“There’s nothing more important on our spiritual path than developing gentleness to oneself,” Pema Chodron. We are our own worst critics and I’ve said before, my mind can be a vicious place. I’ve always thought that pushing through was key. I ended up with a lot of emotional outbursts because I never addressed the emotions as I was feeling them. I pushed them down and tried to deal with them later, but I always ended up with unresolved feelings because I never addressed what was bothering me as it happened. You know, you have a confrontation with someone and then hours later you think of the perfect thing to say? Yeah, that was my life. I’d always have the perfect thing to say in hindsight.
I didn’t distinguish between when something needed to be said and the need to say something. The former is an appropriate response and the latter is a combination of compulsion and ego. I felt the last word coming out more often than not and didn’t think about how to handle it until later. I developed a hatred for myself and a need to make people understand, to prove. I turned that frustration on them as well as on myself. I hated how my imperfect brain gave the perfect answer at the wrong time. I hated not being heard. As more and more people stopped listening, I turned inward.
The war over what I should have done or said became even stronger except it was between what my soul knew I should do and what my ego actually did. That manifested in things like hating how I looked and believing I was doomed to fail at what I tried. I believed that I was meant to be a doormat and I continued to lash out. I hated what I saw in the mirror as I consumed more and more of the bullshit around me whether it was food or feeling sorry for myself—or eating because I felt sorry for myself. Taking care of myself, even if it was just a shower became a chore. I didn’t feel like something worthy of care because I couldn’t manage my outer relationships let alone the relationship with myself. I didn’t listen.
Slowly I began to feel like I didn’t want to feel those things anymore. As I looked at the life I built around me, even the parts I didn’t really want to agree to, I realized that I had a lot to be grateful for. The anger, the fights I started with others, the demands I placed on my husband, the criticism I turned on my child—all of that had to do with a lack of care for myself. I operated under the delusion that they owed me the same care that I gave them. Granted in a partnership that is usually how it works, but when one partner (me) is making demands that the other behave as they see fit, the other partner loses appreciation or the desire to be together. I started looking at the demands I was making on myself—the things that I made obligations in my life and started asking if this is what I really wanted.
I learned to sit and acknowledge when I felt angry and I started dissecting why. I spent my time doing what I had been told I was supposed to and I simply didn’t want to do it anymore. I felt trapped into a life I didn’t fully agree to. So I started small and began appreciating that I had made it that far and that I had a comfortable place to start over again. Then I started asking what I did want. I’m still working that out, but I am getting closer. As I dug into what I wanted, I started to address what I needed to do to achieve those goals. Shifting my focus to what was in my control as well as what was on my path made it much easier to recognize what I did and didn’t want to do.
As I write this, I feel an overwhelming desire to share—this work is no chore. I feel love as I write these words, as I share a bit about what I went through to appreciate this beautiful life. I am still not gentle on myself and I feel disappointed in myself when I am not living in alignment with the values I have. I am quicker to accept my humanity and I am quicker to get back on track. I have learned to ask myself what I can do to course correct instead of berating myself for straying. There is value in appreciating one’s ability to move forward. It pays to be gentle when learning the lesson. We absorb it easier. We are resilient in our humanity and we will get it wrong, that is part of being human. Learning to move on with the lesson—that is living.