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Overcoming Self-Limiting Thoughts

I was in a 1-on-1 meeting last week, getting to know a very intelligent, successful, motivated, beautiful woman, who is in the mental health field, and also exploring teaching mindfulness and MBSR™ (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction™).  As I told her about my path to teaching mindfulness, and learned about what she does, I noticed my comparing mind coming in, strong and overbearing:  “Wow, she’s a rockstar…who are you to be dreaming so big?” “You’re not ___ enough…[insert any an all]: too lazy, smart, motivated, brave, not enough training, not enough background or life experience.” The amount of self-critical thoughts and feelings of intimidation and unworthiness was enough to make me want to jump up and run!  But, she, in all her supporting loveliness, who had just met me once before…saw something quite the opposite, so much more.  It made me wonder:

Why do we not see in ourselves what so many others see so effortlessly and without exception?

Over the last 200,000 years or so, our human ancestors had to hang on to and learn from negative experiences (like which berry not to eat, and escaping predators) in order for survival, adaptation, and reproduction.  They highlighted these negative experiences and stored them in their memory banks. Today, we don’t have to live with such constant threats to our survival, but our ancient brains still operate in the same way. Over time, we learn to be pessimistic, cynical, and sensitive to negative feedback, and many times brush off, ignore, and even disagree with positive and nourishing feedback.  This leads to not living in our full potential. It has to be something to remain conscious of, otherwise it will rule our life.

“The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive experiences.” – Neuropsychologist and author Rick Hanson.

There are specific moments I have hung onto in my second career path of becoming a certified mindfulness instructor that always creep up on me when I begin to tiptoe out of my comfort zone, which is a lot right now.  I have been told by more experienced teachers: “You shouldn’t be in this field, you have no professional background in mental health.”  “You should not be teaching MBSR, you should go and do at least 10 week-long silent retreats before even thinking about teaching this.”  These thoughts that give birth to feelings of separation, loneliness, unworthiness and “not-enoughness” I call it, that put me in my place. I waive the white flag, cry “Uncle!” to myself and go back, head hung, to feeling small.

But then I remind myself, these are opinions of others, not factThey are human just like me, and speak from of a myriad of emotions, just like all of us do. Do I have to believe this, do I have to believe everything I think? Through LOTS and LOTS of ongoing practice, I’ve come to befriend this self-critic, which shows up as fear, judgement and shame.  

I’ve discovered a tool to counter these feelings of inadequacy: Mindful Self Compassion (MSC) – I completed a 10-week long mindful self-compassion class by Kristy Arbon last winter.  She helped me to remember my innate wholeness, completeness, genius even.  That there is room to grow, despite the discomfort, I can learn to comfort, be patient, and even love myself when I become self-critical and ruthless, especially when I become ruthless. 

This is the kicker: this loving myself, it’s the same kind of love that I give unconditionally to my kids, friends, family…it’s the SAME feeling, which was weird and unfamiliar at first…because there is a lot of self-deprecation.  What is it like to make a U-turn with that feeling of love and compassion for others?

“Mindfulness offers us stability, self-compassion offers us adaptability.”  – MSC instructor, Kristy Arbon

At the end of a hot yoga class this morning, at just the right amount of tired from conscious movement and sweating…I was lying on my back in a supine twist, and had my elbow bent in a 90 angle so I wouldn’t disturb my neighbor.  I cracked open my eyes for a moment, and noticed my hand, fingers curled delicately inward, suspended in the air.  It was a fleeting moment, but also very powerful in how taken aback I was in experiencing my hand.  Just tripping out on my hand!  (Yoga does have that effect.)  I reveled in how much it does for me; holds my loved ones, provides stability when I attempt a handstand playing with my kids (and they actually think I’m cool), the endless tasks it does for me.

When I’m really there for these small moments of appreciation and gratitude and let it sink in, it helps me to reclaim my power over the judgmental, discursive thoughts when they rear their ugly head, and remember they’re impermanent…just thoughts, they are not “me”. Remembering the “wounded healer” in me that ALREADY is helping others, just by being present and showing up when things get difficult, by giving a damn, and sitting with other’s pain while they walk their own struggles, and I in mine, being a compassionate companion.

Heartworks quote


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