“Is there anything better than to be longing for something, when you know it is within reach?” Greta Garbo
Last week I discussed how to create a vision that is clear enough to create a longing for change. That is definitely the first step, but just creating the vision isn’t always enough to stay with it long enough for the change to occur. There is often a voice that rises up when we think about this wonderful life we would love living that says things like, ‘Who do you think you are?’ or ‘You’re too old’ or ‘You’re not good enough’ or ‘That will take forever’ or any of the hundreds of other variations on the voice of doubt. We all have the voice of doubt, but we don’t all give it our power. I believe that how much weight we put on the voice of doubt compared to the longing of our dream is proportional to the amount of self-worth we feel. The more worthy we feel we are of our longings the easier it is to dismiss the voice of doubt.
I envision the voice of doubt to be like the dark. We can get angry with the dark or try to fight the dark or yell at the dark all we want and it will not go away. All we need to do is turn on the light. The light is love for ourselves. When we are able to give ourselves the compassion, grace and understanding that we freely give to others we begin to see ourselves differently. Our sense of worthiness for the longing we desire begins to increase. While it sounds so simple to just give yourself more love, it is something that many of us struggle with. I wish there was just one thing that we could all learn to do that would increase a sense of self-worth and decrease the self-doubt. There isn’t, but the good news is that there are thousands of ways that it can be done. We can change our thoughts, our behaviors or our emotions. We can go into nature to connect, get quiet with prayer or meditation or involve ourselves in a hobby. We can paint, journal or play music to touch the authentic part of ourselves that is whole, perfect and well. There are hundreds of self-help books written on this topic and each one is a way that someone has found helpful in order to cultivate self-love. It doesn’t matter how it is done, but what does matter is that you take time to convince yourself that you can do it. Don’t let the voice of doubt be the leader anymore, give it a good push and ask yourself what you could do to increase your sense of self-worth. The authentic you knows what needs to be done and it will give you signals if you listen to them. If what you try feels right do it more- if it doesn’t, try something else. You know what you need in order to increase your self-love. It comes from the same place as the vision does. So listen to your authentic self- you are your own best teacher and the only one that will know what works for you.
“Longing is like the rosy dawn. After the dawn out comes the sun. Longing is followed by the vision of God.” Ramakrishna
This week a co-worker and I were having a discussion about addiction. I talked about how many of our clients have had experiences with overdosing and have even lost friends. They say they don’t want to die, but yet they continue to use fully knowing what could happen next time. I wondered aloud with her why this seemingly obvious consequence isn’t enough for them to choose a different behavior. We discussed how they seem to struggle with seeing themselves living any other kind of lifestyle in the future. She responded that she feels it stems from a lack of self-worth. Do they feel they are worthy of living the life they would love to be living? Many times the person looking back at them in the mirror tells them they are not. I believe that change can only come in two ways. Either we are so discontented with the life we are living that we are pushed to make a change, this is often known in the field of addiction as hitting rock bottom, or we become so clear on the life that we would love to be living that the longing pulls us towards it. So do we want to be pushed by discontent or pulled by longing? It would seem that longing would be the easier path, but getting clear on what we would love to do and knowing that we are worthy of living the life we would love are two big obstacles. This week I will discuss some strategies for getting clear on the longing and next week I will discuss feeling worthy of it.
I have been amazed at the responses that I get when I ask my clients what they would LOVE to be doing in five years. Many of them paint pictures that look very similar to the lives they are living now, with some modest upgrades. When I ask them if they would love their life doing what they just described many of them laugh and say it would be better, but they have no idea what they would LOVE. I then ask them to create a vision for their life in five years. What does their body feel like? Is it able to move with ease? Is their mind sharp? Are they at a healthy weight? Are they abstaining from the use of all substances? What do their relationships look like? Are they supported? Do they feel a sense of connection with family and friends? How do they spend their time? Are they employed in a job they love? Are they volunteering their time helping others? Are they engaged in their hobbies or interests? What does their financial situation look like? Are all of their bills paid with ease? How much do they make in a year? These are just a few questions to get started on becoming clear on the life they would LOVE to be living. There is no longing for the life of their dreams if they aren’t able to see it with perfect clarity. I encourage everyone to play in the realm of imagination and place themselves in the life they would love to be living. If it is crystal clear you will get a sense of longing for it. Creating a sense of longing is the first step to making lasting changes.
“Stand guard at the portal of your mind.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I was working with a client this week and he discussed the moment when he ran into a friend that he used to use heroin with and when the friend offered him some he took it and used. I asked him what thoughts ran through his mind when he decided to relapse into heroin use. He noted that he didn’t really think any thoughts and just acted on the impulse since it was right there. As I slowed him down and took him back to the moment he was able to identify some thoughts he had, but they were all about how much he wanted to use and how hard it was to stay clean. When I asked him if he would have been able to think something different in that moment, he replied that he had never thought about having control over his thoughts and noted that he just listens to his thoughts. I then discussed how I envision us all as having a cast of characters within us and each of those characters project different thoughts. Some of the characters disagree with each other which creates our internal dialogue and conflict. I then told him that we are not any of the characters or their thoughts, we are the observer of them. Much like the director chooses which characters are center stage and when it is time for them to exit, we can choose which thoughts we want to listen to and which ones we want to pass on. This was new territory for him. Realizing we have the power to choose our thoughts and are not just at the mercy of every random thought that crosses our mind was profound. I gave him a homework assignment which was to become more aware of his thoughts. First, I asked him to take in some deep breaths and feel the air moving through his nostrils and down into his lungs. Immediately when we focus on our body and something as simple as our breath, all of our thoughts stop. We are choosing to focus our attention inside the body and we are present in this moment. I then asked him to visual himself as a tiger in a dark room, just watching for the next thought to arrive. When it enters the room, pounce on the thought, become aware of stopping it and then wait for the next one to arrive. I asked him to just do this for a few seconds several times a day. I noted that it is hard to keep focused on the tiger image, because sometimes the thoughts will overpower it and we will go with the thoughts instead of holding on to the tiger, but with practice it will become easier to hold the image for longer periods of time. Although the idea of choosing our thoughts sounds so simple it is anything but easy. This is one of the most difficult things to master in our lives, but it is where our power is. Harness the power of the tiger and become the master of your thoughts.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Being true to ourselves is perhaps the biggest challenge that many of us face. From the time we are young we are taught what acceptable behavior is and what acceptable behavior is not. We are trained to listen to authority in order to gain approval and we learn to curb our own wants and desires in order to please others and fit in. There is a big difference between fitting in and belonging which is perhaps one of the things that we crave most in life. As I listen to my clients who are dealing with addiction, one thing I hear repeatedly is that they started using drugs because they wanted to fit in with their friends. This ‘fitting in’ never quite feels right, but it is often better than being alone. What they really want is to belong. When we feel we belong we are able to be completely ourselves and are given unconditional love and support. We feel accepted for who we are and are comfortable in our own skin. For many, belonging is not something that is experienced. Many clients describe themselves as the ‘black sheep of the family’ or as ‘awkward.’ When we sense we don’t belong, the next best thing is to settle for fitting in. When I talk with my clients about being true to themselves and the difference between fitting in and belonging, one of the things that many clients state is that they don’t even know who they truly are. They have been so busy their entire lives trying to fit in that they haven’t taken much time to truly get to know themselves. Here are five strategies that I share with my clients to help them get to know themselves better:
1. Begin dating yourself. Act as if you are on a first date with yourself. What are your favorite foods, the type of movies that you truly like, the hobbies you enjoy or the places you would like to visit? Be curious and ask yourself the questions you would ask on a first date.
2. Pay attention to the feelings you get when doing things. Inside there is a sense that if we pay attention to it, either feels heavy and dark or light and expansive. When I think about going to work, or jobs or ways I spend my time, what is the sense that comes? It is a clue which points the direction to get to know myself better.
3. Ask the question, what would I love to do? We are usually taught to think about what we can do and that may not point us to our passions. If money, education and resources were not issues, what would I love to do? Get clear specific ideas of the things that make you feel light and expansive.
4. Ask yourself if you truly believed it was possible to do the things you would love, what could you do now? When you let go of the limiting belief that what you would love to do is impossible, new doors begin to open up and you begin to get to know yourself in a new way.
5. Take time for yourself daily. It is so easy in our hectic daily lives to get so busy with life that we lose touch with ourselves. Take some time every day to just be with yourself. Sit quietly for as little as a few minutes and just feel your body and notice your thoughts. We are not our thoughts, but we are the observer of them. Get into the observer mode and be still.