Can I Love Myself Even Though…

My new favorite mantra is, “can I love myself even though…” I fill in the blank with whatever I’m struggling with or judging myself for at the time. It has been a huge shift in perspective for me. It gives me that perspective which allows me to refocus and consider what the goal of this life truly is. Even though it’s extremely hard for me, my main goal in life is to love myself and others and be a positive force in the world. Love is the greatest gift that we have been given, and there is no greater way to express our gratitude for this miraculous capacity for love than to let that love light shine bright enough to encompass our whole being and those around us. It’s more fun to imagine life as a game than a test. It’s not a game of aggression and struggle against forces trying to destroy us either. It’s a casual game like the ones I enjoy most of all. It’s simply about exploring, being curious, and having fun, seeing what wonderous things we can create along the way.

It’s easy to become distracted by all the negatives we’ve been conditioned, and to a certain extent, designed to focus our attention on. We are constantly trying to find happiness and self-acceptance by changing external circumstances. If only I was skinnier. If only I was smarter. If only I was less anxious. If only, if only, if only. Now when I notice myself getting upset about these rather trivial imperfections, I’ll say to myself, “can I love myself even though I’m imperfect?” Then I listen to that opening feeling in my heart answering back with a resounding, emphatic, “YES!” If my initial reaction is a stubborn “no”, (as it sometimes is) then I’ll ask myself to give it a try anyway. I’ll look at it as a challenge to work with and overcome. It doesn’t have to be so serious. It’s all a part of the game. Looking at it this way keeps me from judging myself for judging myself, which is obviously counterproductive. Instead I become curious and excited to tackle this new challenge.

We are all born full of love and acceptance. I see the truth of this in the faces of the children I work with every day. It’s only as we grow older that we begin to close our hearts to the world and to ourselves out of fear. And when you stop and think about it, this fear or anxiety we feel is an instinctual act of self love. We have these feelings so that we are able to recognize danger and protect ourselves. You aren’t broken. You mind and body are just doing their best to keep you safe. It’s up to us to use our higher consciousness to teach our minds and bodies that it’s okay to relax. The more we practice opening again, the easier it becomes. Sometimes when I’m having a particularly difficult time, I’ll remind myself of that. Even though it seems impossible to practice self love and self care right now, I know that it will only get easier and easier if I keep trying anyway, if I forgive myself for all the hiccups and hard days along the way.

This mantra doesn’t always have to be directed at self-criticism either. For example, sometimes I get overwhelmed with how much I want to do around my house. In that scenario, I’ll ask myself, “can I love myself even though my house is a bit messy or not exactly the way I’d like it to be?” Then rather than ruminating on all I’ve got to do, I’ll instead focus my energy on the fact that I can love myself anyway. It really takes a lot of the pressure off and reminds me of what’s truly important.

As you go through your day today, I encourage you to try this mantra out for yourself. Notice how different our “problems” feel after reaffirming our love for ourselves. When we give ourselves the love we seek, everything else starts to feel a little less important, less scary, less urgent. There is nothing for us to fear, no suffering that can touch us, when we truly practice self love and self compassion each and every day, when we love ourselves even though…

Self Love with ADHD: The Big Heart Approach

Meeting Someone New

Living with crippling social anxiety for most of my life, it is such a strange feeling to not be nervous about meeting someone new. I have a date with a vegan guy I met online this Saturday. It will be the first time we’ve seen one another in person. I think this is an example of a scenario where most people would feel at least a little nervous. But surprisingly even these types of encounters don’t phase me anymore. However, now there are other mental obstacles I face when meeting someone new.

For the longest time, I had basically given up on everyone. It seemed like it had been ages since I met anyone that was even remotely interesting, let alone funny. I began to think that I had just been lucky early on to meet so many wonderful people that have since slowly trickled out of my life. I had little to no hope of finding more people that were able to live up to my expectations. But now I’m starting to challenge that way of thinking. This last year and a half at my new job working with so many hilarious, fascinating, and intelligent people has reawakened my hope in humanity. Like I mentioned in my post yesterday, our minds subconsciously confirm what we already believe, even when it’s something we would really rather not be true. I wonder if perhaps at least some of the people I’ve written off in the past few years could have actually been perfectly nice if I’d given them more of a chance.

As I try to mentally prepare for meeting this person a few days from now, I have a very narrow line to walk. I am learning how to keep myself from expecting too much from someone while also not assuming they have nothing to offer me. Normally I have a tendency to do one or the other. When I expect too much from someone, I begin to get irritated when they don’t meet those expectations. Not only am I disappointed, but I actually feel bitter and resentful towards them at times. On the other hand, when I decide that someone will probably just be another boring waste of time, my mind tends to notice only the details of our encounters that support that predetermined idea.

It is hard for me to allow a new person enough time and space to show me who they really are. It can be hard for me to stick around long enough to get to know someone fully before making my ultimate judgement. That is partly because I feel like I am leading them on or wasting their time if I’m not feeling all in right away. I’m worried I am giving them a false impression of how invested I am in the relationship. It’s also difficult for me to stick around because sometimes it just feels like I am trying to force something that isn’t right. I guess I just feel pressured to make up my mind about people after only a few dates. Sometimes I even keep seeing someone because I feel like by doing so I’m giving them a chance, even when deep down my heart and mind have already been made up.

My intuition is something that I question a lot. It seems like I am usually able to tell right away when someone is a really good personality match for me whether it be a friendly or romantic relationship. But there have been times that unexpected people have become essential parts of my life. I never know when I should trust my intuition or when I should challenge it. Or even whether or not it matters. Maybe my intuition and initial impressions are going to influence me either way.

I’ve noticed that it is often easier for me to get a feel for who someone is when I am able to spend time with them in a relaxed, group setting rather than one on one. This way I am able to observe them. I can see the way they interact and react to other people instead of just me. I’ve always felt it was easier to get to know someone when they are around their friends. This is one of the many reasons that online dating is especially hard for me. It doesn’t seem to work well for me to try to get to know someone in a vacuum. But I don’t know what I can do about that. As an adult I’ve found it exceptionally hard to meet new people, especially people that have the same interests and values that I do. I was hoping once I found a partner that was vegan everything else would come easily. Sadly, however, that hasn’t been the case. To my surprise, a lot of vegans still manage to be terrible people.

So as Saturday draws near, I am trying not to worry about what will come of it in the end. I am trying to stay curious, to stay open-minded. I want to allow myself to just have fun with whatever happens. I want to go into it with a light-hearted, playful mindset. With only the intention of discovering what this new person is all about. Perhaps it will be my soulmate, perhaps we’ll become good friends, or maybe it will just be a one time adventure exploring the local trails on a warm sunny day in spring. I am keeping my heart open to whatever the day may hold.

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A Life with No Resistance

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I create my own suffering. I have been so fortunate in this life. I really have not ever experienced any true suffering. I have always had food, water, shelter, family, and friends to support me. I got a free education all the way through college. I have been healthy and so have my loved ones for the most part. I have basically wanted for nothing in my life. And I am truly grateful for that.

I so often lose sight of all of that though. Somehow I still manage to find reasons to suffer. The mind seems to always be looking for problems, for ways to fix things. Even when changing the situation is useless or even impossible. Internally we rise up against so many little aspects of our day. We wrestle with our own discomfort and rejection of reality. In the end nothing is as bad as our resistance makes it seem.

I read a metaphor that sums this idea up perfectly. Imagine a leaf landing on the still mirror-like surface of a pond. It is going to create ripples. Maybe we don’t like these ripples. Maybe we were staring at the reflections in the water. So we try to remove the disturbance, resist it. But in the process of trying to get rid of the leaf’s ripples, we end up creating even more disturbance in the water. Now it will take even longer to return to stillness.

There will be things that come along in life that are truly unpleasant, but even those problems are best accepted and allowed to pass through you. The brain seems to think the best way of preparing for the future is to “protect” ourselves from anything we dislike and lock ourselves away, closing off our heart. But in reality all of these small, daily, disturbances are gifts. They are opportunities to practice releasing, allowing, letting go. I want to use these minor moments as training to learn to live each moment with more ease and less resistance.

I try to think of this practice as a game. After all, I have always taken life too seriously. But this game is more challenging than I thought. I find myself getting easily frustrated with myself. After years of building up a strong tendency to resist every moment, it is incredibly difficult to learn to release and let things pass through you instead.

My mind is quite crafty and persuasive when it wants to be. It throws out endless reasons why we must resist. It jumps from one thought to the next, stirring up my fears and anxieties, encouraging me to close my heart, to seal myself off, to “protect” myself. But what I’m really trying to protect myself from is my own internal dialogue. What happens if I decide not to defend against it? It cannot hurt me. All it can do is talk and rustle around inside my head. I don’t have to let it touch me or let my heart close because of what it says.

So far, I don’t think I’ve been very successful at this game of releasing and allowing. But I am not going to give up. I am going to keep trying until my heart is perpetually open. Even though I am already impatient to achieve peace within myself, I know that this is the work of a life time. I’ll have to be patient and gentle with myself as I continue along on this new journey.

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Opening

Well I didn’t think it was possible, but I’ve fallen even more in love with The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. It’s almost meditative just to read. The last few chapters have turned to discussing energy. Namely internal energy, chakras, energy centers, whatever you would like to call them. Once again, somehow this book presents me with things I’ve already known about and believed in, yet does so in a way that completely changes my understanding of these topics.

I’ve written about chakras before. I think we have all had the experience of feeling at least our heart chakra’s energy. It even stands out in our language with common phrases such as “heartbroken” or “my heart sank.” Even the throat chakra seems to be referenced with comments such as “choked up” or having a “lump in your throat.” The Untethered Soul brought another interesting aspect of this internal energy to my attention.

I feel silly for never thinking of it before, but our emotions and internal feelings have a huge effect on our energy level. Even though this seems obvious now, beforehand I only really considered things like rest, diet, and physical exertion to have an effect on our level of energy in the body. But these clearly aren’t the only things that have an effect.

The easiest example of this that is mentioned in the book is the feeling of either finding love or losing that love. When we first fall in love with someone or even rekindle a romance, it feels like we are capable of anything. We have so much more energy! Everything is exciting, interesting, meaningful. It’s a breeze to get out of bed each morning. We even look forward to it. You can almost feel the energy bubbling in your chest. On the contrary, when your loved one leaves you, that same energy vanishes. You feel empty, exhausted, despondent. We have to drag ourselves out of bed. Yet the amount of food we have eaten or sleep we’ve gotten doesn’t have to change at all for us to experience these drastic shifts in energy. Isn’t that fascinating?

I guess I always thought that was all just “in my head.” But how can it just be in my head if I am truly experiencing it in my body as well? In this book, Singer explains that what we are feeling is the opening and closing of the energy centers (chakras) in the body. When our heart chakra is open there is an enormous flow of energy traveling through us. This is what we are feeling when we are in love. Our hearts are open. But when we lose that love, or close our hearts, we are closing off that source of energy as well. We are blocking the natural flow.

The truly exciting thing is that we can teach ourselves to unblock these energy centers, allowing ourselves to experience an abundance of energy. So much energy in fact, that it can even benefit those around us. We all have access to this limitless source of energy inside. We just have to learn to let it flow naturally instead of resisting or clinging to different parts of life.

Singer suggests we play a little game with ourselves. Just start to pay attention to your heart space as you go about your day. You will feel it opening and closing over and over. Notice when someone says something you don’t like or that hurts your feelings. Notice how it feels in your body. Does your chest feel tighter? Does your breath become more shallow? That is what it feels like to close. Also begin to notice what it feels like to get a compliment or have a meaningful conversation with someone. Do you feel an expansion in your ribcage? Do you feel a flush of energy, excitement? That is what it feels like to open.

Once we can identify these sensations in the body, we can learn to stop closing our hearts all together. We might feel as though we are protecting ourselves by closing our hearts, but this is not the case. All we are doing is limiting our energy, shutting it away, blocking it up inside. But with practice we can eventually get to a point where we always have access to our boundless inner energy. Wouldn’t it feel wonderful to always be in love and to share that energy with everyone we meet?

I am so eager to begin this journey of opening. As someone who always seems to feel tired, it’s lovely to realize I have more then enough energy. It just so happens to be locked up inside. I am ready to learn how to release and let go. I am ready to allow that energy to flow through me again. It isn’t going to be easy work, but I know it will be worth it. I am ready to begin again. I am ready to open.

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Stay Open, Keep Learning

Today when I pulled into the parking lot of my yoga studio, I had a happy surprise awaiting me. Due to the fact that I almost never check my email, I hadn’t gotten the memo that yoga teacher training was starting again at the studio. At Yoga H’om the monthly training sessions are on the first weekend of every month, generally from October to April. And this has been the first new round of training since I started teaching there.

I live quite far away from my studio, but still choose to teach there because I love the students and teachers there so much. Usually I don’t have time during the week to make the trip up except to teach my class though. It was such a wonderful surprise getting to see my mentors and meet the new teachers in training.

The tradition is that the trainees take the Saturday and Sunday morning classes, and afterward the teacher stays to discuss it with the new students. I hadn’t had the chance to experience this before today. I still remember a few years ago when I was the trainee and how much I admired and respected the Saturday morning teacher we were to critique. I feel so mystified and honored to now be that person.

I welcomed the chance to hear what everyone liked or disliked about my class and teaching style. It was also nice to feel supported by the teachers that trained me. While my teaching isn’t the same as their own, they still respect that difference and see the value in my personal style.

One thing stood out to me during our discussion though. Just as there had been in my group of trainees, there was one that oozed that “know-it-all” aura. (Not that I haven’t been guilty of being a know-it-all in the past.) It was still interesting to see how that fit into the dynamic of the training and how my mentors responded. I sensed some resentment from the student when her ideas were challenged by the trainers.

I know my mentors picked up on the same vibe that I was sensing. They always seem to purposely be a little harder on those types of trainees. But I know this isn’t out of spite or anything like that. They simply want to teach this person how to be wrong. How to be open and keep that humble, curious, absorbent beginner’s mind. No matter how knowledgeable or experienced one might be.

I used this as a reminder for myself as well. I am someone who can also get caught up in my own preferences and opinions, getting hostile towards anyone or anything that dwells outside of them. Even though this time around I was the teacher helping the new trainees, I didn’t feel that way. I was learning and growing from our conversation just as much as they were. I was merely in a difference part of the classroom of life, a different seat, allowing me to see new things that I wasn’t able to before.

What I’m trying to say here is this: Never stop learning. Each day, each moment, each person is an opportunity to learn something new. No matter how much you think you know already. That’s one of the most beautiful things about this life. There is always more to soak in. Make sure your ego doesn’t prevent an open mind and, of course, an open heart.

Practicing Self-Compassion and Loving-Kindness

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The past few days I have been reading a book by Christopher K. Germer PhD entitled The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions). I am only half-way through the text but already it has created some lasting impressions on me. The author delves into explaining more thoroughly one aspect of mindfulness and meditation that had always been obscure and quite challenging for me. This is the idea that you must learn to accept and sit with negative feelings and emotions as well as positive ones.

In the back of my mind during my practice this idea has always been there stagnating. I wanted to be able to accept my more difficult emotions but not knowing how to go about doing that, I ended up just trying to ignore and push away those feelings. When I wasn’t able to get around them or keep them from the forefront of my mind I would end up feeling hopeless. I began criticizing and became disappointed in myself for my lack of control.

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion is slowly showing me how to better deal with these harder to swallow feelings. It was comforting to know that others are struggling with the same pesky negativity, regret, anxiety, shame, anger, and fear that I was. I know that burying these negative feelings or worse yet, piling on more negative self-talk when they arise only creates more suffering, but I didn’t know how to prevent it. This book is teaching me how to respond to these difficult moments with self-compassion instead of self-criticism.

Until reading this book it never really occurred to me that that was an option. I felt a sudden release of tension when I came across this advice as if a bubble just burst or I took a deep breath after being underwater for so long. It is so much easier to turn toward myself than to turn away. I guess until now I had always thought it was selfish or silly to feel compassion for myself when I get frustrated or anxious. I thought that would make me weak, that it’d be like babying myself. In the past, I was only able to illicit this type of response from myself in the most dire of circumstances, when I felt I truly had no one. Now I can see that it is the only way to truly move on from negative feelings big or small.

Earlier today I noticed my chest getting tight as I thought about someone I intensely disliked. Normally that would have started a cascade of justifications in my inner dialogue. I would have been mulling over the reasons this person deserved my hatred and all the different ways they were an inconvenience to my day. Instead of engaging in those thoughts, this time I stepped back from my anger. I felt the negative way my body physically felt in response to this emotion and I comforted myself. I thought quietly in my head, “I am sorry that you are feeling this way, Rachel.” And just like that I felt better. It was truly inspiring.

I know that these things take years to fully become enmeshed in our consciousness, but I already feel so motivated to practice these new skills. The last few days I have been working on loving-kindness meditation instead of just mindfulness meditation. It has renewed my passion for my practice. I truly look forward to spending those brief fifteen minutes each day to give myself unconditional love and support. It has been so rejuvenating that I’ve even contemplated increasing my sitting time or resolving to meditate more than once a day.

I hope that you will check out Christopher Germer’s book for yourselves. It is definitely worth the read. Now I am able to respond to myself with gentle awareness and compassion not only in times of intense despair but in small moments I notice myself struggling with throughout the day. I cannot wait to see where this insight in my practice takes me. I hope that you will join me on this path to inner peace and loving acceptance of self. I am sending you all the love and encouragement I can offer, and I am also finally offering the same to myself. ♥