Your Worst Enemy

“The worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests.

Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”

Friedrich Nietzsche

We have such a unique and complex relationship with ourselves as human beings. We can simultaneously be our biggest advocate and our greatest enemy. The various sides of who we are are somehow able to exist within us at the same time. It is a power play between these contradictory parts of ourselves. Sometimes it may seem like that harsh, hateful bully is the only one left, demeaning us, discouraging us, telling us stories of failure and hardship. But even in our darkest hour, that advocate is still within us somewhere. All we’ve got to do is listen for her voice. We have to fight the narrative being sold to us by our inner enemy.

We have to realize that regardless of which voice is speaking to us, we are neither of these voices. We are the witness, the watcher, the observer of our thoughts. Imagine yourself as the viewer of a TV show, this drama called life. The character called us may only be able to see a limited version of the events taking place in the show. As the viewer, we have the advantage of a wider perspective. We can see that there is a bigger picture that can help us understand and accept whatever the character might be going through, even if it’s unpleasant. We can sometimes get caught up in what we wish would happen or what we hope for the character, but in the end we have to trust the writers and the producers of the show to make it all work out.

We have to step back from our hopes and desires and expectations for ourselves and our own lives in a similar way. We have as little control over what happens to us as we do to what happens to our favorite TV characters. All we can do is watch, and that’s enough. We have to surrender to the universe and trust that things are happening as they should be. It seems like a tough choice to make, but really it’s the only one available. Otherwise we will be grasping and clinging to a mere illusion of control and causing ourselves even more suffering trying to maintain that illusion.

I would perhaps go even farther than Nietzsche does, and say that we are our only real enemy. Think about it. Do you really think anyone else cares as much about our success or demise as we do? Does anyone else even have the ability to make us suffer or fail? Sure those we share this life with have an influence on us. They have an effect on our lives for sure. But at the end of the day, we get to make the final decision. Will these new challenges we find ourselves forever faced with be chisels that chip away at us until there is nothing left? Or will they be the building blocks, the brick and mortar we need to build ourselves up bigger and stronger than ever before? There really is no objective reality. There is only our subjective experience of it.

Nobody can hurt me without my permission.

Gandhi

I’m sure I would have always understood and accepted the first quote by Nietzsche. After all, I have plenty of experience being my own enemy. However, when I first heard this second quote by Gandhi, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It stayed in my head for a long time though, rolling around, challenging my concept of the world and what it means to be a part of it. It’s really difficult for me to express what exactly helped me to change the scope of my perception on these types of subjects. I vividly remember how I used to take such expressions: Nobody can hurt me without my permission? That’s bullshit! You’re saying not only have I been the victim of something awful and unfair, but also that it’s my fault for the suffering it’s caused me? It didn’t take much for me to feel attacked and misunderstood. I refused to take any of the responsibility for the ways I found myself feeling.

My inner enemy had so thoroughly convinced me that I was nothing more than a victim in this life that no matter what the world offered me, that was going to be my role in the story. So of course when I heard Gandhi’s quote, I played the part of the victim once again. How can you blame me for the awful way I feel? I was looking for someone to blame and nothing more, instead of seeing these words of wisdom from the perspective I do now. Again, I’m not sure how I finally made the shift, but eventually I realized that this quote was extremely empowering. It’s not about blame, it’s about power. Who do you place your power with? Is it the people around you, the random events in your life? Or is that power yours to do with as you see fit?

The enemy within us tries to convince us that we have no power, we are helpless pieces of a fucked up puzzle. The advocate within us understands that we actually have all the power. It doesn’t sell us the delusion that we can control the world around us, but it does show us that we don’t need to. The only power we need is the power to choose for ourselves how we want to interact with and conceptualize the world. That is the greatest power of all, and we all have it. It’s not the toxic kind of power that can be bought and sold and used as a weapon against others. It is a power far more personal and pure, a silent power that no one else can see, but has limitless potential.

Don’t allow that enemy inside your head to convince you to play the victim in your own story. You can be the hero. You can play any part you want to play. This is your story and no one else’s. Even being our own greatest enemy can be positive or negative. How do you want to view it? Woe is me mentality says: I’ll never be able to have success or happiness because I’ll never escape myself, and I’m the one holding me back. That’s the enemy talking. Our advocate, forever full of loving kindness, says: If I’m the only thing standing in my way, then I am completely capable of overcoming that. I am the master of my own destiny.

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Staring Down Anxiety

Anxiety is a bully. It feeds off of the fear that it creates. The longer you avoid something because of anxiety the harder it becomes to face. Fear is a powerful motivator. It doesn’t really matter if the fear is rational or not. Sometimes anxiety and fear become inseparable. They swell and become monstrous in size, looming over us. We do our best to hide from them. But they are inside of us, so no matter how hard we try, how much we practice, there is nowhere safe to seal ourselves away.

The good news is just like a schoolyard bully, anxiety is easy to defeat. Bullies rule by fear more than might. Standing up to them is all that we really need to do. When we experience anxiety, the body is on high alert. It is telling us to get the fuck out of there. It feels like we will certainly die if we do not somehow escape the situation and the emotions we are feeling. Thankfully, there is still some part of us that knows this is untrue, that these feelings are unfounded.

When we listen to our anxious feelings we are reinforcing the brain’s believe that this fear response was correct. The good news is we don’t have to listen to our anxiety. It feels counterintuitive. Centuries of evolution have programed us to heed these warning signals from inside. Luckily we are intelligent enough to outwit our instincts. Don’t allow your anxiety to bully you anymore. Here’s a little meditation I am working on to help me stand up to my anxiety.

Face Your Fears Meditation

  • Take a deep breath and notice what anxiety feels like in your body. Do you feel tense? Numb? Energized? Do a full body scan and take note of any places you can feel nervous energy in your physical body.
  • Now start to take more deep, conscious breaths. Inhaling for a count of four. Hold for four. Exhale for four. Hold for four. Repeat this cycle a few times.
  • As the nervous system begins to relax, try to release any tense areas you identified earlier.
  • Let the breath return to its natural rhythm as you turn your thoughts to whatever is making you anxious.
  • Visualize yourself accomplishing or overcoming whatever it is you’re anxious about, experience the positive emotions of your success in your body.
  • Imagine what it feels like to be powerful, confident, brave.
  • Imagine how good it will feel to face your fears and overcome your anxious feelings.
  • Repeat to yourself softly, “I am brave. I am brave. I am brave.”
  • Now imagine it has already been done. Your anxiety vanquished, it evaporates.

Feel free to use, edit, or tweak this meditation any way you see fit. If the suggested mantra feels a bit empty or corny to you, pick one that resonates with you more. If that particular form of pranayama doesn’t suit you, incorporate another such as nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath.) The words and breath you use in a meditation aren’t necessarily important. The most important thing is the emotions you draw forth. If the words courage or bravery don’t make you feel anything, instead you could try to imagine a time when you felt brave or imagine what it would feel like in the future.

At the end of the day, anxiety can only win if we let it. I know you are strong enough to face your anxiety and overcome it. It may never go away, but we can learn how to work with it instead of against it. We get to decide how we perceive this life. For so long now I’ve chosen to view my anxiety as a burden, something that constricts me and holds me back from living the life I want. But I don’t have to look at it that way. Instead, I am going to use my anxiety to my advantage. I don’t have to feel ashamed that things that are easy for others may be quite difficult for me. Each challenge I face, however small, is a gift. It is a chance to step into my own power. It is a chance to believe in myself. It’s an opportunity for triumph, an opportunity to be brave.

Inhale Courage Exhale Fear. Inspiration Support Saying, Motivational Quote.  Modern Calligraphy In Floral Wreath Frame. Stock Vector - Illustration of  concern, panic: 119681270

What Is Vs What Could Be

Yesterday as I was preparing dinner, a powerful thought struck me. I was feeling very flustered and rushed because I have a quite busy schedule for the next week or so. I was going over everything I still had to do in my head, trying to decide just how much I would be able to pack into the few hours I had left in the day. I decided to go for a run with my dog rather than pull up the weeds in my flower bed or till my garden. When I got back however, I started to regret not having time to do all of it. I glumly imagined another life where I was able to do it all and how happy and successful I might be.

The thought that manifested from this internal dialogue was this: Stop worrying about how good your life could be and start enjoying it for how good it is. Yes! I am definitely going to be thinking back to this thought from now on. Because it’s true. Getting upset with myself for not being able to do all the things I would in an ideal world is a waste of time and energy. I don’t sit around and lament the fact that I am not rich or living in Sweden or an author, etc. There are an infinite number of lives that I might have lived. Millions of alternate realities where my life is different than it is now. It is just as silly to surrender my inner peace because my house could be cleaner or my yard more tidy, as it would be to spend every day mourning the successful singing career I never had. It’s fine to imagine how things might be different, but not at the expense of my happiness.

The next time I notice myself lost in “what ifs” I am going to recite that spontaneous mantra: Stop worrying about how good your life could be, and start enjoying it for how good it is. When I center myself in the present moment it becomes easy to let go of everything else. I already have so much. More than I could have ever asked for. This life is so beautiful and blissful and amazing. I get to learn new fascinating things every day, spend time with the people and animals I love, have new experiences, savor familiar ones. I get to live in this incredible body that does so much for me. I get to have this wondrous, intelligent, curious mind. I have so much in each moment to be grateful for that it’s almost hard to believe I am so easily able to take it all for granted and focus on what I don’t have instead.

This mentality applies equally to both my internal and external world. When I think about myself, hardly even is it anything positive. I ignore all that I am, all that I’m capable of, and instead wish for all the things that I am not. I am always kicking myself for not being able to do more, for feeling handicapped by my mental health, for not being pretty enough, thin enough, strong enough, flexible enough, etc. When was the last time I thought about everything I am grateful for about me? Perhaps I never have. Instead of comparing my body to pictures of strangers, I should be accepting it, respecting it, and adoring it for the way it is. I am so grateful to have this body, I couldn’t have asked for a better one. It gives me everything I need. It cares for me just as I care for it. Where would I even be without it? The same goes for my mind. Rather than use my time to think of all the ways it could be different, I want to celebrate it for being exactly the way it is. My mind is intelligent, caring, creative, curious, hilarious. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I keep focusing on the wrong things. Then the wrong things become everything.

– The Front Bottoms

You feed what you focus on. You give it energy, power, you attract more of it. If you are always looking for what you lack, you will never be satisfied no matter how much you have. However, if you shift your focus, if you begin to ponder your own abundance instead, you will discover that you lack nothing. It will never cease to amaze me, the double sided nature of everything in life. No matter what happens in this life, you have the power to make it serve you, to find a way to be grateful. We are so much stronger than we believe. We have more power than we imagine. It’s all about how we decide to use that power. And there is so much power in the choice to find gratitude for what we do have rather than remain bitter focusing on what we do not.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Breath

Before yoga, I never really paid much attention to my breathing. It was just something my body did, like blinking or swallowing, nothing very interesting or worth my attention. I think most people live their entire lives without really thinking about their breath. Even a lot of people that do yoga still don’t have a strong connection with their breathing. I certainly still have a LONG way to go myself with that aspect of my practice.

When I first began doing yoga, I was only concerned with “doing it right.” Certain poses were paired with inhales, others were paired with exhales. That much I knew. However, it was still difficult to keep this in mind when bending my body into, at that time, strange and unfamiliar positions. I didn’t know the significance of breathing in a certain way as I practiced. I was just trying to follow along. As my practice grew though, so did my connection with my breath and my understanding of its importance.

The breath is possibly the most important aspect of yoga. Not only that, but it is one of the easiest parts of practice to take with you into your daily life. You don’t need to do a 90 minute class to destress. Just a few deep, conscious breaths can work wonders. I used to think it was magical how, for some reason, doing yoga always managed to calm me down. Now I finally realize that it isn’t necessarily because of the movements and postures, it is because when I practice yoga, I am breathing differently.

It seems hard to believe at first, but the way we breathe can completely change how we experience life. There is a feedback loop between our mental state and our breath. When we are feeling anxious or upset, our breath naturally becomes quick and shallow. Our bodies are trying to prepare us to fight or flee. I’m sure this was once far more useful to us than it is in modern times. The good thing is, while our mental state effects our breath, the reverse is also true. We can use our breath to change our state of mind.

The next time you are feeling less than ideal, take a step back and notice your breathing. Is it quick and mainly staying up in your chest? If it is, try taking at least 5 mindful, full breaths. Consciously directing each inhale down into the belly, using the diaphragm. Try making the exhale twice as long as the inhale, pushing out every bit of air. Breathing in this way naturally calms down our nervous system. We are using our breath to show the mind that we are okay.

The most incredible thing is, this always works. Always. Even when I have moments where it feels like it’s not working, I realize it isn’t that it isn’t working, it’s that I am just having a hard time controlling my breath. I let my mind carry me away too quickly. I am not able to stay with my breath long enough to utilize it. But with practice it becomes easier to do no matter what state our minds are in. We are able to use our breath to help us wherever we are, whatever we are doing.

I used to roll my eyes at the constant obsession with the breath in yoga. I didn’t see what the big deal was. Now I understand the emphasis. It can be frustrating not being able to express to someone what immense power we all have that we are not tapping into. However much you preach about breath work though, it is up to each individual to find out its importance for themselves.

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

Control

It’s strange for me to acknowledge the dichotomy between my public life and my personal life. When it comes to school or work or anything else out in the world, I’m the first to tell you, I have no lust for power or being in charge. I would much rather remain a passive observer than the person running the show.

However many of my mental health problems seem to be rooted in a desire to have control. Over myself, over my life. While I have never desired to have influence over others, I have spent my whole life bullying myself into submission.

I have no idea why though. Why on earth do I care so much? What am I afraid of if I “lose control” of myself? Ironically, as most people in my position find, the very behaviors implemented to gain control are the very things that cause us to lose it. We are no longer in control. The behaviors are.

I keep telling myself that I am going to make all these changes in the new year. But to be honest, I get more and more afraid as it gets closer. I keep waiting to feel ready. To feel strong. I’m not sure that day will ever come though. I need to accept that most things worth doing are scary. Are difficult. It is okay to be scared. I can be scared and do it anyway.

And I want to remind myself that it isn’t about control this time. It’s about love. I don’t want to strongarm myself into changing. Changing only for fear of the guilt I’ll rain down upon myself if I don’t. I want to change because I love myself. Because it’s what is best for me.

When January comes, I want to step forward into the new year with the security of self-love supporting me. Whether I succeed or fail. Knowing I will be there for myself. Knowing that the true success is caring for myself every day. Picking myself up again and again. As many times as it takes. Not giving up on myself like I have so many times in the past.

I want to learn to relinquish control. It is impossible to truly have anyway. It is only an illusion, a delusion. Whether we accept it or not, we are not in control. Our choice is merely to willingly let the current take us, or fight it till the bitter end. I’m so tired of fighting. I’m so tired of being afraid of where the water will take me. Because I will be taken either way. It is time I cultivate trust instead of control. I want to learn to trust in this universe. To trust in myself. And I’d rather spend my time floating than flailing.