“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance” Alan Watts
As April springs forth her light filled days the lambs and rabbits that I see dotting the landscape are frolicking in the sunshine. I can feel happy at this time of year as I celebrate the newness of the season and optimism of fun days to come. It has not always been like this for me and like the transition of the darkness of winter to the lightness of spring, change has been a challenging endeavour for me over the years. It can be really difficult to feel joyous and light-heartened when situations in our lives are generating feelings of unsteadiness and uncertainty. Then it can be a challenge to stay on stable ground and we can feel unsettled and out of sorts. When life is feeling uncertain and broken, or out of control I myself can easily dip into feelings of inadequacy and despair. I am reminded of some wise words from William Wordsworth “Life is divided into three terms, that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present and from the present, to live better in the future”.
Learning from the past
As we think about the past, we begin to realise it is over and we cannot change it because it has already been lived. What we did in the past was not right or wrong, it just was what it was. You can see your past as a set of circumstances that you had to go through and you can either learn something about yourself from the experience or you can continue to beat yourself up about what you did or didn’t do. I choose to believe I am not the sum of my past and I did the best that I could with the knowledge and the experience that I had at that time. I am now a new person and I can learn to forgive the past so that I might move into my future with grace and love and understanding. It can be difficult to let go of our past and sometimes we need someone independent, outside of the situation to help us to see things differently. That’s what happened to me, it took me a while but I learned to accept the past and move on in my life. Are you ready to do the same?
Profiting by the present to live better in the future
As Bill Keane so rightly puts it “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift”. We only ever have the moment that we are living right this minute now. You can spend your life feeling guilty about what has gone before and worried about the changes in your a future that might not ever happen. Or you can choose a new way, that is to savour the moment that you are living right now this very second. Yes, that’s right, this VERY moment is the only moment we will ever have access to. I find it helpful to stop for a minute and watch my breathing. As I breathe out I silently say to myself “past” and as I breathe in I say “present”. This physical act gives me the opportunity to live in the moment and this helps me to ‘profit by the present’ so that I might generate a brighter tomorrow. Why not give it a try and see how this simple act can help you to navigate change more easily in your life.
As March gains momentum and the daffodils are beginning to adorn the landscape, the theme is ‘celebrating mother’s day’ as proclaimed in a shop window I passed this morning. It has given me pause to reflect on how I can celebrate myself as a mother this month and the high standards that often prevent me from joining the party.
The ‘Perfect Mother’ Trap
“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” Leo Tolstoy
When I became a new Mum I put pressure on myself to be the ‘perfect mother’ and to ‘get it right’. Sound familiar? There was a lot of ‘should be able to do this’ and ‘ought to do it like this’ running around in my head and a littering of failure as I strived to live up to the image of the perfect mother – a trap that I had inadvertently set up for myself. I wanted to be good at breastfeeding, I wanted to be the only one who could soothe my baby to sleep and I wanted to be perfect at it all without fail. I set some very high standards, and at all costs I was going to magnificently cope in my new role. As the pressure grew, and standards slipped, I became overwhelmed, angry and more disillusioned as I could not live up to the image I had set. I viewed myself as a complete failure and slowly but surely spiralled down into feelings of helplessness which resulted in post-natal depression.
Being ‘Good Enough’
Over time I realised that I was unconsciously putting pressure on myself to be perfect and that this resulted in feelings of extreme anxiety that fuelled a need for acceptance within me. As I gained more insight, I learnt to challenge my belief that ‘I should be perfect’ and I have learnt that I may shoot for the moon but it’s also okay to be good enough and just reach the sky. Learning to question my high standards, to evaluate what is realistic, what really matters and what is humanely possible has often helped me to relax my tight grip on wanting everything to be perfect and has still enabled me to get the job done to a standard that is adequate and acceptable, even to me. As Rebecca Wells so eloquently writes “Good enough is good enough. Perfect will make you a big fat mess every time.” So today I’m in celebration of the good enough mother, a role that I will proudly embody on mother’s day and beyond, what about you?
“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance” Oscar Wilde
The shops are full of valentine messages and a postcard has hit the mat informing me that I could demonstrate my love by sending flowers. As February rolls round and the message I keep hearing is “love” I am reminded that if I have no love or appreciation for myself, then how can I possibly love anyone else in my life right now? I’m talking about a love that offers kindness to our selves whatever situations are playing out in our lives.
As you walk around today, listen to your inner self-talk. Often the harshest critic is the one sitting in our minds. I call my inner critic ‘Sydney’, and she is very good at telling me “You are not good enough”, “You should have completed more” or, “You ought to have tried harder”.
When Sydney goes off on an inner rant I often thank her for sharing and then I explore how I might be feeling in the moment I started criticising myself. Am I feeling frightened, overwhelmed or even scared? Listening to our inner critic can tell us much about how we are feeling. Often the answer is quite surprising and gives us a clue as to why we’ve been criticising or judging ourselves so harshly.
When you begin to uncover the feelings associated with the internal rant, some compassion and acceptance often appears and this can enable you to speak some inner words of kindness to the part that is hurting. Often asking yourself how you would speak to a friend who was feeling scared or overwhelmed, helps us to connect compassionately with ourselves. Ironically we often have better relationships with our friends than we do with ourselves. As Louise Hay says “You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
When I’m being kinder to myself I feel compassion, warmth and a connection with the world and this helps my heart to open and for me to love others. Why not give it a try?
January seems to be a time to focus on losing weight and physical fitness. What about emotional well-being too?. Here are some tips for emotional health that can complement our physical well-being this month.
- CONNECT – See if you can reach out to a friend for a chat or play a game with your family. Relational contact with others can create a feeling of warmth and a sense of belonging. During a chilly month like January it’s pleasant to feel emotionally warm even if it’s cold outside.
- KEEP LEARNING – have you yearned to learn holiday French, or to knit or play a musical instrument? Perhaps these things are not to your taste and it might be something else that you yearn to do. Listen to the whispers of your heart as learning something new takes up concentration, reduces thoughts about worries and can help you to relax.
- GIVE TO OTHERS – Perhaps you can say a kind word to a friend or a thank you for a job well done. Or perhaps de-clutter a cupboard and give to charity. This can give you a sense of contentment at having perhaps made a difference to someone’s life by your words or deeds.
- TAKE NOTICE – Pick a time of day perhaps when brushing your teeth or taking a shower and utilise that time to stay present rather than letting your thoughts wander off into past and future. Stay present! You will be surprised what thoughts you will become aware of that you didn’t know you were thinking. Are these thoughts serving you?