One of the last exercises that I completed during my meditation teacher training last September involved diving quite deeply into what really makes me tick. Now, normally I love getting all up close and personal with this stuff, but for some reason I really retaliated against what was being asked of me. The essence of the written paper was an attempt to give some insight into my “living strategies” up to this point and reflect on what was working and not working. I sat down many times to start the exercise and just could never seem to get anything out. It was such a struggle…and I couldn’t figure out why.
Until I realized that every time I sat down to write, I didn’t like what was going to come out because it didn’t look very…nice. Pretty. Honesty is a really naked thing…and by naked I mean that sometimes it’s just all hanging out there. And often it doesn’t look exactly the way we want it to look. After realizing that I couldn’t make it look pleasing and still be honest, the paper was written rather quickly.
I’m getting ready to head back to California to the Chopra Center for a program called Journey Into Healing. In preparing, I have been taking some time to mull over many of the notes and exercises I’ve done in the past year to take stock of where I am and set some new intentions. The paper that I wrote in September was a pivotal point for me and I thought I would share it. Because my purpose for this blog is for each one of you to understand that we are all the same. We really are. We have all kinds of different details that surround us. But our essence is made up of the same stuff. And we all struggle with the same things. Honesty, although startling sometimes, is beautiful and grounding.
My Winning Formula
“The minute you stop putting your whole heart and soul into the mind as it it were your saviour and protector, you will find yourself behind the mind watching it”~Michael Singer (The Untethered Soul)
One of the clearest memories I have of my mind being my best asset is elementary school. I specifically remember grade 4…and my teacher leaving me in charge of the classroom while she would do errands elsewhere in the school. She would ask me to keep a list of students who misbehaved-and I would do that thinking that it was the right thing to do. She obviously felt I was smarter than everyone else to leave me in charge, and that gave me such a feeling a pride knowing that there was something I was better at than everyone else. There were times where she would leave the weekly spelling list with me and ask me to administer the quiz to the rest of the class. I would always achieve a perfect spelling test score so she didn’t see the need to make me do the test. I had such a feeling of importance…of being valued. I was taught that each person had “a gift”…something special that no one else could do as well as I could. I began to think that my gift was my brain.
As a child I preferred being with one friend versus a group. My mother would refer to this behaviour as “anti-social”. I equated this to being deficient in some way. I liked to think about things-and, if I didn’t agree with something, I never hesitated to voice my opinion. I’m sure it probably wasn’t expressed in the most effective manner as I was only a child-but I remember being confident and knowing that it was alright to disagree. I felt secure and good in my own skin. There were also times that I would “question” my parents…especially about phrases such as “do it because I said so”. Inevitably, I would look for clarification on that because I wanted to understand reasonings, rationale. My mother would often comment that I should grow up to be a lawyer because I loved to argue. This would be followed closely behind with “it’s not appropriate to question people” and “maybe that’s why you don’t have many friends”. I clearly can look back and see now how I began to question myself and develop this “less than” feeling. Why didn’t I like to play in big groups? Why didn’t I like the things that many other kids my age liked? Why did I like to read all of the time-and the comfort of being alone with my book was more than enough company for me?
My parents always encouraged my reading habits because education was held to a high standard in my home. So much so that I formed the idea that my brain was my winning ticket. It was the only thing I was actually good at-in fact, I excelled at it. And, although I do remember feeling good when I would receive report cards and other feedback, it was such second nature to me that I felt an increasing pressure to do more and more in order to make sure that my niche was really carved out in that space. I felt like a brain…not a person…not Amanda. I think I also starting linking intelligence with some sort of strength or power at this point. I began to notice that when I disagreed with people, sometimes they could not keep up with the pace of my thinking and I could often make quick work of my point and leave them in the dust.
As my school years progressed I continued to do well. I loved debating and public speaking…but felt almost ashamed of that because it was portrayed as my “love to argue”. I remember my last speech I ever gave in junior high. I became nervous at some point and had the overwhelming sensation that suddenly everyone was watching and evaluating me (which was absolutely true). I lost my place in “The Zone”. I distinctly remember being horribly aware of my thoughts at that point. I think that may have been a real turning point for me as I began to succumb to the trap we all fall into. We become so consumed by the anxiety of what we THINK others are thinking about us, we lose attention on the task at hand. Somehow, I wanted to find a way to manage other people’s thoughts of me so that I would ever only be seen in a very positive way. This enormous task of controlling the brains of other people through my own image control became a small task I assigned my mind to do on the side.
In high school, the conversations about post-secondary education began. It was never a question of “to go/not to go”. I was offered a full scholarship for an undergraduate degree in arts at a local university. My parents told me to decline. I was advised that “anyone with any brains goes into science or business…arts won’t get you anything”. It was all about achievement…proving something. Although I can understand their thought process in this given their generation and own life experiences, it was a pivotal moment for me. I wanted to write. I wasn’t sure what or where it would lead me…I just wanted to write. I had taken a journalism class in high school and was enthralled from start to completion. My love of reading had always been fused with a passion for creating and writing…but I had never talked about this or shared my work with anyone. This changed in grade 12. I kept a personal journal for an entire term as an assignment and the feedback I received from my teacher remains one of the most valuable items I own.
My brain became my right hand man…my best friend. After several years of being lost at university, I knew I had to get myself together and regain my focus. In this time, my relationship with my parents had completely ended and I found myself alone and very lost. I felt embarrassment, shame and emptiness. Everything I had used to identify myself up to this point had gotten me a job at a call centre. I was unhappy and in disbelief that this was how it was all playing out. It was also at this point in time where I met several members of my birth family in my process of trying to uncover some medical information. Up to this point, meeting them had not been a priority in my life, however, when presented with the opportunity, I thought it might alleviate some of my questions and natural curiosity. I was not prepared for how this unfolded on an emotional level at all. I became quite overwhelmed with feelings that I had never given any thought to, and learned many details of my conception and subsequent adoption that generated a great deal of anger, resentment and judgement inside of me. Throughout that whole process, of all the things that were said, I have a keen memory of my birth mother saying “you should be grateful…I could have put you in a dumpster”. It was at that moment that my “less-than” complex evolved into an even heavier feeling of “I shouldn’t even be here…I am a mistake”. I began to identify with this image that I was somebody’s lapse in judgement…and that I owed them gratitude for allowing me to even be here and breathe the same air.
Once again, I turned to Old Faithful to push me through the confusion I had created. I wanted more for myself. I applied and was accepted into the nursing program because I knew it would lead to full-time, secure employment with opportunity for movement. I maintained a full-time job at night (11-7am) while going to school full-time during the day. For four years I did this-and maintained a 4.1 GPA. I received an award for excellence in clinical skills at our graduation dinner. None of this meant anything to me. I did not even attend my graduation. My brain had pulled me through and I was known for my ability to survive on very little sleep. And I was just so empty inside. Although I loved people, I certainly was not fulfilled in my career. But I was still smart-so I continued to take more certifications and courses trying to find happiness somewhere. I was tired of trying to make people think I had it all together when I just about did myself in over those 4 years in university. It was exhausting making futile attempts to anticipate and control everything so that nothing caught me off guard. In hindsight, I realize now that I held people at arm’s length because I felt like such a mess underneath. From a distance, things looked respectable.
It has not been until very recently that I have been able to see just how I have treated my mind. The responsibility I have placed on it. The job that I have given it to think me out of everything-I’m so amazed it hasn’t resigned by now. Up until now, I thought I was my brain-I felt it was the only thing people liked or loved me for. I put so much pressure on it to carry out all of these functions-think myself through all of the pain, hurt and rejection I have felt over the years. I can see now that this most powerful and beautiful creature that is my mind has been horribly misused and misunderstood…because I just didn’t know any better. It was my coping mechanism.
The unimaginable release I felt when I read that sentence from “The Untethered Soul”…I understood that I could let that go now. I was enough on my own…I don’t have anything to prove anymore nor do I NEED to be the smartest, most efficient and most perfect at everything…or anything for that matter. Because, once you first set that standard of excellence for yourself, it’s very hard not to get entirely wrapped up in the false idea that that is WHO you are. When, in fact, I have been blessed with a beautifully functioning brain-but that’s not who I am.
Who I am is something that I’ve thought about intently over the last few years especially. It is something that I’ve pondered on some level since childhood though. Being adopted, I think that triggers that extra little urge to form some sense of identity-because often adopted children have no idea where they came from. In my case, being adopted was somewhat freeing because I did not have any measuring stick to examine. I had no idea what I looked like or where I came from. I was just me. And that is why answering the question “who am I?” is absolutely unanswerable on this level. It’s not defined by thoughts or words.
I know who I am because of my grandmother. She passed away when I was 6 years old, but she was the first person who engaged me in a relationship of unconditional love. I have very few memories of her other than how I felt when she was around me. It was the clearest I have come to understanding what it feels like to be accepted just as you are. Because I was a child, I was also not so heavily laden down with all of the emotional residue that we pick up as the years go by. Labels, judgements, perceptions based on what information our senses gather. My vision now is to align myself routinely with that feeling of wholeness. Not having to change anything, fix anything or work on anything. Just to be. Initially, I was embarrassed to say that my last feeling of unconditional love was from my grandmother because I was afraid people would say “but you’re married…you have three daughters…what about that love?” It was then I realized that it’s not that I haven’t been loved or experienced love…it’s just been very coloured by the build-up of junk over the years. I have experienced it…but through my heavy armour of fear and protection. Now, I’m experiencing love the way I did at age 6-without a cage around me.
That feeling permeates me when I’m in My Zone. Often it’s when I’m writing, or engaged in talking to someone. Sometimes it’s in the beauty of a photograph or walking on the treadmill. It’s little pieces of absolute peace where there is nothing but almost a complete lapse in time and space. It’s purity and surrender In thinking about my core values I realize that they reflect so accurately what is innately in my being. My true vision is to maintain that space where I am centred in these feelings of absolute wellness and able to share what I’ve learned to help empower other people. I want my core values to be the anchor of all of my activities so that I’m balanced and feeling aligned at all times.
I can more easily see now how the expectations I had placed on myself were absolutely unattainable. I can see where I closed myself off from people and situations from fear. I can also see how I would never give the advice to anyone I cared about that I have given to myself. I am sad when I think about the way I have treated myself but absolutely joyful when I see that I now recognize this and can make a shift. I am so blessed for the teachers that I have had in my life who have appeared at the absolute perfect moment to create the friction needed to move me out of my rut.
I’m committing to maintaining my awareness on when I am closing off my energy from fear. I want to be able to feel those emotions as readily as I feel other emotions so that they don’t become residue. I’m committed to giving myself a break and being as forgiving with myself as I am with other people. I’m also committed to the awareness of the emotional responses that are no longer working for me and seeing these from a witnessing point of view only-not getting involved in the drama of them. They are:
-need to keep busy as an outlet for anxiety
-worry over things I cannot control
-feeling small-wanting to melt into the background at times
-urge to pull away when I feel trust has been violated
**My dear friend Randi Marks had written this quote down and shared it with me back in September. I believe that it’s all of our responsibility to change the world…and we can only initiate that process by being honest with ourselves