“If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.” ~Natalie Goldberg
The past few years have been hard on me. They have involved an awful lot of very big changes for me and that has meant spending a lot of time putting myself out there in new ways that were risky and often did not have much support. And I’ve done a lot more failing and encountering devastating criticism* and subtle undermining doubts from others than I had expected.
I’ve been realizing lately just how much this experience is leading me to focus on safety and hiding. I increasingly measure everything I do, every decision I make, and everything I say by how likely it is to provoke criticism (direct or indirect) from others. I spend a lot of time hiding—my gifts, my knowledge, my abilities, my preferences, my self—from people around me in an attempt to stave off more criticism and thus feel safe again.
Today has been a day of borderline-migraine sinus headache all day, so I have not been at even a fraction of my best, but I am pleased to notice that I have come a long way in accepting that I am doing my best at any given moment than I was when I wrote the post below a little over two years ago.
Given that I have very little brain power tonight for writing anything original, I have decided to share this old post with you as a way of noting how much I’ve grown … and noting that it is possible to create change in this area. That is very good news!
Oriah Mountain Dreamer published a blog post last week entitled Doing Our Best in which she asked the following question: “What if you and I and every person on the planet, in this moment are doing the best we can with the inner and outer resources we have?” The rest of her post went on to explore how we might see both ourselves and others differently if we look at life this way, and I strongly encourage reading her thoughts on the subject. I would do her an injustice by trying to summarize them here.
However, the part of her thinking that really captured my attention was the idea that if I accept that we really are doing the best we can with what we have, then surest route to improving our best is not blame, trying harder, or punishment—but rather an increase in the inner and outer resources that…
As a recovering perfectionist and someone with considerably more interests than I have time, I frequently find myself trying to do too much. This condition generally leads to high levels of stress and frustration, inadequate self-care, and emotional (and sometimes physical) meltdowns when allowed to continue for too long.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to catch this pattern sooner in the process so that I can avoid the more extreme effects that can come from doing too much for too long, but I find that frequent reminders of the importance of monitoring my energy levels and the size of my to-do list help to keep me on track with this. This week’s links are a set of posts about doing too much and have served as great reminders to me of how I do (and don’t) want to live my life.
This is a post I wrote almost a year ago for another purpose, but it is a very good reminder for me right now to keep mending the boat even when water isn’t actively being added, so I thought I’d share it again here.
My inner critic is the hardest worker I know. She never takes a moment’s rest from her mission of informing me about every way in which I have not yet reached perfection. Believe me, the list is long, but she’s on the job doing her best to make sure not a single possible defect is missed!
This leaves me feeling like I’m moving through life trying to steer my little rowboat (my life) through rough water with a good-sized leak in the bottom of the boat. I spend as much time bailing out water (criticism) as I do rowing to make any forward progress. In fact, there are many times when I spend all of my effort on bailing water just to try to keep my little boat afloat. This leaves no time for rowing or steering. But mostly I manage to get along reasonably well.
“We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased.'” ~C.S. Lewis (in The Problem of Pain)
I encountered this quote on Facebook this morning, and it’s been on my mind all day. I’ve often heard it said that God loves us, but the emphasis has always been on the expectations that fact places on me for how I should respond. This turns the focus completely around.
As an introvert, I tend to be more aware of my faults than most. This causes me to spend a lot of time and effort working on trying to find ways to improve myself in attempts to minimize these faults. In fact, efforts at self-improvement are a full-time endeavor for me.
This almost always involves adding things to the list of what I “should” be doing: be kinder, listen more (which means talk less), eat better, exercise more, clean out my closets, be more social, sleep more, read more, have a more positive attitude, keep up with my gratitude journal, meditate more, pray more, step outside my comfort zone more often, and on and on and on. It’s no wonder I get so tired! The list is never-ending.
Adding things to my plate to make myself a better person was the only way I knew how to work on improving myself. Until now. I recently discovered a whole new way to go about this.
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” – Hans Hofmann
I have found myself reflecting more and more about how much excess weight I carry through life. It’s not body fat that’s troubling me (although I do have some of that I could afford to lose too); it’s the weight of too much “stuff” that has increasingly come to feel like a burden. It’s not just a physical burden of things that I have to make space for and take care of, it’s also a mental and emotional weight from the clutter and the responsibility for it all.
As I anxiously watch the election results roll in tonight while trying (not very successfully) to study for an exam later this week after having gotten up even earlier than usual this morning to vote, I’m very aware of that some heavy-duty self-care is in order right about now. As I try to sort through all of the things that are on my to-do list to figure out what I owe to whom right now, it’s hard to make letting it all go to do something for myself to care for myself a priority.
I really struggle with doing things for myself. I tend to put a lot of energy into first making sure that everyone else’s needs and wants are met first and that my plan to do something for myself isn’t going to inconvenience or bother anyone else.
This is true whether I’m thinking about setting appropriate boundaries, doing something I want to do, or even basic necessary self-care. I usually wait until a complete crash is imminent before I do what I need to do to take care of myself. (And even then, I feel horribly guilty about it—especially when other people complain or disapprove.)
“As each day comes to us refreshed and anew, so does my gratitude renew itself daily. The breaking of the sun over the horizon is my grateful heart dawning upon a blessed world.” ~Terri Guillemets
I truly have so much in my life to be thankful for. The more I am paying attention to these things for which I am grateful, the more things I seem to find that merit gratitude. And the more I find, the more I think of gratitude throughout the day, which leads to noticing even more things for which to be grateful. It’s really a most lovely cycle.
“When you refrain from habitual thoughts and behavior, the uncomfortable feelings will still be there. They don’t magically disappear. Over the years, I’ve come to call resting with the discomfort ‘the detox period,’ because when you don’t act on your habitual patterns, it’s like giving up an addiction. You’re left with the feelings you were trying to escape. The practice is to make a wholehearted relationship with that.” ~Pema Chödrön (from Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, page 36)
I get a weekly email with Pema’s Heart Advice of the week. The above quote was the one I received today. (It can also be found in blog form on Shambhala Publications website.)
I know this feeling of being in the detox period well. As I have been working on shifting patterns in my life that are no longer helpful, I frequently encounter these detox period where my emotions have been triggered but I’m choosing not to engage in my usual coping behaviors. Instead, I am left to sit with those feelings that I normal try to escape, minimize, or at least distract myself from feeling.