I've been initiating a lot of big, important changes in my life lately. I seek out change when I notice that some aspect of my life is no longer working and I want something to be different. I look forward to fresh starts and new beginnings, but in order to experience those, I also have to experience some degree of unknown and uncertainty. As a sensitive introvert, *this* is what creates feelings of stress and chaos. I feel the most anxious when I can't control the outcome, when I can't see a clear path to my desired end state, or when I encounter significant detours or obstacles along the way. It's in these moments that I feel the most overwhelmed, and sometimes paralyzed - I stall and can't take any action at all.
I used to see detours and obstacles as a sign that I had made the wrong choice and was on the wrong path. Over time, I've learned to see them in a new way. Rather than immediately assuming that I've chosen wrongly, I've learned to get curious and explore the true meaning of the challenge I'm facing. I ask myself, is it possible that I am headed in the right direction, but there's something about the way I'm approaching the situation that I need to adjust? Or, is this detour a "test" of my endurance or a way to prove to myself that I do really want what I'm pursuing and that I'm willing to do the hard work to arrive at the future I want?
I took a break from my life coaching business to focus on family matters for awhile. When it was time to re-engage with my work, I started taking steps to bring my business back to life. It wasn't long before uncertainty and doubt started creeping in and I became consumed with worry about the financial aspects. As the stress grew, my fears became all-consuming and eventually I found myself procrastinating in my work and surfing the job boards instead. I found a job that sounded appealing, I submitted my resume, and I went through a series of interviews. After my third one, I was pretty confident that I was going to receive an offer. I felt a connection with the people, I believed in the company's mission, and I felt an initial sense of relief regarding finances. I reasoned that if I received this offer, it was a sign that I was supposed to take this job and that it was time to put my business aside.
That night, I didn't sleep well and the next morning, I felt emotional, agitated, and tense. I allowed myself the gift of some time to explore what was at the root of these feelings. After some quiet reflection and writing in my journal, I came to see an unexpected truth: I didn't really want this job. I was pursuing it only to placate my fears and worries: about stepping into my mission and about my financial security. Although my logical, rational brain was pushing me toward safety and security, my heart was pulling me toward the realization of my dreams. In reality, taking this job would mean that I was giving up on my dreams and my business, and more importantly, that I was giving up on myself.
I did receive an offer that very day, which I turned down. Afterwards, I felt an immediate sense of peace. And by the next day, I knew in my heart I had made the right decision. I also knew that I was in for a long, hard, scary road ahead, but I made the commitment to myself right then and there that I wouldn't give up on my business, or myself, without first doing everything in my power to make it work.
Discerning the meaning of the challenges and obstacles we encounter is in itself a learning process. It takes time and practice to learn which obstacles are signs that we are headed in the wrong direction and which are there to build our strength and prepare us for the future that we want. This discernment process involves paying attention to the signals we are receiving from our body, and turning inward, inquiring into the energy of our heart.
Making the choice to follow the path of our heart will require our determination, commitment, focus, and hard work. We need to set aside what others think will be best for us and tune into what *we* think will be best for us. We will certainly face challenges, obstacles, and setbacks. We may procrastinate, stall, and resist, which are all signs of being gripped by fear. Above all, we need to learn to trust: in the process, in our dreams, and in our self. We must cultivate belief in our ability to accomplish our dreams, even if we can't see how yet.
Perhaps the mission of an artist is to interpret beauty to people - the beauty within themselves. (Langston Hughes)
Two things that are hard for me to hear: compliments and criticism. Compliments are hard because I don't believe they are true. Criticism is hard because I don't want to believe it's true. I'm my own biggest critic and am really hard on myself: I don't give myself enough "credit" for my talents, skills, or good qualities and I focus too heavily on my flaws and failures. I churn and ruminate over every word I think I've misspoken and I fret over every little mistake I think I've made.
I am also overly sensitive to how I think other people see me. When I pick up on other people's facial expressions or a certain tone in their comments - especially when I don't understand the meaning behind them, I assume that they are directed toward me. If I feel a sudden distance from someone I was once close to, or sense someone's bad mood, the story I tell myself is that I must have done something wrong and I start replaying and over-analyzing my most recent exchanges with the person, trying to figure out what I may have done. When I don't know the answer to something, I make it up. And these stories, which may not actually be true, become my truth anyway and change how I interact with the other.
This is part of my daily struggle with being a sensitive introvert. I am in my head a lot, I overthink and over-analyze everything, and I take pretty much everything too personally. Even though I enjoy my time alone, I still have a deep need to feel connected to others. I want to be appreciated and liked, and any criticism or judgment - perceived or real - is a huge blow.
Part of my journey has been to change my relationship to criticism, and there are two major lessons I've learned so far. One is that a lot of the feedback we receive from others isn't really about us at all. It's about the other person and their needs, preferences or expectations. They want us to behave a certain way and when we don't, they give us feedback about how we need to change and conform to their wishes. When we receive this kind of feedback, we need to decide if there is any truth to what they are saying, and if it aligns to something that *we* want to change - not to appease the other person, but to evolve into our best self. If there's no truth to the feedback then we need to be comfortable with letting it go.
The second thing I've learned about feedback is: that which hurts the most *always* has some truth to it, even if I can't see it yet. This kind of feedback supports something I already believe to be true about myself, even if I'm unaware of it. Someone once told me that everything had to be my way all the time, that I left no room for people to do things their own way. This feedback hurt. A lot. I emphatically denied it and tried to prove how wrong the individual was. Only to realize later how true the feedback had been.
In addition to changing my relationship to feedback, the other part of my journey has been learning to see not just my flaws, but the beauty and the good within myself too. I am learning to acknowledge and appreciate my own good qualities, and to reframe my unique nuances as gifts. There are a lot of challenges that come with being a sensitive introvert, but there are a lot of benefits to it as well, many of which I'm really just starting to understand and appreciate. Instead of always striving for acceptance from others, I am learning to accept myself - flaws and all. I'm not perfect and I never will be because perfection isn't real. I'm learning to be more compassionate with myself when I say the wrong thing or make a mistake. If I feel like I need to apologize to someone for something I said or did, I apologize to the other and then I forgive myself.
These new ways of thinking and behaving don't happen overnight and require regular, ongoing practice. But one thing that has really helped me with all of this unlearning and relearning has been a consistent use of healthy reflective practices such as journalling. In my journal, I explore the feedback I receive, my reaction to it, and whether or not there is any truth to it. I get curious about other times I may have received the feedback, or look for other examples of situations where I exhibited the behavior in question. Through this examination of my behavior, I can make a decision whether or not it's anything I want or need to change, and why.
I've also been using my journal to explore my good qualities, to make note of when I observe them in action or when someone offered a compliment that was true. I also use my journal to support my self-appreciation, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness practices and inquiries. I once asked myself in my journal: "What do I still need to forgive myself for?" I filled pages and pages with examples of grudges I was still holding against myself, and I made the decision to let them go.
My journal has been a wonderful tool for increasing my self-understanding and self-awareness and has been instrumental to my personal growth. My journal is a safe space. It's the one place I know I can consistently show up and be myself. I don't have to worry about what others think and I don't have to be careful about what I say. I can just let my thoughts, feelings, and emotions spill all over the page without feeling like I need to censor anything. And often through this raw, unfiltered writing, a new truth starts to emerge. A truth that acknowledges that I have flaws and I make mistakes, sometimes serious ones, but these flaws and mistakes alone do not define who I am. The truth of who I am goes so much deeper and I'm eager to see what I have yet to discover.
Coffee before talkie. My choice of coffee mug this morning sums up my preferred way to start my day: with some quiet alone time. As a sensitive introvert, I appreciate the early morning hours when the house is totally quiet. I start my coffee brewing and while I wait, I stroll through my indoor garden, which helps bring my focus into the present, and provides a boost of beauty, appreciation, and gratefulness.
I then sip my coffee while I write in my journal. I reflect on the events of the previous day, as well as my thoughts and feelings relating to those events. I notice what triggered me and left me feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or agitated. If something left me feeling sad or angry, I write it out so I can explore my reactions and understand myself better. Why did the event or situation leave me feeling that way? How did I react?
By cultivating this ongoing practice of focused self-reflection and looking at my own behavior and choices, I've taken my self-awareness journey to a whole new level. Through regular review of my life experiences, it becomes easier to see the lessons I'm meant to learn. I can better see how and when my behavior and choices are out of alignment with my intentions, priorities, and values. We don't always choose what happens around or to us, but we are always in control of how we choose to respond to what happens. Are we choosing a response or path that is authentic to who we really are and that aligns to our values and intentions? Do our choices and behavior strengthen the connection with ourself, *and* our connection with others?
My morning ritual is one of the most important parts of my day and helps me start from a place of groundedness, feeling connected and centered. What contributes to your morning centeredness?
Do you journal? I have journalled off and on for years. As a sensitive introvert, I find it incredibly helpful in terms of exploring my emotions and keeping things moving *through* my heart. My journal used to be a place to keep track of my experiences. I'd write about what happened each day, and vent about what other people did.
But over the last few years, my journal writing has been shifting. I still write about my experiences, but I've also been writing more about how I *feel* about them. And instead of just venting about what *they* did, I explore my side of the situation too, my own reactions. My journal writing practice is helping me to better understand my own behavior; to see how various situations trigger me and impact how I respond. I find that over time, exploring these experiences in my journal has helped me get better about noticing my mood shifts in the moment when they happen.
And for this sensitive introvert, that's important. Because I'm in my head so much, my mood can shift several times each day and I don't always see that its happened right away, or understand what caused it. Through the practice of writing and exploring in my journal, I'm getting better about noticing in the moment when I'm feeling agitated, sad, or overwhelmed, and what's led to those feelings. It's increasing my self-awareness significantly because I better understand what being a sensitive introvert means for me. I'm learning what kinds of situations, experiences, and interactions trigger me. I can't always avoid those situations, but by learning more about myself, I can learn to respond to them more effectively when they arise.
The universe is always sending us signs about our callings and our path. We are being invited to grow beyond our limits and evolve into our highest potential. The messages and clues can show up anywhere. But do we notice them?
I love being surprised by the discovery of hearts where I least expect them. Whenever I find one, such as on this painted rock lying along the sidewalk, it reminds me that my purpose in this life involves learning to truly love. My journey has taken me through some challenging experiences to show me all the ways I have been blocking love from flowing into and through my life.
I'm a sensitive introvert, so I spend a lot of time in my head, telling myself stories about how unlovable I am. I'm also a recovering over-achiever and people pleaser because I believed the only way to receive love was to prove how good I was, and that I deserved it.
Through my life experiences, it's been made very clear to me that I've not been good about loving myself. And because I'm not good about loving myself, I'm also not good at loving others, or accepting love from others. The past few years, I've been learning and practicing the art of self-love.
It's not been easy practice for me. There are a lot of old wounds that have needed to be healed. I have been learning how to forgive myself for all the wrongs I have done. I have been learning self-compassion and how to stop beating myself up for every mistake. I have been learning to make self-care a priority and caring for all aspects of my wellbeing. I have been exploring the old beliefs and stories about my lovability, and I'm still working to rewrite them. None of these lessons have been easy.
But as difficult as it's been, it's been equally rewarding. Because breaking my heart open to expose all the hurt and wounds and brokenness inside has allowed my heart to finally begin the healing process, which is creating space for love to flow in. 💜
Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like you just need to cry it out?
I recently experienced one of those days. Let me first say that I typically don't acknowledge my emotions. I don't like to feel sad and I hate crying, especially in front of other people. When I start to feel something, I generally ignore, stifle, or otherwise try to make the feeling go away as quickly as possible. Maybe I busy myself doing something else, or perhaps I'll have a quick outburst in private and then bury the rest so I can move on.
But one day, I felt like I was holding back tears all morning. I just couldn't shake it. Something inside was trying to get my attention but I was doing my best to ignore it. Until I was talking to a good friend, one with whom I feel safe and whom I deeply trust. When she asked me how I was doing, I couldn't hold the tears back any longer. They came pouring out. Being the good friend that she is, she just let me cry. She was present. She listened. She was supportive. It felt good to finally let the tears flow, but we had limited time together so when we ended our conversation, I still felt like I was choking back tears.
About an hour later I had a coaching call, one where I was being coached. That call was an opportunity to be fully present with myself and what was going on inside of me. I got curious about what was behind the emotions. In doing so, I realized how much emotional baggage I had been carrying around, how long I had been carrying it, and how heavy it had become. My emotions had been stifled for too long and they needed to be released. Being another safe space, I allowed myself to cry almost the whole way through that coaching call. By the end of it, I was already starting to feel lighter. After a little time to recover and then later, some laughter, I finally felt like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
The lesson for me in all of this was that I need to stop hiding and fighting my emotions! When I'm feeling something, I need to let myself feel it. If I feel like I need to cry, well, then I need to cry. Maybe that means I need to find a private space away from other people. Maybe I need to take a long walk, sit outside, or go for a drive. Maybe I need to call up a trusted friend who will let me cry without judgment or who will just listen while I talk. Whatever it means in the moment, I need to find or create a safe space for myself so my emotions can emerge.
I learned that it's time to stop carrying the weight of unexpressed emotions. I need to let them flow, explore them and learn from them. Part of letting the emotions flow through us involves exploring what's behind the emotion. I learned that to do this effectively, I need to become fully present with myself and get curious. I need to ask, "What's going on here?" If I'm feeling angry, why? If I'm feeling sad, why? What happened? What did it trigger in me? What story am I telling myself about what happened? What tapes are replaying over and over in my mind? What is my heart saying?
When we block our emotions from flowing, they get stuck inside and keep building until finally they come out in unexpected ways. The weight of unexpressed emotions is heavy. It can make us feel physically or emotionally tired, or it can make us feel "on edge" or agitated. We will serve ourselves better by paying attention to what's going on in our body and giving ourselves the care and nurturing that we need.
Tending to our spiritual wellbeing involves taking care of ourselves physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. It means becoming aware of, accepting, and allowing our feelings and emotions - both the "good" and what we may consider to be "bad." But I am learning that there are no "bad" emotions. Because fear, sadness, and even anger - they are all trying to draw attention to something we need to know or learn about ourselves. When we become fully present with and curious about our emotions, not only will we learn to express them in authentic and productive ways, we also have the ability to learn and make a new or better choice for our self. And making better choices for our self means we will be better able to serve and respond to others.
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.
In the photo above, which I took for a daily photo challenge on Instagram, there's the face on the far right, looking up. The one I placed there intentionally when I made this collage a few years ago. Then there's the face in the center, that I didn't see until the shadow highlighted it and I looked at the picture on my phone much later.
The first time I became aware that we all had an interior “shadow” was a few years ago when I read Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. I remember being curious about this concept and although I spent some time reflecting on what my own shadows might be, the significance of this concept eluded me. I’ve since read more about shadow work in various other books and each time, I’d still leave the topic feeling a bit puzzled. Reading about shadows and experiencing them firsthand are two very different things.
Our shadow is made up of parts of our personality that we’ve denied, buried, or repressed. Rohr defined it as “what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see.” This past year I’ve had many, many, (many!) opportunities to become intimate with what was lurking just beyond the light. The clues are in our behavior, such as:
No one really *wants* to know the ugly truth about herself. As unpleasant as it is, in order for us to grow spiritually, it is absolutely critical for us to contend with our shadows. Otherwise, as I discovered, these denied or hidden parts of ourselves will keep tapping us on the shoulder, begging for attention. And sometimes, what we’ve repressed will burst forth at unexpected and undesirable times.
Shadow work is not about fixing your weaknesses or abolishing what you don’t like about yourself. It’s coming into relationship with these repressed parts of yourself and transforming them into something positive. Rather than judging people, perhaps you learn to be forgiving. Instead of gripping tightly to control, perhaps you learn to relax your grip and go with the flow more. According to Rohr, “once you have faced your own hidden or denied self, there is not much to be anxious about anymore.” You’ve seen the truth. And you can get on with evolving into your True Self, your highest potential.
#presence #spirituality #lifepurpose #lifelessons #personalgrowth #spiritualgrowth #spiritualbooks #innerwork #reflection #shadow
"Creativity" is something I've struggled with for most of my adult life. My focus has been on achieving my goals, striving to maintain total control of my environment, and doing it all to some impossibly high (and incredibly unrealistic) expectation of perfection...only as a superwoman could. I was too hard on myself to endeavor into creative expression. I "didn't have time" to be creative, I told myself. In reality, I was too scared to let myself open up to the vulnerability that creativity requests; too afraid to come out from behind the veil of perfection and control.
Yesterday I attended a creative yoga class. Our intention was to keep the channel open and find joy in creative expression.... through the act itself, not by producing any particular or perfect end result. I cast aside all wishes of creating a perfect masterpiece and instead set a personal intention for openness and curiosity. I gave my Self permission and freedom to play. I had no ideal in mind, other than to enjoy the process and see what emerged. I chose to stand rather than sit so I could get my whole body involved and so I had the mobility to see what I was creating from multiple perspectives. I had to trust my inner guidance to know when I was done (a struggle for this recovering perfectionist...to know when something is done rather than ceaselessly striving and then over-doing!).
I wasn't worried about what wasn't getting done while I was creating. I wasn't afraid of what others would think of what I created. I wasn't looking around, comparing what I was creating to what was being created by others in the class. I was fully present with my Self and my art. When I was done, I turned around and said to no one in particular, "That was fun!" Something was ignited in me and the joy flowed freely.
And as if the Universe was making sure I had learned something deeper from this experience....as I was trying to get all of my still wet paintings loaded into my car at the end of the class, I dropped two on the floor. They folded up onto each other and onto themselves, altering what I had created. A year ago, the perfectionist in me would have been really upset that my creations were "ruined." The emerging artist in me today sees beauty in the flaws, like they were meant to be. There is no perfection in creativity. As there is no perfection in life.
There are many ways to be creative, and art is only one. We can bring creativity into anything we do. Creativity, and life, asks that we be open, be curious, and be fully present. It helps if we give ourselves permission to bring a sense of playfulness into all that we do. These actions may require us to lean into our vulnerabilities and fears. But presence helps us with this. The more present we become, the easier it is to let go of the fears that masquerade as control and perfection and that hold us back from reaching our full potential in life.
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once (she) grows up." Pablo Picasso
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.