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“I decided that the single most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.” ~Anne Lamott
I remember one particular clear, cold winter morning as I returned home from a walk. I suddenly realized that I had missed the whole experience.
The blue, clear sky.
The lake opening up before me.
The whisper of the trees that I love so much.
I was there in body but not embodied. I was totally, completely wrapped up in the thoughts running rampant in my mind. The worries about others, work, the future; about everything I thought I should be doing better and wanted to change about myself… it was exhausting.
Alive, but not present to my life. Breathing, but my life force was suffocated.
This was not new. In fact, up until that point I had mostly approached life as something to figure out, tackle, and wrestle to the ground. This included my body, my career, and the people around me.
My tentacles of control, far-reaching in pursuit of a better place, said loudly, “What is here now is not acceptable. You are not acceptable.”
“You can improve. You can figure it out. You can always make it better.”
But this time, rather than indulging in the content of this particular struggle, I observed the process I was in and realized profoundly that even though the issues of the day changed regularly, the experience of struggle never did.
And I would continue struggling until I stopped resisting and judging everything and started accepting myself and my life.
This wasn’t the first time I’d had thoughts like these, but this time there was no “but I still need to change this…” or “I can accept everything except for this thing.” I knew it was 100 percent or nothing.
I knew then I only had two choices:
I could continue to resist reality, which now seemed impossible and exhausting (because it was). Or I could accept myself and the moment and make the best of it.
“What if there is actually nothing to struggle against? What if I let go of the tug-of-war that I called my life?”
The choice was before me. The one that comes to people when they have suffered enough and are tired: to put down the arms.
This doesn’t have to mean accepting unhealthy relationships or situations. It just means we stop living in a constant state of needing things to change in order to accept ourselves and our lives. It means we learn to let things be—and even harder, to let ourselves be.
Whenever I have a conversation with people who are struggling, I’ve recognized that they have this innate feeling of I should be doing better than this. Or, I should not be feeling like this.
It might seem obvious that “shoulds” keep us in a contracted position of never-being-enough.
But I have found that letting them go is not as simple as a quick change of thought.
It seems like denying ourselves has become the generally accepted and encouraged modus operandi of our culture.
Denying our feelings.
Minimizing our pain.
Hating our body parts.
This leads to disconnection from the life that is here, the life that is us.
Self-loathing has become the biggest dis-ease of our time.
When we are disconnected from who we are in this moment, there is a tension between right here and the idealized self/state.
This disconnection or gap is a rupture in our life force that presents itself as a physical contraction, a shortness of breath, an inner critic that lashes out harshly and creates a war within. This war contributes to pain, illness, and I’d guess 80 percent of visits to a medical doctor.
Even some of the best self-help books promote this gap…
Don’t think those thoughts.
Don’t feel those negative feelings.
Don’t just sit there—you should be doing something to improve yourself and your life
All of the statements above might seem like wise advice. But we’ve missed the biggest step of all—mending the gap between who we are and who we think we should be so that we don’t feel so disconnected from ourselves.
Disconnection is the shame that tells you that you’ve got it wrong, that it is not okay to feel or think the way you do in this moment. That you have to beat yourself up so you can improve, be more than you are now, be better.
That you are a problem to fix.
This is the catch-22 of self-help when taken too much like boot camp. Self-help can be helpful, but it can create an antagonistic relationship with our true selves if it doesn’t include a full acceptance of who we are in this moment.
The belief of “not-enoughness” is at the root of so much physical and emotional pain, and I, for one, have had enough of it.
What if we allowed ourselves to be, or do, in the knowing that we are okay, that we are doing the best we can, given what we know at this point in time?
Do you feel the fear-gremlins coming out that tell you that you will lie down on the couch and never get up again? Or perhaps you will never amount to anything or be good enough?
This is the biggest secret of all: It’s all a lie to keep the consumer culture alive.
People who are scared and in scarcity need to consume something outside of themselves to gain fulfillment. But it never really comes because there’s always something new to change or attain.
It can be so difficult for us humans to accept not only ourselves, but that everything just might be okay in this moment.
That this feeling is just right. Even if it hurts.
It’s okay to be right here, right now. Pain is here, and I don’t have to fight it.
Our relationship with ourselves is the most important relationship we will ever have.
Because we are truly sacred, no matter how we feel.
Maybe the only question to ask today is not “What do I need to do to change?” but “How can I love myself, just as I am?”
Maybe the act of loving ourselves is as simple as taking a breath to regulate our nervous system and come back to the present moment.
Maybe healing involves not so much changing ourselves but allowing ourselves to be who we are.
Which is exactly what I did that day when I realized I had missed my whole walk because I was caught up in my mind, worrying about everything I wanted to change. I shifted my focus from the thoughts I was thinking to the feelings in my body. I realized that I was enough in this step, in this breath, and that’s all there is.
I promise the results of moving into acceptance will feel far better than the shame, disconnection, and cruelty that come from the constant pursuit of self-improvement.
The truth is…
You are not a problem to fix.
You are a human to be held.
To be held in your own arms and loved into wholeness.
Take care of your human.
About Madeleine Eames
Madeleine Eames is a psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher, and creator of the Empath Sanctuary. Her mission is to help deeply feeling people move beyond burnout and harness the power of their empathy for success. You can find her at mindfullivingnow.com or on Facebook at Wise Women Empaths Wake Up.