fixation and focus are very different things fixation festers and ferments multiplies and consumes the subject grows until it suffocates focus is freedom from distraction submerged in the present moment the soft flow of inspiration over a thirsty soul finally silencing all inner doubt there is no comparison between the two though they seem so similar at first glance one state we chase the other chases us
silencing the inner chatter to hear the soft hum of celestial wisdom lifting myself above the tumultuous tides of my own mistaken mind finding stillness in the radio static of consciousness to tune in to the salient source of everything surrendering the obsession for contemplating complex patterns in favor of opening to the energy trying to be channeled in life's challenge is a sweet irony a call to remember what we are amidst the chaos of time and space to pause long enough to transcend them humbling ourselves to the unknowable truth to trust in forces we cannot control to be guided by an unseen hand down a foggy, confused path learning to mirror the beauty of faith reflected back in the eyes of the innocent by the joyous confidence of children and small beings with blindly open hearts our trust will not be betrayed only the temptation to doubt will mislead us even so we are never lost only learning new lessons
Every being on this earth is truly unique. No two people think, feel, or experience the world the same. Therefore it stands to reason that each person in the world also has something unique to offer, whether that be in the smaller scale of people in their lives, or society at large. Each form of giving is equally valuable and fulfilling. I think it comes naturally for us to want to give back to our family, friends, and community. There is an inherent satisfaction in being helpful to other beings. Giving of ourselves is not the hard part. The hard part is knowing what our own special offering is.
Creativity and inspiration come from the deeply held belief that we have something worthwhile to offer to the universe. Artists can often feel compelled beyond all reason to express this powerful urge from within. Even in my darkest hours, a part of my intensified creative energy in this state is a deep longing to reach out and share my personal suffering with others. The idea that my suffering could be a comfort to someone else or an acknowledgment that they are not alone, that someone else understands, is a beautiful driving force.
I think one of the many reasons I’ve been feeling so stuck and unmotivated is that deep down, I really don’t believe that I have anything worthwhile to give. This feeling hanging in the background of all I do makes me want to be as small as possible. I shrink away from the world, trying to get out of everyone’s way. The bitter taste of conceit turns my stomach when I contemplate creative efforts. Who am I to create? Who am I to take up space? Lately everything I do, everything I am, feels like an affront to the world rather than a gift. I am filled with shame by the perceived presumption that what I say, do, feel, or create should or even could matter to anyone else.
Somehow I’ve always been able to hold two contradictory believes in my heart simultaneously: Everyone matters. I do not matter. Everyone has a unique and valuable gift to offer. I have nothing to offer. Everyone deserves to be loved. I do not deserve love. Even though logically I realize both of these statements cannot be true, that doesn’t seem to affect my conviction toward either one.
Perhaps I still just haven’t determined what my unique gift is. Despite all of my varied talents and skills, there are always a lot of people that out perform me in any arena. Once again, I would never proclaim that you have to be “the best” at something in order for your work to be worthwhile, somehow I hold myself to a very different and unrealistic standard. Maybe it would behoove me to get some outside perspectives on this matter. I wonder what those closest to me would say is my special gift. What is my unique value in this world? What I am able to offer in a way that no one else can?
Then again, despite the value you perceive personally, there is beauty in the idea of giving regardless of the “worth” of whatever that may be. Sometimes it is even more moving when someone with little or nothing of value shares the small amount they do have. Part of me believes that it is only our role to give, not to determine the value of that gift. After all we can never truly tell how something may affect or benefit another person. It’s the thought that counts, right?
I may never be able to determine for what reason I matter in this world. But I have faith that there is a reason for all of this despite my limited ability to understand. Maybe it’s not my place to know but to learn how to continue being without that knowing. Maybe it’s my place to give what I have and not worry about whether or not anyone else “wants” it. It’s the intention that matters. It’s the energy behind our actions that determine their worth, not the physical manifestation of those actions. No matter what I have, I can choose to give it with love, and that’s more than enough. And if others happen to think it’s not enough, that is their obstacle to overcome, not mine.
For months now every time I sit down to write, I am overcome with a deep piercing pang of unworthiness. I heard someone say the other day that creating starts with believing that you have something worth sharing. This struck a chord within me. Maybe once I felt I had valuable input, interesting concepts to put forth into the world, but now? Now I feel empty. The longer I spend trying to come up with an idea, the worse I feel about myself as a writer, as a person.
Again and again this idea has been reinforced. I have nothing worth sharing. I’m embarrassed by the assumption that I might. I feel ashamed of the blank page in front of me, reminding me that I’m not enough. That blinking black line on an ocean of white is agonizing. What could be more painful than plumbing the depths of your soul and finding nothing?
This intense internal pressure never reaches a breaking point. There is no release from this ever tightening grip of anguish. Why does this vague desire to pour out my soul in colorful, living form not subside? When I try to pin down the essence of that longed for expression, there is nothing but smoke and shadow. There is nothing but a looming sense of emptiness, dusty bare walls of an empty room.
Yoga is a mirror to all of life. All of our habits, thought patterns, personal beliefs, and doubts can be discovered and analyzed on the mat. One thing you may have heard before if you’ve taken a yoga class is the phrase “your personal edge.” This is referring to pushing yourself not into any particular shape or variation of a pose, but just to where you feel yourself reaching the edge of your body’s ability. More specifically the edge is right where you feel challenged, but not any pain or severe discomfort in your body. Finding that edge is a practice in itself. There are many challenges to keep us from recognizing it. Our ego may want us to go beyond that edge, to show off, or prove something. Our self-doubt and fear may want us to hold back and never meet that edge to ensure we don’t fall or fail or whatever other story it might be used to telling us.
A lot of people, myself included, spend a lot of their yogic journey, trying to master advanced poses as if checking them off some kind of yogi achievement list, or attempting to fill up a well of pride inside. Especially now, when we have all seen the impressive feats yoga can train the body to perform on Instagram, YouTube, or somewhere else online, it’s easy to forget that these physical forms are not the purpose of yoga. These magnificent, beautiful shows of flexibility, balance, and strength are a byproduct of showing up every day and meeting your personal edge. I’m sure the first yogis had no idea that the body would even be capable of these asanas in the beginning, they revealed themselves to be possible little by little as these seasoned practitioners slowly followed that ever moving edge.
At the same time, meeting your personal edge isn’t necessarily about “improving” yourself either. All of these outward results of doing so are just distractions and illusions. The real benefit of playing with that edge is what it feels like when you’re doing it. In yoga, as in life, if we push ourselves too far we become frustrated and disheartened. But if we never challenge ourselves, we will become bored and stagnant. Sometimes even after we’ve learned these lessons on our mat, it can take years for us to make the transition off the mat and into our everyday lives.
I’ve always had a hard time finding a healthy middle ground, in yoga and in life. I used to push my body a little too hard in my practice, aggressively forcing it into every more strenuous postures, occasionally even resulting in injury. Then I pulled back. For awhile, this was a welcomed relief from high expectations and pressure to outperform myself every day. However, now it has transformed more into a fear of testing my limits at all, in favor of easier, yet perfectly executed poses. I have this same problem in every aspect of my life. I seem to be in a state of constant fluctuation between frustration and boredom. I push too hard and feel awful when I inevitably fail or burn myself out. Then I pull back so much that I become bored and disinterested all together.
Watching “Is It Cake?” on Netflix the other night, I was in awe of the way these pastry chefs believed in themselves. I could not even fathom what gave them the courage to try things that I would have immediately written off as impossible or at the very least, far beyond my ability. I see so many people doing this every day. People starting businesses, creating their own products, writing books, etc. I envy their self confidence and bravery. At the same time, they’ve taught me that rather than lack of ability or external circumstances, I am what’s holding me back from achieving my own personal successes.
I worry so much about what the final steps will be and my perceived inability to reach them that I never give myself permission to start where I am and focus on the first step. I become so obsessed with the end goal, that I forget to enjoy the process. In life, as in yoga, the true reward is not the final product, it is the blissful focus and moments of flow that we experience along the way when we are teasing the limits of our own ability.
I’ve been waiting for something to come along and shake me out of this directionless boredom I’ve been stuck in for so long now, forgetting that I have the power to push past this whenever I want. Because I never feel “ready”, my growth is usually the result of unforeseen circumstances forcing me to go outside of my comfort zone. I think I comfort myself with the idea that “I didn’t choose this. I never said/believed I could do this. So if I fail, it’s not my fault.” In reality, I’m just afraid of my own ego. I’m afraid that if I believe in myself, if I try to do something great and discover that I can’t, then it will reaffirm my own self-doubts and cause me to face the tongue lashing of my own inner critic. Somehow it feels safer to expect to fail. Then if I do, at least I can say I was right all along. Ensuring that, if nothing else, I’m at least still smart.
Even though this is the way I feel, it sounds utterly ridiculous to read this rationalization back to myself. Yoga has also taught me to set intentions and use them as an anchor. For so long now, my unconscious intention has been “avoid looking like a fool.” Totally losing sight of my aspirations and goals, not even considering what exactly a “fool” looks like. When I really think about it, I wouldn’t call someone who tries to achieve something great and fails a fool. It’s far more foolish to live your whole life clipping your own wings in an attempt to save face.
As I move forward with this knew wisdom, I want to remember that I get to set the intention. It doesn’t have to be something so concrete as “publish a book.” An intention can be something like “to be curious” or “to search for my personal edge.” This leaves a lot of room for exploration, surprising ourselves, and unexpected forms of success that may not look like what we thought they would. When I become frustrated, it’s usually a sign that I’ve gotten distracted and lost sight of my true intention. All I need to do is slow down and remember what I really wanted out of this experience and letting go of what my ego tells me success looks like. Really success doesn’t look like anything. It is not a physical manifestation, it is a feeling. Something that comes about it all sorts of unique ways. Something we are all capable of experiencing.
Imposter Syndrome is a phrase that I’ve been hearing about a lot lately. Essentially, it is a term that means feeling like you are a fraud, that you aren’t as good, talented, smart, etc. as others think you are, that you are undeserving of the success you’ve achieved in life. I think we can all relate to feeling this way from time to time. It’s hard to decipher whether or not I have this particular syndrome though. Especially when the google definition specifies it disproportionately affects high achieving people. Part of me wants to believe that this is a reason it may apply to me, but at the same time, do I consider myself a high-achieving person? That’s debatable. Would anyone really suffering from imposter syndrome consider themselves high-achieving?
The definitions I read don’t quite fit what I’m experiencing. It’s not that I feel I haven’t earned the position I have at work or awards I’ve won, etc. (There aren’t many.) I feel more afraid to pursue different interests or projects because I don’t feel like I’m “good enough.” Writing for this blog is actually a perfect example. I often feel guilty writing about yoga, mindfulness, gratitude, and self-improvement, which are the topics I primarily want to write about. As I write, however, I am filled with hesitation and self-doubt.
Who am I to preach to anyone else about these things? Even though I fully believe in the mindset and habits that I offer for others to practice, I am still not able to fully embody those values myself. I worry that by even discussing these topics I am misrepresenting myself to the people that read my blog. It makes me feel dirty and dishonest.
Somehow I’ve managed to push through that self-doubt here. I continue to write despite feeling like I should make myself perfect before opening my mouth and giving advice to others. I know that no matter how much I work on myself, I am never going to feel good enough, so fuck it. I’m not claiming to be an expert or that anyone should pay attention to the things I write. I have to remind myself of that fact often.
This mindset of self-doubt has kept me from pursing a lot of different projects in the past though. Whenever I would contemplate making a YouTube channel, for example. Or when I’ve considered trying to write a book, make a website, or start a podcast. I shoot myself down before I even get a chance to begin. I feel unworthy of the attention and potential praise these goals might bring me before I’ve even gotten them. I also tend to minimize anything I am really good at. If something comes easily to me or if I excel at a particular task, I insist that is just because it IS easy. I don’t feel I should get credit for doing something so simple, even if it’s not simple for most people.
I wanted to go to yoga teacher training for at least a year before I actually worked up the courage to do it. Even then it was only because a friend from work was going to the training. I knew my practice was more advanced than hers, so for the first time I thought that maybe I was ready to become a teacher. When I got to the actual training, to my great surprise, I had a far more advanced practice than anyone else there! It really made me wonder, if these people thought they were good enough, why didn’t I? Even now, teaching a class every Saturday, I still feel out of place and uncomfortable leading when I have so much doubt about my own ability.
I guess what it comes down to is a fear of being thought of as arrogant or conceited by others. We have no control over the way others perceive us though. It’s a waste of energy to worry about things like that. What’s important is that we’re doing our best. I’m not claiming to be perfect, and it’s not my responsibility if someone else misinterprets my intentions. All I can do is be who I am and have fun doing it.
We accept the love we think we deserve
After spending the last few days with my boyfriend, I’m more convinced than ever that he is perfect. Maybe too perfect… I’m used to being the one in the relationship that has it together. If you read my posts then you know what that actually means is I date complete assholes, not that I’m exceptional. This time it’s different though. Nate is more organized than me, more cleanly, even more vegan than me. Of course those are all wonderful traits. I am endlessly impressed and inspired by him. The only problem is how it makes me feel about myself.
I felt so ashamed yesterday when we were making dinner. I saw him diligently washing his hands while I had already started cutting up vegetables. I know not washing your hands before you eat seems like a silly thing to be embarrassed about, but I still am. There are lots of little things like that that make me wonder what he actually thinks of me. Am I gross to him? Does he find my habits disgusting? Does he notice at all? Does he have some idea of me in his head that is better than I actually am? It makes me feel like I have to hide myself away even more than I’m already used to doing with the rest of the world. It makes me feel like he could never love the person I truly am.
I’ve always said that I want a partner that will help me better myself. I just never realized how being with someone who’s already better than me would actually feel. I guess there is a part of me that craves damaged people. There was something about seeing someone else being beautifully flawed that allowed me to let my guard down and be vulnerable. I miss when my high school boyfriend and I would shoplift little gifts for one another. I miss having nights where we would do nothing besides binge junk food and smoke weed. Sure, those things aren’t great things to indulge in, but it felt nice knowing that even though I was a mess, someone would love me anyway.
Now I’m just afraid of my mess. I’ve pushed it into a closet and have to stand nervously in front of the door, hoping Nate won’t open it. For instance, I haven’t smoked cigarettes in around two weeks now. I’m extremely proud of myself. I really worried I wouldn’t be able to give up the habit this time. The problem is, I’ve replaced it with vaping again. For me that is fine, but I’ve hidden both from Nate this whole time. He certainly must suspect, so he probably wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. Still I’m too afraid to bring it up. I really wanted to while I was staying with him this week, but I never managed to work up the courage. God only knows how long this secret will continue now.
After being so busy last week, I had really been looking forward to the weekend, especially Sunday, my only full day off. Not that teaching my yoga class feels much like work. I just have to wake up early for it. I noticed, however, that my day off yesterday wasn’t really much better than the previous days I spent working. I still wake up reluctantly, feeling groggy and stiff, whether it’s at 6AM or at 9AM. I still feel overwhelmed by inexplicable stress for large periods of the day whether I am at home or at work. I may actually feel less stressed on the days I’m at work, because there is so much going on to occupy my mind. There is a weird inner pressure to enjoy myself when I have free time that inevitably ruins it.
Yet even after realizing these things for what seems like the umpteenth time, I still found myself dreading having to come into work today. I’m still longing to be at home, even though I’m basically doing the same things alone in my office that I would be doing in my house. And in a few hours when I’m back home, I’m going to find something new to be anxious about. I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that no matter what is going on in my life, there is always something. I don’t know why I feel the need to explain my anxiety, to find a culprit to blame. Clearly it wouldn’t be a disorder if there was a legitimate reason for me to be feeling anxious. I’m trying to accept that no matter what I decide the cause is in that moment, ultimately there is no cause. I’m not anxious about anything. I’m just anxious. Always.
While this may seem disheartening, reminding myself of this is actually helpful. I don’t need to keep torturing myself more by wishing things were different. I don’t need to be upset because I have to come to work tomorrow. I would feel just as anxious if I didn’t. I’d just be blaming it on something else instead. Knowing this allows me to shift my focus away from whatever “reason” I’ve assigned to my anxiety. Brooding over that never helps anyway. There is almost always nothing I could do to change whatever it is anyway. All that assigning blame does is convince me that because the circumstances are what they are, I therefore have to be anxious. I tell myself that as soon as this happens or that happens or once I reach some perfect moment in the future, THEN I’ll finally be able to calm down and enjoy myself.
I’ve come to realize that time never comes. There is always something for me to feel anxious about. Because really there is nothing for me to feel anxious about. So if I have to go to work, I’ll blame that. But if I get to stay home, I’ll just claim it’s because of something more ridiculous. Sometimes I’ll worry about some distant event in the future. I’ll think: Should I start applying to teaching jobs? If I don’t my eligibility will run out and I’ll have to renew it. But maybe I don’t want to switch jobs. I really like where I am now. But schools have better benefits. What’s more important? Or I’ll start thinking about something totally insignificant: I need to call my friend later. I call her every Sunday. What’s the best time? What will I say? I don’t have anything to talk about. I don’t have time. She won’t want to talk to me. I’m boring.
No matter what, I’m going to find something to be anxious about. And you know what? It’s okay to feel anxious. I can feel anxious and still have a nice day. I can feel anxious and still be productive. I can feel anxious and keep going anyway. I don’t need to feel sorry for myself and wish that things were different somehow. That time I’ve been waiting for can be now. I can be happy right now. I can be anxious and still be happy. Everything is as it should be.
Since I was in high school or maybe even younger, I developed a somewhat strange way of thinking that was comforting. A duality seemed to exist in me at will, and I would imagine my physical body as a cute helpless animal that my mind had to care for. It allowed me to feel compassion for myself. I had the tendency to be quite critical and cruel to myself, but thinking in this way helped me to be kinder and more loving when I was feeling devastated or overwhelmed.
More recently, however, a third part of me has begun to emerge in this strange mental play as well. The seed of this idea was planted by something I read once. I have no idea where, but I’m certain I did not come up with it. As you may have already guessed by the title of this post, the idea was you are not your thoughts. Even while we are thinking, there is somehow also a separate awareness of those thoughts. We aren’t those thoughts, we are the observers of our thoughts. I like to image this is what in yoga is often referred to as the higher self.
This realization has completely transformed the way I see myself. I see my consciousness as something almost apart from and deeper than both my mind and body. This view gives me space from my experiences. It’s as if my consciousness exists outside of my physical body. This physical body also affects the way my conscious is able to manifest mentally. The chemicals that control the way my brain is able to function are affected by so many different factors from my genetics to the things I do and experience each day. But I am not my anxiety. I am not my anger or my doubt or my shame. I am able to observe my body and mind’s experience of these things now from a distance with curiosity and compassion. This space keeps me from getting caught in a torrent of negative thoughts and overwhelming emotions. I just observe in stillness and let it settle. And it will always settle if you don’t keep stirring it up.
Maybe this idea is new to some of you. If so, I hope that you play with it in your own lives. I am still learning to utilize this mindfulness every day, but it has helped me more than I could have imagined. My wish is that by sharing what I’ve learned in a new way, it may also help others.
Observe in stillness. ♥