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Archive for August, 2010

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Woman Among Lit Votive CandlesThe passage above is called the Serenity Prayer. It is used frequently in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step recovery programs.  It is simple yet extremely powerful.  I believe that if one fully embraces and lives in tune with the words of this prayer, he or she will live a much more peaceful and happy life.

I dedicate this week’s post to the discussion of the Serenity Prayer, as I feel it is integral to my healing project and the healing of all those who have things in their lives they wish weren’t “so.”  That pretty much describes all of us, now doesn’t it?

Can We Save Another?

There is a person I care about who is engaging in very self-destructive behavior and who is greatly endangering her health by her actions.  It is very difficult for me to see this person hurt herself the way she does, especially since she has experienced several periods of recovery that I’d hoped would be permanent.

Over the years, I’ve tried to help this person in a multitude of ways, and I continue to ruminate upon what I could do now to assist her in overcoming her internal demons.  In truth, I vacillate between wracking my brain to determine how I can help her and being so angry at her that I feel like just leaving her to the demise she seems so hell-bent upon bringing about.

The Serenity Prayer in Action

In recent days, I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to deciding what, if anything, I can do to help this person who is very dear to me.  It was during this time that I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer.  As I repeated the simple prayer internally, I was struck with a realization.  This person and her self-destructive behavior fall under the category of “things I cannot change.”

Sadly, we cannot change other people; we can only change ourselves and our reactions to other people. Deep down, I know this and have known it for many years.  However, I find it extremely difficult to accept the cold, hard truth that I do not have the power to change another human being.  Yet, if I am to achieve the level of inner peace which I so intently seek, I must accept this reality.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

The most powerful part of the Serenity Prayer is the last part – “the wisdom to know the difference.” As someone who has long been a “control freak,” I tend to think I have the power to change anything in my life that I do not like.   This belief has led me to a great deal of pain and misery.

I’ve tried to “fix” a number of people over the years – friends, family members, significant others.  Yet the truth is that there is only one person I can control or fix, and that’s myself. While it’s true that we can influence others, they have to change themselves; we cannot do it for them.

Serenity and Courage

In my current situation, now that I have the wisdom to know that I cannot change this other person, I must turn to the other two parts of the Serenity Prayer.  I must seek and pray for the serenity to accept that I cannot change another, and I must have the courage to change the way in which I interact with this person. I must stop trying to change her and do my best to love her as she is.

Yes, I feel sad that she hurts herself the way she does, but in spite of that sad truth, she has many wonderful qualities that I can love and appreciate.  I must adopt a “glass half-full” attitude and appreciate what’s right instead of lamenting upon what’s wrong. I must release my anger toward this person for her behavior and at myself for not being able to help her.

The Power of the Human Spirit

If this person decides to change, I will be there for her as I have been in the past.  I will think positively and believe in her capacity to change, as I always have.  I genuinely do believe in the power of the human spirit and the capacity for people to change at any phase of life. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.  I would have given up on myself a long time ago, because God knows I have stumbled and struggled with the same issues many times over the years.  Yet I have not given up, and I will never give up, as long as there is breath in my body.

Just as I have not given up on myself, I will not give up on my self-destructive loved one. I may have to distance myself from her at times, as it is difficult to see someone you love hurt themselves, but I won’t lose hope that she can and will change.

Still Seeking Serenity…

I do not yet fully have the serenity to accept that I cannot change others who are harming themselves. Even as I write this, I find myself wondering if maybe this thing or that thing might help steer the person I mentioned onto a more life-affirming course.  But I am on my own path of healing, and part of my healing involves letting go of believing I can mold others to my will.

I need to focus on myself and my own path and heal the things in my own life that are off balance.  I can be an inspiration and an example for others, but I cannot make them change. I am reminded of a line from the transformational passage by Marianne Williamson, “My Deepest Fear…” (the full passage may be read here):

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Hope and Healing

A large part of my blogging about my healing project is that I hope to help others to heal their lives as I heal mine.  I hope that the concepts I write about and the insights I reveal will produce resonance in my readers and help them on their own journeys. It has been liberating for me, a generally private person, to share intimate thoughts with the world (I say the world because you never know who will find you on the Internet).  Letting go of my intense worries of the scrutiny of others has helped me to come more into my own as a person and embrace the specialness of who I am.

I am sad, but I remain hopeful.  I move forward with courage to continue my healing project and to allow others to be on the paths of their choosing, whether positive or negative. I know I cannot chart the course for anyone besides myself, so I will continue to navigate my own “vessel” and let others do the same.  As I do so, I continue to pray for serenity, courage, and wisdom… each and every day.

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“Fears are merely thoughts, and thoughts can be released.”
– Louise Hay

Frightened WomanThe quote above begins Chapter 4 of the “You Can Heal Your Life Companion Book,” the chapter which focuses on fearful emotions. Although I have been diligently working through all of the exercises in this book, I have decided to only post on those that are most impactful to me and which I feel will be most relevant to my readers.

In this post, I share some of the exercises from Chapter 4 and my responses, as well as some insights to use in your own journey to facing and overcoming fear.

The Price of Fear

Fear impacts all of us.  We let fear stop us from pursuing our dreams, speaking our minds, sharing our love, and fully living our lives. We experience fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of change, fear of the future, fear of intimacy, and even fear of success.  Some of us literally become paralyzed by our fears.

The chapter begins with a checklist of thirteen fear-related statements which express negative and limiting beliefs that hold us back in life. We are instructed to check the ones which feel true for us at present.  Even though a few of the statements were phrased in more extreme language than I would personally use, I checked those for which I felt heaviness in my chest upon reading the words:

  • Growing older frightens me.
  • I have difficulty expressing my feelings.
  • I can’t focus on anything.
  • I feel like a failure.
  • What if I have to endure a painful death?

Following the checklist are some empowering insights from Louise Hay on the subject of fear.  She states that “in any given situation, we have a choice between love and fear.” She follows by emphasizing that when you feel frightened, you are not loving and trusting yourself.

Fear is Not the Real Problem

Louise mentions the powerful book by Susan Jeffers, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” This book was published in 1987, but its message is equally as valid in 2010.  In a nutshell, Ms. Jeffers postulates that fear is not the real problem that people are experiencing.  The real issue, she states, is not the fear, but how we hold the fear. We can approach the fear from a position of power or a position of helplessness.  When we allow ourselves to feel the fear but take action anyway, we move from vulnerability to empowerment.

“Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.”
– Mark Twain

Acting In Spite of Fear

Acting in spite of fear requires both self-acceptance and letting go of the judgments of others. How often do we stop ourselves from taking action because we doubt ourselves or worry what others will think?  It is important to remember that everyone doubts themselves at times. Who is really sure that his actions are the right ones, and who can be certain that his actions will yield the desired results?

Those who are living the lives of their dreams are the ones who acted in spite of the worry and doubt. They are also the ones who, when they fail, pick themselves right up and try again.

Follow Your Own North Star

The happy and successful in the world do not waste needless time and energy worrying about what others think of them. They are guided by their own North Star and are willing to risk the rolling eyes and shaking heads of those who chastise them for choosing to follow the “road less traveled.”

Think of the people whom you admire.  Are they the ones who do what everyone else is doing, or are they the ones who march to the beat of their own drum?  The people who I admire are those who are self-aware, confident, and true to themselves and their dreams. They may not be rich or famous, but they are happy because they are living their own lives and are governed by possibility instead of fear.

Empowering Affirmations to Fight Fear

Another exercise in the “Fearful Emotions” chapter instructs us to list our greatest fears related to ten key areas of life, from career and family to health and death.  Following each fear, we are asked to create a positive corresponding affirmation to help counteract the fear. The area in which I am experiencing the most difficulty at present is health.  My deepest fear and empowering affirmation for my health are as follows:

Health Fear: I will continue to have a plethora of ongoing health issues and it will only worsen as I get older.
Health Affirmation:
I release my health problems and embrace my right to vibrant good health!

The above affirmation provides infinitely more possibility for my future than the corresponding fear. I was so energized by the affirmation that I have affixed it to both my computer and bathroom mirror so that I can subconsciously internalize my new belief throughout each day.

In Closing – Choosing the Positive

The chapter ends with a list of suggested affirmations to counter the destructive fears from the checklist in the first exercise. I end this post with my new empowering affirmations, as well as a few quotes I like on the topic of fear.  May we all “feel the fear and do it anyway!”

  • My age is perfect, and I enjoy each new moment. (replaces “Growing older frightens me.”)
  • It is safe to express my feelings. (replaces “I have difficulty expressing my feelings. “)
  • My inner vision is clear and unclouded. (replaces “I can’t focus on anything.”)
  • My life is a success. (replaces “I feel like a failure.”)
  • I will die peacefully and comfortably at the right time. (replaces “What if I have to endure a painful death?”)

Empowering Quotes on Fear:

Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.” – Unknown

FEAR is an acronym in the English language for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” – Neale Donald Walsch

You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith. – Mary Manin Morrissey

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. – Ambrose Redmoon

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Thumbs up!It’s hard to believe, but it has been 6 months since I started “The Healing Project.” My first post was made on February 3, 2010, and outlined my quest to heal my health and my life over the course of one year.  My healing project utilizes the principles of Louise Hay and other teachers and also involves treating myself with more kindness and compassion.

Since my initial post, I have made 32 additional entries on a variety of topics related to health, behavior, psychology, and spirituality. I have also started a second blog, “Body Image Rehab,” which focuses on my efforts to transform my body image and learn to love and accept my body.

Insights and Wins

Last week, upon the occasion of my 44th birthday, I posted my “Reflections at Mid-Life.” This week’s post is dedicated to sharing the insights I’ve gained and the triumphs I’ve made at the half-way point of my “healing project.” These powerful wins can be encapsulated within the following categories, each of which will be covered in the body of this post:

  • Gratitude
  • Attitude
  • Hope
  • Healing

Gratitude

“When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears” – Anthony Robbins

The quote above exemplifies the power of gratitude as a spiritual practice in life.  When one reflects on the many blessings which are present in his life, he is less likely to experience fear and anxiety. The practice of gratitude involves having a “glass half full” outlook and looking for what’s right in your life instead of what’s wrong.  It is definitely true that if you look for something, you’re going to find it, so why not look for the good instead of the bad?

Since beginning my healing project, I have adopted a much more powerful attitude of gratitude in my life.  I am decidedly more present to the abundance of blessings that exist in my life, and I much more readily rejoice in the “little things” which bring me joy and peace on a daily basis.  I am more easily able to live in the moment and less likely to either dwell on the mistakes and pain of the past or ruminate on the “what ifs” of the future.

One of my early posts was on “The Practice of Gratitude” and included the suggestion for keeping a gratitude and success journal on a regular basis. I wholeheartedly re-affirm that suggestion now!  I strive to make entries in my gratitude journal on most days and find that it helps me to live more in the moment and focus more on my blessings rather than my challenges.

Attitude

“Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars.” – Frederick Langbridge

Closely related to gratitude is attitude.  Adopting a positive attitude in life can help you navigate your way through the many challenges which you’ll face on your life journey. I used to be a pessimist and was always waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.  I used to believe that it was better to expect the worst because that way, I would never be disappointed.  What I didn’t realize was that I spent a lot of time and energy needlessly worrying about calamities which never happened. Instead, I could have invested that mental and emotional capital in reaching my goals and fulfilling my dreams.

My healing project has involved a lot of attitudinal shifts.  I have become much more keenly attuned to my thoughts and the impact they have on my health and my life experience. My increased awareness has allowed me to question my thoughts and assess how they are or are not serving me.   I am now much more able to rapidly shift my thinking to a more positive space upon the realization that I am engaging in “stinking thinking.”  I now spend far fewer precious moments each day in a negative space and my husband is delighted that I have become a more upbeat person.

Hope

“In all things, it is better to hope than to despair.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When 2010 began, I didn’t feel a lot of hope for myself or my life. I felt like a run-down, unhealthy, washed up “loser,” and I am not exaggerating much in this characterization.  While I was very happy to have a loving and supportive husband, I felt despondent about my many health challenges, my lack of career success and prospects, and the absence of close relationships with my friends and family members. Until my epiphany while working out one January evening, I was very discouraged and had little idea how to go about changing my course in life.

The simple acts of declaring my healing project and beginning this blog infused a thread of hope into my consciousness, and this thread has grown into a small but beautiful tapestry over the course of the past six months.  While I cannot report a completely clean bill of health, a thriving business, or a broad circle of friends, I can express increased hope for growth and improvement in all areas of my life.

I can also state that there have been significant positive changes in various facets of my life. I have revitalized some of my relationships and reached out to new acquaintances, and this has led to a few new career opportunities as well as an enhanced sense of connection with others.  My health has also improved in several key ways which I will elaborate on further in the next section.

All in all, I feel that I am on a positive path and have much more hope for a compelling future than I did at the beginning of this year.  I am gradually filling in the details and color in the vision for my future, and that is helping me to move forward in creating a more happy and peaceful life.

Healing

“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophies.” – Friedrich Nietzche

A big part of my healing project relates to my overcoming a number of health challenges which have been adversely impacting my life. Some of these illnesses have plagued me for many years, while others have cropped up only recently. Fortunately, none of these difficulties are life-threatening, yet all have been troubling to me and have affected my quality of life.

As I am a big believer in Louise Hay’s philosophy that we create every illness in our bodies by virtue of our thoughts, I also ascribed to her powerful notion that I could overcome my ailments through changing my thinking.   I made a point of shifting my thoughts from negative to positive and repeating empowering affirmations related to my health.  I have also worked on being more gentle and loving toward myself, as Louise Hay asserts that all “when we really love and accept and approve of ourselves, then everything in life works.”

I am pleased to report that I have seen some noteworthy improvements in my health since beginning my healing project.  I am experiencing far fewer body aches and pains and feel a higher level of health and vitality.  My health conditions which have either disappeared or dramatically decreased in intensity include my neck pain, my TMJ syndrome, my digestive distress, and the throat condition which I wrote about in my post titled “It’s Always Something!” In terms of the latter condition, rather than having to take prescription medication twice a day as recommended by the specialist I saw, I am only taking a low dose of an over-the-counter drug each morning and my symptoms have almost completely abated!

On To the Second Half…

As I move into the second half of my yearlong healing project, I am both excited and encouraged to continue the progress I’ve made thus far.   I am confident that I will succeed in my quest to heal myself and my life in one year. I look forward to sharing my many wins related to health, relationships, and success along the way and in February 2011!

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Woman with shining water behind herThis coming Sunday, August 8th, is my birthday. I will turn 44, which officially places me in my mid-forties.   There’s no denying it at this point; I’m now “middle-aged.” I don’t like the imagery evoked by that term, but I know intuitively that the term has no real intrinsic meaning. 

The labels we place on ourselves are what we make them, much like life itself. To quote an old Talk Talk song from the 80s (I don’t have to worry about “dating” myself since I already gave my age away!), “Baby, life’s what you make it.  Celebrate it!”

Embracing the Aging Process

Instead of fearing the aging process or denying it, I choose to embrace it and face it head-on. Although I have the requisite wrinkles and grey hairs which inevitably accompany middle-age, I feel that the positive points of having reached this milestone far outweigh the negatives.

I’ve decided to dedicate this post to my reflections at mid-life. What have I learned about myself and about life over the years?  What would I tell my younger self if I could be transported back in time to talk with her? What wisdom could I impart to her to help make her journey a bit less troubled and fraught with difficulties?

Key Points of Wisdom at Mid-Life

I can encapsulate my key words of wisdom into three main points, which I will address in detail below:

  1. Feeling good is more important than looking good.
  2. Life is more than accomplishments.
  3. Strive for balance in all things.

Feeling Good is More Important Than Looking Good

When I was in my teens and twenties (heck, even a large portion of my thirties), looking good was of the utmost importance. I risked my health in countless ways, all in the pursuit of my image of beauty and perfection.  I starved myself, exercised obsessively, binged and purged, and abused diet pills and other substances in order to achieve the unrealistic and unhealthy level of thinness that I felt was attractive.  My eating disorders pushed me to the brink of death on multiple occasions and I am extremely lucky to have survived and to be alive today.

My younger self lived for the moment and didn’t consider the potential lasting repercussions of her actions. I didn’t realize at the time that I would still be feeling the effects of my misguided behavior many years down the road, yet I am convinced that many of the health concerns which continue to plague me are rooted in the self-destructive behaviors of my earlier years.

Sadly, it is only in the absence of good health that many people come to value their physical well-being. It is all too true that vibrant health and vitality is our greatest blessing and that it is difficult to experience life happiness without it.  The old adage that without our health, we don’t really have anything is painfully true.

If I were granted the ability to speak with my young and troubled self, I would do my best to convince her just how important health is and that feeling good is more important than looking good. I would also strive to expand her view of beauty to include body types other than extreme thinness and to highlight the value of inner beauty.

I am not sure how much of an impact my pleas would have on the young me, as I was extremely depressed and devoid of any real sense of self-worth at the time, but perhaps my words will have a positive effect on some of my young readers.  If I could turn back the clock, I would embrace my youthful health and strive to be strong, vibrant and athletic instead of thin and unhealthy.

Life is More Than Accomplishments

When I was younger, my life was all about achievement. I wanted to graduate college with honors, do the same with graduate school, and climb the corporate ladder to what I thought was “success.”  As I’ve matured, my perspective on success and accomplishment has changed. The things that I thought would lead me to feel happy and satisfied did not produce that result.  I came to realize that true success consists of inner peace and being able to look in the mirror and be happy with the person you see staring back at you.

If you ask a person in his twenties or thirties about his goals for life, it’s likely he will speak about career aspirations and the “American Dream” of owning a home. Of course, he might also mention his dreams of marrying and starting a family, but chances are his initial statements will be career-related. 

If you ask a person in his fifties or sixties to share his goals, the response will generally be focused in a different direction. He will likely speak of spending more time with his family, pursuing a hobby, or traveling to other areas of the world.  The older person typically values experiences over accomplishments. This doesn’t invalidate career pursuits, but it does highlight the importance of balance in life.

A few years ago, I was out with a small group and we got to talking about success.  When I lamented my lack of success, I was met with surprise from my companions, who stated that they considered me to be quite successful. When I tried to argue with them, one woman enumerated the facets of my success:  a happy marriage, living in an area I love, my educational accomplishments, my freedom to set my own schedule and pursue passions, and my continued path toward self-improvement.  When I thought about it, I realized she was right.  Although I didn’t necessarily fit the societal definition of success, my life was quite successful indeed!

Truth be told, I still wrestle with my personal definition of success and grapple with feelings of failure and inadequacy.  However, my view of success has become more expansive in recent years.  It now includes more facets of my life besides career and money and is centered more on living a happy and balanced life.

The mid-life me knows that at the end of my life journey, I won’t be wishing I spent more time at the office or engaged in the pursuit of career accolades or the financial trappings of success.  If I could, I would tell the younger me that she should invest as much energy in her relationships and passions as in her education and jobs and that she would be happier for this.

Strive for Balance in All Things

I touched on this point above, but it is worthy of repeating.  A balanced life is a happier and more fulfilling life. The young me would often focus on one aspect of life (such as career) to the exclusion of all other areas.   I would often work very long hours and sacrifice my relationships and health in my steadfast striving to reach certain milestones. 

The more mature me knows that it isn’t wise to allow any one area of life to occupy all or most of my time and attention. I now make sure to devote energy to all key facets of my life.  I don’t necessarily dedicate the same amount of time to all areas, but I no longer neglect any area completely.

There is a lot more that I would say to my younger self if I were given the chance.  I would speak to her about the importance of gratitude, self-awareness, growth, self-respect, kindness, and many other values and traits. I would also illuminate the subject of balance further, which will be the topic of a future post.  For now, I will simply state that I am extremely grateful to be reaching my 44th birthday and to be on the important and rewarding path toward healing my life!

My next post will mark the halfway point in my journey to heal myself and my life in one year.  In this post, I will share what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown during the first half of the Healing Project.  Until then, I thank those who are accompanying me on my journey and I wish you happiness, joy, and peace!

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