The holidays are infamous for being stressful partly because of expectations. The pictures in the magazines and on TV (and in our heads) show healthy, smiling, well-to-do folks with their Pottery Barn couches and throw blankets arranged just-so. Expectations usually show up with the next-door neighbor Comparison–and comparison is almost never on our side.
Did we get as many party invitations as the next person?
Did our spouse buy us a romantic-enough present?
Did our children behave as well as their cousins?
What I see, most often, in my office are people who struggle to believe that they are enough. Smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough,…the list goes on and on and it holds so much hurt.
So, I’m giving you your holiday present today, Dear Reader. It’s a “Judgement-Free-Safe-and-Cozy Zone.” Tuck it in your pocket. This one is trial sized—no commitment required. Unwrap it when you’re by yourself. Give it a go. Directions are as follows:
Give yourself a moment to be fine. Just As You Are. No buts. Warts and lumps included. Connect with the still, safe, warm place within you. It may be deep down–but it’s there. We all have it. If it’s elusive, that’s okay too. It’s all part of the okayness. Take it out as needed. Remember it’s there. Even if you don’t believe in this gift, it’s still there. It can include the disbelief. Just breathe. Put your hand on your heart. Let yourself BE.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” –Rumi
This quote reminds me of the power of moving from an attitude of scarcity and need to one of gratitude and “okayness.” We already have inside ourselves what we need for ultimate comfort and peace. Now, just because it’s already here, doesn’t mean it’s easy to find or connect with. The barriers we build (and that our past wounding made us feel we needed to be safe) can be strong and thick and resistant. But breaking them down with force doesn’t work and is unnecessary. Just as the Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon, so can a stead flow of gentleness and self-acceptance wear down our barriers.
I really enjoyed an interview by Marie Forleo with Marianne Williamson where she talks about this subject. Williamson has a powerful faith. Check it out if you care to.
We hear about the benefits of meditation all over the place these days. It’s recommended for stress-reduction, health improvement, spiritual growth, increasing patience, love, attentional capacity…and on and on. And yet so many people have sat in my office and said some version of, “I’m not good at meditation.” When I first began to explore meditation I thought I wasn’t “good at it” either. I thought maybe some particular characteristic of mine meant that I wasn’t going to be able to do it well or achieve what I “should” achieve from doing it. The reason I thought this is one I’ve heard from so many clients and it’s based in, what I see as, the top myth about meditation. That is: One meditates to clear one’s mind.
A more peaceful mind might be one benefit you can gain from meditation. But I can vouch that if you meditate with your sights set on achieving a quiet mind you will likely become frustrated and self-critical (or decide that meditation just isn’t for you). This is because the mind just thinks. That’s what it does. Trying to clear your mind while meditating is like trying to push back the waves at the shore of the ocean. It’s frustrating and impossible.
Meditation is about observing your mind. It’s about learning to recognize your thoughts as they float through and try to whisk you away and letting them go…returning to your breath and your bodily sensations. It’s about being with whatever emotions and sensations exist for your in the moment without focusing on the storyline about them. Even if you get caught up in the thoughts, as long as you return your attention to your breath and body when you catch yourself, you are meditating. And if you choose to follow a thought and not return, then you aren’t meditating badly, you just aren’t meditating anymore. That’s kinda the point. There is no bad or good with meditation. There’s just attention to Being instead of Thinking.
I remember taking my daughter to her Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who held out four markers and asked her to count them but without talking out loud. She couldn’t do it at that age because she hadn’t yet developed that type of internal voice.
Most of us are so used to the chattering of our inner voice that we think it IS US. But really it’s just one part of ourselves–and there are more than one. If you’ve ever argued with yourself about having that extra brownie, taking time to exercise, or not taking out your frustrations on someone else, you’ve had direct experience of our multiple internal voices. These voices develop and take on beliefs and viewpoints based on our experiences.
There are many factors which contribute to the flavor of our internal voices. I try my best (with plenty of mistakes) to be a patient, supportive parent who helps my daughter develop self-awareness and compassion for herself and others. But life happens and with her particular combination of nature and nurture she has recently been struggling with an internal voice which says “Fire drills are dangerous and mean that something bad is probably going to happen!” It’s my job as her parent to help her identify that voice and challenge it. To develop an alternative voice that says: I’m safe. I can handle it.
How many times do I trick myself thinking that when X happens it will be (fill-in-the-blank) _________ (easier, happier, more exciting, better, etc.) than right now? I happens a lot in parenting. Last night as I was leading my daughter up the stairs of a restaurant as she wailed for ice cream (despite eating almost none of her dinner) a man passed by and said, “I’d take that over what I have now…my daughter is having dinner somewhere in the Old Port…at least you know where yours is…” Now, my moment was unpleasant and I couldn’t help but doubt his comment. He was probably going to sit and eat his whole meal at once, have a coherent conversation, and not have to take turns with other parents letting small ones play outside. But, really, how much gratitude do I have for knowing my daughter is safe in front of me. That she is eating (or not eating) what I offer her that I can choose myself. That she is safe. That she is safe.
This happens in so many ways in my life. And I just keep trying to practice recognizing the trick I’m playing on myself in discounting the blessing of the moment in comparison to one ahead of me of which I have no real knowledge. As a wise friend said simply the other day, “Be thankful for this moment. It might be hard, but the next one could be harder.”
Gratitude. Presence. It is a CONSTANT practice. So hard. But it helps us come back and embrace the life we have.