You Don’t Have to Earn It

There was a brief time as a teen
when I recoiled from all the love
I thought came to me too easily

Some troubled part of me was
disgusted by the fact that
I didn't earn it

The unconditional love
of my mother, of my family, my pets
seemed cheap and unsettling

I couldn't help but stew in sour thoughts
questioning what I had ever done
to deserve it

Sometimes it seemed like a consolation prize
like accepting this love would confirm
I was incapable of winning it for myself

Now I've learned that, in fact,
the sweetest, most sincere love is
love we haven't earned

Unconditional positive regard
is a precious rarity
to be grateful for

Some people are not so lucky
to have that unflinching affection
selflessly bestowed for no reason

A love that not even collision
with disinterest or hatred
will deter or destroy

Few things are more meaningful
or moving than being granted
a love you feel unworthy of

And there is no greater honor than to spend my life
learning to pay that same love forward, indiscriminately
into the open, imperfect hearts of others 
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Fixation to Exhaustion

Swooning sensation
of new aspirations
is quickly stamped out
by self doubt slowly rising
from subconscious to surface

All energy is exhausted
in efforts to extinguish
the inward agony of
not being worthy enough
for your own endeavors

The thought itself becomes tainted
with terrible ties to negative self-talk
until all you can do is turn away
from once cherished dreams
all together

The heaviness of this heartache
is enough to halt everything
even the hopes inside your own head
that you've harbored
to help you hold on   

You Deserve It

Holding back the happiness
has become a form of self-defense
a suit of armor inlaid with spikes
stripping the soul of all color

A perversion of pleasure
believed to be undeserved
the conviction that hardships
will hurt worse with contrast

Let your heart lift with the certainty
that there are no prerequisites for celebration
the spirit is free to sing at its leisure
relinquish the reigns of self-affliction

Wrap your heart in layers of joy
so when the rain comes, as it must
you will have a safe harbor of happiness
to sustain you from within

Don't ever feel you must deny yourself
life's most simple, innocent delights
don't leave your soul to starve
without its natural nourishment

I promise you've already earned
your small share of sunshine
don't waste your life wondering
if you are worthy

You've won the lottery of merely living
each automatic breath is a reminder
that you deserve to be here
and thoroughly enjoy it whenever you can 

Pondering Pride

Only now am I making the connection between my childhood and the way I celebrate myself. It’s interesting to think about. When I was a child, I was exceptional. I didn’t realize it at the time, having no perspective on the matter. But now that I work with children every day I understand why so many adults in my life (my teachers, colleagues of my parents, etc.) seemed so amazed and excited about me as a person. I was always able to outperform my peers in nearly every way. I was incredibly intelligent and curious. I was creative and quite talented in my artistic endeavors. I even got straight As all throughout school, even in college.

Despite the showers of praise I got from so many people, my parents and family members never seemed too impressed. Because of this, I assumed the other people were just being polite or kind, and didn’t take their compliments to heart. My parents always treated me like I was a normal, average child. While other kids in my class got money for a report card with Bs and Cs, I never got anything at all for returning home with perfect marks. I was barely even patted on the back. While this was frustrating, I still believed it must just be because that was expected of me and I wasn’t doing anything special or impressive.

I’ve come to find out that, despite my parent’s apathetic reactions to my childhood accomplishments, they were very proud of me and knew I was gifted. In their minds, they didn’t want to make me arrogant or conceited with constant positive reinforcement. While they meant well, this approach definitely had other unintended consequences. Namely, as an adult, I find myself unable to give myself credit for my accomplishments or feel proud of anything that I do.

I never learned how to celebrate and enjoy personal success. Instead when I succeed I merely think that’s what I’m supposed to do, so it’s nothing to be especially pleased about. I find myself looking at other people’s lives and thinking I would be so happy and confident if I were them, but in reality I don’t think I would be. After all, I have a lot of amazing qualities and achievements myself. I just don’t acknowledge them. In fact, I even feel rather guilty when I try to tap into a sense of pride for who I am and how far I’ve come in my personal journey. I guess my parent’s fear of me developing an inflated ego has seamlessly transferred into my own mind.

Today, no matter how uncomfortable it might make me at first, I want to take the time to consciously note all of the incredible things I’ve done and continue to do on a daily basis. With the perspective of an outsider looking in, I’d like to try to adopt an objective perspective of my personal growth over the years. Maybe then I won’t feel so guilty about “doing nothing” or being “lazy” all the time. So here is a list of some things I think I should feel proud of.

  1. Bachelors Degree in Psychology, Minor in Writing: I’ve learned a hell of a lot about the human mind and my own internal biases and blind spots through my education. Sometimes I forget that the general public is not privy to a lot of the information I now use to guide my everyday life and decisions. While society doesn’t seem to value my degree very much, I’m still glad that I chose the major I did. I’m also proud that I graduated at the very top of my class, Summa Cum Laude.
  2. Certified Yoga Instructor: It sounds weird, but I feel so unworthy of this title that I often forget to even think of myself as a yoga teacher. I still remember idolizing my teacher in college and having a pipe dream that maybe I could teach yoga one day. Well I did it! I’m that incredible, beautiful, spiritual person that I once looked up too. And damn it, I deserve to give myself all the credit in the world for accomplishing something I hardly thought would ever be possible.
  3. Healthy Habits: In my late teens/early twenties, I really aspired to form healthy lifestyle habits. I would watch YouTube videos and follow Instagram accounts of people that I saw living the life that I so wanted to emulate. I really put people that could wake up early, exercise, and eat healthy on a pedestal. Yet, now that I’ve been waking up at 5AM and working out before work everyday and doing yoga and meditating religiously for years, I feel like it’s no big deal. It’s helpful for me to imagine how elated my younger self would be with the life I’ve cultivated for myself.
  4. Veganism: Being vegan is another goal that I had for a very long time, but never thought I would be good enough to manage it. Now that I’ve been vegan for just under ten years, it is just second nature. Even though it’s ridiculously easy now, I have to remember that this is an impressive feat to a lot of people, my former self included.
  5. Creativity: Despite not feeling very creative or talented most of the time, it’s still impressive that I manage to find time to dedicate to my creativity and imagination every single day. Even people that loved to write or paint in this youth often have given up these endeavors entirely once they transition into adulthood. My own sister, who is a phenomenal artist, no longer paints because she can’t find the time. I might not be a great artist or ever make anything that will have an impact on the world, but I think it’s beautiful that I make an effort to foster that artistic nature that we all have within.

While these things are not the only things that I’ve accomplished or think are deserving of my pride, they are a few of the most important to me. When I start feeling down on myself, like I’ve never done anything worthwhile with my life, I plan to look back on this list, add to it, and remember that I’m still an extraordinary individual.

Something Worth Giving

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.

Unworthy

The fear of not being worthy of what my torn and bleeding heart so longed to do was the most frightening fear of all.

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

Mental healthy is a slippery thing. One day I’ll feel like I’m doing great things, living a beautiful life, surrounded by love and opportunity. Then next I’m silently screaming in the shower as my body crumples convulsively in on itself in an attempt to disappear. The thought that grips me most violently in these moments is that I am alone. I am so alone. I’ve always been alone. I will always be alone.

My mind scrambles searching for the people that I love. Where are they? Where have they gone? They dissolve into floating masks, colorful fictions. A door slams in the face of my heart. It feels like these people never knew me, don’t like me, don’t care for me at all. Worst of all, I can’t convince myself that this is not true. Even on my good days this feeling is there, I just don’t look at it closely so it doesn’t hurt as much.

Depression and anxiety play tricks on you. Tag teaming tormentors of the soul. They twist and contort the world around you until it becomes unbearable and grotesque. They block out the light and tell you you’ve always been in darkness. Pinholes poked through a shrouded sky reveal only the most painful parts of your reality. Suffocating. All consuming. Looming large on a jet black horizon that seems to be closing in faster and faster.

When I find myself in this desperate state, my already poor social ability breaks down even further. A drowning man violently grasping and grabbing, trying to pull everyone around down with them in a blind attempt at salvation. When my clawing hand is pushed away, it is a confirmation that I’m not worthy of the oxygen I need. The world becomes a funhouse mirror. I can’t bear to look.

I’ve often heard people saying “it’s not you, it’s me” is just a line, a cop out. That no one really means this when they break up with someone. I’ve never felt so sure of that. I’ve felt the truth of these words in my own throat. It is because I love the people in my life that I feel compelled to sever all ties with them. I am nothing but a burden, a leaden weight pulling them underwater with me. I’m a chore, an annoyance, something they would be happier and better off without. When someone ends their own life, everyone gasps, “How could they do that to their family?” Not realizing they probably did it for their family.

I’ve felt unworthy since the moment I conceptualized that was something one could feel. I’m sure other people feel this way, but I wonder if they feel it in the same sense that I do. I wonder if they hold it up to the light of justice and feel these pangs with that additional intensity. The added weight of taking what is not yours, of doing something vile and criminal, something sickeningly selfish.

All the bonds in my life feel tinged with injustice. I don’t deserve to be loved. I couldn’t possibly be loved. I am doing a disservice to everyone I meet by allowing them to pretend for the sake of my own neediness, to dissuade my heavy sense of self pity. The melodrama is thick, but it’s genuine. This is how I feel. When I push someone away, there is never even a moment’s consideration of whether that has hurt them, whether they are sad, whether they might miss me or want me in their life. These questions seem ridiculous to me. I’m clearly not worthy of remembrance or tenderness. You don’t miss a rock that has finally tumbled out of your shoe when you shake it.

When I begin to feel better, when my agitated state of mind starts to settle, I still don’t believe these things to be any less true. I never feel worthy of love. I just feel less guilty about receiving it. I never lose that sense of being utterly alone. Being alone just doesn’t seem to hurt as badly. I’m left with only a sense of embarrassment and shame for showing the world my suffering. For being selfish and conceited enough to think that anyone else should or would care, for bothering everyone by asking them to, for being so ungrateful when I already have so much more than I’ve ever deserved.

I’m just left wondering: How can you move forward, how can you be happy, find love, love yourself, when you feel so certain that you are unworthy of all of it? When you feel guilty for even wanting to?

A Moment to Celebrate Yourself

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.

Sorrowful Sunrise

Let the tide swallow me whole, like morning light through windows. Let that dark water take me home.

Where We Went Wrong – The Hush Sound

The sun slowly rises dispelling the peaceful blackness of night. The stillness, the contentment of mind that lingers on the edge just before consciousness fully reemerges, is stolen in an instant. It is replaced by the heavy weight of memory. It is replaced by the knowledge of the day that came before and the pain that has waited for us patiently throughout the night. It slips back in under half-opened eyelids. It stings like the prickling of so many tears. It throbs in synchronization with the dull ache in my head.

Glancing out into the dawn, snow falls in heavy clumps, coating the earth in a sheet of white. Frail flowers that sprouted too soon suffocate under it’s weight. A few days ago spring had arrived. Now even the weather emphasizes the shift in my personal reality. Winter is not yet over. Tender hopes smothered in harsh contrast with new sorrow, like the creaking skeletal trees against the pure white backdrop.

There is a sharpness of focus that comes with suffering. Pain paints the world in vivid color. Each moment feels crisp and inescapable. There is a sense of complete surrender in despair. Sometimes it feels good to lie down under the wheels of life and let it pass over you without resistance. To accept that there is no escape from the bitter taste of mourning. To submit to the violent pangs of unavoidable loss.

Sorrow seems like a homecoming. Drifting back down to the place where I belong. There is a sense of peace, a strange comfort in that belonging. There is justice in this pain, because I deserve it. It seems my soul is only suited for suffering. Happiness and love are substances that were never mine to hold. They are too slippery in my clumsy fingers. The struggle to hold onto them is a cruelty I can only subject myself to for so long. Now I can finally rest again. I have finally come home to the stillness, to the hollow space at the bottom of everything.

An Open Heart Absorbs, A Closed Heart Rejects

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.

You Are Loved

The everyday experiences that make us feel loved – Research Digest

Take a moment to consider all of the people that you love in your life. It doesn’t matter how many people come to mind. Everyone has at least one person that is precious to them, even if it’s your mother. Now concentrate on the emotions that bubble up and the warmth building in your chest when you think about these people or this person. Focus on your hopes and wishes for them to be happy, healthy, and successful. Hold onto that tender, loving feeling. Really examine it for a moment.

Now realize that there are people in this world that feel that very same way about you. No matter what you think or feel about yourself, no matter what you feel worthy of, or whether you think you deserve it or not, you are loved. Take a moment to contemplate how utterly amazing that is. Allow yourself to accept that love and self-less compassion. Float in the soft gratitude of that energy being sent your way at any given time of the day.

As strange as it may sound, I had never really thought about this idea until a few nights ago. Suddenly it just crashed into my awareness as I was lying down to go to sleep. It filled me with such wonder, such joy, and humble gratitude. I am loved. I repeated these words back to myself again and again in a state of starry-eyed disbelief. Not only that, I am loved by the people that mean everything to me. I am loved by the people that have stood by my side through decades of my life, who have seen the best and the worst of me. What could be more incredible? What more could I ask for in this life?

Notice what kind of emotions come up when you consider being loved. Does it feel good? Does it feel safe? Uncomfortable? Unreal? Undeserved? Or maybe a mixture of a lot of different emotions? For me it was pretty hard to wrap my head around, and it still is. I just can’t believe that I would be worthy of those warm feelings that I experience when I think of my love for others. It seems unbelievable that anyone could feel that way about me. Yet, logically, I know that there are lots of people that genuinely enjoy my presence in their lives. At the very least, I know my mother and grandmother love me unconditionally, probably in a deeper, more pure way, than I’ve loved anyone myself.

Despite a squirming sensation in my chest that tells me I don’t deserve it, that these people are wrong to love me, I’ve never felt more grateful for anything before. Not only that, keeping this in mind helps me to remember to love myself just as much as those who are dear to me do. I hope that adopting the perspective of your loved ones from time to time helps you do the same. The next time you are causing yourself more suffering or feeling self conscious or small, imagine offering yourself the love and compassion that your family and friends would want for you. If you can’t find the motivation or passion to be kind to yourself for yourself, do it for everyone else that loves you.

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