One of the hardest things for me to deal with in life is the things I can't control. When I can't see how something is going to work out, or I feel like I want to change another person's behavior, or I simply feel nervous about a million little things, I feel my whole body tighten with anxiety.
One of the hardest things for me to put into practice in my life has been shifting my anxious feelings in the moment.
Usually, when something stressful or negative happens, I quickly lose myself in the feelings. I get overwhelmed with anxiety, think only of what's happening, and feel powerless to what I'm experiencing. It isn't until much later that I can calm myself and recenter through yoga, meditation, walking or some combination of all three.
I have always wanted to be able to STOP an overwhelming, anxiety-ridden response in the moment, but have always struggled to do so. However, I keep telling myself I can, and one day I will, which is always the first step in making a real change. In preparation for this, I am always telling myself "I can choose to be happy at any time." Along the same lines, I often repeat the line from A Course in Miracles, "I can choose peace instead of this."
I can choose to be happy at any time. I can choose peace instead of this.
The other day, I had a chance to truly shift my responses in the moment. One of my close family members is perpetually involved in some sort of chaos or crisis at any given time. I struggle to deal with something I cannot control and feel powerless to help. As each situation arises, I feel my chest tighten and my breathing shorten. When I was told about the latest situation it was worse than I expected, and I could feel the panic slipping over me.
But rather than think of all the myriad of ways this could tragically end, I just stood and breathed, and said, "I just need a moment." I stopped my thinking and focused on my breathing. And then my words came back to me, and my mind filled with the thought, I can choose to be happy at any time.
When presented with something difficult, especially regarding someone else's life, it can feel irresponsible and even selfish to consider your own happiness.
It's something I've struggled with for years. However, what I've learned, and am still learning, is to acknowledge that not all circumstances are the same. If someone called me with life changing news and they needed me, I would of course be there, and would not suggest they were impeding my path to happiness.
Learning to see this family member's choices as not my own, and to stop putting their own happiness above mine, has been a struggle. I have to continuously remind myself that suffering in response to this person doesn't change anything - they will only change when they want to - and I must learn to choose happiness rather than guilt.
And this is usually what it comes down to for me. I feel guilty I'm not doing enough, didn't do enough before, and that somehow guilt and sadness is the only appropriate response. I often lose myself in thoughts of their suffering, and forget that each life in this world is equally valuable - including my own. I also forget that being miserable myself doesn't make anything better.
In fact, I respond with much more love, compassion and kindness when I remember to value my own life and feelings.
As I took a moment to breathe, I asked myself, "what makes me happy?" The answer was instant. My tomato plants. I planted a few tomato plants this year, and they grew big and wild, healthier than any other plants I've ever tried to grow. Each morning I go out and pick fresh cherry tomatoes, and I feel immense gratitude and joy.
Wanting to shift my response in the moment, I went out to my plants. I first stood there, admiring the vibrant green leaves and ripening fruit. I then sat in the dirt, with my feet in the shade of the plant, and just breathed. I felt the warm sun on my back. I became completely calm. I focused only on this thing that makes me happy. I chose happiness. I chose to value my existence.
And then I surrendered it all, because it was never mine to begin with.
As life continues to present itself, I hope you remember to value yourself and your place in it all. You are loved. You are cherished. Your happiness is important, and you are allowed to be happy. Choosing to radiate joy, no matter what's happening around you, doesn't mean you are ignoring the world around you - it means you are choosing to put something positive back into the world.
If you need more help finding peace and calm, particularly in regards to a family member or friend, try my Ho'oponopono meditation. It's all about forgiveness, love and inner peace. It's only $5 and the most popular meditation I sell.
Many years ago, after a few half-baked attempts, I finished a novel.
Once finished, I began the process of pitching and submitting. As it goes with most writers, I received a lot of rejections, one after another, endlessly. I had always known this was a possibility, that this was the reality of the business, but experiencing it was more crushing than I had anticipated.
After a while, my resolve broke and I stopped submitting. Despite this, I still believed in myself as a writer. It was the only thing I’d ever really felt sure of – I was meant to be a writer.
Unable to let go and move on, I did something I would forever regret. I self-published the book. I just wanted it to be out there, and I figured once it was, something, anything would happen. After I put together my whole package, the thing I feared worst happened – nothing.
I became a drop in the ocean of self-published works. I was a nobody in a sea of nobodys. This step was harder on me than all the rejections combined. I sold few copies, and of those I did, the reviews that didn't come from friends and family were negative.
At this point, my fear turned to shame. I had failed. There was no denying it. The fact that I had self-published the book meant everyone knew. I had desperately tried to get book sales to happen, and in doing so, had told everyone about my book.
The realization that this project had imploded settled into me. I was drowning in feelings of failure and inadequacy. I needed to feel supported, and so I began talking to people about what I was feeling. And this was when the cheerleading began.
Every time I tried to tell someone I had failed they would nearly shout at me “NO YOU DIDN’T!” They wanted to tell me that I had WRITTEN A BOOK (I was aware) and that I had PUBLISHED THAT BOOK (I was also aware of this). The way people reacted to my feelings nearly gave me whiplash. All I wanted was space to feel what I was feeling, and everyone around me was denying my perspective of it. They refused to even let me whisper “I feel like a failure.”
In order to respond to other people's experiences we'll often ask ourselves how it would feel if it was us. Sometimes, we just can't handle the pitfalls of other peoples' lives. We want to change them and fix them because they scare and hurt us by proximity.
The desire to tell me I hadn’t failed was well-intentioned, but it didn’t help. Instead, it solidified for me that failure is the worst thing that can happen, and it’s so awful, you have to deny it’s existence.
This denial negated my experience and my journey. Yes, I wrote a book, and for a lot of people that would be considered a huge accomplishment. But that wasn’t what I wanted, my goal for success was something else, and I had failed to reach it. Because no one allowed me space to breathe into this, I learned to smother my feelings.
I buried all this fear and shame and doubt and covered it with a million pounds of rocks. But burying unresolved feelings just pollutes the soil of your soul. You can bury it, but it’s still in there, seeping into the ground you’re trying to rebuild on.
Eventually, I got the courage to begin writing again. I switched gears and began writing screenplays. But this time, I felt uncontrollable anxiety around the entire process. No matter what I did, I was stuck with a rock in my stomach and a lump in my throat.
It wasn’t until I sat quietly with myself, and looked back, that I realized what I was so afraid of was failure. Because I had already failed once, and had never dealt with it, I was terrified of it happening again. I needed to move through those feelings, to accept them, to love them, and to know they’re just that - feelings.
There’s a big difference between feeling like a failure and believing you are a failure. It’s okay to fail. It happens to everyone. In fact, the more success someone has, the more likely they are to have a stack of failures. Learning to navigate these feelings, and to not make them into something bigger than they are, is an essential part of the process.
As a culture, we are constantly encouraging people to go chase their dreams. This is a wonderful thing, and a big part of why I began at all. But until we learn how to let people stumble and fall, we’re encouraging based on the caveat that only success is acceptable. That’s a level of pressure no one can live up to.
Putting yourself out there encompasses all aspects – success, failure, and everything in between.
Trying isn’t just about getting out there and conquering any and all obstacles. It’s a whole journey, and we are still learning how to give ourselves and others space to move through all parts of it. All parts are valid and important, and all feelings, when expressed and moved through fully, lead us into greater awareness and depth of being.