Integration for each human is possible. Magic is available. Wholeness is just around the corner.
This is something I wouldn't want you to know about me. When I heard that a former professor and friendly acquaintance had succumbed to a brutally fast-moving cancer over the weekend, I'm ashamed to tell you what my first thought was. It wasn't about her family or the partner she left behind. It wasn't even sadness at her passing.
My first thought was all about me and how I'd failed.
Ever since I'd heard about her diagnosis a few weeks prior, I'd been meaning to teach out and offer her some love and support. Overwhelmed and struck dumb by her situation, I could never find the words.
While I saw her other friends publishing #fuckcancer posts, I remained quiet. I wanted her to know how much she impacted my life and how grateful I was that our paths had intersected, and I kept telling myself I would send her a note as soon I knew what to say. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't want to sound like an idiot or (worse) like everyone else.
So I kept putting it off, waiting for the muse to visit, and now she's gone and it's too late.
Immediately after I heard the news, two things became clear to me.
- There are no "right words" or perfect phrasing for this kind of situation. She was dying. She wouldn't have cared about originality or elegance. How many unique ways do we need to say You are loved?
- You can't count on having another chance. She was given a three month prognosis just a few weeks ago. I kept telling myself that I had time to get it right. I was wrong.
I know that I'm not alone in standing on the sidelines of life, waiting for the opportune moment to jump in (or worse, to be invited). I know I'm not the only one who would sometimes rather be quiet than risk awkwardness or judgment.
But it's not about me. While I was agonizing over what to say, she was just in agony. Do I really think that she would have cared about anything beyond my presence?
It's too late for me to tell Sandra how much she meant to me, but I can still reach out to her family. I can contact the other people in my life who are fighting their own battles and let them know that I stand with them. I can show up, however imperfectly.
I believe that wherever she is now, she knows what's in my heart. Now it's time for me to check my ego and try my damnedest to make sure that those who are still in the world with me know as well.
Image credit: freeimages.com/Julia Freeman-Woolpert
Sometimes, when I'm trying to write, things just stop working.
My brain-harpies screech and scratch the inside of my head, picking apart each halting attempt. Every word feels fraudulent, forced, banal.
I think: this is it. There's nothing left to say.
I think: if only I were more articulate, or relevant, or authentic, or whatever the criteria for worthiness is these days.
I feel like crying, but the tears are stuck somewhere deep inside. I'd scream, but this is a residential neighborhood, and besides, my husband is sleeping.
Some mornings are made for going back to bed.
After a fitful night, we make a quiet breakfast and I drive my husband to work. I come home and go back to bed, huddling under an electric blanket and a cat. I put some music on and drown myself in slumber and uneasy dreams.
I half-wake a few times, think about clawing my way back to full consciousness, and slip back into twilight before the thought is finished. Too much work.
Finally, I lurch out of bed and blearily nuke last night's frittata. I stumble into the shower. I take myself on a walk around the block, trying to fumble my way back to normalcy.
I reach out, even though I really don't feel like it.
I call my friend Alice, who's also a coach, and the words spill out. I tell her my fears and my insecurities. I tell her that I wish I was better, even though I don't know what better means right now.
She listens and makes sympathetic noises in all the right places, until I say, "I just think, if only I'd been working harder all along..." and she cuts me off. "No. You're not going to go there. You're not going to do that. It's in the past and you can't change it."
"I feel like I'm spinning," I say, and she tells me, gently, to lie on the floor. Hundreds of miles away, she's doing the same thing. We breathe into our backs and shoulders and feet, all the places our bodies are touching the ground.
I sink further and further into my body, only now realizing how far away I'd been. I listen to her voice in my ear and imagine my body becoming heavier and heavier. The thoughts are quieting, settling like the glitter at the bottom of a snow globe. Alice tells me that the whole world is resting under my heart. The whole world is resting under my heart.
My thoughts settle and the truth emerges.
As I listen to Alice, I realize how much I was pushing. I wanted so much for you, dearest reader, to like me.
I wanted you to feel understood and encouraged, and in trying to guess what you needed to hear, I left myself behind.
Now, I am slowly returning, feeling my heartbeat thrum in my legs and head and chest and hands. I experience the floor holding me and relax into the feeling of being supported.
My heart opens.
When I'm in this quiet place, you no longer appear threatening or confusing or capricious. I'm not worried about meeting your expectations.
Instead, I feel my heart expand with affection for you, flawed and vulnerable like me. I wish you peace and spaciousness and enough room for all your complicated, beautiful, messy feelings.
I find myself wanting to connect, not because one of us needs the other, but because (as Ram Dass says) we're all walking each other home and I appreciate your company.
I don't know how you found your way to this little corner of the internet or what you're hoping to find here. Today, this is what I have to offer:
The moment of infinite stillness between inhale and exhale.
The knowledge that here, in this moment, all needs are being met.
The reminder that the floor is always a constant and willing source of support.
The certainty - however briefly it lasts - that you and I are enough, just as we are.
I wish you all the enoughness and comfort today! If this is your first time here, I'd like to direct your attention to my career transition program, Finding Your Fit, for those who are longing to find their right place in the world. Love to you for reading!
I love watching animals because they're so transparent in their relationships. They don’t lie to save your feelings, they don’t hold grudges, they couldn't be passive-aggressive if they tried, and they perfectly mirror the energy of their environment. You get instant feedback as to whether something's working or not. No wonder I'm currently obsessed with My Cat From Hell. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a highly entertaining TV show featuring a tattooed rocker-turned-cat-behaviorist named Jackson Galaxy(!). I started watching it for ideas I could use with our own cats, but I got hooked because of how it addresses the universal themes of relationship, behavior, and happiness for both felines and humans. Here are some of the takeaways I got from the show (presented in cat terms, but easily transferable to us as well).
1. Everybody has to be invested for the relationship to work.
In most of the episodes, one person wants to give the problem cat away, and one wants to keep it. Jackson reinforces over and over again that each person has to develop their own relationship with the cat - especially when that means challenging assumptions about its personality or facing the fear of getting scratched. Ambivalence is not an option here; everyone has to get involved and do their own work.
2. A little willingness to compromise goes a long way.
Many of the people aren’t thrilled at first about putting cat furniture in their living room, or a litterbox in the middle of the floor. But when they see how their cat’s personality is transformed by a simple change in the environment, they stop caring quite as much about the purity of their mid-century decor. (And no, the litterbox doesn’t have to stay there!)
3. When you say “no” to one thing, say “yes” to something else.
When a cat is overly aggressive, Jackson plays with it to siphon off excess energy. When it jumps or scratches on prized possessions, he gives it a different object to focus on. A “no” by itself doesn’t pack much punch unless you back it up with a positive alternative.
4. Feeling stuck? Change your environment (and/or perspective).
Probably the number-one thing I see recommended on this show is the addition of vertical spaces for the cats to explore. This helps convert them from the mindset of scared “bush-dwelling” prey to confident “tree-dwelling” lords of the household jungle. They can perch up high and observe the action below before deciding if they want to get involved, and it gives them a sense of safety as they learn how to be big and take up space.
5. The relationships in your life mirror the energy you put into them.
Not to get all woo-woo, but animals can sense how you’re feeling and read your non-verbal cues. When people approach their cats with feelings of anger, fear, or annoyance, the cat reflects that emotion right back to them. The verbal brain can process about 40 bits of information a second, compared with 11 million bits from the non-verbal brain - and guess which one the cat is using? An attitude of openness, receptivity, and calm leadership goes a long way with both animals - and people.
6. Everybody wants to feel at home.
One of the biggest themes I saw was that the cats were lashing out because they didn’t feel like they had their own space or that they belonged. It was amazing to me how much subtle changes could affect their behavior once they felt secure in their place in the household.
My own success story:
Using these principles and tips from the show, my husband and I successfully turned my scaredy-cat Sophie into a fully participating member of the family (in four days!). When we gave her more vertical space to explore, she almost magically went from spending most of the day under the bed to claiming her space in the living room alongside her big rough-housing housemate, Mao-Mao. We also started playing more with Mao-Mao to give his energy a healthy outlet, and he's mostly stopped "playfully" stalking and attacking her at every opportunity. As I write this, they're peacefully napping less than three feet apart.
Hopefully there are some interesting parallels to be drawn in your own life or with your own relationships. What could you do to feel safer being seen by others? How could making a small change in your environment impact your mood? What relationships could use a little more compromise or positive energy?
My hope is that as I get more attuned to my cats’ needs and body language, I’ll get better at picking up non-verbal cues in the human world as well. In the meantime, it's reassuring and heartwarming for me to be reminded that no matter our species, we all need the same things: love, respect, safety, and the space to be ourselves.
Are you ready to make the transition from bush dweller to tree dweller and want some support along the way? I won't show up with extra furniture for your living room, but I can help you to feel more comfortable and at ease in the world. Check out my coaching offerings!
Here’s something a little bit different: a bit of memory, a bit of manifesto, a bit of hope. Come along for the ride?
I’ll tell you a secret.
An embarrassing-yet-hopefully-endearing story from my past.
In Kansas City where I live, they test the tornado sirens on the first Wednesday of every month. If you’ve never heard a tornado siren, it’s a truly unique sound - kind of an unearthly wailing.
When I was in 4th grade, a new and unhappy transplant to the area, I had no context for this caterwauling cacophany happening all around me.
Naturally, I assumed it was aliens.
I’d just finished The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so I was already primed for Earth’s imminent destruction and ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
I had a bug-out bag (stocked with survival essentials like my 12 favorite books and a towel) and I was just waiting for the sign that my benevolent alien rescuers were about to whisk me away to learn about the wonders of the galaxy (and maybe incinerate some of my childhood bullies on our way out of Dodge).
I waited out on the front step with my duffel bag for a little while, but they never came.
At some point in middle school, I stopped believing in the kind of aliens that rescue you from your lonely and awkward life. I’d already stopped believing in Narnia and magic pebbles that granted wishes.
A few years later, I stopped believing in the God of my childhood (or at least downgraded to hopeful skepticism). The world was still full of interesting things, but in some ways I felt like I’d left Oz and returned (fittingly) to sepia Kansas.
In the urban fantasy novels I love so much, this would be the point where the magic would return, when the plucky heroine gives up hope of a magical and adventure-filled life and resigns herself to making the best of (plain old boring) reality.
It didn’t happen quite like that.
But it did happen. Kind of.
At some point, I realized that more than the adventures, the talking animals, and the secret gates to other worlds, I wanted the feeling that came from believing in those things.
Do you remember that feeling?
To me it feels like breathless and tingly anticipation, unsure of what will come next, but knowing that it’s unbounded by any expectations of the ordinary. It feels like hope and possibility. It’s the first day of summer vacation and Christmas morning.
Magic or no, the feeling kept showing up unexpectedly in my life from time to time. At first I just enjoyed it without knowing what to do with it.
Slowly, I started to trust its appearance and began noticing the things that evoked it. Art classes. A warm spring day. Summer thunderstorms. The work of certain writers, artists, and musicians.
I still felt that sharp bittersweet longing for a “magical life,” whatever that was, but in the meantime I enjoyed these little pleasures.
One of the things that drew me to my current path is that many of my fellow coaches seemed to be experiencing a somewhat magical life on a regular basis. I wanted in, to know what they knew.
Now, here I am on the other side.
I’ve come to understand two things about living a magical life:
That tingly anything-is-possible feeling is always available, whether or not I’m tuned into it at the moment.
The difference between people who see magic and people who don’t is mainly a matter of paying attention.
I was so busy looking for the magic I wanted (flying carpets! rings of invisibility!) that I couldn’t see what was in front of me. Now I can’t go outside without tripping over it.
Now, I see that falling in love with my husband after six weeks of dating (and ten years of friendship) was magic. Rescuing a napping fawn from the middle of the road during our honeymoon was magic.
But that's just the beginning.
It’s a neuroscientist who painstakingly reconstructed her own brain after a stroke and a troop of the most aggressive primates in nature deciding to live a Disney-like life of peace. It’s the tiniest baby porcupine I saw at the zoo last weekend.
Hell, the peace lily that I’ve managed to keep alive for four years and counting is magic. (You would agree with me if you knew my track record with plants.)
The personal transformations that I get to witness and facilitate every day are magic of the highest order.
Magic is the stuff that we don’t believe could ever happen and the stuff that happens whether we believe in it or not.
It’s the stuff that pulls us out of our everyday existence, even for a moment. It whispers to us in little details and it hits us over the head with epic events.
It’s all around, just waiting for you to notice it. And the more you see, the more there is.
If fourth-grade me could see me now, she might be disappointed that I’m not living in outer space or a secret wizards' academy. She might think that me talking about the magic of nature is adult settle-for-less bullshit, and I can understand her point of view.
But: my life isn’t entirely bereft of the weird type of magic either.
I’ve bent spoons and been on shamanic journeys and I sometimes have more than my fair share of freaky coincidences. (All those weirded out by now may exit to the left.)
Hopefully that would satisfy her. I even have a bona-fide spiritual life, even though it’s very different from the one I had as a 10-year-old.
In this spirit, I’m playing with the idea that owning and celebrating the magic in my life creates space for more of it to show up.
I used to think that I could inoculate myself against disappointment by lowering my expectations, but all it did was shut me out from what was already available. Let’s see what happens when I start expecting miracles.
In closing, I’ll leave you with the words of a man much more succinct than I. If you’re still with me, I wish you as much magic as you can bear to experience today.
Rumi - Love Dogs
(translated by Coleman Barks)
One night a man was crying,
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer for that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage,
“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs no one knows the names of.
Give your life to be one of them.
In transition? Bring on the identity crisis!
This post is dedicated to everyone who's in transition and feeling weird about talking about it to other people. I can't be the only one, right?
Going to my 10-year high school reunion was surreal and slightly awkward in a way that I think is unique to that kind of event. I enjoyed connecting with some people I hadn't spoken with in years, and there were a few surprises that night (who had beards! who had babies!).
An unexpected surprise was my shyness around my fledgling coaching practice. After all, I have a website! I have business cards!
In reality, when people asked me what I was doing, I said something like,
"I've spent a lot of time doing museum installation, but, um...I'm actually transitioning into life coaching."
If I were truly comfortable with this identity, I would have just been like, "I'm a life coach, bitches." (Bitches implied but probably not vocalized.)
Finding the useful amidst the awkward
Immediately after the event, I was frustrated with how milquetoast I'd been about it. Now, I'm actually really happy that I got such clear information about what I need to work on next.
What I wish I'd done before the reunion was recognize where I still had insecurities and fears and worked to resolve those, rather than worrying quite so much about business card design. (They are really pretty, though.)
What I did was turn a blind eye to the hard stuff inherent in starting over. Years out of high school, I wanted to look established and successful. (Hello, ego, I don't remember inviting you to the party, but here you are!) I didn't want to look shaky and in the middle of transition, and in the moment I made a snap judgment to highlight my former stable career because it felt safer.
Can I just take a moment to acknowledge all the hard here?
- It's hard to give up being an expert in exchange for looking like a newbie.
- It's hard to let go of an old identity, even if it's not serving me anymore.
- It's hard to explain why I wanted to leave a job that sounds really cool.
- It's hard to claim a (slightly cheesy-sounding) profession that many people haven't heard of and don't really understand.
By trying to ignore all the lingering resistance/fear/doubts I still had around making such a drastic change, I couldn't get to a point of feeling safe and confident about my choice. No wonder I clung to my security blanket of Respected Museum Professional™.
Now, I'm retroactively writing myself a giant permission slip.
Permission to feel weird about being in transition! Permission to be new and inexperienced! Permission to not explain why I left my old career! Permission to not care what people think! Permission to be vulnerable! Permission to be scared of all the new things I need to learn! Permission to not be perfect and have it all together! Permission to not know how it's all going to turn out!
I'm already breathing easier.
You guys, starting over is hard. There will be people who won't understand. There might be people who will even take it personally. Being willing to show up and screw up is one of the scariest things out there. Letting go of an old identity can feel a little like death.
This is where I am, and that's okay (even if it sucks).
However, I've found the secret to peace in the midst of all this chaos: accepting where I am, growing pains and all. Being able to say, "This is where I am, and it kind of sucks, and that's okay," is one of the most powerful ways I've found to claim my own experience and let it be what it is. It's when I get scared and try to present myself as an expert or totally in control that things feel icky and wrong.
If you're in transition and scared of what people will think of the changes you're making, you're not alone. And if it doesn't feel safe to talk about what's going on yet, that's okay too. Your new identity is a tiny sweet thing and deserves the right time and place to emerge - which might not be a high school reunion! Share it with people who love you, who trust you to make the right choices for yourself. And when you feel that love and trust for yourself, I hope you'll let it out so the rest of us can enjoy it, too.
Image credit: freeimages.com/Kaliyoda
Earlier this week, I was in a pretty bad mood.
The problem was, I didn't know why.
Often bad moods are caused by something I'm telling myself, like I'm not good enough. But in this particular instance, I couldn't find a reason that my stomach was tight and my jaw was clenched.
I talked to my coaching partner, Alice, about it that night. After some investigation, we discovered that whenever I'm in a bad mood, I feel like I need to fix it.
What I'm learning in training is that most suffering is caused by painful (often untrue) thoughts, so theoretically finding and examining the faulty thought should help with the suffering.
Fine, except sometimes moods and emotions just show up. Is it hormones? The weather? What I ate for lunch? Who knows?
This may come as surprise, but if I'm feeling tense and anxious because of a low-pressure front, I won't be able to fix it by questioning my thoughts.
I told Alice that a bad mood seemed like the equivalent of a "check engine" light on my dashboard; a sign that something needed immediate attention or else.
When I can't find a thought to work with, I usually go into distraction mode. Let's look at ALL THE THINGS on the internet! Let's take a nap! Let's eat some chocolate! Let's try a whole bunch of stuff and see if any of it makes me feel better! (And don't forget Let's brood on my history with depression and wonder if it's a relapse! Whee!)
When we came to the conclusion that maybe I don't have to do something about every little blue spell, I felt an incredible sense of relief. You see, feeling like this mood was my responsibility to fix and not being able to usually ends up making me feel even worse.
"What do you want to do when you let go of needing to fix something?" she asked.
"I just want to be quiet," I said (to my own surprise).
One of my favorite books when I was little was called Henry's Awful Mistake. It was about a duck who was cooking dinner for a friend when he sees an ant in the kitchen. He goes to more and more extremes to try and get rid of the ant, eventually wrecking the dinner, the kitchen, and flooding the entire house. Full text here if you're interested.
The busy, problem-solving part of my brain is a lot like Henry when I'm in a bad mood. Rather than just being okay with it, my brain keeps coming up with more and more solutions, stressing me out and leaving me worse off (and sometimes prodding me into unhealthy coping mechanisms along the way).
The next time I get into one of those moods, I'm going to try not to let it mean anything about me. It's not a check-engine light, to go back to the car metaphor; it's more like a crummy part of town I'm driving through. The kind that has car dealerships and fast-food restaurants lining both sides of the road. If I just keep driving, eventually I'll be somewhere else without having to change anything.
Thinking of the fix-it part of my brain as a well-meaning but befuddled duck has some surprising advantages, too. "Oh, sweetie," I can say now. "It's okay. It's just an ant." I'm not adding self-hatred to the bad-mood fire, I'm dousing it with compassion and humor. That's the plan, anyway.
And maybe one day I'll be as wise as Henry becomes...
When Henry was settled in his new house, he again asked Clara over for supper. Just as he went to the door to let Clara in, he saw an ant.
He looked the other way!
When I was young, my best friend would come over to my house and say, "I'm the guest, so I get to decide what we do." When I visited her house, she would say, "It's my house, so I get to decide what we do." At five, her logic puzzled and frustrated me - but hey, it seemed pretty airtight. Later, my parents taught me how to actually behave as both a guest and a host. The basic model is that the guest doesn't ask for or criticize anything, the host makes the guest feel welcome and comfortable, and both parties do their best to be polite, pleasant, and engaged during the visit.
(Before you ask, no, this is not a randomly-placed post on etiquette. I do have a point.)
My point is that this model works beautifully as long as all the people are playing by the same rules. Everyone gets their needs met, a good time is had by all, etc.
What happens, though, when that's not the case?
As a guest, I feel frustrated when my hosts don't stick to the script I learned as a child. When household members argue and criticize each other in front of me; when they disengage and ignore me; when every mouthful that anyone takes is fair game for scrutiny and commentary; I shut down. I become a quiet-but-polite robot, staring into the middle distance, trying to ignore the perceived rudeness going on around me.
Note the word perceived.
When I willingly give control of my comfort to someone else, I disempower myself. When I'm uncomfortable because I feel like someone else should be acting differently, my needs don't get met and I get(!) to stew in martyrdom and self-righteousness (which makes me super-fun to be around, I'm sure). I end up feeling five years old again - it's not fair when I play by the rules and they don't!
Hmm, the rules, you say?
You sure those aren't just your rules?
When I accept the social contract I grew up with as my cultural custom and not "the rules," I find that I have less judgment of those who act differently. I also feel more free to take care of myself in uncomfortable situations. I'm pretty sure I'm never going to get a medal for "Valiantly Sat Through A Family Argument That Was None of Her Business." I have the option of leaving the room or even *gasp* checking e-mail on my phone.
Weirdly, releasing expectations of how someone else should act makes it easier for me to take care of myself in a loving way. Usually I would worry, "What will they think? They'll think I'm so rude / such a bad guest!" But when it's clear that What Will They Think Of Me isn't the game we're playing, I can step into my sovereignty and make my own rules about what's best for me. Reminder to myself: releasing judgment first is key, since otherwise I'd be leaving the room in a huff and hoping that would get them to change their behavior (yeah, right).
Another cool thing that happens when I start thinking of the rules as my rules is that I get to decide which ones to keep. I will probably continue to play by the hosting rules I grew up with, because I think they help guests feel welcome and comfortable. Actively choosing those rules instead of letting them run my life makes them feel more meaningful. As a guest, I'll still probably stay in my default mode most of the time - but not at the expense of my own well-being anymore. Polite Julia doesn't have to equal Martyr Julia.
Now I feel weirdly grateful for those situations, because otherwise I would have never questioned my beliefs around this dynamic. I wonder where else I'm getting needlessly upset because I'm expecting others to play by my rules?
Late one night in a hotel room three hours away from home, my husband realized he'd forgotten his business clothes. He had a suitcase full of jeans and t-shirts and a meeting at 9 am the next morning. He was so frustrated with himself. "I can't believe I did that," he kept saying. I sat with him on the bed for a few minutes while he fumed at himself, and then we got up and drove to Wal-Mart and bought some clothes for him to wear the next day.
I understood his feelings. When I screw something up, I am merciless with myself. When I misplace my keys yet again; if I misjudge how long something is going to take; if I'm late to something, the thoughts that go through my head can be so venomous and cruel. The mistake isn't just a mistake, it's a referendum on my worth as a person and my right to exist.
I don't think we're the only ones who do this.
When my husband forgot his work clothes and was beating himself up, I felt such incredible love and tenderness for him. It was inconceivable to me that something like that could make me love him even a tiny bit less. All I wanted to do was hold him and be there for him until he was in a place where we could problem-solve. I kept telling him, "This doesn't mean anything. It's just a mistake. It doesn't say anything about you."
Those moments were eye-opening for me as I realized what my husband feels when I'm lost in self-loathing. Why can't I practice self-compassion when I mess up? Why is my first instinct to comfort when it's someone I love and castigate when it's myself?
Part of it is the belief that if I shame myself over the mistake, I won't make it again, and if I do it enough, I'll never make mistakes! I'll be perfect, because that's how it works, right? I'm afraid that if I cut myself slack, I'll somehow internalize that it's okay to make mistakes, and we can't have that.
I'm currently reading Kristin Neff's book Self-Compassion (which I checked out after semi-failing her self-compassion quiz). In it, she says there are three components to bringing yourself back from the brink of hateful self-talk. These are taken from her website, self-compassion.org.
- Self-kindness: "Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism."
- Common humanity: "Recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience - something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone."
- Mindfulness: "Taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated."
Before that night, I understood that these were important and all, but I was having a really hard time believing they applied to me. I just couldn't let my mistakes slide for fear that I'd lose my motivation to do things correctly.
Until I held another human being going through the same torture and saw from the outside how unnecessary that pain was, I couldn't bring myself to truly believe there was another option. Maybe I can be imperfect and loved. Maybe being a flawed, vulnerable human being isn't such a horrible fate after all.
I'm still working on self-acceptance when I screw up. While I wish I could say, "It's okay, sweetie, you're still okay," to myself, sometimes the best I can do is to just not continue the critical internal monologue. As strong as the urge is to masochistically poke myself with all my shortcomings, I know it's not useful.
Sometimes all I can do is try to let my mind go blank and focus on my breath. My tendency during a freak-out is to either hyperventilate or not breathe at all, so I pay attention to that and try to smooth it out as best I can. If I'm feeling super-ambitious, I put my hand on my heart.
I try to let the feelings of sorrow, shame or anxiety move through me without resisting or amplifying them. All I can do is try to hang onto myself until the emotional crisis is over, and then see what I can do to pick up the pieces.
It's not perfect, but then again, neither am I.
Photo credit: freeimages.com/len-k-a