Personal Growth from a New Perspective

Self-help books, new age rituals, skill building, knowledge gathering, psychoanalysis, deep introspection. These things have stood as guiding pillars in my life. I ended up majoring in psychology, not because I had any idea of how to turn that into a career, but because it utterly fascinated me. I couldn’t get enough of the things I was learning in my classes. I never had to study. My brain naturally absorbed and integrated every scrap of knowledge I was given in those four years of riveting education.

The pursuit of knowledge never needed to have a higher purpose for me. It was an end in and of itself. I LOVE learning, especially about the mind, my own mind more specifically. I am truly blessed with this passion for academia. Learning is a hobby that can never get old. There are a limitless amount of things to study. Learning something new never fails to light me up inside and send me into that blissful flow state. The rest of the world falls away as I become engrossed in new knowledge and sharing that knowledge with anyone and everyone who will listen.

Society has a way of twisting my intentions though. I get bogged down with the motivations of humanity as a collective, or at least what the media portrays as our motivations. Everything we do as a species seems to be directed at some ultimate end goal, whether that be a physical reward like wealth or simply becoming “better” in one way or another. We lose the moment in our fixation on the ending. Sometimes I have to stop myself and ask, “Wait, why am I doing this again?” Any answer besides “I enjoy doing it” fills me with a dreaded sense of obligation, yet just doing something for pleasure can overwhelm me with existential doubt. “What’s the point then?” As if any point besides pleasure and happiness could make an activity matter more.

When I get too caught up in focusing on outcomes or “bettering myself” through my personal pursuits, I eventually get burnt out and want to give up on everything. It really wears you down mentally to spend every day trying to reach some self-growth goal, implying who and where you are right now isn’t good enough. I never seem to reach whatever goal I’m aiming at, not that I’d be any happier if I did, because what then? No, the real purpose is found in the experiences themselves, in the very act of growing.

For example, when I began my daily practice of drawing during the pandemic, my intention was clear. I like to draw. It makes me happy. It helps me connect with my inner child and reminds me of those carefree days of doodling in my school notebooks or sketching manga with my best friend. That was it. Pure and simple. And it did bring me so much joy. Without trying to, I saw myself getting better and better. I didn’t care how my art stood up against the art of others, or what I was going to “do” with all these images. I found innocent satisfaction in the miracle of the mind and body’s ability to improve at anything that you choose to practice.

After such a long time doing this, however, I began to forget what the purpose was. Instead of wanting to draw everyday, instead of it being a time of rest and relaxation, it became a duty, just another chore, something I had to do. I started getting stressed about not somehow making money off of my work. I got jealous and disheartened rather than inspired by the work of others. I was distraught and frustrated at my lack of progress. I felt stagnant and full of self-criticism and self-doubt.

I am writing all of this down as a reminder of the remedy, if and when this cycle should unravel again. The first thing I need to allow myself to do is TAKE A BREAK. Not drawing for a few days, a few weeks, even a few months, does not mean I will never draw again. It just means I need a break to give myself the space to want to draw again. Forcing myself to do it under some assumption I have to keep practicing to get better makes no sense when the point isn’t to get better, it’s to have fun. Getting better is just part of that fun, but is meaningless on its own.

The second step after a reasonable break, is to try something new. I cannot express the joy I have rediscovered through this step. Trying something new is a great way to shake myself out of stagnation in anything, but especially art. Not only do I have to focus more, it breaks me free from my strict expectations. Whatever I create doesn’t have to be the best thing I’ve done. It doesn’t have to top yesterday. I feel mentally accepting of the fact that I won’t be incredible at what I’m doing. It’s the first time I’ve even tried! When I do something new or in a different way than usual, I escape the fear of failure, while also opening up the possibility of surprising myself with success.

I think most of us end up running our lives entirely on autopilot. Then we wonder why we are so unhappy. I’ve come to realize, without changing anything externally, I can completely shift my experience of daily life by just shifting and/or re-centering myself on my intention. Sure, I enjoy doing things that largely fall under the umbrella of “self-improvement,” but that doesn’t mean I do them because I’m not good enough, or because happiness lies at some personal perfection finish line. I like getting better, not because I’m “better” at the end, but because it’s fun to play with that edge of your own ability. It’s exciting to see what I’m able to do whether that be mentally or physically.

So, future Rachel, if you’re reading this, don’t forget! Whether in art or anything else you choose to do, happiness and purpose are not to be found in results. The joy and the meaning are inside the very moments of creation, of learning. You don’t have to know the ending. All you have to do is follow the feeling. The feeling of curiosity, of playfulness, or even the feeling of laziness when you need a rest from it all. No final product matters if you have to be consistently miserable to get there.

The Performance

Life these days has transformed
into some kind of performance
a play we curate for the eyes of others
to love and be loved, now
to consume and be consumed

My face feels hot under this heavy gaze
the vague surveillance of the whole world
perched outside my window, watching
there is a strange thrill in being perceived
show and tell on a grand stage

Sometimes I like to pretend I'm on TV
a character where every bland moment matters
the pleasure of being devoured by hungry strangers
the pride of a life worth putting on display
the perfect, personal, self-aggrandizing parade

But a life does not need to be witnessed
to be meaningful and worthwhile
when every head turns away, who am I?
we seem to believe we'd all disappear
without a crowd to jeer or cheer

The curtain still falls at the end of every day
to reveal that I am the audience of my life
I am the true observer that sees every season
the only one that will ever know the full story
rather than the shallow highlight reel

There is a beauty in knowing
there are parts of me that are private
that I couldn't share even if I wanted to
precious sugar cubes of experience
tucked away for private viewings

A world reduced to surface level
let's us forget about all that's concealed
the breathtaking mystery of each individual
hidden beneath the painted masks
the silent pressure of all that's left unsaid

Anxiety & Regrets

I used to just try to avoid anything that made me anxious. Let’s not kid ourselves, I still do most of the time. But recently, I’ve come to realize the utter futility of this effort. Quite literally everything seems to make me anxious in one way or another. It can be quite comical when I catch myself, sure that a day off with cease all my anxiety, and then I get anxious about taking a day off, or spend my entire time off worrying about going back the next day. I get anxious about the idea of leaving my current job, but anxious about staying there. I’m anxious to spend all my free time with friends and loved ones, but then anxious that I don’t spend enough time with them.

While it’s very disheartening and discouraging to realize that no matter what I do I’ll likely be anxious about it, it’s also somewhat liberating. Once again, I get to choose what I want to do without the influence of anxiety guiding my hand. I might as well choose things that I truly value and believe will result in a more fulfilling life. I don’t have to shy away from lofty, long-term goals just because working towards them gives me discomfort. Not working towards them would produce the same feeling.

After lockdown it became really obvious how important the relationships I have in my life are. Even as a fairly reclusive, introverted person already, it was agony to be isolated from my loved ones for such long spans of time. I realized that my time with them is limited and not guaranteed. They could be ripped from my life at any moment. Do I really want to waste the time I have with them? Will I really be happier looking back on my life knowing that I chose working out or drawing over the loving connections I’ve been blessed with?

I’ve come to look at a lot of my decisions this way instead. Which decision will I one day regret? Regardless of what I believe would make me happy in the moment, what will make me happy long-term? What do I value in life? For example, I’ve been trying to spend more of my free time with friends and family even though my OCD tries to tell me I’ll die if I don’t do the exact same pointless routine every single day. Yesterday, I thought I might go visit my grandma for a few hours. I agonized over the idea of diverting from my normal schedule all morning. I just kept reminding myself: These silly little tasks that you feel you have to do can be done tomorrow, next week, five years from now. You really have no idea how much time you have left to spend with your grandmother.

I ended up going to see her and was surprised to find my aunt there as well. I spent far longer at her house than I had intended and had an amazing time with them. If I had chosen to stay home, I know I would have regretted it the next day. I slept so soundly last night, knowing there was no better use of my time, and I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and filled with love. Now when my best friend asks me to hangout or an unexpected opportunity arises, I try to consider what I would regret. It’s ridiculous to imagine I would regret not staying at home by myself repeating the same cookie-cutter day over going out and connecting with people and making precious memories.

I have only been trying this method out for a few weeks, so it’s still difficult. But already I’ve managed to have some wonderful, meaningful, fulfilling days that I would have surely let pass me by in the past. I’m hoping continuing to practice this will reinforce in my mind how beneficial these experiences are. It might make me anxious to imagine going out with other people all day, but when I’m there, I know there is no where else I’d rather be.

I’ve also learned that being with people you love is a powerful balm for mental illness in itself. When I’m alone, my mind runs rampant. It is never silent. It focuses only on me and my problems/fears. This spiral gets bigger and stronger until it is all consuming. When I’m with my family and friends, my mind is finally quiet. I feel peaceful and at ease. My heart is open and over-flowing. My tendency has always been to hide away when I begin to feel overwhelmed, fearing that I can’t handle exerting any more of my social energy. Ironically, that is the very thing that will make me feel better. Being in the presence of people you cherish is a reminder of just how small and insignificant other concerns are. I feel supported and safe. Taking time to connect is refilling your cup.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what matters to me in this life. It’s easy to become distracted by productivity and material aspirations. We lose ourselves in the surface level tasks the world imposes upon us. None of that is truly important though. What’s valuable in this life is love, community, and connection above all else. Even when it’s scary. Even when it seems like you have a million other things you need to be doing. Life isn’t about having a clean house or starting a successful business. It’s about making sure the people you care about know how much you love them and savoring even the small, mundane moments you spend together. I refuse to let mental illness separate me from my true purpose in life: love. The only goal that truly matters, that I need to put in the forefront of my awareness, that I should etch the intention of onto my soul, is being with the ones I love. My time here is limited. If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I’d want to be with my friends and family every moment until then. So why should I ever want to be anywhere else?

A Life Wasted

a wasted life
is spent indoors
away from the forest floor
mesmerized by straight lines
and artificial symmetry
souls stripped down
and soaked in bleach
spotless feet pacing
over pale plastic tiles
separation from source
cut off from the stillness inside
dharma replaced by distraction
until we no longer know value
when we see it
lives spent chasing after emptiness
buried in bullshit 
brutality as a birthright
white knuckling our way 
to the top of inverted pyramids
what is success?
being a CEO?
building ourselves up 
with the broken body of mother nature?
I'd rather be nothing at all
I'd rather let myself 
be blown away by the wind
to disappear into the tall grass
if only to remember the cool caress 
of the soft, dark soil
back where I belong

Love, Nature, Humor, & Suffering

Have you ever noticed something very particular and seemingly random suddenly coming up again and again in your everyday life? Almost as if the universe is calling you to pay attention to this specific thing? I know some people have this sensation often, even to the extent they start making every little thing extremely meaningful in some way. For me, this hardly ever happens. I have a very weak sense of my intuition. I never really think much of the strange coincidences that happen in my life. That made it all the more poignant to me how much this sign stuck out and refused to be silenced.

Over a month ago, I was in a training and one of the instructors mentioned the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. As she said it, I glanced at my bookshelf and realized, I had that very book! I hadn’t purchased it. I had gotten it secondhand from a psychologist that retired from my last job and left piles of books to give away to whoever was interested. I took a lot of those books, but hadn’t read many of them yet. I decided that I just had to read it now, but I was in the middle of another book so I put it off. Then I heard it mentioned on a few podcasts. One podcast host, just as I was thinking it, made a comment to the effect of “if I was playing sign’s from the universe bingo, two of the squares would have to be Viktor Frankl and neuroplasticity.” Chills immediately ran down my spine. Neuroplasticity was another pivotal concept I’d learned about in school that had changed my life and seemed to be endlessly talked about wherever I went afterward. I knew this book had something for me, maybe exactly what I was needing.

It’s not a very long book so I got through it pretty swiftly. Much to my delight, there were even notes in the margins from the psychologist that I had inherited the copy from. I took my own notes as well, and this is what I’ve taken away from Frankl’s text. What is the meaning of life? Or rather, what things give life meaning? Love, nature, humor, and suffering. These are the things that make life meaningful.

Frankl brought me to tears with his descriptions about how even in the face of the most horrific suffering anyone can imagine, inside the concentration camps of Auschwitz, with seemingly nothing left to live for, the image of his wife’s face in his memory was enough to give him strength and keep him going. It wasn’t necessarily that he felt he had to survive to see her again. He didn’t even know if she was still alive. But it didn’t matter. The love he had for her was real and could not be taken from him. The love itself was enough to keep living. I think we’ve all tasted the incredible power that love gives us, but his descriptions really drove home how inherently meaningful love is, that it truly can conquer all, even our own immense suffering and hopelessness.

He went on to explain, that despite the numbness the prisoners succumbed to after so much time engulfed in pain and suffering, the beauty and majesty of nature was still able to grip them. As they stood in agony in a filthy train car, supposing they were on their way to the gas chambers, they still crowded around the tiny window just to see the breathtaking image of the distant mountains against the horizon. He also recounts the story of one prisoner that tells him before she dies that the scraggly limb of a tree that she could see through the window at camp kept her going. She said the tree spoke to her. It said, “I am here. I am here. I am life, eternal life.”

As morbid as it may seem, Frankl also recounts the humor he and his fellows found even in suffering. Starvation, pain, humiliation, death, and disease were not enough to take away their ability to make light of it all somehow. Regardless of the situation, no matter how dire it may seem, we still have the power of perspective, even if only in fleeting moments. We can find the humor in even our darkest hours. And sometimes that is enough to get us through. No one is demanding we take life so seriously. There is so much power in laughter, especially dark humor and laughter at our own misfortune. The gift of humor is transcendent.

Finally, Frankl explains that there is meaning even in suffering itself. Although we try to find happiness and avoid suffering as all living beings do, there is still inherent value in the suffering that touches each and every one of our lives to some extent. Suffering can be seen as an opportunity. It can be a fortifying fire that turns iron into steel. Sometimes our suffering can be seen as a sacrifice, a way to protect someone else from the fate we now bear. What could be more meaningful than that? Love can make even the most bitter suffering a beautiful gift. While we don’t wish for suffering to stain our lives, it is not an evil if we can transmute it into a source of strength and spiritual transformation.

Near the very end of the book, when I thought I had already seen what the universe had directed me here for, I was moved more deeply still. A concept I had been incubating for a while now was presented to me in the most perfect phrasing, in words I hadn’t quite been able to grasp yet myself. Frankl used the example of a chimp being experimented on for a cure, but as this left a bad taste in my mouth, I thought of a better one. Consider a honeybee and its life’s work. As it flies from flower to flower, the bee is only concerned with collecting pollen to make honey for its hive. It has no hope of becoming privy to the larger significance of its daily labors. The bee will never know that in addition to providing for its fellow bees, it is pollenating the plants it visits. It is making it possible for an unimaginable abundance of life. It is giving life not only to the flowers and vegetation, but also the beings that consume them to survive. The bee is unwittingly the humble servant of all Earth’s life.

Faith for me is learning to trust that this grander scale of significance also exists for human kind, even if I’ll never see it or be able to understand. “What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life; but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.” This quote, right here, is the reason I believe the universe directed me to this book. This is the confirmation of the inner truth that I have been searching for. This was the universe patting me on the back and saying, “You finally got it. You’re on the right path.” My task in life is not to understand it all, like I once thought. My task is to keep going despite my lack of understanding, to learn to trust in something beyond myself. When I lost the belief in God, I also thought that I lost this higher purpose. But that isn’t true. I may not see an omnipotent being beyond myself, but there is still something. I don’t need to give it a name to feel the truth behind it. There is peace and beauty and strength in learning to surrender to the unknowable meaningfulness of life.

Something Worth Giving

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.

What Am I Making This Mean

Our thoughts and inner chatter come at us so quickly that it’s hard to realize what is an objective truth and what is a distorted or biased perception of that truth. The events that play out in front of us don’t necessarily have an emotional undertone or meaningful significance, yet we are so used to assigning these things to every little event in our lives that they feel inseparable. The rejection we might face from a loved one is so immediately followed by our thoughts about what that rejection means, that it feels impossible to distinguish between the two.

I don’t think it has any immediate benefits, but I do believe in the long term just making a conscious effort to pull real moments away from our automatic perception of them is a valuable practice. It can feel pointless and frustrating to do so at first. Just cognitively realizing that rejection, for instance, does not mean we are unworthy of love, doesn’t make our conditioned reaction feel any less true or painful in that moment. This is just the first step though. Eventually once we’ve worked on recognizing and accepting that distinction, then I believe we will be able to move on toward challenging our painful perceptions and subconscious convictions.

It has been interesting for me just to notice how violently my mind resists the very idea of my immediate reaction being a choice or something I could view differently. There is a physical sense of revulsion in my body. My heart closes tightly. My mind attempts to shut down this new direction in my thought patterns. Despite how painful a belief might be, I find myself clinging to it desperately instead of being open to reevaluating the situation. Isn’t that a curious thing. Why am I so stubbornly trying to maintain a way of thinking that causes me so much suffering unnecessarily?

I think the answer to this question is that somehow, part of me has developed this stimuli/reaction cycle as a form of self-protection. It doesn’t seem to make any sense how genuinely believing someone couldn’t or shouldn’t love me could be protecting me, but that scared little animal inside of me must have some basis for mistakenly thinking it will. Even our most hateful inner voice is ultimately just trying to keep us safe. It is just afraid for us. It’s up to us to work every day to push through that fear and show ourselves that we don’t have to hold on to these harmful inner narratives any longer.

One way I’ve learned we can distance ourselves from the intensity of these upsetting thoughts is to speak to ourselves as if we were someone else. Internally addressing ourselves in the third person, saying our own name instead of I, can provide a mental cushion of space between the emotional energy of the thoughts and our conscious awareness. A question I’ve been posing to myself in this way is: “Rachel, what are you making this mean?”

Framing the question in this way is actually a reframing. It has become so automatic that we’ve lost the original question we’ve been answering which would be “what does this mean?” After being confronted with an uncomfortable reality such as rejection, the small voice of fear inside whispers this follow up question in it’s desperate attempt to make sense of things and create a story around what’s happened. Our well worn response to the situation is our answer to that question.

Even though I might feel as though I am constantly doubting myself, I never seem to doubt these explanations and narratives I create around the moments of my life. Why not? Part of the problem is I’ve somewhere along the line lost the ability to recognize I am the one creating this particular meaning. After years and years of unwitting reinforcement, the voice that tells me how I have to think or react doesn’t feel like it’s coming from me anymore. It doesn’t feel optional. It feels like a hard and unavoidable truth.

When I ask myself “what are you making this mean,” it is a reminder, however surreal it may seem at first, that I’m deciding to add qualifiers and opinions to otherwise neutral events. The way I see a situation is not the one right way, or the only way to see it. Really there are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to interpreting the experiences we have in life. It might feel like those possibilities are extremely limited at first, but the more we encourage our awareness of their existence, the more we will feel capable of pivoting our perceptions towards ones that better serve us.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe there is necessarily any objective truth in this insane experience we can life. All that matters, all that is, is what you believe. It’s not easy. Sometimes I don’t even feel like it’s possible. But even so, I do believe it is worth the effort to help ourselves see the world and our own lives in a way that brings us joy, peace, self-love, and equanimity. What else could be more important or meaningful? Even on the days were my battles with inner demons and mental illness feel like a living example of Sisyphus, I know the only thing to do is keep going.

Desire

Desire is what propels us forward. Without desire, without longing, there is no kindling for motivation and pleasurable productivity. There is no direction in life. I don’t know why life necessarily needs a direction, but it just feels better when there is one. The child I once was, had no lack of passionate desire. In fact, there were so many things I desired that it was impossible to focus on just one or to be without direction at any given moment.

Perhaps its not that I lack desire now, but that my desires have become inverted. I no longer feel inspired to reach for things I want. Instead my only motivation is to avoid and shrink away from things I don’t want. Ten years ago, if you asked me what my greatest desire was, I’m sure I would have said to find a loving partner to share my life with. That was really the only long term, significant goal I ever had in life. It meant everything to me, and it did a lot to nudge me forward each day with hope and determination even in my darkest hours. If asked the same question today, I would have no answer.

I honestly don’t know when that fervent wish fell away from my mind. One day I just stopped wanting it so much. At first it seemed like a gift. I was finally free. I truly believed for the first time that I didn’t need to find this one perfect, romantic relationship in life to be happy. I accepted that happiness would be available to me even in the event I lived the rest of my life alone. After awhile, the relief of not needing what I had always wanted gave way to despondency and apathy. Okay, I might not need love to be happy, but that doesn’t mean I am happy without it either.

Strangely enough, I think to a certain extent, that yearning, that striving for something is what brings happiness and meaning to life. Obtaining our desire or reaching our goal isn’t really what gives us the satisfaction. It’s working towards something, it’s that flutter in our chest that appears when we fix our gaze on some distant horizon and imagine getting there that gives life meaning. Without desire, life seems empty, motionless, and rather scary.

The most frustrating part of it all is not knowing how or if it’s possible to generate desire where there is none. We may think it’s unbearable to want something we may never get, but it’s even more unbearable to wake up every morning and not know what you want. It isn’t exactly that I want nothing. I want to be happy. I want to feel that hunger and excitement that I’ve lost. I want to be free from my mental suffering. These desires are far too abstract to act on though.

When I ask myself what would make me happy, what would spark that inner flame, what would ease my suffering, I genuinely have no idea. I don’t have the foggiest inkling where to begin to find these answers either. While setting myself of a rough, uncertain path toward an ideal love was never easy, it was still easier than wandering aimlessly. A mountain is hard to climb, but the vision of the peak is enough to keep our spirits up. Now I find myself is the vast, flat expanse of a massive desert. It’s not hard to keep walking physically, but mentally it’s much harder, with no end in sight, no reason to trudge on.

Kind Words

I’ve struggled with my body image and my weight since I was a child. I can remember being so small and looking at my pudgy little belly wondering if it was really “baby fat” like my mom and sister had told me and would go away as I got older. I remember being in elementary/middle school drinking SlimFast shakes as meal replacements. Looking back I honestly can’t believe my mother allowed me to do that. I suppose as a child, drinking those shakes would end up being more calories than you needed anyway.

It was hard for me growing up with friends who never had to worry about their weight or what they were eating. All of my friends were, in my eyes, perfect, pretty, and skinny. I still remember a phone conversation I had with my best friend in 6th grade about this. She may not have been able to relate to my suffering, but the things she said to me that day nearly brought me to tears and have stayed with me ever since. She told me that one day I was going to wake up and look at myself in the mirror and love myself. She told me to look forward to that day and plan on being very kind to myself, to take a bubble bath, wear my favorite outfit, do my makeup, and just enjoy being me.

Sadly, I’m still waiting for that day to come. But I’ve never forgotten the gravity of those kind words my friend spoke to me all of those years ago. I still get tearful when I think about them. This was probably the first time in my life that I had even considered being kind to myself or that it was possible for me to love myself, even in the future. It didn’t seem likely or even possible at the time, but just the idea changed me. It opened up a new perspective in my mind.

We don’t always realize the effect our words can have on someone else. We may have forgotten all about a conversation that the other person is still thinking about years later. I no longer speak to this childhood friend of mine, but I think of her fondly, especially when that conversation we shared enters my awareness, which it does quite frequently. I have no doubt that she has no recollection of it or any idea how much what she said still means to me.

This anecdote serves as a reminder to never underestimate the power of our words, whether they be kind or cruel. Something said carelessly out of anger may permanently damage someone. A smile or a kind word to a friend may be enough to get them through another day, another year. Sometimes it can feel impossible for us to make a meaningful difference in the world. We forget what immense power we hold in the words that we choose to speak. Don’t hesitate to tell those around you how much they mean to you or express your heartfelt gratitude or appreciation. You never know what impact you may have. If a similar situation came to mind while reading this post, perhaps it would be nice to let the other person know how much what they said meant to you. If you have said something hurtful to someone in the past, maybe it’s time to apologize. Even if it was years ago, you never know if it is still affecting them, or how much peace it may bring them to receive an apology. It’s truly incredible what little energy and effort it takes to be kind and what huge ripple effects may follow as a result.

Speak mindfully. Speak kindly. It matters more than you know.

How Parents Can Help Kids Cultivate Kindness : NPR

Let the Universe Lead You

Wanderlust Let Go of Control: The Universe Has Your Back

The modern world is overflowing with choices, whether it’s the twenty plus breakfast cereal options, the millions of bands there are to listen to, or even the possible career paths you can pick from. Generally, having a lot of different choices is a good thing. Never before have we had the ability to completely and utterly personalize every aspect of our lives. Whatever your interests are, there is a seemingly endless amount of content and products just for you.

Despite the positives of our diverse, jam-packed environments, there are also negatives. Have you ever heard the term “analysis paralysis”? Essentially it means being so overwhelmed with options that you cannot come to a decision. It becomes impossible to know what the “best” choice will be, so you end up not making any choice at all, just wasting time weighing your options until you run out the clock or give up out of frustration. I’m not sure if this is something that affects everyone or if certain types of people are more inclined to experience this, but I personally have never identified so much with a term before. It feels like I am in a nearly constant state of analysis paralysis.

I struggle and fret over every single decision I make. The more options I have to choose from the more incapable I am of choosing any of them. Especially when it’s a purely subjective decision. No choice is necessarily going to be better than another, yet I am fixated on somehow finding the “perfect” selection. Not only that, I also spend time after making a decision wondering, with mild regret, if I should have chosen something else.

Until yesterday, I never really had any possible solution to this dilemma. As I was scrolling through Pinterest, searching for artistic inspiration for my daily drawing, an interesting thought occurred to me. I was puttering around, going back and forth about what I’d like to draw, when I considered how I might feel differently about the situation if I was someone who subscribed to the believe that “everything happens for a reason.” What if instead of fretting about the other possible ideas I haven’t found yet, I simply commit to one that has been presented to me?

Intellectually, I know that it really doesn’t matter what I draw or write about. I am only doing these things because I enjoy doing them. The end result is basically irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. So I know I could be equally satisfied with whatever I choose. The anxiety and discomfort of searching for the “perfect choice” is definitely not worth it. But even constantly reminding myself of this fact, doesn’t seem to override my natural desire to pick the “right” thing and be able to weigh absolutely all of my options before coming to a decision about what that thing is, regardless of how innocuous of a decision I may be making.

One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in the past few years, though, is the importance of perspective and mental framing. Instead of viewing it as a highly important decision versus one that doesn’t matter at all, I’ve decided to try a different angle. From now on, I want to view the initial options presented to me as special, meaningful selections being offered up by the universe. Whether or not you genuinely believe this to be the case is irrelevant. You can choose to suspend disbelief for your own purposes. I want to choose to believe the first few things that jump out to me or spark my interest aren’t just random, I am drawn to them for a reason. I don’t need to shop around for all the other billions of options out there before making my choice. In fact, I could even close my eyes and click a random image. Whatever thoughts or inspiration bubble to the surface from that are what I am supposed to be focusing on, not everything else that might be available.

I think actively engaging in this mode of thinking will serve me greatly. Not only will it help me make decisions more easily, but it will remind me to have fun and keep a lighthearted attitude. I think it will also allow me to be more confident in my decisions. Believing that the few options initially presented to you are significant and hold meaning prevents you from endlessly second guessing yourself and wondering if there might be something better if you keep looking.

This mindset is also beneficial in your everyday life. If we can truly practice the belief that everything that happens to us is important and was supposed to be that way, then we can avoid that fear of missing out or the displeasure of wishing things had been different for us. Trusting that the universe has placed us on a particular path for a reason keeps us in the present moment. Without the constant tendency to feel cheated by reality when it doesn’t match what we wanted or expected, we are able to fully embody and benefits from the experiences we actually have.

With time and perspective we often look back at horrible times in our lives with understanding or even gratitude. We realize that sometimes the worst things that happen to us become opportunities that lead us to where we want to be. The only thing we need to bring the comfort of that perspective to the present moment is trust. Trust that each moment in your life was specifically selected just for you, that it was something you needed, even if it’s a hard lesson, even if you don’t understand it yet. Trust that the things presented to you in your life are meaningful, not random. Even if that’s a load of shit and isn’t true, what does it matter? We’ll never really be able to know if that’s true or not, so we might as well live our lives believing what makes us a happier, more grateful person. I used to be someone that believed the truth was all that mattered at any cost. But now I see that was only making me miserable, and in so many circumstances “truth” is subjective and dependent on your perspective and what you decide to focus on. What really matters in this life is being happy, loving, and grateful.

Trust The Universe | Kristin Heldt Art