Why is it that when I’m in one place all I want to do is move around, and when I’m moving around all I want to do is be in one place? Oh right, because I’m looking for happiness outside of myself.
I’ve been reading a book called The Untethered Soul (shout out to Carolynne from Fearless Heart Yoga who recommended it years ago). There’s a lot to dig into so I won’t aim for a comprehensive summary, but a fundamental lesson in the book is that you are not your thoughts and emotions. Rather, you are the one who observes the thoughts and emotions that pass through you. The author, Michael Singer, explains that you are not the voice in your head narrating your life, you are the one listening. Singer describes this voice as a roommate–one you would never normally tolerate, whom you can choose not to listen to.
The real you, the one who observes the thoughts and emotions running through your head, is pure consciousness, heart, spirit, soul, etc. The real you is completely self-sufficient, contented, and free.
But through our life experiences we accrue proverbial thorns in our heart that are incredibly sensitive and painful when touched. To avoid this pain we “protect” these thorns from the outside world by living our lives in ways that steer clear of potential disturbances. In doing so we change our behaviour and ourselves–we let our fears drive our lives and we barely even notice it.
For example, if I have a deep fear of rejection I will do everything I can to impress others, make them like me, and avoid disapproval and exclusion. I would try to figure out what kind of behaviour, beliefs, clothes, looks, lifestyle, job, opinions, etc. would be acceptable to others and then do my utmost to stick within those boundaries. I might hold back from connecting deeply with others for fear of them rejecting me. Even in small ways, we’re constantly doing this: weighing whether we should say this or that, debating a different hairstyle, or stressing over what to wear. All while quashing whatever personal truths that don’t fit the narrative we’ve deemed safe.
We spend our entire lives constructing a magnificent internal structure to protect ourselves from pain, and Singer suggests that all we have to do is stop running from it. Instead, when something comes up, we just stay aware that we are the observer of our thoughts and emotions–that as pain arises, and it will, we can just feel it, breath into it, relax, and let it pass. If we do this consistently we will slowly release the thorns that we’ve been trying to protect all these years.
For some, this will be a little too abstract, spiritual or unscientific, and that’s alright. But for me it really resonates. When I think about change and growth, and reflecting on my last blog post, it’s easy for me to get caught up in hoping for some resolution to my current pain points. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I’m not measuring up to the growth that I know is possible for myself. But it’s clear that this is counterproductive. If I beat myself up about how I’m not fixing all my problems and being the stellar person I want to be, I’m just cutting down my own foundation.
So I’m trying something different. Whenever fear, frustration, anxiety, or just plain old negative self-talk rises up, I can just feel it. I can breath, relax my face and shoulders, and observe my thoughts and feelings as if they were objects trotting through my mind. “Oh look, some major validation seeking coming through! Oh interesting, I see some victimhood slipping in. Hmm. No need to hang onto or battle with those. Let’s just let that pass on through, ya?”
Ooo boy. It’s tough to even write those things! It just goes to show how much I try to avoid pinpointing and tugging at the pain and shame that I’ve been “protecting” myself from. I don’t know about you but I’m tired of arranging my whole life to appease those buggers!
I’ve been playing with a few mantras/ affirmations to help trigger me to find awareness when I’m starting to react to something. Maybe they’re interesting for you:
BYOV (Bring Your Own Validation)
I’m constantly seeking validation from other people and mechanisms. When I become aware of this I think to myself, “What if I had that validation already? What then?” Funny enough, just suggesting that I already have the validation I’m seeking often liberates me to move on to the behaviour I actually want to enact. It’s like banging on a door waiting for someone to come open it for me only to realize I it’s not even locked. Alrighty, don’t mind if I do!
Another mantra I’m loving, based on a quote in Singer’s book, is “Nothing is worth closing my heart over.” This is such a powerful one. It reminds me that when I let myself be driven by fear I close myself off in every possible way. The sensation might be familiar to you–it’s a closing in around my chest that I can feel physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually all in one fell swoop, and all it takes to trigger it might be someone giving a one-word answer to a story I care about, or just looking at me funny. More often than not it’s arbitrary and small, and the only reason it matters is because I wanted something from them–validation, love, to be proven right (because then I feel valuable), or just to confirm that I do in fact exist. And they didn’t do that! Shame on them, right? Well, why was I looking for that from them anyway? What a weird choice, my dear psyche, and yet so common. So why do it? Absolutely nothing is worth closing my heart over. Because I know that when my heart is open I’m not looking for anything from anyone. I’m just exploring, enjoying, experiencing whatever comes, and having fun with the people, events, thoughts and emotions that are passing on through. Why else bother with this life stuff if not for that?
Relax, don’t do it, when you wanna get to it
The last mantra I’ll share is underscored throughout the book, but it’s also based on something my Dad says often: “Everything is driven by either fear or love. Choose love.” It’s not always clear what that even means, and sometimes I feel like “choosing love” is like trying to conjure an orgasm* out of thin air (sorry family members reading this, but for me this is exactly the right analogy). You can’t look at it directly, staring it down, commanding it to happen. We all know that’ll get you nowhere fast. We’re more successful with an indirect approach–just being present, feeling all the feelings and letting everything flow through you as you enjoy whatever the experience brings, and then letting it pass. Stay open; choose love.
Of course, all of this is hard. And I am the furthest from being on a high horse on this–most of what I share here is for me at least as much as it is for you. But it’s all about practise, vulnerability, and doing our damnedest to support each other and keep moving forward.
What do you think? Do you use any mantras to help you find supportive mindsets? Does this all sound crazy to you? Good thing I’m not looking for your validation! (Lol, working on it.)
*I debated sharing this slightly riské analogy with you, but then I remembered how I feel about sex and shame: we’re so terrified to acknowledge reality when it comes to anything sex related, and in my opinion, this is one of the most damaging hang-ups we have. It leads to tons of misinformation, risky and harmful behaviour, and so much missed opportunity when it comes to enjoying this dear life. How ridiculous! Let’s do better with this, ya?
You can listen to Michael Singer discuss his book with Oprah on a recent episode of her podcast, Super Soul Conversations. Find it anywhere you get your podcasts, or on YouTube below!