parts of our personalities are easily observable. The delicious part is this: Often others see more about us than we ourselves see or are willing to see. The more controlling you are, the more this truth fits your reality.

If you want to grow, don’t expect your lunch mates to change. Transform yourself, instead. Actively choose to remain conscious during lunch by maintaining an inner dialogue and noticing your feelings. Begin by allowing yourself to feel gratitude, in every cell of your body, for being included with the group. Do this every time the infernal internal dialogue arises about being unimportant. Excavate other times in your personal history and examine other areas of your life to determine how often you have felt ignored. Then acknowledge all of the times in your life that you have used invisibility to your advantage. (Ooh, did you just have an aha moment? I thought so!) When you learn how to control your superpowers, rather than trying to control the behavior of the people around you, the prize will be a free lunch (free from mental and emotional drama, that is). In the meantime, for homework, read the Tao Te Ching (translation by Stephen Mitchell) to gain comfort in harmoniously being with “what is” happening around you.

After 30 years together, my partner died, and I just don’t feeling like living. Please help.

It feels unbearable to lose someone with whom we have shared so much of ourselves and from whom we have received so much love. I want you to remember, however, that it is bearable, and embracing that reality is not being disloyal to your partner. To live in the world as a man changed by love is to thrive with a heart that has much to give and to receive. Sadness has a limit, but your capacity for love is infinite. I know that these words are like fireflies in the darkness of your grief, but focus on the light. When the deep night slips away, you will be grateful to be alive. A psychotherapist or spiritual director can guide you.

Meditation of the Week

“Whichever superhero first came up with the idea of wearing a cape, he wasn’t really onto anything good. The number of times … I throw a punch and it ends up covering my whole head … it’s really not practical,” said Christian Bale about playing Batman. What behavior do you insist on keeping even though it’s impractical?