The Descent

when does routine
become a restraint
a heavy weight around your ankle
dangling over the balustrade

no prison more insidious
than the bars built up in our minds
silently erecting new walls each day
to box us into smaller and smaller spaces

somedays it's a revelation
to realize I'm the warden
that these limitations
have been self imposed

the power of self-possession
is a perplexing puzzle to ponder
the overwhelming responsibility
of deciding my own destiny

the never ending balancing act
between benefit and burden
mind numbing monotony
and clumsy chaos

learning to trust
those internal cues
telling you it's time
for change

instead of stuffing myself
into stifling rituals that no longer serve me 
resisting the endless cycle
of inner evolution

it's so scary to let go
of what's carried you this far
even once you begin
to drown

it's so tempting
to keep pretending
that perfection can be reached
if you keep pushing

I'm still learning how
to leave the sinking ship
before it hits
rock bottom

to take notice of the decent
and bravely face the bitter cold
of unknown waters
once again 

Cycles

My sorrow comes in cycles
waxing and waning with the moon
regular intervals of lapping tides
frigid dark waters against a jagged shore

long desolate seasons of solitude
convince me that joy was never mine
the cosmos close in around me
a heavy weight upon my sunken chest

when the sun finally emerges on the other side
of that cruel and endless winter wasteland
happiness breaks over my heart
like a revelation

my sleeping soul cracks open
shivering with delight in the warm heavy air
finally freed from its cramped cocoon
to absorb the majesty of the world reborn

open and unafraid, buoyantly held above
the stark reality of the season past
the second side of my dual nature
shaking off the bizarre burden I've been carrying

why was I so sad before?
what was it that I'd been pained by?
now suffering seems so far away
was it ever here at all?

I don't recognize myself
as I look back through the snow
and the aching, bony trees
caught in the swift, sharp wind

the summer beckons me forward
into a bright mirage of green
where nothing can cause me harm
where this time the cycle has surely stopped

each moment maintains its own eternity
forever paralyzed in each part of the pattern
immovable sadness giving way to boundless joy
always and again

Examining Limiting Beliefs

It’s taken me a long time to even recognize the things I say about myself are not objectively true, rather self-perceptions. Even with this realization, it can still be hard to challenge these beliefs. Most of them I have carried with me for as long as I can remember. That’s part of the reason why they feel so true and unchangeable. Today I wanted to list out a few of these limiting beliefs I have about myself and break them down in the hopes that I may begin to see them in a different light.

My Limiting Beliefs:

  1. I am easily overwhelmed.
  2. I am flaky/unreliable.
  3. I am unworthy.
  4. I am broken.
  5. I have poor communication skills.
  6. I’m a bad person.
  7. I am incapable of making decisions.
  8. I am easily angered/upset.

Reframing:

I am easily overwhelmed:

I think it’s important for me to preface this by acknowledging that reframing limiting beliefs does not have to mean that I completely deny these felt characteristics. I don’t have to reframe this to be the exact opposite (I am not easily overwhelmed.) I don’t believe that would serve me either. It needs to be a little more creative and nuanced than that. Rather than feeling badly about being “easily overwhelmed” I may start to view this quality a bit differently. Maybe it’s not that I’m easily overwhelmed, but that I am sensitive and feel things deeply. This isn’t necessarily a different thing, but for me, it’s a more positive and pleasant way to regard myself. One framing feels like a deficit, a weakness, while the other feels like a strength.

I am flaky/unreliable:

I might reframe this narrative to something like: I am spontaneous and ever changing. The first statement makes me feel guilty, but the second phrasing allows me to feel good about myself. There is nothing wrong with being spontaneous. It’s good to constantly shift and reevaluate and go with the flow from one moment to the next. There are definitely benefits to being consistent and commitment oriented, but there are also benefits of handling life differently.

I am unworthy:

This one if very hard for me to grapple with. I can’t recall when exactly I made this determination about myself. I feel this thought lingering over me always. It really inhibits my ability to flourish in life. You can’t enjoy the good things that happen to you or all that you have to be grateful for when you feel unworthy of it. This one might be best reframed as: The good things I have in life inspire me to be better every day. My passion and effort to improve are what count.

I am broken:

This one has also been with me for as long as I can remember. I catch my inner voice repeating questions like why am I like this? or why can’t I be normal? all the time. In some ways, I think this belief stems from my sense of awkwardness and social isolation as an autistic woman. I see my differences and label myself “broken” because of them. But different does not mean broken. I am unique. Differences and diversity make the world a fuller, more interesting place.

I have poor communication skills:

Unlike a lot of the other beliefs I hold about myself, I don’t think I began verbalizing this one until recently. I was often frustrated by interpersonal relationships, but didn’t really understand why they always seemed to go wrong. I think the main cause of my “poor communication” is fear. Therefore, I’d like to change this one to: It’s okay to speak from the heart even if it sounds awkward or embarrassing. I am practicing and improving my ability to connect with others every day.

I’m a bad person:

This one, although I do feel it, I imagine would shock a lot of people. I recognize that they are lots of people that are doing worse things than me, but that does not change the way I perceive myself. I have very high standards for myself and the people in my life. I also struggle with black and white thinking. These two factors lead me to view myself as wildly imperfect and therefore “bad.” What’s more interesting is the fact that I am ascribing this label to myself based more on my inner thoughts than my actions. Even though I don’t often act from anger or jealousy or greed, I know that I feel these emotions often and judge myself for it. However, thoughts are not crimes. Immorality is based on action, not emotions. And doing a few bad things or making the wrong decision from time to time does not make me view anyone else as a “bad person” so why should I apply different standards to myself? I am doing my best. Imperfect does not equal bad.

I am incapable of making decisions:

This belief tends to hold me back a lot in life as well. We are presented with decisions every day, and I make each one of them more stressful than they need to be by berating myself with the belief I am incapable of making them. Rather than thinking of this as a negative, I can see this as another strength. I am a careful, thoughtful, and considerate person. I like to analyze every decision thoroughly before taking action.

I am easily angered/upset:

There are positives and negatives of everything in life. Sure, I might feel anger more easily than other people, but on the other hand, I am a very passionate person. My passion is something I really value about myself. Getting angry is just a sign that I care. It’s how I respond to and deal with those difficult emotions that matters.


The next time I catch myself mindlessly repeating these familiar self-judgements, I hope that I can remember that there are other ways to view these aspects of myself. Things don’t always have to be true or false. There are so many different ways to view the same situations, circumstances, and aspects of ourselves. It will be hard at first. I’ve believed these things without question for my entire life. I won’t be able to let them go in an instant. But with persistence and practice, it will get easier.

Impermanence

When I look around at the civilization that we have built as humans, I see it crumbling. I see abandoned buildings retaken by the earth, vines weaving in and out of windows and door frames, mossy, earth eaten walls. I see cracked and distorted highways and crumbling sidewalks. I look within my own home and I see the small consequences of daily life chipping away at tabletops and wallpaper. I see clogged pipes and burnt out bulbs. The constant repairs, the consistent yet futile attempts to prolong the inevitable. The frustrating struggle to keep an impermanent structure, permanent.

These are the most important differences between what mother earth has created and what we have. Nothing is wasted or caving in on itself in nature. The earth moves as a single organism absorbing the old to give birth to new systems and structures in a beautiful ever changing cycle. I can remember having a morbid thought once as a child as I looked out the car window over the acres and acres of headstones on the hillside. Won’t all the land be graveyards eventually? While I no longer think we will allow cemeteries to cover the earth, I do think I was on to something. The earth does slowly become more and more of a human wasteland every day. As we rapidly consume and discard, our garbage remains and multiplies. Even our homes are reclaimed by nature in time.

Impermanence is something that we have all but disregarded as a species. It is something I personally struggle with everyday. We want things to remain the same, to remain constant and predictable. Still our best efforts lead only to stagnation and slow decay. We are unwilling or unable to accept that nothing lasts forever. Instead of learning how to better situate ourselves within this system, we have endeavored to resist it. It’s an endless source of anxiety for me to know one day I’ll have to buy another new laptop, new clothes, new shoes, new windows and shingles. To clean off the kitchen counter every single day, to vacuum the house knowing tomorrow it will be covered in cat fur yet again. The ultimate decay and transformation of death is perhaps what I’m truly fearing, what we are all desperately trying to avoid and deny by our unmoving creations.

Our efforts to ignore and avoid life’s natural cycle of death, also prevent us from experiencing the beauty of growth and rebirth. Impermanence isn’t only something that exists outside of us in the physical world. Our spiritual selves, our mental and emotional needs, are also subject to constant change. I have a tendency to hold on to my habits and routines until long after they have stopped serving me. I lament to think about the fact that I’ll need to keep tweaking and adjusting my behavior as my inner and outer worlds endlessly change. How can we ever expect to accept the natural cycles of nature, when we cannot even accept our own inner cycles?

When I come up with a new productive habit or self-care routine I am usually delighted and fully satisfied by it for a few months. Each time I think to myself, “Aha! I’ve finally found it. This is the thing I’ve been looking for to make me feel happy and help me grow.” I’ll cling to this “perfect formula” I’ve discovered even once it no longer brings me the same peace and joy. I berate myself for once again growing distracted and disinterested, instead of adjusting or coming up with a new habit that better serves the new me that is ever emerging. It feels overwhelming to even consider constantly having to contemplate and concoct new systems within my own life. Yet I don’t know exactly what it is I’m imagining my time would be better spent on. What could be more important and fulfilling than learning to read and respect my own inner journey and tend to my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs? In some ways, that’s what this life is all about.

We plan and construct our lives and our world with the unspoken assumption that things will remain constant. We’ve never learned how to shape our aspirations and intentions to be flexible and temporary. We are a rigid and unrelenting species. I personally am no different. Even so, I hope that I can learn to practice, allow, and accept impermanence in the world, in my life, and within myself. We can never hope to overcome or resist this ever changing system we are a part of, attempting to do so only leads to frustration, disappointment, and ruin. We are numbing ourselves to the beauty and potential that will inevitably emerge from the ashes we are so desperate to prevent.

DEATH/REBIRTH | Poets

Mother Earth’s Last Gasp

Nature is truly remarkable in its ability to adapt to ever changing conditions. Not only do individual species evolve, but the whole earth seems to shift and grow as time marches on to accommodate new creatures and circumstances and keep everything relatively stable. For a long time now it has seemed that human beings are some kind of wild aberration of nature, something that mother earth has no hope of adjusting to fast enough for our existence to be sustainable. Every now and then I’ll see something that gives me some form of dark hope for our planet though, some otherwise strange development in nature that no one seems able to explain. Just when I think mother earth has finally succumb to our brutality and greed, she surprises me with another clever innovation to overcome our destruction.

A few years ago on the news there was a lot of talk about a new species of tick. Apparently people who were bitten by this tick didn’t contract lyme disease or anything serious. No, this tick did something much more innocuous, yet important. It made its victims allergic to meat. I don’t recall how common this tick was or where about in the world it was located, but I remember at the time half-heartedly joking about procuring one of these little buggers to breed and systematically unleash on the world. If people couldn’t make the choice to go vegan to save the animals, themselves, and the planet, I would work hand in hand with mother earth to force them to. And I would have felt completely justified in doing so. Eating meat is one of those tricky “personal choices” that isn’t so personal when you realize the effect on others. It might be your choice to litter or pollute the water supply, but I doubt anyone would try to defend that as a right. (Even though pig farming is one of the biggest polluters of water ways.) But I digress.

I waited to see if anything would come of this miraculous little tick, but soon this news story faded into the background like so many others with little impact. Just yesterday though it occurred to me that mother earth may have a new trick up her sleeve with Covid-19. Ticks may not be capable of spreading around the globe very quickly, but a virus certainly can, especially this one. From the moment this pandemic started, I felt in my heart that it was nature’s immune system trying to rid it of another virus, us. Still, it made me wonder. After all, Covid is deadly, but not nearly as deadly as other illnesses that have sprung up in the past. No, it seemed as though Covid’s goal wasn’t explicitly to kill, but to spread quickly and over great distances.

One of the more peculiar symptoms of this virus has been the loss of taste and smell, particularly in that these senses often do not return after recovering from the virus. I recalled my coworker saying it wouldn’t be all bad to lose his taste. At least then he would be able to eat healthy with no qualms. I absentmindedly thought to myself, well maybe he’d even go vegan. (Not that vegan foods are not exceptionally delish, mind you. Meat eaters just assume they aren’t.) At this, I nearly jumped out of my chair at the poetic justice of it all. NO TASTE! THAT’S IT!

All of a sudden it felt as though I could hear the earth saying: Oh, fucking taste is the reason you continue to kill me? That stupid sensory pleasure is your excuse for slaughtering and consuming billions of animals every year, wasting my resources, and poisoning my environment? haha bacon tho? How about never tasting anything again? Maybe that will suit you better. If that’s what it takes to make you finally stop this madness.

One of the most frustrating parts of being a vegan is presenting all the important, essential reasons we must, as a species, change our diet if we hope to survive, and the unspeakable atrocities we commit every day by eating animals, only to be met with the counter argument, “but I like how meat and dairy taste.” It is absolutely infuriating and exasperating. It’d be like if we actively helped start and spread wildfires because “ooo, pretty.” It’s fucking stupid.

I am far too cynical to believe that the human race collectively losing its sense of taste would actually make people stop eating and abusing sentient beings. I am still curious to see what effect this will have on the human diet. It would be nice to imagine that with every last one of their already idiotic and irrelevant excuses gone, people would make the easy and obvious choice to adopt a vegan diet, but I have little hope of that happening. I’m sure everyone will just come up with some other illogical reason to continue on just as they are. Still it gives me hope to think that all is not lost. Mother earth hasn’t surrendered just yet. She is testing out new strategies all the time. Unfortunately we seem committed to forcing her hand and giving the unspoken ultimatum “kill us all or we will kill ourselves and everything there is.” I sincerely hope it does not come to that, but I’m not holding my breath for humans to change.

Mother Earth Posters | Fine Art America

Get Excited About Being Kind to Yourself

A few days ago, I woke up feeling sluggish and sick. My stomach was tight. I felt queasy. I wanted to throw up. This is not the first time I’ve woken up in this awful condition. In fact it’s been happening more and more frequently in the last few months. It was getting to the point that I would worry as I went to bed whether or not I’d have to push through this discomfort as I got ready for work the next morning.

It wasn’t as though I didn’t know why this was happening. The discomfort I was experiencing was indigestion from stuffing my face immediately before falling asleep. I knew that this wasn’t in my own best interest for many reasons apart from the physical symptoms I would occasionally experience the following morning. I was becoming particularly worried about this unfortunate habit after learning more about my gut microbiome and the fact that the body is not intended to be digesting food while we sleep.

For some reason, on this particular occasion I finally decided enough was enough. I was going to make sure that I showed myself the respect and kindness I deserved. No more waking up sick when I was able to prevent it. It certainly wasn’t worth it. I didn’t even get much enjoyment out of my little late night mini binges. It was just a habit that formed in the aftermath of the uglier stages of my eating disorder. Perhaps a necessary stepping-stone at one time, but now I was ready to do better.

Part of me is always extremely fearful when I set an intention to alter my eating habits. The whole topic is tinged with toxic thoughts for me. Yet this time it felt slightly different. This was perhaps one of the only times that I was changing my eating habits for my own wellbeing, not as a weight loss tactic. I really tried to steer clear of thoughts about this causing me to eat less or lose weight from not eating so late at night. I reminded myself that these things were not important to me. This change was about being kind to myself, not “self improvement.”

With this loving kindness in my heart, I have been following through with my new goal for the past few days. To my surprise, it has been a lot easier than I anticipated. It has even helped me get back into mindful eating again. Food is not a reward, nor is withholding it a punishment. Eating is just a normal part of my day, something natural that helps me make my body and mind a more comfortable place to be, like going to the bathroom.

The best part of this change in my routine, apart from feeling light and energized when I wake up, is all the extra time it allows me to have in the evening. Now instead of spending the whole day looking forward to a meal, I look forward to my cozy, contented, full bellied self-care afterward. My favorite part of the last few days has been making a cup of tea, smoking a bong, and reading a book as I cuddle up with my furry babies in my extra comfy Christmas hygeekrog. I can’t imagine anything more pleasant, except perhaps sharing this space with my partner as well.

The best way to make new healthy habits is to focus on the real reason that we want to change. Even if our goal was weight loss, behind that goal is still the thought that this will make us happy. So skip the middle man and just make the goal being happy right from the start. And what is the surest way to make ourselves happy? It certainly isn’t making strict rules and beating ourselves up for not meeting our own expectations. All we need to do to make ourselves happy is to act from a place of love and compassion, to offer ourselves unconditional acceptance, love, and forgiveness. With this driving us, any new habit can become something we look forward to rather than something that causes us grief.

A Letter to My Teenage Self

Dear Teenage Me,

Who you are right now matters. I know you’re unhappy a lot, but I promise you one day you’ll look back on this time with tenderness and nostalgia. It might feel like your life is going to be like this forever, but it’s not, so try to appreciate it for what it is right now. The world may seem confusing and cruel, but that doesn’t mean that you are broken or not made for it. You’re just young. Be gentle with yourself once in a while. You have plenty of time to figure things out.

As you search for meaning and an identity, you are going to fall into some dark places. But you will learn invaluable things there. You’ll gain some great clothing, music tastes, and memories along the way, and that pain that led you there will grow lighter with time. You’ve been so incredibly fortunate in this life. You’ve found some truly amazing friends that will carry you through the hard moments you’ll face.

Even though you have begun to identify with the darkest parts of yourself, it’s going to be okay. Right now it feels right to hold onto this self-defeating attitude. There is a pleasure in your sense of isolation and depression. You’ve found your place for now, even if it’s not a very positive one. It’s still your place and it’s okay to cherish it.

One day, right when you feel your lowest, like you’ve lost all hope of changing direction, you are going to learn something that changes everything. You are going to learn that your perspective and mindset are not set in stone now that you’re a young adult. You’ll be given the greatest gift, the knowledge that you can still change, that you can still decide to be whoever you want. And despite all the pain you’ve been through, despite how scary it is to let go of the identity you’ve clung to for so long, you are going to set off into those uncharted waters.

You are going to be given so many more life-changing chances. More than you could imagine or hope to deserve. The universe will guide you towards yoga, meditation, self-care, and healing. You’ll find a new identity, a new community, a new resilience and passion within yourself. You are going to have to be brave, and you will be. One day you’ll even be brave enough to fight for those who are vulnerable. You’ll find new purpose in fighting for the animals, the children, and all the other voiceless innocents that are suffering in silence. You’re going to find out who you really are, who you can still strive to be. And even though it may seem impossible right now, you are going to love her. You will love yourself one day, and it will be the greatest gift you’ve ever received. After all your hopeless searching, you’ll discover that your own compassion, understanding, and acceptance is what will safe you.

With that new heart, filled with loving kindness, the kind that only comes from filling your own cup, you will find forgiveness and love for others as well. You will repair your relationship with your mother, that you once so carelessly tried to throw away. You will hold within you a deep well of gratitude for the fact that she would not let you, that she stayed with you through it all.

You are going to be so happy and proud of yourself someday, not despite what you are going through right now, but because of it. One day you will be grateful for all the pain and tough lessons you’re still learning. This suffering will have given you the chance to be strong. And even though you don’t love yourself right now, even though you’re filled with self-hatred, I still love you. I am rooting for you. I know you’re going to be amazing. You already are.

Love,

Your Future Self

A Letter To My Younger Self. Dear Younger me, | by Lilia Donawa | Medium

Resolution Reluctance

Despite my many flaws, I do have at least one thing going for me: consistency. Since I was probably around 18 I have always had the same lofty goals laid out at the beginning of the new year. I suppose even earlier than that I was fond of including “losing weight” on that list. I have a lot of nostalgia tied to that idea of weight loss. It was always exciting to start out on a new path with high hopes of finally achieving my “dream body,” even though it usually ended in devastation, self-hatred, and disappointment. Yet now, having recently pulled myself out of a debilitating eating disorder, I am at a bit of a loss as to what goals to set for myself.

As soon as I sit down to contemplate what I’d like to improve on, the first things that immediately pop up are diet, exercise, and weight loss. While the wording of these goals is no where near as toxic and self-shaming as they used to be, I still worry they are unhealthy. Even when I feel like I have the best intentions and am coming from a self-loving, health conscious mindset, I fear that subconsciously there may be something more sinister at play. It honestly feels like I have a mild form of PTSD from what I’ve made myself go through with food. Now even my goal of switching back to black coffee so I stop using artificial sweeteners sparks fear. Any mild analysis or consideration of my eating or exercise habits has become a huge stressor for me.

Trying to set new goals for myself has really emphasized just how much my life has been centered around food for basically as long as I can remember. Now my only options seem to be feeding my negative body image with unhealthy expectations or utterly disregarding the idea of physical health and nutrition. Both seem like terrifying extremes, but I don’t know how to find a healthy middle ground. Even setting small reasonable goals makes me fearful I’ll end up taking it too far or start paying too much attention to my appearance again.

The holidays (especially this year, having gone to TWO immaculate vegan Thanksgiving feasts) has not been very helpful. Although I am quite proud of myself for not even entertaining the idea of throwing it all up, despite being so stuffed I felt like I was going to die on Thursday. Even so, looking back on all of the bread, pastries, and wine I’ve had has me feeling puffy and grotesque. I’m trying really hard not to care. Still I can’t seem to shake this gnawing sensation of dread from creeping in again and again.

I have been wanting to deepen my yoga practice, particularly regarding the philosophy, and I’m hoping that will help me overcome this dilemma. While brahmacharya is traditionally interpreted to mean sexual abstinence, in my yoga teacher training we used it to mean moderation. While I struggle with most if not all of the yamas and niyamas in yoga, brahmacharya is a particular challenge to me. I believe total abstinence of something is easier than practicing balance and moderation. I find it far easier to never eat potato chips or cookies than to have just a few. Despite the deliciousness and various health benefits of nuts, I absolutely never buy them because the serving size is so ridiculously small. For this reason, I usually don’t even keep snacking foods around my house. If I’m going to eat them, I’m going to eat them all, and anything less almost doesn’t seem worth the effort.

I am hopeful that altering my eating habits through the guidance of my spiritual practice will help me maintain mentally healthy expectations and intentions. And I suppose I have good cause to believe this may be true. Practicing mindful eating for at least one meal a day has helped me foster a much better relationship with food and the hunger/satiety signals my body sends me. Unfortunately I’ve fallen out of eating everything mindfully simply because I so enjoy that cozy, brain dead state of watching Netflix while simultaneously stuffing my face. That has been a cherished eating tradition since watching TV from my childhood dining room table.

I suppose like most things, navigating this delicate situation is going to require a lot of trial and error. For now, I am going to do my best to stay mindful and not be too hard on myself for the hiccups and stumbles I encounter along the way. If anyone reading this is struggling in the same way or perhaps has had experience with this issue in the past, I would love to hear any suggestions you may have to offer.

What Is Your Ideal Weight for Your Height?

Humility and Shame

How to Deal With Shame

Humility is generally viewed as a good quality. Without it, the most incredible people can become narcissistic and unpleasant to be around. Shame is a bit different. It’s not thought of in a positive light. The mere word brings up feelings of discomfort and maybe even a vague memory of a time when you felt shame in your own life. However, at least in my experience, suddenly encountering a shameful moment is what deflates my ego enough to allow me to find humility again.

Shame is a very interesting emotion. It is definitely one of my least favorite. It cuts deep and leaves lasting scars. But I think that this is because shame may have developed as a means for us to make sure we don’t become separated or exiled from our herd. Shame is generally something that we feel when we are behaving in a way, or doing an act we wouldn’t want others to see or even know about. It’s an important inner valve to help us determine what will cause friction or change the way others in our group view us. Which, in the past, it could have meant a death sentence if we were cast out.

There have been many times in my life where I can recall a jolt of shame immediately redirecting me towards humility and self-reflection when moments before I had been boisterous with an overly-inflated ego. There is nothing wrong with being proud or confident, but sometimes it can get a bit out of hand and start to tip over into conceit. That’s when shame can really come in handy to help us check ourselves before we get out of control.

I had a particularly shame-filled encounter yesterday evening. I won’t go into detail, but I’ve been internally cringing ever since. Part of me still wants to jump out of my skin and pretend it never happened. In the past this would have sent me on a downward spiral of destruction. (Sometimes I go a bit past “humility” and into the realm of self-hatred.) This time, I refused to close my heart to myself and to the world just because I’ve made some big mistakes. Instead of turning away, I’ve been examining what happened more closely. I’ve been asking myself: What has this incident taught me? Is there something to be grateful for in even the most painful, embarrassing moments?

Though it still makes my insides contract whenever my mind glides over the memory, I’m actually glad that it happened the way it did. For one thing, it certainly could have been much worse. Simple embarrassment was a small price to pay considering all the possible alternatives. I’m also glad it happened because it shook me out of my stupor. It quelled my growing rage and judgement of others and deflated my foolish ego. If given the choice I’d pick humility over hubris every time.

Instead of my normal, borderline road rage on my drive home that evening, I drove slowly, mindfully, with grace and compassion for all my fellow humans on the highway. A humble heart is quick to kindness. It’s much easier to hold space for the errors of others when you’ve just been reminded of your own shortcomings in such a direct way. Being embarrassed is a reminder that we all make mistakes. It offers insight into our hopes of how others would respond to those mistakes we make and, in turn, makes us more willing to offer that same understanding to those around us.

Shame is also often the catalyst for a much needed change of direction. There is a small thrill in getting away with a shameful act, and the more often this happens the bolder and more obnoxious we become. Being found out is often necessary before we can really recognize the need for change. And yesterday was definitely a blessing in disguise for me. It was a huge wake up call. It was the kick in the pants I’ve been needing for awhile now. So even though it stung and continues to sting, I’m grateful. In fact I hope that memory brands my soul for years to come as a reminder of who I truly want to be. Shame shows us when we’re not being that version of ourselves.

Now, none of this is to say that shame necessitates some kind of personal change. There are plenty of examples of society teaching us to be ashamed of things that we shouldn’t be ashamed of. For instance, LGBTQ people may feel shame for simply being themselves. Promiscuity in women is often shamed. Victims of violent crimes are even shamed. And there are many more examples of unwarranted shame that is not a call for inner change or redemption. Deep down I believe we are able to decipher the difference. If you’re unsure, as long as you’re not hurting anyone or betraying your own sense or morality, then any shame felt is a challenge to overcome within ourselves, not a call to change.

Humility and shame are a beautiful example of the duality of our experiences in this life. It shows us that even in our darkest moments, there is something to be grateful for. As someone who is a deep lover of learning, I can’t deny that pain is often our greatest teacher. And I’m so thankful that the lesson wasn’t harder. I’m going to make sure that I take it to heart so I don’t have to be taught this lesson a second time. I know that I have been acting against my own interests for many years now. I thank the universe for offering me this opportunity for insight and redirection. I will not waste it.

The History of Humans

I am easily frustrated by the many ways in which corporations and governments take advantage of average people. Advertisements sicken me. The stagnant low wages fill me with rage and resentment. The broken healthcare system in the United States is an abomination. Racism, sexism, and bigotry seem to be everywhere I look. Hypocrisy, idiocy, selfishness, etc. No matter what I shift my focus toward, I can find something unjust about the systems that support it. It can become overwhelming to be confronted by such obvious inequality and corruption every day.

While I’m not suggesting we merely accept these injustices, I am starting to realize that while things are not perfect by any means, they are a hell of a lot better than they have been in the majority of human history. I’ve been reading A Tale of Two Cities for the first time, and it is really highlighting this fact for me. Set in the 1700s the story is filled with tragic images of starving peasants and monstrous upper class tyrants. In one scene there is even a child that is run over in the street by a wealthy man’s carriage. While the father of the child is hysterical, no one seems surprised or even outraged. This is simply the treatment they’ve come to expect. The rich man feels no remorse and is actually irritated that he had to stop his carriage at all. He callously throws a coin at the dead boy’s father as if that is any type of compensation for the life of his son.

While I know this is a fictional story, I also know that it is an accurate reflection of the way things used to be. It’s a delicate line to walk between gratitude and the passionate urge to do better as a society. Of course, I’m not saying that the suffering of the lower and middle classes today don’t matter. There are real, egregious issues with our current system, but comparatively the most unfortunate among us still have it better than the majority of the population throughout history. And while that doesn’t erase our current problems, it is still something to reflect on and be grateful for.

Things are far from perfect, but I’m quite surprised and pleased by how far we’ve managed to come as a society. It really puts into perspective just how lucky I am that my biggest irritation from day to day is something as frivolous as advertisements on billboards along the highway. Oh, how the characters in that story would envy me, would quite literally kill to be in my shoes.

I’m working on finding that middle ground between gratitude and fighting for further social justice. Allowing my anger and indignation to obstruct my perspective isn’t serving anyone, least of all myself. Instead of coming from the hateful, entitled space I’m used to, I want to fight for what I believe in while also being thankful for what I do have. I want to make my voice heard, but within the context of hope and the belief that we truly can do better for ourselves and our community, rather than from a context of disgust and disappointment.

There are a lot of similarities between the elites of the past and the present, but as for the peasants and paupers (the group I would have found myself in) we have made monumental improvements. As with most things, I hold extremely high standards for my fellow humans. But placing today’s society in developed countries within the context of the societies of the past, shows that while humans are not what I hope for them to be, they could certainly be a hell of a lot worse.

What an absolute miracle it is that someone like me even has the opportunity to make a difference and have my voice heard. Some may have it better than I do, but to just imagine the luxuries I am able to take for granted is staggering. Glancing back at where we’ve come from, it’s honestly surprising we were ever able to improve things so much. There is a certain beauty and hope in that realization.

Despite my near constant complaining, at the end of the day, I am overwhelmingly grateful for the life that I have been given. Even with all the issues we are faced with today, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. I am so fortunate. And I’d like to spend more of my energy enjoying and appreciating that fact even as I advocate for us to do even better for the many, many people who are less fortunate.

Peasants in an Interior, 1661 - Adriaen van Ostade - WikiArt.org