Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
and becomes itself transformed
into its radiant Jewel-like essence.....
- Jennifer Welwood
A grownup is
a child with layers on.
~ Woody Harrelson
There is a myth that we reach some point in life when we suddenly feel and are grown up. Clearly we grow and mature over time and pass from one generation to the next, yet there is usually an inner sense of not REALLY being grown up. The sense of self is fairly continuous from early childhood throughout life.
Much has been written about the 'inner child" and there is value in getting acquainted or reacquainted with the children of different ages who are very much alive within you, often unconsciously running the show.
There is the truest version of you, the pre-socialized baby, who was born into this world with an already distinct self and personality. What do you know about this self from family stories and photos? There are the children of many other ages who still show up in your daily life.
What do you know about your playful, impatient, smart, fearful, anxious, traumatized, creative selves? What ages are these different parts and how are they still part of you, in helpful or not so helpful ways? Is there still a rebellious teen alive in your daily life? Or a people pleasing good boy or girl? Are you fearful or confident because of early experiences that are still alive in your psyche? Is there a traumatized inner child who needs healing?
Are there early aspects of yourself you like and others that you push away? Have you become so accomplishment oriented and busy that you don't make time for playfulness or true relaxation? Which of your inner children need attention or space in your adult life?
Praise and blame,
gain and loss,
pleasure and sorrow
come and go like the wind.
To be happy,
rest like giant tree
in the midst of them all.
The Buddha's wisdom is simple but not easy! Allowing emotions and outer events to swirl around us but not knock us over takes a lot of mindfulness and practice. As the storm encircles us, how do we learn to sway in the storm but not have our branches torn off or core ripped apart? How do we feel pleasure and joy without grasping it tightly?
When something inside or out triggers fear and worry, what is your default reaction? Does your adrenaline surge as you go into flight or fight? Do you shut down and become depressed? These are just a couple of the ways you may have learned to react when you are challenged or scared. Or you may hold onto pleasurable experiences in an addictive way, afraid to face other sides of yourself.
Western culture believes in dualities: black or white, good or bad, this or that. This encourages a judgment and reaction to whatever we are experiencing and we may go back and forth from one pole to the other, never inhabiting the place of the palm tree that sways gracefully in the hurricane.
Eastern philosophies are more non-dual ( like the yin-yang symbol),more of a both/ and. Or as Carl Jung called it, Holding the Tension of the Opposites. When we know that we are capable of feeling both ends of the spectrum, and that one doesn't obliterate the other, more patience and equanimity are possible. Resting in the middle and allowing all experience to flow around and through us makes life less tumultuous.
Perhaps 2019 is a good time to practice resting like a strong tree!
The curious paradox is
that when I accept myself
just as I am,
then I can change.
- Carl Rogers
Most people who come into my office have a list of things they hope to change. They usually are not happy with themselves for not living up to a standard of how they want their lives to be and are tired of suffering. They often want me to tell them what to do, how to change, and how to fix their lives.
Many people find it hard to imagine accepting themselves as they are, when clearly they are not who they want to be, do not feel the way they want to feel and are not where they want to be in life. This leads to a lack of curiosity about their anxiety, depression, addiction or self-rejection.
Sound familiar? It's easier to find a self-help book telling you how to change than one guiding you to accept yourself, to dig deep and find a place of compassion and love for yourself, just as you are.
Paradoxically, this is the precursor to any lasting change. A solid foundation of self-regard and acceptance ( and maybe some humor about it!) will see you through all that you will face throughout your life. The idea that perfection is achievable or even desirable, will only create internal conflict in your life.
Self-acceptance does NOT mean complacency; it "simply" means befriending yourself, creating an internal spaciousness to explore who you are and what your true desires are. This allows shifts to occur, sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic. In either case, change comes from a place of positive self-regard rather than despair, anger or self-recrimination.
Wholeness is not achieved
by cutting off a portion of one's being,
but by integration
of the Contraries
Many people come into my office struggling with seeming opposite feelings or beliefs, often thinking that they have to eliminate one or the other of them. They often label one as "bad" and the other as "good," wanting to eliminate the "bad" or troublesome part of their personality.
Black or white thinking is very prevalent in our culture; there is not a lot of encouragement to accept and be comfortable with ambiguity or with the wide range of "gray" in between the opposite poles of black and white.
It's often hard to accept that you may feel both anxious and excited about something, fearful and courageous, loving and critical, vulnerable and protected, serious and also fun-loving. There is only a "problem" when the different parts are out of balance, or when you bounce back and forth between them, in an unconscious and uncomfortable way. Even addictive behavior has a message in it, if you can listen beneath the behavior to the need that is trying to be met.
Carl Jung proposes that if you can sit with the "tension of the opposites," if you can tolerate the discomfort of this/and instead of this/or, another, previously unimagined way of feeling or thinking will emerge. If you can tolerate the seeming opposites in yourself, an integration will eventually take place. You will achieve a sense of wholeness, of being more truly yourself, without having to eliminate any parts of yourself.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley