Becoming ourselves

We shall not stay attached to our views, and we certainly cannot do it anyway in the long run, simply because we do change. And so do our views. We learn so much more during our lifetime, and that keeps on changing us. 

This Buddhist concept of impermanence is actually something very positive, because it offers development, growth, using our potential. It offers new experiences, new pathways to be walked on, new opportunities for happiness.

It might sound sad at first, that everything disappears eventually and nothing stays the same. We are clinging to notions or things, often desperately, even if they are harmful for ourselves, because we don’t want to let go. Change scares us. We do not know what the future will bring, and we want to eliminate the insecurity which we fear might throw us off balance. It feels easier to stay within our comfort zone. But isn’t the potential for growth outside of it?

Do not think for one minute that because you are who you are, you cannot be who you imagine yourself to be. (Jedidah Isler)

We never stop evolving. And it is never done with a one time learning. 

Think about when you do a training or learn something new. If you do not apply it in your daily life, you lose it. It slips away to the back of your mind and you cannot even remember a lot of it after some time. It needs constant practice to become part of your daily routine – work-wise or in private life.

When we learn and evolve we take a step forward. We might experience setbacks, but we need to get up and continue. And take another step. Re-iterate the learning process. There is constant repetition. If we are open for it. Even though it is often painful, exhausting and frustrating.

Having a moment of enlightenment about ourselves, especially about changing our direction in life, does not mean this is a one time event, once and for all, and then we can just go on into this new direction we found, and everything will be fine. 

To be very clear: it is just one step on our continuous journey. We change direction, we change ourselves and how we see life and feel about ourselves, what we do and how we want to live. Nothing remains the same.

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. (Lao Tzu)

It took me some time to acknowledge that the difficulties we inevitably experience in life are not something being thrown at us from an evil force to make us miserable. These are actually lessons and exercises we need to go through. And they come in phases. This is just life with all its colours.

Instead of shying away I know now that I actively need to embrace my struggles as an opportunity to learn, change and question my approach in life over and over again, and then transform myself. Clinging to the past might feel comfortable, but I won’t get back what has already passed.

The element of fear is always present, of course. Fear of not managing the change well, of failure with ensuing despair and unhappiness. The fear of the unknown essentially, of insecurity is always lurking in the background.

The usual question “What is the right decision?” comes into my mind every time, however there is not a real right or wrong, it is just a turn into a different direction opening a door to a new world. I also recognize this very strong human desire in me, to apply a final fix and then be happy and have everything sorted in my life. It sometimes feels scary to realize that I am on my own with the decisions I take.

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

What is really important though, is not to beat ourselves up for going through a difficult time again when we already had a similar experience in the past and learnt out of it. We applied our knowledge at that time well and evolved. Now something is coming back – not exactly to haunt us – but to show us that we are not done yet (which we never are), or that something else has changed in the meantime forcing us to face it now.  

My recurring theme in that regard is my strong discipline that I often use to soldier on in a stress situation, ignoring my body’s clear signals for rest, until realizing that my re-surfacing health problems are already a cry for help and that I need to stop, listen and slow down. And that I need to change direction in my life.

Becoming aware of the situation faster and reaching out for help and resources quickly is already a good sign of applied learning from past experience. With time, I got to know myself and the traps I tend to fall into much better.

The package everyone of us carries around – based on how we grew up and our past life experiences – is heavy and does not disappear. The habits we developed are a result of this package, and that’s why the saying “old habits die hard”, describes it so aptly: we cannot get fully rid of it. But we can learn to manage it through a lot of self-awareness and kind reflection, and the will to move forward and eventually beyond it.

While accepting – very importantly – that we are only human, thus never expecting perfection. Being too hard on ourselves for something that we continue to carry around, is not going to do us any good, but is actually a self-created obstacle.

Life is a journey, not a destination. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

So, what to do? Take stock, get clarity about what is going on and why, how we feel about it, and then decide what to do next. We feel in our heart that something is clearly off, and it’s important to find our peace and restore our inner balance.

Easier said than done, as it is of course, far more complex than solving a school assignment or finding a good solution for a work task. That’s why talking to a counselor in such a situation helps a lot, because these professionals can bring our inner thoughts to the surface, helping us to gain valuable insights. 

My experience with such conversations has been thoroughly positive, and I did it more than once in my life. The feedback received about my thoughts and attitudes brought me more clarity because it held a mirror to my face. Whatever insights I gained was never anything that I had not been aware of before deep down within me, but I actually needed to hear it from another person.

And don’t forget: it takes as long as it takes. Impatience is not gonna help. 

It is indeed a journey. 

How to overcome the “If only” game

Going through rough times can make us question things in our lives, a habit borne out of utter frustration, exhaustion and sadness.

“If only I had grown up differently with different parents in a different part of the world then I’d have less problems in my life, be more successful, could easily do what other people seem to be able to manage so effortlessly.”

“If only I had gotten that job I applied for, had not failed my exam, if my health were better, if I had found the love of my life, then…what? 

Then my life would be so much better and I’d be happy, had no problems…”

Really?

Sounds as if there was a parallel universe somewhere, pain-free and perfect with endless happiness, and we just didn’t land in it by taking a wrong turn. Or even worse, something completely outside of our control – call it fate or bad luck – decided to drop us into the miserable universe. And so we are dwelling in the past, imagining what could have been. What we lost or presumably missed out on. Wasting our time by thinking “if only”. 

Not so long ago I had a conversation along these lines with my mother about the difficulties my father encountered in his job decades ago. Difficulties which “would not have occurred if this job had been in a big city rather than in that small village he worked, where so much was only about politics”. As if she thought of it as a cloud somehow dimming his otherwise impressive achievements. 

Who you are meant to be evolves from where you are right now. Learning to appreciate your lessons, mistakes and setbacks as stepping stones for the future, is a clear sign you are moving into the right direction. (Oprah Winfrey)

Whatever path we decide to embark on, it always comes with a mixed package of joy, sorrow and clouds. There is always a chance that it might not turn out as expected. We cannot expect things to be easy, and there is certainly no such thing like a perfect life.

A difficult experience however, does no de-value your chosen path in life, because in fact, it’s the difficult things that determine who we become.

And that’s what we usually tend to forget: adversity actually makes us who we are. Always. 

Without it we would not evolve in life. Like it or not – it is the painful things that shape us and make us more resilient. 

Sure, you lose something, but you gain something else for it. Living through a tough experience, you transcend into another person, thereby coming closer to who you are supposed to be. 

It is of course, hard to see it that way, particularly when you are right in the middle of it. And it might sometimes feel impossible to even see the tiniest bit of light. 

We seem to have a reflex going into denial, fighting against it in fear and frustration, which is useless as we cannot make what’s happened undone. We cannot change the past. And over a lot of things we simply do not have any control. Like other people’s minds and their decisions, luck or chance, accidents, illnesses, disasters…

Complaining about life treating us unfairly and that we have done nothing wrong to deserve it, will not change anything either. Life is not fair, there is just this notion in our head that it should be. Also contrary to what some of us believe: what happens to us is not retribution meted out by a higher force to punish us. John Kabat-Zinn calls our daily struggles “full catastrophe living” which I find a very fitting description of human existence.

We only make it harder for ourselves by thinking “I do not want this – where is the reverse button in my life?”.

So, what’s the better option? Stop fighting it.

Don’t mourn your loss in a way as if you were never able to recover. As if you had fallen down into a hole and things would inevitably get even worse from now on.That’s not what it is like. 

You need to mourn for sure, but when you are done you will still be there. The earth will not have opened up and swallowed you. 

And then you get back up.

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do. (Brené Brown)

Giving up this struggle is an advice I find very difficult to take myself. Finding the trust and confidence to go through a bad experience while waiting for the pain to subside and learning to live with it often feels like a tough order. More than we can (or are willing to) take at that very moment.

It might take some time before we can arrive there. Re-visiting painful time periods and events in my own life years later made me realize how much I have learned and grown since then and how they made me turn into a different direction. How some of them even brought me closer to the point where I am right now. 

Without them it might have been easier – sure, but it also would have taken longer to learn a lesson I needed to learn. Some doors apparently were not meant for me to open, but others did instead.

Maybe it is about re-arranging things in our mind in hindsight, to make them fall into place, and – more importantly – to make our peace with them as part of our story.

Life is about the journey to understand yourself. Stay curious.

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