One thing that has become ever more apparent throughout 2020, is just how important our ability to navigate our own internal world is. When so much is out of our control in the outer world, the way we navigate life internally is the difference between thriving, or not. John Milton’s quote comes to mind, “the mind in its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven” from his aptly titled book, Paradise Lost. Much has been lost throughout 2020, and yet I hope that much has, and will continue to be, gained. 2020 has perhaps shown us just how much we relied on the outer world to bring peace and happiness, and that, perhaps, we have now recognised that all things are fleeting. That is true of both joy and pain; and our peace rests in our ability to navigate both without fear or grasping of either.
Perhaps, it is time to stop denying the human beings that we are, and to accept that, as normal human beings, it is perfectly ok to experience the whole spectrum of thoughts, feelings and emotions that we inevitably will when navigating this thing called life. It is as natural for us to cry and to feel sadness and at times despair, as it is for us to laugh and to feel joy and hope. We can not experience one without the other. I come across so many people who have never been given the tools to sit with and navigate normal human thoughts, feelings and emotions in their internal world, let alone their external one. It’s no wonder so many people, often unknowingly, fall into the trap of avoiding even a hint of mental or emotional discomfort, or that they live in a constant fearful state, even when unaware that they do. I know I myself have to be on the look out for becoming unknowingly knotted up in fear, and for when I am do-ing from that state of be-ing. I’ve learnt a lot in the last 3 or 4 years in how to navigate challenging thoughts, feelings and emotions as well as recognising just how much inner-fear I had without even realising. I’ve also recognised that having the skillset to communicate thoughts, feelings and emotions is just as important as being able to navigate them. I certainly wish I’d learned that earlier in life, but better late than never and it’s certainly one of the areas I am keen to help others with too. We limit ourselves by wasting so much time and energy, not to mention causing much confusion and heartache when not being able to communicate well with each other.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that open, honest, non-judgemental communication is especially important when faced with the level of challenges we have experienced throughout COVID-19. There is something to be said for transparency, albeit to be of benefit, transparency requires us to learn non-judgement and accountability. It requires us to have enough self-acceptance that we can dare to look at ourselves as we are, warts and all. Only from there can we truly go about being the people we wish to be, not pretend to be. As Maya Angelou said, “when you know better, you do better.” But, first we have to have compassion for the shame we feel that sends our shadow side into hiding. We have to see past a need for bravado, and at the same time not judge those that still feel a need for the defence of one. It is for us all to see beyond the surface, of both ourselves and each other, and to do so without judgement. We are all doing the best that we can, even when it appears otherwise. I hope that 2020 has exhausted some of the long held bravados so that we may be free of the belief that any of us need one. 2020 has invited each and every one of us to get real, lovingly and non-judgementally.
Perhaps, as I sit here writing this now, saying goodbye to 2020 and stepping into a new year; it is time to pause. In many ways it has felt like we have been on pause much of last year, but perhaps it is timely to take this time to reflect; to breathe; and to gather whatever energy we have left so as to begin again with renewed focus on who we wish to be and what we wish to re-build in our lives.
Perhaps, it is timely to commit to letting go of the things that would be best left in our past along with 2020, whether that be old habits and ways of being, or people and situations that would be better set free. As cliche as it is, the drawing to a close of this last year’s end, and the turning of the calendar page into this new one, does indeed feel significant, to me at least.
We are a long way from being through the challenges of COVID-19 but as we turn into a new year, I feel more determined than ever to commit to a better future. It feels to me like a time of reckoning has arrived of walking-our-talk more than ever. It is this sense of significance that brings me to a renewed desire to follow through on something that has been building in the back of my mind for some time now. From the beginning of my more conscious journey towards self-awareness in the late 90s, I have often been aware of the times that I can be my own worst enemy in life and get in my own way. Not in an intentional way of course, more in that I have noticed that I plough on at times ignoring my feelings or giving in to my fears. I have noticed that, like many people, I can be my own worst critic, and I am increasingly becoming aware of just how futile this is. I now recognise that fear was always behind that. I have also noticed just how much tension I feel when I find myself in resistance to ‘what is’ in life. It is, without meaning to be, almost like I’m still having a teenage tantrum to the times when life isn’t going in the way ‘I’ want it to. At times, I fail to recognise that often there is a bigger picture at play than the one I see; it is at those times I get in my own way. I know that instead of pushing and shoving life towards what I think I want, I would often be better to soften; to breathe; and to row more gently down the stream so to speak.
So, for some time now, I have been wondering what life would be like if I could find it within myself to trust the flow of life more; to go with it rather than so strongly trying to steer it by attempting to force change in the outer world. That isn’t to say I mean to drift through life without aim or desire. More that I sense that going about life simply by trying to arrange the outer pieces is to ignore the nature of life itself. I am starting to recognise that, more often than not, I have been trying to build the life I want to lead from the outside in; and I am wondering what would happen if I was more fully committed to building that life from the inside out. It’s taken me over 20 years to finally embody the understanding that true peace, love and happiness really does come from within – and from that secure base, life can be navigated in all of its ebbs and flows. So, I wonder what life would be like if I placed far more attention on managing my own internal state of being, which I know is, at times, chaotic, fearful and over-reactive. I wonder what life would be like if, instead of trying to force change in the outer world, I lovingly and patiently supported myself in my inner world, as I navigate the outer one.
2020 has brought me to the point where I feel an increased desire to going all-in and committing myself to bringing these two focuses into everyday life. Firstly, to trust the flow of life and focus on maintaining my own internal state of being so that I can be the person I want to be, whatever life brings. And, secondly, to become more of the loving and supportive own-best-friend-self rather than harsh own-worst-enemy.
Whilst in the past I haven’t often been one for New Year Resolutions, as 2020 draws to a close, and despite some tiredness from the year just gone; I feel a growing hope for what is to come, and I want to commit to that hope. I want to commit my daily efforts to this focus for the whole of 2021 and see where that takes me. Besides, I love an adventure, so what better way to start 2021 by going all-in on something that calls me. The practical part of me of course has to map out what this looks like in a tangible way….and it makes sense to me to enjoy the journey of tracking it by way of keeping note, a journal. Not to mention the fact that I know this to be my second book, so what better way to commit to my New Year Resolutions than to sign up to publish my findings on the experiment! 2021 is going to be a year of experimenting with what it’s like being my own-best-friend-self and trusting in life more. Oddly, even as I type that very sentence, when I pause for a moment to consider what it would be like to do so, I can literally feel the tension softening from my face and across my shoulders. It always amazes me just how much tension I still carry, despite trying not to. There is an insight in and of itself, ‘trust more, try less.’
Effort given when trusting is an entirely different effort to the one that is without trust. Abraham Maslow spoke of this when he said, “a self-actualised person is one who is focused on the process of their work rather than the outcome, results, or setbacks.” This seems to me to be great advice, especially when so much is uncertain. When there is no clear outcome and the future appears more uncertain than ever, focusing on who we are be-ing amidst our daily do-ing seems to me a very good reason to get out of bed for. I know that I want to get out of bed and be kind, loving and generous. I also know that I want to look after myself better than I have done in the past. I want to give myself a better chance to be vibrant and happy, no matter what life brings. I want to roll with the punches a bit better, by way of allowing myself to feel all of life. There is no shame in being floored at times – 2020 has taught many that it is unavoidable sometimes, even though we would never choose it. There are healthy ways to navigate the times in life that we are floored, and when we have the tools to do so, those times become less fear inducing. We learn the wisdom through the ebb and flow of all of life, and there is a humility and humbleness from which compassion and understanding arises from that wisdom.
As you begin your 2021, what is it that you have learned from last year? What would it be good to let go of? And perhaps you would like to join me in starting to say goodbye to your own-worst-enemy-self and lovingly, steadfastly, and encouragingly become your own-best-friend-self in 2021?
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages, which perhaps sums up the daily choice we all have, no matter what is going on in our outer world.
On that note, I wish you all the very best for the year ahead….one day at a time…one step at a time….one breath at a time.