Playing with Your Personal Edge

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.

Anger, Compassion, and Not Knowing

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I struggle with anger nearly every day. The smallest things can set me off in an instant. A pattern has begun to emerge from these occurrences. The common denominator for my anger always seems to be a sense of “not knowing.” For example, I’ve been getting extremely frustrated with my dog the last few days. She goes through spells of refusing to go up and down the stairs. I try to carry her, but she won’t allow that either. She makes me chase her around in circles before finally she goes on her own. This has been happening on and off at random intervals since we’ve moved here, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what it’s all about.

I’m obviously not mad at her. She’s just an innocent animal who is clearly scared or in pain of some kind. (I’ve wondered if it may have to do with arthritis inflammation that comes and goes.) Regardless of what the explanation is, I think what it really comes down to is the fact that I don’t know. As someone who prides themselves on their quick wit and intelligence, not knowing anything is a threat to my ego. It’s not as if I’m consciously aware of this in the moment though. I make lots of excuses for myself to explain why I am actually angry. Normally it has something to do with believing the whole situation to be utter nonsense. If I can’t understand it or find a good reason, I assume that it’s impossible to understand, that there is no reason.

I realize that this isn’t true. There are many motives and reasons that guide people that I cannot fathom or understand from the outside. It’s a bad habit of mine to assume they must not have a good reason, and they are just being difficult. I guess it feels like deep down one of us must just be stupid, and since it absolutely cannot be me (because I am so very smart *eye roll*) it must be them. This is yet another way my black and white thinking causes problems for me. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that two people can just misunderstand one another. One person doesn’t inherently have to be of lower intelligence.

I’ve been trying to practice compassion in the face of anger recently, but it hasn’t been going as well as I might have hoped. I think the missing piece is that, while I’ve been trying to foster compassion for the other person, I have not offered myself the same compassion. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to not understand. It does not mean that I am any less intelligent for acknowledging that. You don’t have to know absolutely everything to be smart. No one knows everything. We all have our blind spots.

I think if I afford myself the grace to not know, I will finally be able to relax enough to get curious again. The double edged sword of intelligence is the ego’s desire to protect and prop up that intelligence. Sadly, if you never allow yourself to not know, how will you ever be open to learning something new? Learning, coming to new understandings, and finding new perspectives are some of my favorite parts of life. How boring it would be to think there is nothing left for me to discover.

By turning to anger so quickly in any situation I don’t immediately understand, I am robbing myself of the opportunity to learn something new. The next time I find myself overcome with frustration, I am going to try my best to pause and ask what is it about this situation that I am not understanding? Can I allow myself to not understand for the moment? How might holding space and staying open allow me to benefit and grow in this moment?

Maybe if I were to resist my anger, I may notice something new about the periods of time when my dog appears afraid to go down the stairs. Maybe I can help her more effectively if I give myself the space to discover her hidden reasons. And ultimately, even if I never understand, can I offer compassion anyway? Can I have the humility to accept that there are some things I may never understand? Can I acknowledge that compassion does not always come from understanding? Compassion and loving kindness are mine to give freely and are applicable and beneficial in any situation regardless of personal comprehension.

In the same vein this mindset would do me good in regard to the way I feel I’m perceived by other people. I tend to think that if I am not fully understood by someone, then they cannot truly love me. Now I am beginning to see that isn’t true. I’ve certainly loved people that I may not have understood 100%. I don’t think we can ever understand another, or even ourselves, fully. But that does not lessen or cheapen the love that we can offer. The best love is unconditional anyway. I don’t have to reserve my love and compassion for only people and situations that I understand. Perhaps it is even better given in those instances. Love and compassion transcend understanding, and that is part of what makes them so poignant, beautiful, and worthwhile.

Lessons Learned

There are so many valuable things I’ve learned in my twenty-seven years of life. Working with kids always leaves me wanting to teach these lessons to the amazing little people I meet every day. This is especially true when it comes to the teenage girls. It’s painful to see so many of them who remind me of myself at that age. I want to tell them that high school drama isn’t going to matter in a few years. I want to tell them to let it all roll off their backs and just enjoy their youth. I want to tell them they don’t need someone else’s love to make them happy, that happiness is something we get to choose, that comes from inside us. But I don’t say any of this.

I don’t say it, because all of these things were said to me a million times as a teenager. It’s frustrating to grow up and realize it was all true. So why couldn’t I believe it back then? Why did I have to suffer long enough to learn these lessons for myself? And what is it that finally allowed me to accept these messages? It certainly isn’t just getting older. I know many people that are adults and haven’t yet embraced these truths I now hold so dear.

While I may not have an explanation for all of these questions, I did listen to a podcast recently that shed some light on the situation. Our brains simply learn better through personal experience than they do by being taught by someone else. So no matter how much we want to spare our own children and the young people in our lives from unnecessary suffering by just telling them what we’ve learned from ours, it isn’t going to work. Perhaps that suffering isn’t totally unnecessary after all. This is why Socrates didn’t go around preaching the things he knew. Rather, he asked his neighbors questions, nudging them towards their own truths. This is why therapists don’t just tell you what you need to do. They help you discover these answers for yourself. When we realize an answer or solution on our own, it hits us differently.

I suppose this is also why telling people about veganism never seems to change their minds at all. There is truly nothing I can say to someone that will make them go vegan. Deep down I think I’ve always known this. I think all vegans do to some extent. After all, most of us were once the meat-eaters shrugging our shoulders at all the information we now desperately try to show others. In the same way, I’ll never be able to get a teenager to realize that high school doesn’t matter, that their emotions won’t be this intense forever. I certainly didn’t believe it when it was told to me. It feels like I hardly even heard what these adults were saying at all. If anything, I resented them for acting like my problems weren’t real. As if I was choosing to feel the way I felt. Hell, I don’t think I realized the importance of loving myself and not waiting for someone else to come and make me happy until I was like 25!

While the idea of needing to learn something for yourself for it to stick makes perfect sense to me, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I feel helpless to make any kind of difference at all. I’m left biting my tongue, just hoping that somehow these people will find their way on their own. The hardest part is I don’t even know how to turn them in the right direction. I don’t know the right questions to ask them. I’m not Socrates. I’m not a therapist. And worst of all, I don’t even know how I eventually made these connections in my own head!

With Veganism, I’m ashamed to say, I think it was a total accident. I didn’t have this noble, benevolent change of heart one day. I went vegan for purely selfish reasons. Then once I was already living that way, my cognitive dissonance about eating animals lifted and I was able to see things as they truly are. However, when it comes to my personal life lessons about self-love and letting go, I have no clue how I came around to them. Especially knowing the kind of teenager I was. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d become the person I am today. The only thing I can think of is that maybe it was because I started a yoga practice. Even when you approach it for purely exercise or weight loss reasons, something about the physical practice clears away the clouds inside of you and teaches you the most important things in life without you even realizing it.

Honestly, now that I think about it, I’m starting to see how my biggest insecurities and struggles have actually been the things that led me exactly where I needed to be. Both yoga and veganism were only of interest to me at first to the extent that they could help me lose weight. Yet despite neither really doing that, I was given things far more important. Now these things are core parts of my identity, things I practice every single day, things that bring me closer to that all encompassing loving kindness and peace that I’ve always urned for. If I had been born into a itty bitty, “perfect” body I doubt I would have found the things that really give my life meaning. And I certainly wouldn’t start eating animal products again and give up yoga for something as silly as physical appearance.

I guess ultimately all we can do for the kids and other people in our lives that are struggling is be there for them. We may not be able to spare them the suffering we all experience in this life, but maybe we can at least show them by example that, though we may suffer, it’ll be worth it one day. We can’t take away their problems or expose those problems as mere shadows on a cave wall, but we can sit next to them and hold their hands while they work to figure it out for themselves. We can only offer our compassion and our unconditional love and acceptance. And maybe that’s better than any lesson we try to teach anyway.

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Growing Through Relationships

Just because a relationship is easier, doesn’t mean that it’s better. This realization came to me as I was snuggled into my boyfriend’s side over the holiday weekend. For a long time before I met Nate, I struggled with the persevering obsession with my ex. Even when I hadn’t spoken to him in months or even years, that sense that we were supposed to be together never left me. Part of me was convinced that the obsessive thoughts alone were proof of that fact. There must be a good reason that I can’t let him go. I told myself that reason was destiny or some such nonsense that I never really believed in.

It seems obvious now, but only after listening to one of my favorite podcasts discuss this phenomenon of not being able to let a partner go, did I realize that other people felt the way I did. It wasn’t because they were “destined” to be together. Often it was just because the person was someone they loved as an adolescent. That teenage love has a tendency to be overwhelming and all consuming. It’s no wonder people can find it hard to let that go. Especially when no adult relationships seem to be able to measure up to that level of intensity. That isn’t because our high school sweetheart was the one. It’s because back then we were flooded with hormones and our prefrontal cortex wasn’t fully developed yet.

In addition to that, I also realized this weekend that one of the reasons I would often find myself comparing and preferring my past partner was because things felt easier with him. This ease was another sign to me that we were meant to be. However, all of a sudden I realized that wasn’t true. Things weren’t easy because we were soulmates. Things were easier because he enabled me. He allowed me to remain stagnant, to avoid any personal growth. I don’t think this was malicious or on purpose. It was just the dynamic we had together. His traits compensated for the underdeveloped parts of me. And that felt good. It felt safe.

On the contrary, I noticed that a lot of the little things about Nate that rub me the wrong way are actually qualities we both share. For instance, he is always agreeable and appeasing. Usually I am the one that plays that role. I’m terrible at making decisions and being assertive. It’s much easier when I have a partner that is. Then I can just go along with whatever they want to do. Seeing my own indecision and passivity in Nate is the reason I find it irritating sometimes. For the first time in a relationship, I feel forced to make decisions.

I don’t enjoy making decisions. However, for that very reason, it is important that I practice doing so. In the past, I let my partner make all the first moves and decisions for everything. I thought because I preferred this, it meant we were a good match. I’ve started to see things differently though. Now I realize that those relationships kept me from improving as a person. Being with Nate has already helped me to push past my comfort zone and work on some of the skills I’m deficient in. While this isn’t fun for me, it’s beneficial. It’s hard to work on ourselves. It’s hard to face the parts of ourselves that we may not like. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, though.

In addition to helping me grow, being with someone so similar to me helps me to get a broader perspective on how others may perceive my behavior. I had always thought just going along with what whoever I was with wanted was a positive thing. I thought it would make me more likeable. Now I realize that it may actually be doing the opposite. I see how it might make the other person feel I am creating distance between us, not allowing them to see the full picture of who I am, what I like, etc.

I no longer feel uncertain about whether or not Nate is “right” for me. He’s perfect. Even his imperfections are exactly what I need. Not only does he help me love and understand myself better, he is also helping me to become a better person. I’ve finally been able to let go of my ex for good. I am now able to see just how unhealthy that relationship actually was. It is such a joy to be free of that mental burden and find rest in a love that is good for me.

Self-fulfilling Prophecies

I am fascinated by the way our internal dialogue effects the way we exist in this world. It’s another chicken and the egg situation. Do we create these inner narratives about ourselves because they are true or do they become true because we believe them? It’s hard to say. Perhaps at one time it was true, but since that time it has become only a limiting believe, a habit, a pattern of thinking that limits our potential for growth and change.

What are some of the default things you tend to think about yourself? Are these positive or negative thoughts? Is the voice of your self-talk gentle or cruel? How do you think that effects who you are? For me most of my beliefs and language about myself are extremely negative. It is only very rarely that I give myself any credit or positive feedback. I fixate on my perceived flaws and ignore all of the good things about myself. A few of the phrases I’ve noticed myself reciting a lot in my head are: I am so anxious. I am so tired. Why am I like this? I hate myself. I’m going to die. I want to die. Even though the latter three are said in a more exaggerated, sarcastic way (normally when I am cringing from embarrassment) they still must have an impact on my mental health and my self-image.

I would love to experiment with adding some more positive phrases into my daily self-talk. I want to get into the habit of saying things like: I am happy. I am calm. I am enough. I am excited. I love myself. I am talented. I am worthy of love. I am filled with joy. I am overflowing with energy. I am generous. I am kind. How might my life be different hearing these words of love and encouragement from myself every day instead of constant criticism? It couldn’t hurt to at least give it a try and find out. Maybe by changing my self-talk I could start to feel less anxious, less tired all the time. I think it would be even better and easier to overpower my old mental habits if I practice saying these more uplifting phrases out loud to myself instead of only in my head.

I am very interested lately in the power of vibrations. There is something so mysterious and beautiful about the way sound waves are able to affect us. Words spoken aloud have much more weight to them then when they are simply said silently in our own heads for some reason. A example of this I’ve recently started paying attention to in my own life is singing. Just listening to music is nice, but it hits you so much more powerfully when you are passionately singing along. Even simply humming a made-up tune can put me in a better mood. Why is that? I’d love to read more about it to find out. Until now I had always felt uncomfortable with the idea of chanting during meditation, but now I am definitely considering incorporating some type of chanting or mantra work into my daily practice.

One of the obstacles I encounter whenever I try to change my self-talk is doubt. Some days it can be really hard for me to feel any truth in the kind words I direct toward myself. If I am not in the right mood, it can even cause my unhelpful inner dialogue to become even louder and more viscous in an attempt to drown out the “foolish lies” I’m trying to feed myself. This makes me almost fearful of trying at times. I worry this backlash is potentially only making things worse. I have managed to overcome this occasionally by first imagining I am speaking to someone I love.

Conjuring up a mental image of a loved one is a great way to prep your mind and heart to be receptive to your new self-talk. Once your heart is feeling open and you’ve tapped into those loving feelings inside of you, it makes it easier to transfer those feelings over to yourself. If it’s hard to say “I” statements in the beginning, it can also be easier to start off by saying “you” when referencing yourself. Even though for a lot of us it may seem impossible at first to shift away from these things we’ve believed about ourselves for so long, I promise that it’s possible. It will only get easier the more we practice. And it’s definitely worth the effort.

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Five Years

It still feels surreal to me, but I officially have a boyfriend again after five years of being single. I feel ridiculous being so happy and giddy over something so commonplace, but I can’t help myself. I hadn’t even realized it had been five years until now. Time perception is such a wild and ever-changing thing. It’s crazy to think that when I was in school, a mere four years enveloped a huge, important chunk of my life (high school) and now the past five have just been a vague blur, hardly worth remembering. I suppose there were highlights within the past few years, but they don’t seem to stand out as much as similar things would have when I was younger. Maybe the structure of school just allowed for a more organized, and therefore more easily remembered, life.

Regardless of how long is seems, it has been five years. I’m 27 years old now, yet I definitely still feel 22 if not even younger when it comes to my emotional maturity. As someone who is quite proud of being more intelligent than most, it is quite a painful realization that my emotional intelligence is so stunted. It really has never been so obvious to me as it has in the last few weeks with my new partner. The littlest thing makes me tongue tied with embarrassment. Then that embarrassment is compounded again and again as I cringe at myself, embarrassed of being embarrassed. I’ve always felt that I am clueless and awkward when it comes to dating and romance, but it didn’t seem like that was all that uncommon for my age back when I met my first boyfriend. However, even though so much time has passed since then, I feel exactly the same as all those years ago. A far less acceptable place to be emotionally now that I’m no longer 16. Over a decade has passed with little to no progress in that arena.

I suppose I’m just being too hard on myself again though. I don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love and affection. It’s okay to make mistakes and feel embarrassed. My new boyfriend doesn’t seem to be put off by it at least. I’m excited to learn and grow with someone by my side to support me again. Especially someone so considerate and kind as the one I’ve found. Although it does feel quite unfamiliar. I’m so used to being on my own now. It feels strange to tie myself to someone else, to not only have myself to consider or look out for anymore. Someone made a comment on one of my other posts about just waiting until I feel more emotionally developed or “ready” to start a relationship again. Definitely sounds like good advice. Unfortunately, I’ve already been doing that for half a decade! Remaining on my own seems to have only been making things worse, not better. Instead of growing as a person, I’ve remained in a stagnant cocoon, off in my own world. It’s only made it harder for me to be with others, not easier. Just like with most things, if you are waiting for the perfect moment, chances are you’ll be waiting forever.

This analytical, obsessive mind of mine just loves to get lost fixating on the details. I’m always stuck worrying about all of the unknowns ahead. For once I’d like to just enjoy the blissful happiness that I have in this moment. It’s time to let go of fear and to learn how to just trust, in myself, in my fellow humans, in this universe. All is well. I am healthy. I am happy. I am loved. I have found a beautiful, intelligent, kind, vegan boy who wants to be with me. And for the first time in a very long time, I desperately want to be with him as well.

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Throat Chakra

The throat chakra is connected with communication. It helps us to express ourselves, our feelings, and our personal truth confidently and clearly. I still don’t know exactly where I lie on the sliding scale of believing all of these things. However, I do find it fascinating to learn about chakras and integrate this knowledge into my own life. At the very least the chakras are a nice way to visualize a lot of the obstacles that come up within ourselves. Sadly for me, no matter what chakra I think about, it seems like I have a blockage in it. It’s no wonder I feel so anxious and on edge.

Today I wanted to focus on the throat chakra though. For me, like the heart chakra, this chakra is easy for me to buy into. Our language even has phrases that have become part of our shared culture that seem to reference this energy center. “Frog in your throat,” “lump in your throat,” “choked up,” “choking back tears,” all of these remind us of that familiar sensation of tightness in our throats when we are struggling to speak.

It seems like the art of communication has become more and more forgotten as humanity becomes more comfortable texting than speaking in person. It is much easier to choose the right words when you have time to think about it and carefully craft your response. Especially without the added pressure of the person waiting right in front of your to hear what you have to say. With texting you can take as long as you want to figure our the perfect way to phrase your thoughts.

For the longest time I’ve described my difficulties with speaking my mind as a fear of confrontation. However, lately I’ve started to think that it’s more than that. I’m just afraid to speak my truth. I am so concerned with what other people will think of what I have to say or the reactions it may illicit. I pause, panicked, searching my mind for the most polite and non-offensive way to speak the words I want to say. So many times I’ve gone along with something I didn’t want to just because it was too difficult and awkward to say no. Even when I’ve mustered up the courage to say no, I often feel ashamed and guilty about it. I have to stifle the urge to profusely apologize. And apologize for what? For being honest? There should be no shame in being true to myself. The idea that so many times I’ve put the needs and desires of others ahead of my own just to avoid feeling awkward saddens me deeply.

I hesitate to be so open and share the details of my private life any more than I already have on this blog, but no one knows who I really am on this site anyway, so fuck it. The reason I’ve been contemplating these things is because of my date yesterday. I notice my shortcomings in self-expression the most when I am dealing with romantic relationships. I usually seek out a partner that is so emotionally intelligent that they are able to compensate for my extreme lack of personal insight. I realize that is unrealistic though. I can’t expect my partner to simply carry my weight. I must try to push myself through my own hardships.

Anyway, I always dread the moment when someone I’m dating tries to be physically intimate with me. I’ve mentioned on here before that I have a very low sexual interest, especially with people I’m not in love with or very emotionally bonded to. There have been many times in the past where I have given reluctant consent to sexual encounters simply because I felt obligated to. I felt too guilty and awkward to say no. I realize the horror of that statement, but it’s true. Even though I did that to avoid confrontation or uncomfortable conversations, it never ended well for me as you might imagine. This attempt at avoiding healthy communication and mutual understanding and respect led to a lot of pain, heartbreak, and even more unpleasant conversations down the road.

Knowing that my date was going to be stopping at my house to pick me up yesterday, I had already tried to mentally prepare myself for what may come later on. Sometimes I’ll even do something like avoid shaving so the embarrassment of them discovering that forces me to be true to myself and say no to their advances. Humiliatingly enough, sometimes that has even failed. As I had anticipated, the dreaded hour drew near where this lovely man I met wanted to go further physically than I was comfortable with. While I am proud of myself for sticking to my guns and declining, it doesn’t change how embarrassed and ashamed that moment made me feel.

I did my best to explain that it was only because I still did not know him that well, but I feel I could have said much more than I did. I desperately wanted to discuss it more, but that damn frog in my throat wouldn’t let me. I spent the rest of the evening suffering in silence. I am always afraid that saying no will result in the end of that relationship. I know how foolish that idea is though. Wouldn’t I rather it end there than have slept with someone who would have stopped talking to me if I hadn’t? Just the idea of sleeping with someone for any other reason than because I deeply desire to is terribly sad.

Part of the issue is a lack of experience in these types of scenarios. I don’t have many healthy examples to draw from. Most of my social skills have been adapted from television and movies. But when it comes to sex, these sources are even more unrealistic than usual. In my mind, it seems perfectly reasonable to not have sex with someone the third time you’ve ever met. Then why do I feel so awful for saying no?

Part of my fear is not knowing when, if ever, I will want to say yes. One of the many reasons romantic relationships are so hard for me to navigate is that I struggle to enjoy each moment as it comes. I am always wondering what the end result will be of every decision. I can’t enjoy a kiss, because I’m busy panicking about where it might go from there. I can’t listen to my own body when I am worried about what will make the other person like me the most. I guess the only real way to improve my communication skills is to keep getting practice through uncomfortable moments like these. I’m sure it’s much more embarrassing to be declined than to be the one declining. Yet my empathy for the other person’s position only makes what I’m experiencing all the more painful. Just a few days ago I was so happy and excited. Now I’m not sure how I feel at all. I feel detached and depressed mostly. I have no idea where this relationship is going to lead, nor do I know where I want it to at this point.

I’m not going to give up just yet though. I have to remind myself not to be so serious all the time. Just enjoy the time I spend with this guy for what it is. I don’t need to know everything that the future holds. Part of the fun is not knowing. All I have to do now is stay true to myself and follow my own feelings and intuition, letting each moment unfold as it comes.

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I Choose

The longer I live, the more I realize just how much about our lives and the way we experience reality is a personal choice. Our upbringing, our genetics, and our environment definitely contribute to how easily we are able to choose one thing over another, but we all have a choice. Some people may be naturally inclined to view things more negatively than others. For these people, it will always take more effort and practice to see the good in other people and situations. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort.

I think I was born a with a friendly, happy, and positive disposition. Even so, as I grew older I began to lose touch with that lighthearted, open nature. Encounters with heartache, pain, and rejection caused me to close my heart little by little in an attempt to protect myself, to shield myself from the world. I started to view myself as a pessimist. I was the stereotypical “emo” kid throughout high school. The longer I stayed in that “woe-is-me” mindset, the more I started to identify with it. Suffering became an essential part of me. For years now I have been working to redirect myself back down a more positive path, a path that feels more true to who I was meant to be, and who I want to be. (I plan to keep that emo aesthetic though. I love me some black clothing.)

Currently, I am at a stage where I am able to clearly see both sides of that coin. I can see the negatives, the pessimistic viewpoint I would have once had, but I can also see the positives, the option I have to view things in a different way. I used to think one way was more true or honest than the other, but now I see that reality is all about perception. There is no right or wrong way to experience the world. It is always a choice. At times this can lead me to feel frustrated as I struggle against that doom and gloom voice I spent so many years feeding and building up inside my own head. It can be easy to get stuck feeling hopeless, feeling unable to change, a lost cause.

When these doubts begin to bubble up I try to remind myself just how far I have come. I never could have imagined that I would be able to become the person I am today. All I can do is keep moving forward and trust in myself. It may be a slow and arduous process, but it’s worthwhile. Truly, it is the only kind of self-improvement that matters. You can tell yourself you will be happy once you get a promotion, make more money, lose more weight, build more muscle, move somewhere else, but even after reaching all of your goals, you are still the one you have to face at the end of the day. It is easy to think that changing external circumstances will change the way we think and feel inside. That inner voice loves to complain and blame this or that for all of our problems. However, those upsetting and limiting thoughts are the real problem. This is always where we must start our journey, inside ourselves.

Even after seeing so many people achieve the things I want to achieve in life and continuing to be miserable, I find myself thinking those same accomplishments will bring me happiness even if it didn’t for them. We always think we are the exception. But those things we desire are ultimately just distractions. They are excuses for why we aren’t able to be happy right now. It can be difficult to admit that we are the only reason we aren’t happy. Happiness comes from within. It has been ours since the day we gained consciousness and it will be available to us in each and every moment until the day we die. Even when it feels impossible for you to allow yourself to be happy, just know that it’s because you haven’t spent enough time practicing. Sometimes I even think of this practice like a game. When I find myself facing something exceptionally upsetting or challenging, I ask myself: are there any positives I can find in this situation? Just like the hag stones I scan the riverbank for, the more time you spend searching for certain things, the easier it becomes to spot them. When I first tried to find those special stones, I felt like I would never find one. I wasn’t even sure if there were any to find. Yet now I am easily able to pick up two or three as I walk along the shore without even trying. At first it might feel like there is really nothing good about different parts of your life, but the more you practice looking for the good in things, the easier it will become and the more abundant those good things will seem.

It can be hard work, training ourselves to be happy, but it is possible. Don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Keep trying. I say these words for myself as much as for anyone who happens to be reading this. We are capable. We are powerful. We have everything we need inside of us. Don’t be afraid. You are safe. You are loved. You are enough. Even if at first you don’t believe it, keep repeating these uplifting, empowering words to yourself. Eventually they will become as true and real to you as that negative inner dialogue that many of us have become accustomed to. It may not be easy, it may take a very long time, but I promise you, it will work. And it will be worth it.

Lessons from Childhood

I find it very interesting to see the way the children I work with interact with the world around them. Although their problems and emotions are often less complex than those that come with adulthood, they can be surprisingly similar in other ways. I find myself specifically fascinated with those common toddler tantrums. It may sound ridiculous coming from an adult, but I identify with their unmanageable emotional states more than you’d think.

It used to make me panic when a little one would start freaking out, but now I see it as an important opportunity. I’m so used to seeing parents only responding with more threats and yelling. Which obviously only makes the child freak out even more. I have no idea what they hope to accomplish with that. Perhaps it’s just an example of the parents having little to no control over their own emotional state while dealing with the child’s.

For me these moments relate back to my dilemma about helping people when they seem stuck in thinking and seeing things a certain way. One of the many wonderful things about children is how malleable their minds are. When a toddler is pouting, I see it as a great opportunity to test out different methods of helping them escape that unpleasant mindset. What works? You really have nothing to lose because even if nothing works, they tend to come out of it on their own quite quickly.

I still haven’t been able to make any super significant progress. But yesterday I did think of something that I’ll definitely try again. A little four-year-old girl was pouting because we took away a box of things she was ripping up. As she stood their, arms crossed, teary-eyed, I tried to come up with a way to show her that it was a waste of time to be angry and upset. Their time at our center was almost over and I wanted her to see that her time would be better spent further enjoying all the toys we have instead of pouting. One question, did seem to make her pause.

I eventually thought to ask her if she liked feeling upset. After a stunned moment of silent thought, she stubbornly answered yes. While it didn’t go exactly as I’d planned, she did seem to see a glimmer of humor in this blatant lie. What I was actually getting at though, and what I hope to be able to show more kids, is that it’s our choice whether to be upset or happy. It seems like I didn’t learn that until a few years ago myself.

When these strong emotions come up inside of us, especially when we are young, it feels like they must be right. That we must be supposed to feel this way, because of whatever has happened. It seems impossible to feel any other way. Then we become indignant, latching on to these negative feelings, insisting on the truth of them. Little ones luckily don’t have the willpower or attention span to hold onto them for very long. But as we grow older, rather than learning how to let go of these feelings quicker, we seem to learn how to hold onto them for far longer instead.

It’s funny how we all agree the things children throw fits about are ridiculous, but as adults we feel our inner tantrums are fully justified. Yet in the grand scheme of things, they are all just as silly. And even if they aren’t, it never helps to harbor negative feelings and sour even more moments in response to things not going our way. Maybe part of the reason I am so interested to figure out ways to help kids with these feelings, is so that maybe I can gain some insight into how to better help myself with them as well.

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Children

It is crazy how much can change within you in only a year. When I first began working at a child advocacy center, I really didn’t like children very much. I know it sounds awful, but it’s true. I didn’t dislike them. I just hadn’t had hardly any experience with them in my personal life, let alone at work. I have no idea why I was even hired to be honest. My social anxiety has always been extra overwhelming when it comes to children. I had never learned what I was supposed to do or say around them. I had no idea what to expect or how to respond.

Learning how to talk to and behave around children is just another one of the many reasons I am inexpressibly grateful for this job. Now that I have been able to spend so much time with children, it turns out that I actually love them. They are so much better than adult humans. So innocent and loving. So eager to please. So eager to learn and to understand. They are truly amazing little creatures. There is a unique joy that comes from gaining the trust of a child, to be offered a tiny hand or hug. Even though we aren’t supposed to be touching one another right now because of the pandemic, who could deny such a blessed gift?

Part of me began to worry when I realized I actually love children now. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on my blog before, but when I was 22 or 23 I had my tubes tied. I never had the desire to have children, and was always terrified at the idea of accidentally getting pregnant and having to have an abortion. Or even worse, not being able to get an abortion. I am still so grateful that I found a caring doctor that was willing to respect my wishes and my right to make decisions about my own body. Never once did she talk down to me or try to tell me I’d change my mind some day. And I’m relieved to be able to say I haven’t.

I don’t think I’ll ever come to regret that decision. I still firmly believe that human being in general are a plague upon this planet. I would never add more fuel to that fire. Besides, I could never allow myself to bring a child into this world knowing I’d have to watch them die when the earth becomes uninhabitable in a few decades. I still think I am too selfish and impatient to be the kind of mother I would want to be. I’m still more than happy just having my fur children. Besides even if I ever wanted a child of my own, I would never be brave enough to go through pregnancy and childbirth. That whole process still seems horrific to me. I see no difference between an adopted child and one that has my DNA. I’d happily be a foster parent or adopt a child if the urge ever struck me to bring a child into my life.

For now I feel like I am exactly where I need to be. Being a child advocate is the perfect job for me in so many ways. Apparently a lot of people that don’t want to have children of their own end up working with children instead. I think it’s a perfect compromise for the nurturing, motherly instinct I have as a woman. I am still able to have children in my life without having them in my home. I have a place to help them learn and grow and thrive, while also still having my privacy and personal space at home.

I finally understand that deeply fulfilling feeling of being a positive influence in the life of a child. It is such a magical thing to see the world through their eyes, to see how much your words and actions mean to them. I can see now why so many people are able to have limitless hope in humanity. These little beings are capable of becoming anything. They have so much potential to do good in this world. They are so full of curiosity and love. If only there were more people around them to teach them how to hold onto that love as they grow older. The children of this world are definitely capable of learning, sadly the adults are not competent enough to teach them.

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