Yes there is fear. Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying. Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But, they say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them….
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic.
The birds are singing again. The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming, And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
–Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM (a friar in Ireland), March 13, 2020
No amount of self-improvement can make up for
any lack of self-acceptance.
- Robert Holden
It's easy to embark on any number of self-improvement projects; they are advertised and promoted everywhere by self-help gurus, magazines, books, webinars, blogs and Youtube videos. They promise a better body, a healthier mind, the possibility of being happy all the time, of being more productive, more successful, wealthier and more self-confident to name only a few. When you feel deficient or like something is missing, these possibilities are very seductive.
Yet if the foundation of how you feel about yourself is shaky, then attempts at self-improvement will only partially succeed. Just like a building needs a solid foundation, your inner world needs a solid core of self-acceptance and self-love on which to base any and all self-improvement. Then the decisions about what facets of your life to focus on will be grounded in your authentic self rather than an attempt to cover up or run from a less than optimal relationship with yourself.
Begin with an honest inquiry into how you truly feel about yourself. Do you accept yourself as you are, or is your acceptance conditional? Do you tend to criticize yourself or treat yourself tenderly and with forgiveness? This can be cultivated through attention, mindfulness, journaling, dreamwork, energy work, inner child work and therapy.
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!
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley