“Our journey is not about transforming ourselves into the person we want to be. It’s about letting go of everything we’re not.” ~Nikki van Schyndel, Going Wild
I recently went on a personal retreat to once again try to heal my wounds, see my patterns, and find my purpose. I’ve loaded my car with magazines from the last two decades and a book of poetry from 1980. I’ve packed my cooler with nutritious food, but then added a six-pack of beer and an expensive bottle of wine—all unknowingly sabotaging my personal growth by continuing to numb my pain.
I had decided to use my retreat time to review my journal entries, pull out any wisdom I wanted to retain, and release the rest in a burning ceremony. On my first day, I labeled each journal with the year it was written and organized them all chronologically. This task felt arduous but satisfying as I sat back and surveyed the twenty-five volumes, all neatly laid out.
I spent the next three days re-reading each one. Reliving the emotional fear of problems in that relationship, then the next… and the next. To work out the patterns of insecurity, sabotage and grief. Returning to the same issues after the end of each relationship and my same desire and commitment to be that person who has stopped drinking to excess, meditated daily, eat healthily and take good care of their body.
Again and again I had glimpses of this centered, calm, wise woman who I would like to believe is the real me. But again and again I had jumped into another relationship, lost myself and repeated the pattern. Pages of the same story, just with different characters and at different times. As I read each journal, I ripped out pages to burn, cut out sections to keep, and drank to numb the pain.
By the fourth day I had finished organizing the scraps of paper I wanted to keep and sat back with great satisfaction. By early afternoon I had my fire going and drank my first beer of the day while burning…and burning…and burning. Words turn to ashes. I stayed emotionally distant, cut off from my feelings, didn’t make a big ceremony of it after all.
Feeling restless, I finished my last beer and put on my hiking boots. The trail outside my cabin began with a steep descent, winding along the side of the mountain and deep into the forest. As I walked, I kept thinking, “I haven’t changed. I’m still the same What does it take to change? Why can’t I be the person I say I want to be? My life is one big loop.”
I thought maybe the answer was that I just needed to be more self-disciplined. However, I immediately noticed that the word “discipline” repelled me. If I know one thing about myself, it’s that I’m not one to follow rules or codes of conduct – and I punish myself enough as it is. So, no, self-discipline wasn’t the answer. It was clear that I had spent my entire life trying this approach and beating myself up for not being successful. I went further.
At one point I wondered if it might be about what life is all about: striving to be someone we are not. At this point I was walking back uphill and had to stop frequently to catch my breath.
As I stood alone in the forest, my heart pounding and I stared blankly at the trees, I wondered if maybe the answer was simply to embrace who I am. It’s pretty clear after twenty years of reading my life I haven’t been able to change.
My mind kept spinning: But I can’t accept those parts of me that drink too much or can’t stay focused. I don’t want to be the person who is overweight. I really want to meditate. I stopped again and looked down the mountain from which I had come. Hugging myself wasn’t quite the answer either, apparently.
When I got back to my cabin, I didn’t want to drink anymore. I’ve been mulling over the red thread all these years and suddenly I saw the essence of myself that is timeless.
It was present in my poetry from over forty years ago, in the heartache of sabotaging another relationship and the longing to be different.
In a flash, contrary to the self-criticism that had been running through my mind, I realized that the unchanged me wasn’t a bad self. She is someone who wants to do better, who wants to be better, who recognizes the passing of time and seeks to grow.
When I saw her, I knew that this was the me I could fully embrace. I thought briefly of starting a new journal with this great realization, then I laughed because I knew I’d be reading it in twenty years, shook my head and said, “Nothing has changed.” Then I would beat myself up for not being who I thought I wanted to be and the cycle would just go on.
In that realization, I knew that those parts of me that I criticized so heavily would not go away. And though I couldn’t hug her, I was able to embrace her with greater compassion and love.
I saw the truth that even when I’m not meditating daily, exercising, consistently eating healthy, and living a full and balanced life, the part of me that aspires to do those things is always there. She was on every page I said I wanted to make these decisions and she was with me the whole time. She’s the one I need to accept and embrace; it’s not who i want to be, it’s who i am.
Looking back on my life helped me understand that it is a process. This timeless part of me can come and go, just like I have my moments when I wake up to my wisdom and then forget it all. Sometimes the me struggling to make healthy choices will hijack my life. I can accept that that’s part of being human. I do not need self-discipline, but self-acceptance of my duality. Both my wise wife and my saboteur.
I am a wise and powerful woman. I am a kind, sensitive and caring soul. i love deeply I am very worried i feel deep I don’t have to flee from what I am; I just have to remember. Ultimately, what really needs to change is that I need to nurture self-compassion and self-acceptance at the deepest level.
On my last day at the cabin, I woke up to sunshine and blue skies. I felt good and strong. I spent part of the day shopping at the craft shops in the nearby village and before I knew it I was halfway to the liquor store. I kept trying to convince myself it was okay, but realizing I wanted to make a different choice, I managed to turn around before it was too late.
I decided to do a waterfall hike and climbed past the tourists to the top of the falls. The rocks were a slippery slope, but it wasn’t until later that I really realized the irony and potential of my drinking. When I got to the top, I sat down for a moment to meditate. As I closed my eyes, I embraced this timeless essence and felt so much peace and gratitude for its presence.
My inner saboteur tried to take over again when I got back to my car. As I sat in the parking lot, I asked myself, “What are you hoping to get out of a drink?” Then I laughed at the quick and witty response, “Hangover.” I drove back to my cabin, made myself a healthy meal, and had a drink a glass of water.
I now understand that this journey is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment reclaiming of who I am. I also understand that the part of me that was in control when I forgot my essence will not go away overnight.
However, I no longer pretend that something is wrong with me. I recognize and accept my obligation to grow in wisdom, strength and joy. And I embrace all that I am while having compassion for the parts of me that are struggling.
About Shannon Crane
Shannon Crane is an author and speaker passionate about speaking about how one’s focus, feelings and perspective affect the quality of life. She has developed an eight step process to shift focus, get in touch with body wisdom and see things from a soul perspective. You can join her Facebook community or connect with her at www.yourlifeperspective.com.
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