Forgive Yourself

I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life agonizing and lamenting some awful decisions I made. Thankfully as time continues to pass, I’ve been able to gain the space I needed to find perspective. Eventually we are able too look back on our younger selves with compassion rather than shame and regret. We begin to realize that we have to forgive ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t know.

As a child, my family had five dogs at one time. We lived out in the countryside and a lot of our dogs ended up with us because people would drive down our road and abandon them there. Ultimately we were being kind in taking care of them, feeding them, making sure they had all their shots, etc. But my parents would not allow them to live inside the house. It still haunts me to know that those dogs spent so many cold winter days and nights with only a plastic dog house filled with hay to keep them warm, chained in one small area for most of their lives. I still live with a lot of guilt about this which manifests itself in the form of reoccurring dreams where dozens of animals are confined, sick, dying, starving, and forgotten in dirty cramped cages.

I had always blamed myself for the way those dogs lived. Although my sister and I constantly pleaded with my parents to let them live inside, their response was always that if we were so concerned about it, we could give them away. Given this decision I always felt I should have allowed them to find new homes that would have treated them more properly. I was too selfish to do what was right. One day my sister made me realize something though. She said, “That was not our fault. We were children. We shouldn’t have been expected to make such a difficult decision. We loved those dogs and we did our best.” Until that conversation with my sister, I had never really considered the fact that we were merely children. I still have to remind myself of that fact from time to time. Now I’ve even begun to look back at my adolescent mistakes and realize that I was just a kid.

Only since finding another person that I truly love deeply and unconditionally, have I been able to look back at my time in college without immense pain and regret. For a very long time I thought I had destroyed my life. Even though the boyfriend I had back then was incredible and still one of the greatest loves of my life, I cheated on him. Not only that I cheated on him with two different people. Neither of which gave a single shit about me. Ultimately I broke up with that boyfriend in order to continue to explore what else was out there without guilt.

I can’t say what might have happened if I had stayed. All I know is that the years that followed were filled with disappointment, frustration, and heartache. But with my extremely limited romantic experience, how could I have known what I would find? How could I have known that the relationship I had was so uncommon and wonderful? If I hadn’t made the mistakes that I did, I may still be unaware of that. In the end, I’m grateful for the painful lessons I’ve learned through my mistakes. They have allowed me to become the person I am today and to be with another amazing person whom I love dearly.

I’m sure that I will continue to stumble and fall as I move along this path called life. There will be many more difficult lessons for me to learn. I only hope that part of me can remember that despite the pain, time will transform it into something worthwhile. I can recover from my mistakes, learn from them, even be grateful for them one day. But we don’t have to wait for that shift of time and perspective to be kind to ourselves. Punishing or belittling ourselves over our mistakes does not serve us. If nothing else, mistakes are an opportunity to practice self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-love. It is also a reminder to be gentle with others as they make their own mistakes.

It's Time for Forgiveness to Go Viral | Time

Being Better

Sometimes I get frustrated by the seemingly endless cycle that my mind traps me inside of. I spend most of my time just anxiously trying to occupy myself with nonsense activities to make the day go by faster. It seems like I am always looking for things to waste my time with. What makes this so frustrating is that there are actually a lot of important, helpful, productive things I could be doing with my time instead. I come up with lots of great ideas of how I can be more helpful around the office. I am always getting excited about all the ways I plan to improve my performance at work and prove that I am a valuable asset to my friends and coworkers. But despite all of my initial enthusiasm, once the time comes to sit down and do the work I’ve planned for myself, my anxiety always overwhelms me, paralyzes me.

I spend so much time feeling guilty for not being better. I am so smart and capable. I know I could do far more than I currently do. It’s just difficult for me to switch my energy towards more important pursuits over the ridiculous personal projects I am always working on. I blame my anxiety, but even that doesn’t fully make sense to me. I don’t have any explanation as to why doing these things cause so much fear and hesitation. In the rare moments when I am feeling calm, it seems more than possible for me to accomplish all of these lofty self-improvement goals, but once I begin to feel those first twinges of anxiety, it seems like all I can manage to do is survive. Avoiding that anxiety becomes my top priority, the only thing that matters above all else.

With our therapist at work leaving this fall, I feel even more pressure to amp up my work performance. It’s made me realize I’ve been leaning on my coworkers too much. I feel like I’ve been making them carry a lot of my weight this past year and a half. It’s crazy to me it’s only been that long. It feels like I’ve worked here all of my life. I really don’t want to ever leave. And I’m so tired of feeling guilty for not being more of a help to the people I work with. I’m tired of being afraid of them resenting me for it. Also as a state funded facility, I become more and more anxious about job security every day. At a small organization like ours, we really can’t afford any extra dead weight. I want to do my part. Even more than my part. I want to secure funding so that we can all feel safe to continue working here. I want to go home at the end of the day feeling proud for all I’ve accomplished for this organization that has given me so much. I want to feel like what I do here is really making an important difference.

I think one of my main issues is getting carried away when I am in my more upbeat, hopeful moods. I come up with so many ideas and tasks for myself to complete. Writing them out in never-ending lists only serves to make me feel even more overwhelmed. I know that what works best for me is to break down those long lists and schedule one task or so per day. That way I am able to actually accomplish a lot of my goals without feeling suffocated by the pressure of doing them all at once.

It is quite fascinating to me just how eager, happy, and excited I am able to get at the idea of doing all these extra tasks, but then just to put pen to paper or pick up the phone to make a single call sends me spiraling into fear and self-doubt. Not only that, I feel guilty for always using my anxiety as an excuse. I shouldn’t need someone to hold my hand and force me to do the things I want to do.

For the rest of today at least, I am going to try to stop my thinking mind from keeping me crippled and terrified. Instead of spending my energy contemplating and worrying about what I’m going to do before I do it. I am going to try my best to pick a task, take five long deep breaths, and then just do it. No more thinking. No more wondering if I should be doing something else, if I could think of a way to do it better, etc. I am grateful for my intelligence, but often it feels like a curse more than a gift. Wouldn’t it be lovely to just be able to act without thinking all the time?

Sometimes it helps me to remind myself that this is just one single day of my life. I remember all of the countless others that have come and gone without much consequence. It won’t kill me to do things differently or test my limits for one day. If it turns out to be unbearable, I don’t have to do things the same way again tomorrow. There is nothing to fear in trying and failing. It’s okay if something makes me feel anxious. There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling that way. It is the avoidance of that feeling that is truly causing me all this grief. I want to practice making peace with my anxious feelings rather than running from them. I am going to make today different. Even if it’s just today.

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Sit With It

When you notice yourself starting to feel overwhelmed, remember one thing. It’s okay to feel that way. There seems to be a constant pressure to make every moment of your existence pleasant or pleasurable or exciting. It is easy to forget that there is still value in the more difficult moments. There is nothing wrong with having an off day, month, or even an entire year. We don’t need to hurry ourselves to get out of these low periods in our lives. Often it is that very desperation to avoid our feelings that causes them to be such a burden on us. I would definitely say that my panicked reaction to noticing that I’m anxious or worrying that something will make me anxious is far worse and occupies more of my time than the anxiety itself.

It’s easy to skip a day of meditation or shorten my practice when I am feeling particularly jittery or restless. Even if I do make it into my seat, it can be an irresistible temptation to fidget, twist, stretch my neck, etc. Sometimes it’s impossible not to give in and allow some gentle movements as I’m first settling in. One of the things I’ve learned, however, is that resisting those urges can lead to a very meaningful, reassuring, and nourishing practice. Letting our minds trail off in thought or moving our bodies around are excellent ways to distract us from what we are feeling. Sometimes it feels like I am afraid of having any free time, because I won’t be able to avoid myself. But the beauty of these moments is what happens when you force yourself to face them.

I’ve learned that when you run from things, they keep chasing you. It becomes an endless race that leaves you exhausted. There is no true escape. On the other hand, when you ground yourself in the moment and allow your fears to catch up to you, they often dissolve in your gaze. It is so strange to be human, to be this unnatural animal living in an artificial reality. The mechanisms of evolution that have led us to this place, given us these bodies we now have, no longer seems to serve us. We are fish out of water. Yet we are the ones that have removed ourselves. We have created technology that allows us to breath on dry land, yet our physical forms continue to send signals of danger and death with every breeze.

While these signals are meant to protect us from real danger, sometimes the signals themselves become the thing we fear most. When we simply allow those feelings to wash over us, something amazing happens. We realize that these feelings cannot harm us. Subconsciously it seems like stress alone will suffocate us, so we continue to run from it every day. Once we finally decide to stop running and sit down to face these feelings of disease, we see that we have nothing to fear. We will survive the stressful moments. We will survive heartbreak and embarrassment. These emotions may never be easy, but we don’t have to let them control us either.

Meditation can be similar to exposure therapy. When a person is put into contact with an irrational phobia, this shows their body and mind that their phobia won’t really harm them. Then the fear can finally begin to dissipate. Meditation can be scary for this very reason. This is what makes it so hard for so many people. The fear of the unknown or even the fear of ourselves keeps a lot of people from every venturing to begin a meditation practice. Even after years of practicing every day, I still get nervous at the thought of sitting in that stillness. But it is always worth it. It is difficult to face your fears, but we must challenge ourselves to do so. We’ve got to have faith in ourselves in order to carry on. We must trust that we will make it through and that we are capable of handling whatever this life brings to us. Even when it seems impossible, take a deep breath, and try to sit with it.

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The Importance of Patience

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I’ve mentioned before that my mother is practically the holy saint of patience. At least when it comes to my sister and me. I have seen her lose her temper at my grandma or my dad a few times, but whenever it comes to her kids, she seems to have a limitless supply of time, compassion, and understanding. I have always been dazzled by this impressive character trait. I’m not sure why, but I certainly didn’t seem to have any of that passed down to me.

I can still remember my mother playfully commenting on my lack of patience when I was younger. I didn’t think much of it. I’ve always known that I am a very impatient person. I guess part of me just assumed that I’d get better at it as I got older. And that has happened somewhat. I certainly have more than I did as a child, but still no where near as much as my mother or my grandmother.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I have been spending time with my mom doing various tedious adult things like taxes and looking for a new car. She is very slow and meticulous with everything that she does. That’s how she drives, that’s how she eats, that’s how she communicates. I would imagine almost a serene, monk-like state existing behind her eyes if I didn’t know how anxious she actually is a lot of the time under the surface. When I spend time with her like this, it really emphasizes our different levels of patience.

Although, I generally restrain myself for as long as I can, I always feel the urge to start rushing her through things. Her slow pace makes me feel even more frantic for some reason. I begin to feel like jumping out of my skin. I’ve started to wonder how different it would feel to be a more patient person like her. She never seems to be rushing herself like I perpetually am. This sense of urgency really exacerbates my anxiety and it is ever present. Even when I find myself doing something for the purpose of killing time, I notice myself flying through it as fast as I can.

This lack of patience even comes up in my yoga practice. Most people would assume that the faster vinyasa flow classes or power yoga would be the most challenging, but really it depends on the person and what it is you’re wanting to challenge. Sure, those types of classes may be more physically challenging, but the slower classes are far more mentally challenging if you ask me. I am able to easily lose myself and surrender to the fast-paced movements of strenuous flows, but holding a seated forward fold in a yin yoga class can really test my ability to relax and stay with the breath. I notice a lot of students who also really struggle to relax and just lie there at the end of class in savasana.

Life already seems to be flying by at break-neck speed without the added stress of internal urgency. Sometimes it’s important to stop and ask ourselves exactly why we are rushing. Occasionally there is good reason, maybe your running late and need to get to work on time for a meeting, or you have to squeeze a lot of important tasks into the few free hours of your day. I’d imagine most people are able to relax after meeting whatever deadline they were so frantic to meet, but for me that sense of “not enough time” will keep following me long after.

It’s almost humorous how much I rush myself along. I rush to make coffee, to brush my teeth, to cook dinner, to workout, to get dressed, basically anything you can think of. I’ve gotten more speeding tickets than I’d like to admit. Earlier today I realized that I am also rushing myself in other ways. I never allow myself the time and space I need to meet my goals or aspirations. Because of the unrealistic time frames I always give myself to make changes, I always end up feeling like a failure or that I’m just not good enough. I end up giving up on what I set out to do before I’ve even given myself a fair chance. I never let myself simply enjoy the process.

Practicing mindfulness and meditation has been a wonderful help to me. They help me remind myself that I am exactly where I need to be. I am doing exactly what I need to be doing. It is worth more to do something well than to do it quickly. A rushing mindset is practically the opposite of mindfulness. I am always focusing on the next thing I have to do, ignoring the task I’m currently engaged in. Always struggling to be ahead of the current rather than letting it carry me. Most of the time when I ask myself what the purpose of this hurrying is, I come up blank. It is so easy for me to forget that life truly is about the journey rather than the destination. After all, I’m not really sure where that destination even is or if I’ll ever actually reach one. What would I do if I did?

There is no starting or stopping point in this mess we call life. Like I’ve said before, everything is a cycle. We can’t waste our time worrying about what lies ahead or behind. All that matters is taking the time to enjoy wherever we are in that cycle right now. There is really nothing else we can do. So today I’d like for my intention to be patience. I want to challenge my automatic movements. I want to slow down and take the time to really savor each moment, especially when it feels like I don’t have time. Time is just an illusion, a trick we play on ourselves. This soul, however, is infinite. This mind is limitless. This love is ever present and all consuming. Everything is as it should be. Now is the perfect time to revel in that truth, to be joyous, to be mindful, to be fully present.

Meditation for Kids

I’ve seen a few articles that discuss the benefits of replacing things like time out or detention with meditation whether in school or at home. Even since hearing about this idea, I’ve been a huge fan. It seems like a lot of the time parents and teachers can become so frustrated in the moment that they resort reflexively to age old punishments. Most people have used and/or been subjected to spanking or time outs. But how many of us have actually checked into the data behind whether or not these things are actually effective? Not only that, a lot of the time it seems like the intention behind these punishments seems to get lost somewhere along the way.

I would hope that most parents and teachers enact punishments in an attempt to correct and change negative, disruptive, or dangerous behaviors. While I’m not sure if the data supports the time out strategy in this regard, I know for a fact that spanking has been proven to be not only ineffective, but harmful to the child. Among other things, it leads to even more negative behaviors rather than preventing them. Unfortunately I’ve seen many parents dig their heels in on corporal punishment even after being confronted with this information.

Another thing that I’ve noticed while watching the way parents and other adults interact with children is that not many people seem to place any value in finding the time to actually explain things to kids. I don’t know why that is. I’m sure it could be many things from demanding unquestioning submission to their authority, to impatience, to modeling their parents’ behavior, to thinking the child wouldn’t be able to comprehend anyway.

One of the things I’ll never stop giving my mom credit for is always being willing to explain things to me. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realized just how incredible the amount of patience that woman has. She never seemed to get frustrated by my endless questions, even about the reasons why I wasn’t allowed to do something or had to do something else. She was even patient with me when after discovering the reason, I continued to debate with her and push the issue. This level of openness and respect allowed me to become the intelligent, thoughtful person I am today. It taught me to value knowledge and the importance of good communication and mutual understanding. Not only that, I feel it helped my mom as well. I think people underestimate kids. They seem to forget that they are just little humans with wills, wants, and desires of their own. Wouldn’t you be more likely to follow a rule if you understood why it was a rule in the first place? Isn’t it frustrating to be forced to do something just because you are told to?

With all of this in mind, I want to come back to the idea of meditation as a punishment replacement. When you think about it, a time out is already somewhat of the same thing. However, meditation gives this period of quite and stillness an important, clear intention. To me it seems like swapping out meditation for time out has almost unlimited potential for parents, families, teachers, and children alike. I can only image what a different world we would all live in if we started raising our kids this way. Think how much more receptive a child would be to this form of “punishment.”

When a kid is acting out, especially a little one, it doesn’t really make sense to expect a reprimand such as time out, taking something away, or especially striking them to make them calm down. So in the end you need to step back and remind yourself what the goal of these things is supposed to be. If it is simply to get revenge on the child for what they’ve done, then by all means, go ahead. You’re sure to upset them at the very least. But if the goal is to help the child find new, more appropriate behaviors and understand why their current behavior is unacceptable, then it seems like a pretty lousy strategy.

I think it would be a much more helpful and pleasant experience for everyone involved if in response to a negative behavior, someone would explain to the child: 1. Why this is unacceptable behavior. (How it negatively effects, not only others, but the child themselves.) 2. Why meditation is the response to this behavior. (How it can help the child not only behave, but feel better.) No one wants to feel like they are being punished for what they’ve done, even if they know it was wrong. However, we are all hardwired to act with our own self-interest in mind. Wouldn’t you be more likely to participate in something (even if you didn’t necessarily like it) if you thought it would ultimately benefit you?

I only wish someone had been around to teach me meditation as a child. For the most part when a child acts out, it is because they are upset or dealing with emotions they aren’t able to handle appropriately. And it really isn’t their fault, they’ve yet to develop the skills and areas of their brains necessary to properly regulate and process different emotions. Even so, kids know that it doesn’t feel good to be upset or to let your emotions overwhelm you. The majority of my life was spent thinking that these things were just out of my control. What a relief it was to me to discover that I actually have the power to regulate my own emotions and to strengthen this skill like a muscle. I’m sure I’d be much better at doing so if I’d started when I was younger too.

I believe children would really respond well to being taught these new, useful tools. It could simply be explained to them that the purpose behind these “time-outs” is for their benefit. It isn’t just to be mean or make them unhappy because they acted in a way we didn’t like. It is just a time for them to practice using these new tools so that they can have a happier, more peaceful life now and in the future. From what I’ve seen, kids are usually eager to please. Many may be quick to comply if they were told all of these things. It all comes down to treating kids with the patience and respect they deserve and remembering what we want the purpose of punishment to be.

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