Our flaws do not define who we are
Periodically, I revisit my old journals to see where I’ve been, what I’ve learned, and to discover patterns related to my personal and spiritual growth (or lack thereof). In a recent review, I noticed an alarming trend: how many times I wrote about the ways I failed at something. Pages were filled with what I did wrong, what I didn’t do but should have, how I should have behaved differently, and countless other ways I let myself down. Too many sentences began with “Why can’t I just…” or “Why do I always…”
And these are just the thoughts that made it onto paper. Countless other self-defeating thoughts have swirled beyond my conscious awareness. As a sensitive introvert, I am indeed in my head a lot. I process everything that happens very deeply. A stressful morning can send me deep into retreat mode - I just want to hide out and avoid all interaction with the world. I find it hard to function when I am overwhelmed, and it can take hours or sometimes days to recover from these overwhelming events or situations. I take things too personally, over-think, over-plan, ruminate, and worry. And when my behavior and choices don’t align to my own impossibly high standards for myself, I beat myself up. A lot.
When our thoughts fill up mostly or even entirely with self-judgment, self-criticism, and self-condemnation, we don’t learn. We don’t change. And we don’t grow. The more we bully ourselves for our behavior and our choices, the more we solidify unhealthy patterns that occur out of habit and become our default and stall our personal and spiritual growth.
So, what do we do? The first thing we need to do is to notice when we are swirling in self-judgment or self-criticism. We can’t change what we aren’t aware of. I do find journaling incredibly helpful for this. When I put my thoughts down on paper, it becomes so much easier to see the patterns in my behavior. (If journaling is not your thing, I recommend you find another tool to support your self-observation and self-reflection practices.)
Throughout the day, as soon as I notice myself feeling overwhelmed or stuck or stressed, or if I notice that I feel like hiding out or escaping from something (or someone), I stop and reflect on what’s happening. I try to “catch myself in the act,” so I can pay attention to the voices running wild inside my head. Sometimes it’s easier to reflect on these situations the next morning.
But whenever you choose to do it, to move through and out of self-criticism, I have found it helpful to examine my self-defeating comments and explore self-reflective questions, such as:
These types of questions shift us out of self-judgment, self-criticism, and self-condemnation into self-compassion, self-kindness, self-forgiveness, self-care, and self-love. Ultimately, they increase our self-awareness and contribute to our personal and spiritual growth.
Our journal is indeed a safe place to let it all out. I can write anything I want in my journal - what I did, how I’m feeling about something, and what I don’t want to repeat in the future. So yes, let it all hang out. Explore it, examine it, learn from it. And then release it. Let it all go. Don’t get stuck in the negative stories about yourself.
We are all human. We all mess up. It’s a normal part of life. But our flaws do not define who we are. Every choice we have made - even the “negative” ones, have gotten us to this exact moment in our life. We move through life one choice at a time and along the way we are learning valuable lessons about ourselves. Every situation presents us a choice about how to respond and how to move forward. We may not always choose well, but we can always choose again.
Most of us have a desire to help other people in some capacity or another. The challenge that many of us face is learning how to find some sort of balance between meeting the needs of other people, while not neglecting our own needs. When we say yes too often to requests of our time and energy, we may find that we’ve over-committed and that we are unable to do anything well. It’s important to look at the motivations behind our desire to help. Perhaps we value achievement and have a tendency to take on too much at any given time. Maybe we have a deep need to please people, to be liked, or to be appreciated for what we do. Or maybe we have a fear of what will happen if we say no. I’ve experienced most of these motivations at some time or another.
No matter what our motivations for serving are today, what if we ground our desire to serve in love and compassion? When we serve and give in love, we cast our eyes on meeting the needs of other people, AND we make sure that we have the capacity to do the giving. Serving in love shifts our perspective away from our need to please the other person to a desire to help the other person from the goodness of our heart. We commit only to what is ours to do and what we have enough time and energy to follow through on.
We are honest about our limitations in fulfilling the need and when we are unable to help, we verbalize this with kindness and compassion. If possible, we might offer to help at a later time, or in a different way than they requested. If, however, we know that we are not the right person to help for any reason, we say “no” with love. Serving from the heart removes the discomfort and eliminates the feeling that we should help just because they asked and creates a better situation for everyone involved.
In A Course in Miracles, we are encouraged to look lovingly upon the present, for it holds the only things that are forever true. Focusing on the past, we experience anger, sadness, or regret. Focusing on the future, we experience anxiety, stress, or fear. It is only by focusing on the moment that is available to us now that we can fully experience joy, love, and peace.
Our past is important - it’s gotten us here. We need to know where we’ve been and what we’ve learned so we don’t repeat our mistakes. We also need to look ahead; we need to feel the motivational pull of our big visions, dreams, intentions and goals.
But when we are overly preoccupied with what has happened or what will happen, we miss what is happening now. So, yes! Pursue your dreams and create meaningful intentions and goals. Just remember that life is a journey, not a destination. As you hurry through each moment to get to the next one, don’t miss the beauty of what is unfolding around you right now.
A common definition of compassion is having a desire to help someone who is suffering, which includes pain, distress, and hardship. We all experience suffering at some point in our lives. When people are hurting on the inside, we may see it in their behavior. When we encounter an “unloving” or “unkind” person, our natural impulse may be to respond in kind. But if we see them as someone who is suffering in some way and we feel moved by their pain, a natural desire to help emerges. Choose to extend them compassion and love instead of adding to their suffering. The people who act the most unloving may be the ones who most need to receive love.
Transforming our relationships begins with us. Through compassion, we are practicing presence, acceptance and forgiveness and we leave people feeling noticed, accepted, and embraced. This is where the miracle occurs. As we extend compassion to others, we may notice a shift within ourselves; we may feel more connected, more loving, and more joyful. Another miracle occurs. Our offerings of grace, love, and kindness may be mighty or they may be small. But even the smallest offerings can have a big impact on the people in our lives, and we may never know how our small acts of caring changes the trajectory of someone’s day.
What small offering can you make today to help another feel loved?
Usually when we think of abundance, we think of it in terms of having more than enough money or wealth, a bigger house, or a better car. Or perhaps we think of it in terms of having plenty of time to get everything done each day.
What if we broaden the definition of abundance beyond financial or material matters? What if we used the term to describe how much love, peace and joy we experience?
When we are running low on love, peace, and joy, we sense an inner lack or emptiness and we attempt to fill it from outside.
So we put limits on our love, because we are afraid if we share it, we are giving it up. We tell ourselves that there isn't enough to go around so we guard it carefully. We only extend it if we are going to get it back, or if we have already received it from another.
When instead we experience an abundance of love, we see that it is limitless and we realize we can share it freely - there is more than enough to go around.
We don't allow ourselves to be happy, because we think we don't deserve it. And if we don't deserve it, we surely don't have the capacity to offer it up to ourselves. We aren't really sure what even has the capacity to make us happy, so when we go searching for it outside, our quests leave us unfulfilled.
When instead we experience an abundance of joy, right now, we see that in fact we do deserve to be happy and that true happiness comes from within. We stop seeking approval or validation from others - not because we don't care what they think, but because we know ourselves well enough to know what we need. We trust ourselves enough to follow our own heart.
We long for peace, but through our daily actions, we choose sadness, anger, and fear instead. We make up stories about why people do the things they do to us (That driver cut me off on purpose! My doctor is always making me wait for my appointments. My child never listens - she really knows how to push my buttons!). We don't stop to consider the alternatives (The driver didn't see me there because I was in his blind spot. My doctor is very thorough and always wants to make sure he answers all of his patients' questions. I'm not listening to my daughter and what she really needs).
When we instead experience an abundance of peace, we choose it now and always; we don't let petty annoyances or frustrations ruin our day. We stay open to possibilities about why things are unfolding as they are. We stop seeing the other as the enemy who is out to get us. We pause, we breathe, and we inquire so we can better understand and see the real truth of the situation.
There are no limits to how much love, peace, and joy we can feel any given day. That which we long for is in abundant supply within us, right now and always.
This has been my journey. To stop searching for love, peace, and joy outside of myself. To see that they are already here, right now. I'm not perfect. It's not always easy. Emotional reactions happen quickly and I've got 40-some years worth of unlearning to do. But I'm tired of holding myself back. So I'm allowing small miracles to happen every day. Each time I choose love over fear, joy over misery, and peace over stress, anxiety or anger, I get one step closer to living a truly abundant life.
When we awaken to our truth we realize we are free (Kristi Bowman).
What is our truth? Sometimes it's hard to find because we are easily influenced by external sources. We hear a good idea and think, I will do that too! And we excitedly start down the course. We muster up our courage and we take swift action. And then - nothing happens. What we were hoping for doesn't materialize. We don't get what we wanted. We feel disconnected from people. It's harder than it should be, or takes longer than we thought it would. We feel isolated and alone.
Then the negative self-talk kicks in. "What was I thinking?" "Why did I think I could pull that off anyway?" "No one understands me." "No one wants what I have to offer." <Insert your version of negative self-talk here.>
We become filled with uncertainty, doubt, and fear and we are unable to act. We get stuck, we stall, we freeze.
And then one day, we step far enough away from the situation to look at it with objective eyes. Then we see what's really going on. We realize: "Wait, this isn't what I wanted at all." In some cases, we discover that the path we pursued is actually opposite of what we really wanted to begin with, had we just taken a moment in the beginning to consider that. Perhaps the path we followed doesn't align to our deeply held beliefs or our innermost core values. Or maybe we neglected our deeply held talents and gifts and tried to do something that we didn't love.
And this new awareness comes not from harsh negative self-talk, but from a more gentle and understanding place. This new awareness is presented to us in a more loving and compassionate tone, because it comes from our heart.
We approach this new awareness with curiosity and openness. We can then say to our self with honesty, grace, and self-compassion: "That way may work GREAT for that person. But it doesn't work great for me." We let go of what's not working. We reframe what it means to "fail" and realize that every situation we encounter - every single one - is an opportunity for learning. Every situation brings with it a lesson and we just need to open up and give it space to emerge. When we are ready, the lesson becomes clear. And then we can choose a new path.
Our heart is wise and knows what it is that we truly want. Our heart approaches everything with light and love and joy. Our mind, on the other hand, swirls around our fears and doubts. Too often, we allow fear to run our life. When we choose fear over love, we dim our inner light.
When we follow our heart, we know our innermost desires. When we follow our heart, we radiate light, love and joy. When we follow our heart, we tell the Universe that we are open to possibilities and are ready to receive the synchronicity and miracles that are just waiting for us to be ready.