The Power of Listening (chapter 12)

After Ed walked out on me I was so distraught. I hated being alone with myself. It was excruciatingly difficult to be alone. I just felt off. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin.

At that point in time, simply being alone was just about the worst experience I could have. And yet something in me knew I needed to be alone with myself.

Being quiet and alone made me feel worthless. Being without distraction allowed me to face myself, my inner talk. In that space I was able to hear the chatter in my mind that told me everything I had ever done wrong.

Being alone held a mirror to my empty heart. Being alone showed me that inside I had nothing to give. Being alone I had to face the harsh reality that I was lonely, hopeless and lost.

I wanted to avoid these feelings, but something in me knew the only way was through. So I faced all these feelings and spent time each day alone and quiet.

I had to remember to breathe. Sometimes when I was alone I would cry so hard I would hyperventilate. I would weep. I would sob. I think I cried out 10 lifetimes of sorrow in the span of 4 months.

Breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. Just breathe.

I may have had nothing to give anyone else, but I could still breath.

And all I had to do to survive was breathe.

I once heard someone say, you don’t have to believe everything you think.

When I was so lost and depressed I believed I was my thoughts. I believed my thoughts gave me worth. My thoughts were my identity.

As I got quiet I began to realize that I didn’t have to believe every thought I had. Not all of my thoughts were accurate. Some of them were flat out wrong.

I began to hold my thoughts more gently. I began to see my thoughts in a new way. I began to see my thoughts as something I could choose.

Eventually I knew my thoughts were something I must choose. I began to realize that if I did not choose my thoughts they would choose me and I would lose my power.

When I let my thoughts choose me, the thoughts that would prevail were rooted in fear. They were based on my roles and responsibilities. My default thoughts were based on what I should do.

I identified with the roles I had in my life. I thought of myself as a mother, sister, daughter, friend, wife and employee. I thought of myself as kind, giving and educated. When I didn’t consciously choose my reactions or my thoughts I would default right into what I was told was right, good or expected of me. I was not listening to my inner voice and I was not authentic or inspired.

If I was not going to listen to outside influences and societal roles nor the expectations of others, what then should I listen to? I wondered.

For me, it was an inner knowing, I think some people call it an inner voice, for others it might be a gut feeling. Some people call it intuition, whatever you call it I think its your heart and your heart always knows the way to healing.

I was able to sense my inner knowing because it showed up differently than my thoughts. I had an inner critic that was judgmental and rude to me, telling me everything I had done wrong. And there was another space, that just felt right and good and peaceful. It was a kind and gentle energy. It had no judgment, just allowance and compassion.

The intuition of my heart provided me answers that I knew were right. I felt an ease about the energy of these thoughts. 

At first I did question my inner knowing. Maybe that is to be expected, I hadn't listened to my heart in a long time, so I didn't really trust the process. I wasn't sure if I was doing it right. As I sat with myself more and more, answers continued to come, along with feelings of ease and allowance. It felt peaceful and I was looking for peace so I continued even when it was challenging.  

As I began to act on the wisdom I received, I began to trust the process more and more. 

The first key I used in connecting with my inner wisdom was to first get quiet enough to hear it.

To get quiet I would limit outside distractions. I would turn off the radio and TV. I would silence my phone and set aside a few minutes to be alone and quite. Sometimes I would set an alarm. 

I got comfortable in a place with little distraction. Most of the time this took place in my car after dropping my child at preschool. I would put my phone away off and just sit and breathe for 5 minutes. Then I'd just breathe. 

Breathe in and breathe out.

I would pay attention to the feeling of the breath in my chest and witness it flow out.

It was simple and it was tough.

My thoughts would often go mad. I would think of all kinds of things I had to do. My mind would wander off thinking about grocery lists, people to call, the last person I spoke to, a birthday gift I needed to purchase. My thoughts would just jump all around. And I let them.

As soon as I would think, “oh I’m thinking about washing the car. Now I’m thinking about doing the laundry. I need to pick up some detergent at the grocery store.” I would consciously bring my thoughts back to my breath. “Breathe in. breathe out.”

“How does it feel to breathe?”

I might spend my whole 5 minutes jumping from thoughts of a shopping list to remembering to breathe, but that is ok. This is how I began to build awareness. It wasn’t always pretty, but I did it anyway. And I called it meditation.

I began to focus on the space in between my thoughts and simply started allowing that space in between to expand. Slowly the thoughts stopped jumping around so much and I could sit a bit longer. 7 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. 

I used this meditation as one practice to help me quiet my mind and thoughts enough to be able to hear the voice of my soul. Silence is not empty. Silence is full.

Spiritual masters teach that through listening to silence one can gain great wisdom.

I began to build a space within me where I wasn't identifying with my thoughts constantly. It was like I could witness my thoughts. if I could think about at thought, and see it, come and see it go,  it allowed me to realize that I wasn't my thoughts. My thoughts would pop up and disappear like gophers in the game whack-a-mole, except I was noticing that if I didn't try to smack them on the head, they disappeared faster.

I noticed that if I could observe my thoughts, then I was able to identify as the observer and not the thought. If the thought was the gophers I was watching the game and I was the one holding the paddle, then I could choose if I wanted to act on a thought.

Through this inner game of "I'm no longer gonna whack-a-mole", I was able to heighten my awareness of myself. It was incredible to bring awareness to what I really felt, because I hadn't allowed myself to feel in years. 

That's Not What Guilt Is For (chapter 16)

"That's not what guilt is for." my counselor said as she looked across the room with a straightforwardness I wasn't used to. People I knew usually danced around topics of self worth, shame and guilt. 

She could see I was affected. I had been talking nonstop for 20 minutes about how bad I felt for not being able to get it "right" in my marriage, before she made this statement. Now, I was staring at her, speechless.

"Guilt is for when you rob a bank. Guilt is for when you do something wrong." she expanded. "You haven't done anything wrong."

I knew I needed to hear this. My heart felt stunned the moment I head her words. I told her to tell me again.

"Guilt is not for trying and not having it work. "She said again.

The idea of not being guilty for the collapse of my marriage was a life altering thought. It took my breath away.

I felt my story begin to unravel right there in her second floor office. 

My guilty thoughts were relentless in my mind. Thoughts of how I got my marriage all wrong kept pulling on me like a noose around my heart, clenching tighter and tighter until I couldn't function. I was killing myself and I didn't even know it. I must not be any good at relationships. I don't know whats good for me. I can't make anyone happy. I can't get anything right. 

I thought it was my responsibility to fix what was broken, and I thought I was broken. I believed the problems between my ex and I were all my fault and I felt guilty because I couldn't fix them. I felt I deserved every attack and every punishing comment because I wasn't worthy of anything truly good. 

"That's not what guilt is for" she said again.

Hearing the truth in her words, I began to unravel.

My thoughts had been so caught up, tied tight like a ribbon on a package that you have to cut loose. My therapist's words broke that string and I let my blame fall to the floor right there in her office. I had felt at fault for so long, as though I was I to blame for our martial failure, but in this moment, I opened up. I thought to myself, what if I had just tried to make a relationship work that was never an easy fit?

That question felt easy. I like it. 

I had come to a stunning realization the day I left my husband that what he wanted I could not give, and what I wanted he could not provide me. It was simple really, like a math equation, we just were not a fit. There was no one to blame. We were just two people with different values and points of view. No one to blame. No shame.

I notice my thoughts began to tighten as the guilt for not being able to make my marriage work came back to me, trying to tie me up again. I thought that I could change myself, mold myself enough to fit into the world he said he wanted. I thought if only I could become his vision of perfection and that would make us happy together. No matter what I did I was never able to fit that image of perfection. I tried everything I could think of. If effort or trying was the factor that made a great relationship, I would have had the perfect marriage.

"That's not what guilt is for." she said.

Her words gave me permission to allow new ways of thinking to come to me. The thought of not having to be guilty for my actions, opened me to a world free of self judgement. From that space of openness I could unravel the noose of self judgement I'd been hanging myself on. 

I let new thoughts arise. Perfection was too lofty a goal to reach. I didn't need to feel guilty because I wasn't perfect. No one is perfect anyway. We are all human and therefor imperfect in some way. And doesn't that imperfection allow us to access compassion and goodness and love. Doesn't lack allow us to give to those in need. Maybe being imperfect is ok. Why did I aspire to perfection anyway?  

My old way of thinking came at me one more time. I felt like I was drowning again this time in sadness and desperation. I couldn't make him change. He never valued me as me. I couldn't make hime see me, listen to me. I felt devastated not being honored in our relationship. It felt like I was always giving love to a black hole. I always seemed to give more love and it just got sucked away into a bottomless pit. Never returned. Was this my lot in life? To give my heart best I could and have love sucked into nothing?

"That's not what guilt is for."  Her words echoed in my head. 

I unraveled again. Another layer. 

We are not meant to change one another. I couldn't change him and he couldn't change me. We were not meant to change each another. We were both made to be uniquely us. We were both made to be treasured and honored. I could not honor him. He could not honor me. We could not provide a safe space for each other. So together was not where we were best placed and that is ok. Again there was no judgement no shame, no guilt just pure acceptance. These thought were accompanied by new feelings, calm and serene, like a clear glass reflection of a mirror pond. 

I left the office that day and began a new practice. I knew now that I had the power to redefine my beliefs. I knew that having a new thought was accompanied by having a new feeling. And I liked the feeling of peace. I liked the feeling of freedom. I loved the feeling of joy. 

I knew that with the power of allowance, curiosity and faith I could wipe clean the self judgement that had mired me in sadness for so long. I knew that by redefining a word I could change my experience and therefore change my life. 

When the tightness of my old belief systems would pop up, I allowed my beliefs to have space to show up. I'd let the thoughts breathe for a moment. then something interesting would happen time and time again, by allowing myself the space for my limiting and judgemental beliefs to be seen and honored somehow they would melt away into a space of pure love and light. Time and time again, I allow a challenging belief to pop up and I am left in a space of peace after i just sit with it for a while.

Through this practice I have learned that I don't need to be "right" I don't need to get it "right" and there is no "wrong". Things happen. Lots of things happen in a life lived on earth. Most things that happen I do not have control of, yet I do have control of how I respond. I know I can never control the reactions of beliefs of another and it is exhausting and disrespectful to try to change them. To honor their uniqueness is to honor life itself.

The more mindful I am of my thoughts the more I can design the life I desire. If I want Joy and peace then I can choose thoughts that align with that reality. If something happens and I want to get upset I can find evidence to support my discontent. If the same thing happens and I want to feel at peace I can choose that too. 

No matter the experience, there is evidence for any feeling under the sun. There is always a choice to be made. I know how to make choices I enjoy now. I can even make a life-changing  diagnosis a blessing.