There is purpose in pain there is salvation in suffering there is peace is powerlessness teetering on the edge of oblivion is a balancing act that brings great strength blessings disguised as burdens bring unsuspecting hearts new perspectives sometimes joy is hard to find in a life of lavish excess the simple soothing sensations of aching needs finally met are lost in the gratuitous gamut of wealth and superfluous luxury even small happinesses are enough to feed a truly hungry heart there is no need to fear the fall it offers us cleansing from distraction a chance to uncover the real pleasures of a life unclouded by greed we flee from the emptiness clinging desperately to all we have forgetting that letting go is a lesson that teaches us we were enough all along
I recently read that one of the most important tips given to new race car drivers is, “whatever you do, don’t look at the wall.” When I heard this, it immediately reminded me of one of my very first practice driving sessions with my mom when I was a teenager. As I was driving 25mph down a street in my dinky little home town, my sister yells out from the back seat for us to look at a house to our right. Without thinking, I turn my head to look. In just that one split second, turning my attention away from the road and just to the side, I had swerved the car and nearly driven up onto the sidewalk. Whether you realize it or not, where you place your focus is the direction you are heading.
We say something similar when teaching arm balances in yoga. In teacher training when we practiced cues for bakasana (crow pose) we were told to always make sure to emphasize the importance of our gaze. If you look straight down between your hands as you try to lower your body’s weight forward onto the backs of the arms, you’re inevitably going to tumble forward and possibly hit your head on the floor. The trick is to look a few inches ahead of you. Looking forward, but not down. Our gaze is a reflection of our focus and intention and a reminder of how important these things are.
I think these physical examples are an excellent demonstration of how this same principle applies in more abstract matters. If you look at the wall, you’ll hit the wall. If you look at the floor below you, that’s where you’re going. If you focus on the potential problems or possible ways you might fail, that is where you’re going to find yourself in the future. It seems so obvious when I think about it in this context.
My anxiety is always directing me to the worse possible outcome. It would be great if I were able to print out a pie graph of my mental energy expenditure from day to day. I’d be willing to bet that 90% of my thoughts are about what I’m afraid of or what could go wrong. Even when things usually go pretty well for me, I always immediately find the next fear to latch onto as soon as one disappears. Somehow my brain convinces itself that it is doing this to keep me safe. And to a certain extent, it is smart to contemplate obstacles that may come up and how we can deal with them in the event that they do. However, this is not really what my anxiety is doing. It’s not coming up with calm, rational contingency plans. It’s telling me that the experience will be inherently stressful and traumatizing and trying to find a way to avoid it all together.
It’s really helpful for me to remember the real life examples of the way our focus determines our experience and even has an influence on future outcomes. Yoga gives us ample opportunities to practice these principles before putting them into action in other areas of our lives. Getting into an arm balance is scary. You’re quite likely to fall down the first few times you try. But if we focus on that fear or how it feels to fall and hurt ourselves, we’re never going to master bakasana! Focus on what’s in front of you. Focus on where you want to be or what you want to see happen. If you focus on falling you’re going to fall or perhaps never let yourself try in the first place.
Realizing and reminding myself that my focus on fear is not helping me to avoid it, but instead propelling me toward it, is exactly where I need to begin. Normally when I contemplate shifting my thoughts to the positives and letting go of my anxiety about any given situation, I become afraid that by not looking at the scary bits, they’ll sneak up on me or something. It’s like trying to keep your eyes on a spider at the corner of your room so that it won’t suddenly appear on your arm. But what if staring at that spider was an invitation for it to come over to you? You’d probably keep yourself busy with whatever you’re doing and leave it alone.
It’s time for me to start giving my energy to the good things in life that I want to create, not the parts that I want to avoid. If I focus on the good, I’ll naturally move past or through the obstacles in due time. When I let myself focus on only the scary parts of life, that is all I’m going to experience, whether my fears come to fruition or not. I’ll have already lived the worst of them out in my mind anyway. It’s okay to let myself think about the good things that might happen too or the things I hope will happen. It’s safe to let myself be happy. It’s safe to imagine a future full of positivity and light. In fact, that’s the first step towards manifesting that future.
Every being on this earth is truly unique. No two people think, feel, or experience the world the same. Therefore it stands to reason that each person in the world also has something unique to offer, whether that be in the smaller scale of people in their lives, or society at large. Each form of giving is equally valuable and fulfilling. I think it comes naturally for us to want to give back to our family, friends, and community. There is an inherent satisfaction in being helpful to other beings. Giving of ourselves is not the hard part. The hard part is knowing what our own special offering is.
Creativity and inspiration come from the deeply held belief that we have something worthwhile to offer to the universe. Artists can often feel compelled beyond all reason to express this powerful urge from within. Even in my darkest hours, a part of my intensified creative energy in this state is a deep longing to reach out and share my personal suffering with others. The idea that my suffering could be a comfort to someone else or an acknowledgment that they are not alone, that someone else understands, is a beautiful driving force.
I think one of the many reasons I’ve been feeling so stuck and unmotivated is that deep down, I really don’t believe that I have anything worthwhile to give. This feeling hanging in the background of all I do makes me want to be as small as possible. I shrink away from the world, trying to get out of everyone’s way. The bitter taste of conceit turns my stomach when I contemplate creative efforts. Who am I to create? Who am I to take up space? Lately everything I do, everything I am, feels like an affront to the world rather than a gift. I am filled with shame by the perceived presumption that what I say, do, feel, or create should or even could matter to anyone else.
Somehow I’ve always been able to hold two contradictory believes in my heart simultaneously: Everyone matters. I do not matter. Everyone has a unique and valuable gift to offer. I have nothing to offer. Everyone deserves to be loved. I do not deserve love. Even though logically I realize both of these statements cannot be true, that doesn’t seem to affect my conviction toward either one.
Perhaps I still just haven’t determined what my unique gift is. Despite all of my varied talents and skills, there are always a lot of people that out perform me in any arena. Once again, I would never proclaim that you have to be “the best” at something in order for your work to be worthwhile, somehow I hold myself to a very different and unrealistic standard. Maybe it would behoove me to get some outside perspectives on this matter. I wonder what those closest to me would say is my special gift. What is my unique value in this world? What I am able to offer in a way that no one else can?
Then again, despite the value you perceive personally, there is beauty in the idea of giving regardless of the “worth” of whatever that may be. Sometimes it is even more moving when someone with little or nothing of value shares the small amount they do have. Part of me believes that it is only our role to give, not to determine the value of that gift. After all we can never truly tell how something may affect or benefit another person. It’s the thought that counts, right?
I may never be able to determine for what reason I matter in this world. But I have faith that there is a reason for all of this despite my limited ability to understand. Maybe it’s not my place to know but to learn how to continue being without that knowing. Maybe it’s my place to give what I have and not worry about whether or not anyone else “wants” it. It’s the intention that matters. It’s the energy behind our actions that determine their worth, not the physical manifestation of those actions. No matter what I have, I can choose to give it with love, and that’s more than enough. And if others happen to think it’s not enough, that is their obstacle to overcome, not mine.
Our thoughts and inner chatter come at us so quickly that it’s hard to realize what is an objective truth and what is a distorted or biased perception of that truth. The events that play out in front of us don’t necessarily have an emotional undertone or meaningful significance, yet we are so used to assigning these things to every little event in our lives that they feel inseparable. The rejection we might face from a loved one is so immediately followed by our thoughts about what that rejection means, that it feels impossible to distinguish between the two.
I don’t think it has any immediate benefits, but I do believe in the long term just making a conscious effort to pull real moments away from our automatic perception of them is a valuable practice. It can feel pointless and frustrating to do so at first. Just cognitively realizing that rejection, for instance, does not mean we are unworthy of love, doesn’t make our conditioned reaction feel any less true or painful in that moment. This is just the first step though. Eventually once we’ve worked on recognizing and accepting that distinction, then I believe we will be able to move on toward challenging our painful perceptions and subconscious convictions.
It has been interesting for me just to notice how violently my mind resists the very idea of my immediate reaction being a choice or something I could view differently. There is a physical sense of revulsion in my body. My heart closes tightly. My mind attempts to shut down this new direction in my thought patterns. Despite how painful a belief might be, I find myself clinging to it desperately instead of being open to reevaluating the situation. Isn’t that a curious thing. Why am I so stubbornly trying to maintain a way of thinking that causes me so much suffering unnecessarily?
I think the answer to this question is that somehow, part of me has developed this stimuli/reaction cycle as a form of self-protection. It doesn’t seem to make any sense how genuinely believing someone couldn’t or shouldn’t love me could be protecting me, but that scared little animal inside of me must have some basis for mistakenly thinking it will. Even our most hateful inner voice is ultimately just trying to keep us safe. It is just afraid for us. It’s up to us to work every day to push through that fear and show ourselves that we don’t have to hold on to these harmful inner narratives any longer.
One way I’ve learned we can distance ourselves from the intensity of these upsetting thoughts is to speak to ourselves as if we were someone else. Internally addressing ourselves in the third person, saying our own name instead of I, can provide a mental cushion of space between the emotional energy of the thoughts and our conscious awareness. A question I’ve been posing to myself in this way is: “Rachel, what are you making this mean?”
Framing the question in this way is actually a reframing. It has become so automatic that we’ve lost the original question we’ve been answering which would be “what does this mean?” After being confronted with an uncomfortable reality such as rejection, the small voice of fear inside whispers this follow up question in it’s desperate attempt to make sense of things and create a story around what’s happened. Our well worn response to the situation is our answer to that question.
Even though I might feel as though I am constantly doubting myself, I never seem to doubt these explanations and narratives I create around the moments of my life. Why not? Part of the problem is I’ve somewhere along the line lost the ability to recognize I am the one creating this particular meaning. After years and years of unwitting reinforcement, the voice that tells me how I have to think or react doesn’t feel like it’s coming from me anymore. It doesn’t feel optional. It feels like a hard and unavoidable truth.
When I ask myself “what are you making this mean,” it is a reminder, however surreal it may seem at first, that I’m deciding to add qualifiers and opinions to otherwise neutral events. The way I see a situation is not the one right way, or the only way to see it. Really there are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to interpreting the experiences we have in life. It might feel like those possibilities are extremely limited at first, but the more we encourage our awareness of their existence, the more we will feel capable of pivoting our perceptions towards ones that better serve us.
At the end of the day, I don’t believe there is necessarily any objective truth in this insane experience we can life. All that matters, all that is, is what you believe. It’s not easy. Sometimes I don’t even feel like it’s possible. But even so, I do believe it is worth the effort to help ourselves see the world and our own lives in a way that brings us joy, peace, self-love, and equanimity. What else could be more important or meaningful? Even on the days were my battles with inner demons and mental illness feel like a living example of Sisyphus, I know the only thing to do is keep going.
Coasting on momentum for such a long time, makes the idea of stopping a daunting one. One of the reasons I’m so fearful of allowing myself a moment to rest is because I worry that I’ll like resting so much, that I’ll never do anything again. Instead I keep white-knuckling my way through life hoping that somehow the tension will eventually break and things will get easier. My intuition for when to go inward and when to express myself creatively has gone dormant long ago. Now it’s hard to even tell what I’m feeling or need from day to day. I no longer trust myself. I have turned my back on my body’s wisdom.
Western society is so focused on outward expressions of productivity and progress. We have completely devalued and cast aside the inherent worth of rest, introspection, and mental/emotional/spiritual growth. I’ve been sensing the need to go in a different direction with my life for quite a while now. My daily pursuits no longer bring me the joy and sense of fulfillment that they once did. Still I continue to cling to them, walking swiftly farther down the wrong path, and then wondering why I haven’t discovered the new direction I’ve been searching for.
You can’t explore your other options and reassess things while simultaneously barreling ahead with your current routines. Especially when those routines are as time consuming as mine are. There needs to be stillness, quiet, and rest for you to gain new perspective and insight. Even if it feels like it or looks like it from the outside, slowing down and even stopping completely is not lazy, unproductive, or a waste of time. Come to think of it, what’s even wrong with giving yourself permission to be lazy and unproductive every now and then anyway? Moments spent “wasting time” can often transform into some of our most precious, playful memories. Whether or not something is a “waste” is all based on what you place value on. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Despite all of the endless examples presented to me constantly in nature, my human arrogance insists that the cyclical nature of things does not apply to me. As a species we’ve become so separated from the nature ebb and flow of activity and rest that we forget the importance of both. Now the setting sun no longer commands rest, the seasons have no hold on our ambitious routines. Even if we only cared about productivity and working hard, it would still be more beneficial for us to also take moments to relax and do nothing.
Forcing myself to do the same mentally and physically demanding tasks day in and day out, it’s no wonder that my inspiration and motivation have bottomed out. Nothing lasts forever, even our internal stores of energy and creativity have a limit when we never allow them to naturally be replenished. I hardly remember what it feels like to be bored. Maybe that should be my goal one day, to remember what it feels like to be so idle that I’m bored.
Having scheduled out every minute of every day of my life for years now, you’d think it would be easy enough to include a few days here and there to rest. Wouldn’t that be so nice? Wouldn’t that be such a loving treat to give to myself? Part of me is excited at the idea. Strangely, at the same time, I feel a deep fear rising up as well. In my desperation to avoid that fear, that voice in my head that says “you don’t deserve it” or “everything will fall apart if you stop to rest” is so powerful that I continue to push myself even though I’ve gone far past my limit. It’s high time that I acknowledge the fact that I can’t keep running forever. I can choose to face this fear and show myself that it is just a phantom. It will evaporate into dust in the shadow of my courage and loving awareness.
As winter shrinks back and the warmth of spring begins to thaw the frozen earth, I want to make sure I am able to pause and witness it. It’s been a hard year and I’m always so happy step our from the cold dark months to emerge again into the sunshine. This month, I am going to schedule at least one day to do absolutely nothing. I need to refill my cup. It’s long overdue.
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.
Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I was so nervous about the practical exam I was going to have to take in the morning that I was literally shaking. Not only was I terrified of the exam, but I was terrified that I was so terrified. I can’t even recall another time in my life were I was that afraid. To make matters worse, once I finally fell asleep, I woke up in the early hours of the morning with unbearably painful stomach cramps.
I’ve never had much of an issue with cramping throughout my life, so I was really surprised how badly I felt. My concern only grew as the pain persisted for much longer than I expected. It even seemed to intensify at times. I nearly passed out walking down the stairs to my bathroom. Then I laid on the cold tile floor for awhile, just trying not to throw up. I barely managed to pull myself up to go into the kitchen for water. I seriously considered going to the hospital. Near the end of this episode, I was actually convulsing with each fresh wave of pain. Thankfully, I eventually fell back asleep and still managed to feel moderately rested when I woke up a few hours later.
Strangely enough, I found myself feeling grateful for that painful interlude I experienced overnight. My anxiety about the exam was shrunken considerably. It’s hard to be afraid of a zoom call, when hours earlier you thought you might be dying. No matter what happened, I was just thankful that I was no longer in pain.
I was still a little jittery as I patiently waited for my turn while evaluating my fellow students. When my time finally arrived, I was given (rather unfairly I might add) a scenario much different and arguably more difficult than the others. Despite this, I managed to stay grounded and focused and do an excellent job. It went even better than I could have hoped. After that, the written portion of the exam was a piece of cake. I definitely was the first one to finish and there’s no way I scored less than 100 percent.
The most interesting thing about all of this is that after all those hours and days I agonized about this stuff, it seemed like my overflowing pride and relief lasted only a few brief moments. I noticed my mind already eager to start probing for more possible fears to latch onto and ruminate about. No matter how hard or scary I think something is beforehand, once I get through it, I immediately start downplaying my accomplishment. “It wasn’t that hard.” “It’s no big deal.” “I was just overreacting.” These are just a few of the ways my mind tries to rob me of any and every opportunity to celebrate myself.
Not today though, god damn it. This week has been hell. I’ve been on edge and anxious and afraid for what seems like an eternity. I never thought I would make it to where I am now. I deserve to celebrate. I deserve to feel good about myself. I deserve to be happy and proud. I’m not going to allow myself to minimize this amazing achievement. I’ve work hard. I’ve faced so many fears with courage and grace. I nearly called 911 from the bathroom floor last night! The rest of this day belongs to me. I am going to enjoy the hell out of it.
In fact, I am going to keep right on celebrating this entire weekend. I’ve earned a good rest and a reward after how much I’ve pushed myself past my comfort zone. I can’t wait to tell everyone about this incredible achievement. I’m gonna relax, get drunk, and go to a mother fucking psychic fair on Sunday with my best friend. Hell yes. I’m amazing. I am so worthy of celebration.
When was the last time I truly allowed myself to do nothing? Was there ever a moment that I’ve allowed myself that space, that freedom? No matter how busy I make myself day after day, year after year, I still go to sleep at night feeling like I’ve wasted so much time. I still wake up every morning with the pressure of thinking I’ve dwindled away all the days before. I keep myself in a flurry of frenzied thoughts and trailing to-do lists. I hold my breath as I rush around my home, my office, my head, trying frantically to get as much done as possible.
I tell myself that I’m trying to do extra work to create a bubble of free time for myself in the future, but that future moment never arrives. There is always something more that I could be doing. From time to time, I become so overwhelmed, so run down by my own errands that I have to stop and try to remember why I’m even doing any of this. I must have a good reason right? What was my ultimate goal again? What’s the point of all this work?
When I ask myself these questions, it’s hard to wrap my mind around the answer that always seems to come up. My only real goal, the thing that I’m struggling so desperately to achieve is just to be happy. I become so tangled in all the techniques I’ve piled on to my daily routine in order to facilitate a happy life, that I forget happiness is a choice. All I have to do is keep making that choice in every moment. These limits and restrictions and qualifications I put on my happiness are mine to hold on to or let go of as I wish. No amount of self-help or self-care rituals will generate happiness in my life. These things are just reminders, opportunities for me to give myself permission to experience the happiness that is already inside of me.
Despite all my years of yoga and meditation practice, I keep grasping and clawing at the world around me, at my external circumstances, trying to reach some perfect, organized, flawless outer condition in order to finally rest. I keep feeding myself a story that I know is a lie. I say, “In order to be happy, I must do this or achieve that or resolve all the problems in my life.” I place my happiness in some far off idealized future world that is intangible and unattainable. Then I beat myself up for not being able to reach it. “I’m a failure! I’m lazy! I’m not trying hard enough! I’m too easily overwhelmed! I’m too mentally ill to ever be happy!”
I allow my own inner voice to berate me and belittle me in ways that I would never allow anyone else to. I hardly even recognize the self-abuse I inflict every day. I place the aspirations of who I’d like to be off in the future and set up hurdles for myself to reach them. I make life more complicated, grave, and serious than it has to be. I tell myself to be calm and then pile on unrealistic tasks for myself to complete in order to permit a moment of relaxation. I tell myself to be happy while I rattle off endless criticisms of myself and everything in my life.
Life can be more simple and light-hearted if I only allow it to be. I don’t need to be or do anything in order to be happy or find peace. Those states are part of me. They are not dependent on anything outside of my head. I can go within and find peace, love, and happiness no matter where I am or what is going on in my life. They are not objects to be acquired out in the world. They are essential aspects of my nature. I generate them. I am them.
I am finally giving myself permission to stop regularly and ask, “what is it that I need right now?” and then simply allow myself to have it. Instead of withholding all of the compassion, understanding, and tenderness that I so desperately long for until I reach some distant abstract goal, I can give it to myself right now, this moment, every moment. I no longer require anything of myself in order to offer myself kindness. Real love is always unconditional. We merely clip it’s wings and distort it’s healing energy by placing qualifiers on it in any capacity.
I’ve wasted so much time and effort trying to earn love, trying to earn happiness, when in reality, all I have to do is stop choking off these energies that are always naturally flowing within me. No matter how many times I affirm it to myself, it’s so hard to remember that when I find myself in a state of distress or despair, I don’t need to do anything or obtain something to “fix” it. All I’ve got to do is be there. Just allow myself to be there, with whatever is happening internally and externally. Just allow myself to feel what it’s like to exist in that moment, to breathe, to experience life.
It sounds so simple, so easy that it just can’t be true. It’s very hard to combat so many years of telling myself the answers are outside of me somewhere, that reaching milestones and goals will bestow the inner experience I am seeking. It’s a daily effort in mindfulness to pull myself back down to earth, back into my own body, and redirect my soul’s awareness to that deep, dark, smooth, cooling stillness that soothes all of life’s struggles. It’s always right there inside of me. It is me. If I can only be silent enough to hear it’s soft, kind, loving voice. That’s the me that I want to be. That’s the me that I really am. She’s always there waiting patiently for me to come home. That path home might be perilous and overgrown at the moment, but I know with time it will be worn down until one day I’ll be able to make that journey back to myself with ease.
“You’re not enough.” “You don’t deserve this.” “You are weak, broken, a burden on everyone.” These are just a few of the familiar mantras that my inner critic seems to be whispering to me under her breath every waking moment. For most of my life, I didn’t even recognize this as a voice. I didn’t hear the phrases themselves. I accepted these perspectives as simple facts. I never even thought to question the deeply held belief of my own unworthiness. I was unworthy, obviously, and that was that. I lived my life from these painful premises for most of my time here without even the slightest inkling that I had the option of challenging them, or respond in any other way.
More recently, now that I’ve recognized this hateful, critical voice inside of myself, I have tried to shut it out, to silence it. That has not been very helpful either. While I now know I should question these opinions I have of myself and try to determine if there is really any true basis for them, it doesn’t make them feel any less true or unchangeable. The voice hates me and I hate the voice. I spend my mental energy in this gridlock a fair bit of the time. No resolution, no relief. Perhaps a different tactic is in order.
I see you Mara. Come, let’s have tea.The Buddha
This is a quote from Buddhist mythology in which the Buddha, instead of trying to avoid or destroy Mara, the demon god, he invites her in. This serves as a lesson for how we must respond to our own inner demons. The struggle to resist them and cast them out is only multiplying our suffering. We shrink away from our self-defeating, self-judging thoughts in fear, shame, and sorrow. We cover our eyes and close our hearts to our own harsh words in an attempt to protect ourselves. But we don’t need to hide away. We don’t need to fight. These thoughts, our inner critic, is a part of us. We cannot outrun her. What might happen if we invite her in instead?
For me, ideas like this, that feel so contrary to my natural instinctive response, are revelations. It feels as though the clouds have parted over my heart and mind and I am able to gaze at a clear blue sky I had forgotten could be there. The mere thought of opening myself up to all that I want to reject within myself is healing. I can almost imagine the look of shock, bewilderment, and finally, gratitude of my inner critic as I welcome her too, into my heart.
The next time I find myself despairing and berating myself, I am going to try this new method. I am going to tap into my bravery, my courage, my curiosity and turn towards that suffering voice inside my soul. I am going to extend my hand, to invite that voice in, to ask questions and learn more about her. Responding to the unpleasant parts of ourselves with denial and rejection is exacerbating the problem and intensifying our suffering. If we can teach ourselves to open rather than close, to reach out rather than pull away, to offer loving kindness instead of rejection, that will bring us closer to that calm, steady, inner serenity and acceptance that we all urn for.
I am going to work hard to cultivate my courage and my curiosity. I am going to keep trying to be brave enough to embrace every part of myself, even the parts that might feel hurtful or hateful. Love is always powerful enough to disarm hate. I intent to prove this to myself one day.
The littlest inconveniences or imperfections that come before me in the evening hours are enough to bring me to my knees. I feel broken down, defeated, and exhausted. I have no emotional or mental strength left with which to help me cope with the most miniscule, commonplace hurdles in life. Last night, for instance, I was nearly brought to tears at the frustration of a home that cannot seem to remain clean for even an hour despite my seemingly constant maintenance. In my despair, the only thought that brought me any comfort was the idea of just burning the whole structure to the ground. If my home cannot be perfect, it cannot be.
Even though I realize in the moment how unreasonable I am being, even though I know the next morning all will seem manageable again, I can’t keep my heart above the swirling current of my despair. My saving grace these last few months has been my evening reading. As I’ve mentioned I’ve been quickly and hungrily devouring all the works of Charles Dickens. Currently I am near the end of David Copperfield. This one is definitely my favorite so far after A Tale of Two Cities. I don’t quite understand it, but the way this man writes is a balm for my soul.
With elegant simplicity he seems to reflect back to me my own suffering and at the same time help me find peace in it. Even more than that, his words help me pull my heart back into a state of openness and gratitude. There is such beauty and dignity in even the most unfortunate and wretched characters. Last night I came upon the phrase: “the fear of not being worthy to do what my torn and bleeding heart so longed to do, was the most frightening thing of all.” This touched me so deeply in exactly the most tender spot within my contorted heart that I burst into tears that did not stop flowing for the next several pages.
Somehow Dickens is able to cut to the quick of all my inner struggles and show me the beauty that resides even inside the most bitter of suffering. He reminds me that I am not alone in my feelings, that there are so many others throughout time that have felt what I feel. Not only that, but that these individuals have lived despite it all and found their place, their gratitude, and their peace.
But I am not only writing about my deep love of Dickens’ works, I am writing about the energetic shift that they are able to illicit in me. Nothing externally changes in the first few moments of quiet reading and self-reflection. My problems remain. Yet in an instant, the weight of the world is lifted and loving kindness towards myself and all of existence bursts forth and spills from my overflowing, open heart.
It’s a physical sensation, a true energetic metamorphosis. I literally feel my heart space grow warm and emanate good will, understanding, and true love. I’ve learned through this reoccurring, mesmerizing experience that the power to heal and persevere are mine to wield whenever I choose. It’s not always easy to make that choice, but the more often I am able to unclench my twisted heartstrings and let all the goodness I’ve been disregarding flow in, the more possible the choice seems to me.
Often I try to “logic” my way out of emotional states. But logic means nothing to emotion. We delude ourselves into thinking we must “fix” the problems we are despairing about before we can return to a sense of ease and wellbeing. The bad news is we will never be able to fix it. The external world’s problems are not what hold us down, it is our inclination to focus and obsess about those problems. Fix one, and surely we will find another. No, the true remedy is redirecting ourselves away from these ruminations and dissatisfactions. The good news is we don’t need to find a “reason” to do so. We just need to remember the feeling of our hearts opening. That’s enough to change everything.