If I had a dime for every decision I talked myself out of, every risk I avoided taking, every man I wish I had the courage to open my heart to, I’d be rich. Cliches aside, the general sentiment is true. I avoided risks. I succumbed to fear. I was afraid of my own potential, afraid to love, afraid to pursue, afraid to be.
I became very tired of being afraid. At some point years into my self-sabotage, I finally had enough of my own cowardice. I was sick of being the reason for my own unhappiness, sick of crying in the shower because of decisions I’d made, and sick of my own pity party I was throwing on a weekly basis.
No one pulled the wool over my eyes; I volunteered myself. I lived in a semi-pleasant state of mediocrity, aware of my strengths, my desires, even my potential, but drastically unaware of how to gut up and pursue them. How the hell was I going to get out of my own way?
Eckhart Tolle tells his own story of depression and discontent in his first spiritual teaching, The Power of Now. He speaks of his early academic pursuits, how he viewed himself, and how he viewed success. In constantly pursuing external rewards, acknowledgment from others, and climbing this invisible ladder to achievement, he grew more and more unhappy, and less and less aware of why or how.
On a very powerful, dark night in Tolle’s life, he reached an epiphany that, thanks to his sharing, sparked a metamorphosis in myself and many others. He could not live with himself any longer. On the brink of suicide, about to end it all, this brilliant, gentle man, in a moment of genius clarity, recognized the error in his ways and the fundamental truth that would set him free.
As I've discussed in previous articles, Eckhart recognized the duality in his own being, in particular in his mind. He could no longer live with himself. Like a curious dog keying onto a peculiar noise, he repeated this phrase to himself, “I can no longer live with myself.” And in his repetition, he then asked, “Who is the ‘I’ and who is ‘myself’?”
That duality rears its ugly head again! Just as Tolle reached a breaking point within his own being, I, too, had to break up with myself. Something in me — a smarter, kinder presence — became further disillusioned with the unkind, unwise voice that seemed to be screaming so loud. My awareness, my conscious presence, which had been largely ignored, if not dismissed entirely, finally screamed at me, “Look at what you’re doing to yourself!”
I was disgusted by my lack of awareness, my neediness, and my ridiculous need to repeat the same patterns over and over.
Conversations I had with myself:
Oh, that man is attractive, seems interesting, should I smile at him, maybe strike up a conversation? No! He’s probably taken. He should approach me if he likes me. He’s probably not as interesting as he appears. Men are emotionally unavailable, he’d probably end up taking a crap on my heart like the others. Not worth it.
I love the way I feel when I practice yoga and I love sharing insights and postures I’ve learned with others, maybe I should pursue it further. Responding to my idea, my desire: No, you spent four years in college working hard for your degree. There is no money in teaching. You can’t even do a handstand or a split or about a thousand other poses.
I’ve always loved to write. I remember professors complimenting my articulation, my voice. I love food, films, psychology, life. I should write about what I love, my truth, what little I do know. Again, I lament, no, you have no true training, your degree isn’t in English or journalism. You’d have no path into a career like that unless you go back and start over. There’s no money in writing. How would you even begin to write? Who the hell wants to read what you have to say?
And so on... you can perhaps imagine a million other scenarios in which I had similar conversations with myself, choosing to listen to my naysayer voice, the voice of my past, the voice of my ego. The devil on my shoulder would only have me inflict evil upon myself. Not to be hyperbolic; I look back at my life and I still feel tremendous gratitude, but I now recognize what arsenic I was allowing myself to drink, over and over.
Perhaps you can fill in your own blanks, recognize your own duality and how you may have gotten in your own way before. Perhaps you have your own breaking point, your own epiphany and light bulb moment, the second where you got over yourself, removed the negative obstacles out of your way and instead stood behind, ready to weather any storm or blowback from the risks you were now willing to take.
I made a mistake in completely disregarding my breath. As I sit here revisiting these old emotions and sensations, I feel the conditioned responses boiling up in my blood. What restores equanimity and brings me back to now? My breath! It is a miraculous, constant reminder of the clean slate I’ve chosen to live from and a spectacular reminder of the struggles my fellow human beings are suffering, just like me.
Allowing the breath, the pulse, the sensation within the body, the quiet conscious presence that lies beneath the heart to provide a steadfast backbone, cushioning the fall when the risks we’ve taken don’t work out, provides deeply entrenched roots for which we can expand, reaching as high as we’re willing to jump, and digging as deep as our breath opens.
What the breath also provides is a pause, an intentional stopping of a negative runaway train, creating a moment of stillness for which awareness and love may enter. Once that space is created, we can then respond and move forward with an intelligent clarity with which the ego is otherwise unfamiliar. Only in the conscious gap of a breath can we mute the thinking mind, stopping a pattern before it’s repeated.
I used to feel this frantic need to achieve, now, tomorrow, soon. When? When would this success and happiness enter my life? When would I feel complete, whole, worthy, valuable? How? In all my frenetic searching, my sense of urgency provided nothing but more muck, more noise and more clutter to sift through.
I asked my mother, brother, grandma, lovers, best friends, cousins, mentors, dogs and anyone who would listen, what should I do? Who should I be? Where should I go? When is the best moment to strike? Should I mimic this other accomplished person's path or climb this metaphorical ladder in my own way? What's good about me?
This all sounds very whiny and sad, I’m sure, but nonetheless it's my truthful experience over years of becoming me. I was perpetuating a subtle, yet pervasive, suffering, all while feeling tremendous guilt over the real suffering many others were experiencing on a day-to-day basis. I had food, water, shelter, loved ones. What the hell was my problem? I had so much to be grateful for, but all I could experience was confusion, sadness, disbelief, and frustration.
Where I went wrong time and time again was combing through the external details of my life, looking for outward changes despite the source of the problem being internal. I was painting the walls and buying new furniture when, instead, I should’ve been improving the foundation, restoring the basic structure, strengthening the elements others could not see, but I could feel.
This change has been gradual and has been riddled with mistakes and lessons along the way. The road to satisfaction requires patience, acceptance, and loving kindness. Somehow it used to feel selfish or narcissistic to uplift myself, to think positively of my attributes, and to feel excited about my potential. No more. I cannot expect the eyes of others to awaken to what I still cannot see.
I must open my own eyes. I must snap myself out of my own bad behavior, particularly the stress and negativity I knowingly inflict upon myself even today. I see so much beauty, so much talent, so much light shining out from the beings of others and instead of allowing this comparison to crush me, belittle me, silence me, I need to feel inspired to shine on my own. And in spite of my old patterns and my current flaws, I know now that I will be the reason I feel happy, and I will be the most reliable guide on my path to success.
In order to effectively get out of my own way, finding everyday contentment in being who I am and the courage to reach for dreams I cannot yet conceive was essential. It required repetition of several affirmations:
I will never doubt myself again.
I will recognize when I am talking myself out of a risk I want to take, an opportunity I want to seize, a relationship I want to foster, and a life I want to live.
I will be the change I want to see in the world.
I will stand behind my efforts, carrying myself through inevitable failures, tragedies, sadness, and the inconceivably high highs that I hope to reach.
I will accept myself, speak my truth, and love without inhibition for the rest of my life.
Can you see how you are both the instrument and the facilitator? How you will encourage yourself to live an authentic and ecstatic life? And how will you shine while still opening yourself to the light and love of others?
We are each our own self-fulfilling prophecy. Get out of your own way if need be and start believing in your uniqueness, accept all that got you here, wipe the slate clean and get excited for how you can experience life from this breath forward.