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Posts Tagged ‘awareness’

Set GoalsThe end of the year is often a time of looking back.  What was great about the past year?  What didn’t work so well?  We often find ourselves performing a sort of audit on the past year so we can get a sense of closure prior to moving forward into the New Year.  Last week’s post, “Top 10 Posts of 2010” resulted from my reviewing all of the posts I had made to “The Healing Project” in 2010 and determining which ones represented my best work.

I conducted a similar audit on my life as a whole and came up with 15 serious personal and professional wins for the year (including regular blogging!), as well as three key areas of my life which didn’t go as well as I would have liked.  This audit created a firm foundation for my 2011 planning and I highly recommend that you do something similar.

New Year’s Resolutions

The start of a new year is generally a time when we look forward instead of backwards.  Many people set goals for the coming year, which are commonly referred to as “New Year’s Resolutions.”  While such resolutions get a bad rap from many people (often because they are typically broken within a few short weeks), I am a fan of designating areas to work on in one’s life.  In fact, this blog resulted from my wanting to change various areas of my life during 2010.

While my life is still a work in progress (as is the case for everyone), I have made excellent progress in healing various areas of my life since I set the intention to do so in early 2010.  I will be posting on my progress shortly as we approach the one-year milestone of “The Healing Project” on February 3, 2011. Stay tuned…

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Woman in deep thoughtYou’re probably familiar with the expression, “my past came back to haunt me,” and you likely have some personal examples related to this phrase.  While it is always good to live in the present and embrace “the power of now,” do we ever fully escape our pasts?  Can we truly be free of our mistakes and poor behavior of years gone by?

This post will focus on our so-called “sins of the past” and how they affect our lives in the present time.  I will relate personal examples pertaining to my past relationships and physical health, and do my best to provide useful insights and suggestions for letting go of regrets and repercussions from the past.

Reminiscing… Or Not?

A few months ago, I wrote about going through boxes of old mementoes in preparation for moving and vacating our storage unit.    These boxes included old cards and letters from many years ago (as long as 20-30 years back!) that I hadn’t looked at in a very long time.  While I found it both interesting and exciting to look back and reminisce, the process also illuminated some personal history that was surprising and painful to remember.

While I consider myself a compassionate and thoughtful person today, I haven’t always been so kind.  In fact, I treated some significant people in my life very poorly in years past.  I wasn’t malicious or evil by any means, but I was driven by fear and selfishness.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I suffered from depression and eating disorders for the bigger part of a quarter century, beginning in my early teens.  During that time, I was extremely self-absorbed and far more concerned with my own wants and needs than those of others.  I often had a negative attitude and I allowed my bad moods to affect those closest to me.  Suffice it to say, I wasn’t always a “picnic” to be around.

We Can’t Turn Back the Clock

As I’ve matured and taken more responsibility for my own happiness, I have become increasingly more considerate toward those around me.  Although I sometimes wish I could turn back the clock and treat my past close ones with more honor and respect, I know this is not possible.  I know I have to let go of the lingering guilt and move on, especially in regards to those to whom making amends is impossible due to either death or disconnection.

Health Hazards

My past sins also extend to the way in which I treated my body and health.  For many years, I starved myself, over-exercised, purged, and engaged in other harmful behaviors.  I pursued thinness relentlessly without much thought to how it would affect my current or future health.  When I finally emerged from my long battle with eating disorders in my mid-thirties, I believed that I was relatively unscathed in terms of my health.  Sure, I had experienced various digestive complaints over the years, but I thought those would surely subside with better eating and lifestyle habits.

Fast-forward to the present time…  My digestive tract is a mess and I’ve recently had to drastically change my eating habits in the hope of managing my conditions without lifelong medication.  I’ve suffered from migraine headaches for twenty five years and I’ve endured a variety of other physical complaints that have caused me a great deal of distress.  I am beginning to wonder to what degree my past “health sins” are responsible for the current state of affairs.

Hindsight is 20/20

As the old saying goes, “If I had it to do over again, I would do it all differently.”  Of course I would, as would many of you if you could be young again knowing what you know now.  Unfortunately, we can’t do that, so we need to make peace with the past and forgive ourselves.  But how do we do that? That’s the $64,000 question!

I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I have learned a few things along the way.  I’ve learned that beating myself up because I used to abuse my body and my loved ones hasn’t helped me to feel better.  On the contrary, my self-flagellation has only served to make me feel worse about myself and my life.  I’ve learned to ask myself whether or not a particular line of thinking is serving me.  If the answer is no, I do my best to consciously shift to a more productive thought pattern.

Finding the Lessons from Pain

One thing I’ve found helpful is to search for the lessons I can take from past experiences.  Gaining awareness and self-knowledge from painful memories can create alternate meaning beyond the regret and heartache. It can be helpful to either journal about the lesson or discuss it with a caring friend or family member (or a therapist).  It can also be fulfilling to share lessons learned with the young people in our lives, with the hope of potentially sparing them from pain.

The Perils of Self-Pity

It can be compelling to feel sorry for ourselves when we are going through challenging times.  The drive to ask “Why me?” is common, but it is not helpful.  When I had a serious recurrence of my digestive issues two months ago, I became angry, especially when I read that I didn’t fit the common profile for this disorder.  I considered myself unlucky and lamented my misfortune.  However, that train of thought only pushed me further into despair.  It quickly became obvious that I needed to pull myself from the abyss and face my challenges head on.

Blaming ourselves or feeling sorry for ourselves isn’t useful.  I’ve had to forgive myself for the ways in which I mistreated others and myself during my earlier years.  While it’s true that I may be physically ill today as a result of my misguided actions of yesteryear, I had no way of knowing I was causing myself lasting damage.  Sometimes the “whys” of given situations are immaterial.  The most important question we can ask is, “What now?”  This question puts us in the driver’s seat and propels us to take action to move us to a better and more empowered place.

We Are All Products of Our Pasts

We all have our “sins of the past,” but our past history and what we’ve learned from it is what has made us who we are today.  We are each a product of our past, sins and all.  I am happy to say that I like the person I am now, and I know that my current challenges will bring more lessons and only serve to make me stronger in the future.

I am gradually forgiving myself for the past and learning to live in the present moment, the space where all of our power exists.  All we have is the here and now, and what’s done is done.  Let’s learn what we can from the past and then let it go so that we can create a compelling and empowered future for ourselves!

Related Posts:

  • Staying Present: A few years ago, I became highly “accident prone.”  A primary reason for this was that my mind was always on what I had to do next, not on what I was doing in the moment. I decided to allow myself more time to get things done and to be more mindful about my actions. This one simple decision has made a significant impact on my life.  This post looks at the dangers in not living in the moment, Louise Hay’s insights on accidents, and how staying present can help us to live richer and more fulfilling lives.
  • It’s Always Something! – This post looks at another mysterious and unexplainable health challenge that I experienced earlier this year.  I explore Louise Hay’s probable emotional causes for this condition and how they apply to my personal situation. I also explain how writing my blog is helping me to heal myself and more fully express my creativity.
  • Revisiting Loss & Letting Go: Fifteen years ago, one of my closest friends committed suicide at the age of 32.  Although I don’t know if one is ever completely “over” a loss of a loved one, I thought that I had mostly moved on after the passage of so much time.  However, when I recently came across an old box of mementoes of this friend, I found myself unable to open the box and look at what was inside.  This post explores the issue of loss and how being stuck in the past can hurt us.   I also look at how facing things instead of avoiding them can set us free and help us to heal.

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Peaceful beach sceneA few years ago, I became highly “accident prone.” I broke three toes in three separate incidents, one of which necessitated a fairly involved surgery with a lengthy recovery time.  I repeatedly bumped into things and hit my head on at least ten different occasions.  After one of my head bumps led to an emergency room visit and a CAT scan, I decided I needed to look more closely at what was going on with all of my accidents.

Not Paying Attention

I came to the conclusion that a large part of the problem had to do with not paying attention to what I was doing.  My mind was always on what I had to do next, not on what I was doing in the moment. I frequently rushed around and felt frantic about getting everything done in a timely fashion.  I was always running late to appointments and often drove too fast and somewhat recklessly trying to reach my destination on time.  Needless to say, I was not living my life in a relaxed fashion!

A Simple but Significant Decision

A little over a year ago, I decided to allow myself more time to get things done and to be more mindful about my actions. This one simple decision made a significant impact on my life.  Not only did I stop bumping my head, arms, and toes every few days, I also found myself feeling much more calm and peaceful.  I began paying more attention to what I was doing in each moment instead of living for the future, whether it be two minutes or two years later.  Without really intending to start being present as a spiritual practice, I experienced strong benefits in that realm.  I started to become more of the person I wanted to be – happy, peaceful, calm, and joyous.

Spiritual Practices

I have read that even washing the dishes can be a spiritual practice.  At first I scoffed at such a suggestion, but I now know the veracity of that claim.  When one is fully present to whatever action he or she is taking, a stronger connection to divine energy is experienced. As someone who has tried and failed to meditate in the traditional sense over the years, I learned that there are many forms of meditation. Some are more sedentary and include the lotus position and mantras, while others are more active and involve being completely focused upon whatever actions one is taking. The latter works better for me, at least for now.

I remember attending a retreat which included an activity called walking the labyrinth.” This exercise is a type of “walking meditation in which one walks through a maze-like circuitous path to the center of a labyrinth and back out again.  There is only one way in and one way out, so there are no decisions to be made along the way.  If desired, one can set an intention or ask a question before entering the labyrinth, but neither of these actions is necessary.

The activity of walking the labyrinth quiets the mind in a way similar to traditional meditation. I enjoyed this activity very much and have since learned that there are labyrinths all over the world.  According to the Labyrinth Society, there are six labyrinths within ten miles of where I live!  Perhaps a regular visit to a local labyrinth should be an integral part of my effort to experience “the power of now” (by the way, I highly recommend Eckhart Tolle’s wonderful book by that title!).

Slipping Back Into Old Habits…

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were gearing up to go on a trip for several days.  Unfortunately, I did not allow myself enough time to get ready to leave and found myself frantically rushing about and still far behind our planned schedule. It is no big surprise that I hit my head, forgot to pack a critical item (underwear, believe it or not!), and ended up in a foul mood.  I had gone to bed late and wanted extra sleep in the morning, so I didn’t allow myself the additional preparation time which would have rendered the entire morning far less stressful.  I was thinking a step or two ahead instead of focusing on what I was doing in the present moment.

Fortunately, I didn’t hit my head hard, I was able to purchase underwear once I reached my destination, and felt much calmer and in better spirits shortly after we were on our way.  But I did learn a valuable lesson from my negative experience.  I need to honor my commitment to give myself more time than I need to get things done and to be fully present to whatever I am doing in any given moment.

Louise Hay’s Insights

I also decided to take a look at what Louise Hay has to say about accidents and being “accident prone.”  Like everything else in life, Louise believes that we create accidents as a result of our negative thought patterns. She also states that accidents are expressions of anger and indicate built-up frustrations resulting from not feeling the freedom to speak up for one’s self.

Accidents can be related to rebellion against authority or anger toward ourselves. The accident is a way to punish ourselves and to receive sympathy and attention from others.  The area of our bodies in which we experience pain from the accident can give us a clue as to which area of our lives we feel guilty about (see Chapter 15 of “You Can Heal Your Life” for “The List” of physical problems and probable causes).

A Wake-Up Call

Whether you believe Louise Hay’s explanations for accidents or decide that they signify the need to be more careful and present, accidents can represent a “wake-up call” for you to make changes in your life.  Either way, the message is to look within and examine your thoughts and behaviors more thoroughly.  It is never a good idea to just go through the motions of life in a virtual fog.

All too often, people numb themselves out through addictive behaviors, “busyness” and projection of their feelings and motivations onto others. While I have definitely done all of these things in the past and sometimes slip into such maladaptive tendencies from time to time, I choose to be fully present to my thoughts, my motivations, and my life. There is beauty and richness to be had in all of life’s experiences!

I need neither future nor past, but to learn to take today not too fast.” ~Jeb Dickerson

Having spent the better part of my life trying either to relive the past or experience the future before it arrives, I have come to believe that in between these two extremes is peace.” ~Author Unknown

Related Posts

  • Compulsive Behaviors – This post is geared toward examining compulsive behavior, getting to the root of why we engage in such destructive actions, and looking at what we can do to begin to turn it around.
  • Illness As Avoidance – Could it be that you have created your physical pain in order to prevent or avoid potential psychological discomfort?  If so, how would it be for you to face the challenges at hand and not let your ailments stop you?
  • Messages From Pain – When you keep experiencing the same health challenge over and over again, it is helpful to look for messages which your pain may be trying to communicate to you.  This post uses the example of my 25-year battle with migraine headaches to illustrate this point.

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Sometimes a headache isn’t just a headache… This is something I’ve pondered in recent months as I’ve considered how often I suffer from migraines.  Could it be possible that my headaches serve another purpose beyond causing me extreme pain and discomfort?  My thoughts and realizations on this subject will be the focus of today’s post.

Inconvenient Migraines & Other Such Ailments

Last summer and fall, I attended classes three nights per week.  Every two or three weeks, we would have a project to complete and hand in for course credit.  We would usually be given one class period to use as a “work night” for our projects.  After a few months of class, I noticed that I would almost invariably have a migraine on each project night.  Was this just a mere coincidence, or was something else behind it?

As I considered my project night migraines, I noticed that I would also get migraines on days or nights on which I had certain other commitments, such as a Toastmasters speech or a social function to attend.  It is highly unlikely that my migraines on all of these days happened by chance, so perhaps there were other forces at play…

I’ve also begun to notice that my other health issues have a tendency to come to the forefront at certain critical junctures in my life.   My digestive problems, sore throat and swallowing issues, neck and chest pains, and various other ailments often crop up under times of stress or discomfort.

Avoiding Commitments

Sometimes my headaches or other health challenges allow me to escape commitments in my life.  After all, if I am writhing in pain, who would expect me to attend a party or give a speech?  I am able to “bow out” of certain obligations by claiming illness without suffering the wrath of others or other such consequences.  I don’t consciously create the illnesses, but whenever there is a glaring pattern being displayed, it is worthwhile to examine the situation and any potential “payoffs” therein.

“Payoffs” of Illness

It may be strange to consider the “payoffs” of a migraine, digestive distress, or any other seriously uncomfortable condition.  After all, I am not exactly swinging from the chandeliers and celebrating when I am afflicted with such maladies.  But truth be told, I am getting a payoff from being sick.   I “get” to avoid a commitment that I have perhaps been dreading on either a conscious or subconscious level.  But at what cost?   Is it really better to be at home suffering in my body than to be in a situation with which I am not fully comfortable?  This is something I never really considered until recently…

Shifting Focus

Another “payoff” for me in my physical maladies is that my focus shifts from other problems or concerns to the illness at hand.  I no longer have to think about what else is bothering me; all of my attention moves to my body and its discomfort.  This was the case on my class project nights.  I was worried about doing a good job on my projects, about measuring up to the teacher’s standards and impressing my classmates.  Once the migraine would appear on the scene, however, it was all I could do to stay in class and work on the task at hand.  I didn’t have the energy to worry about my fears of not being good enough, so I just did my best on the project and let that be that.

The Lesser of Two Evils…

Do I like being in physical pain?  Of course not, but that pain is easier for me to bear – and more familiar – than any emotional pain which I may be feeling.  I don’t know what to do with the emotional pain; the possibilities are seemingly endless.  Plus, it isn’t socially acceptable to talk about our psychological pain, yet the discussion of health problems has no such taboos.  How many people will tell their co-workers about an appointment with a physician, yet guard a counseling appointment as a secret from all but their closest confidantes?

Awareness Leads to Choice

Realizing the ways in which my illnesses serve as vehicles of avoidance has helped me to change the ways in which I interact with my infirmities – and with other people. I now give myself permission to say no to commitments I don’t wish to fulfill.  If I don’t want to do something (and it isn’t necessary for my work, relationships, or life), I decline to commit, and I don’t allow any feelings of guilt to enter my consciousness.  If I don’t commit in the first place, I don’t need to create an illness in order to avoid doing something which I’m dreading.

However, if I have already agreed to do something and the time is at hand, I no longer use existing physical complaints as excuses for not honoring my commitments.  Only on a very rare occasion will I now cancel an obligation due to a health issue.  In almost all cases, I do what I have committed to do.  If I am in pain, I do my best not to show it and instead strive to move past it as best as I can.  What I’ve found is that I often end up feeling better once I get out of the house and am engaging with others at a social or business function.  The reason for my ailment (the avoidance) is no longer needed, so the pain gradually dissipates.

A Powerful Decision

I have made a decision not to let my physical pain stop me in life.  If I have decided to do certain activities on a given day, I will do them, pain or no pain.  Unless the pain is downright excruciating, I am not going to let it sideline me.  Pain isn’t going to stop me from living – and enjoying – my life!

I don’t believe that all of my aches and pains (or anyone else’s, for that matter) are means of avoiding commitments or thinking about uncomfortable situations.  But I’ve come to understand that some of my pain serves the purpose of avoidance.

My awareness of the subconscious functions of my pain has helped me to fight back and prevail.  I am no longer a helpless victim to my seemingly endless list of physical complaints.  I can be at choice in my life, and I choose to live each day to the fullest!

Something to Consider…

The next time you get a headache or some other type of pain, stop and consider what might be brewing beneath the surface.  Could it be that you have created your physical pain in order to prevent or avoid potential psychological discomfort?  If so, how would it be for you to face the  challenges at hand and not let your ailments stop you?  Perhaps if our ailments no longer serve a purpose in our lives, they will gradually fade away, and we will be free!

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Last week, I wrote the post “Overspending,” about a recent shopping trip that resulted in my spending too much money and feeling that I had acted in a compulsive manner.  Although there were important lessons inherent in that individual experience, it also raised the issue of compulsive behavior in general.  This post is geared toward examining compulsive behavior, getting to the root of why we engage in such destructive actions, and looking at what we can do to begin to turn it around.

Compulsiveness Takes Many Forms…

I shared about my shopping and spending issues, but these are far from the only forms of compulsive behaviors with which I’ve struggled.  I’ve also engaged in compulsive overeating, dieting, and exercising, and spending too much time working or surfing the internet, among other things.   You may have grappled with similar issues, or you may have had problems with drinking, drugs, gambling, sex, or any number of other maladaptive behaviors.  It doesn’t matter which of these behaviors has plagued you, the problem is usually rooted in the same causes.

Years ago, I wanted to write a book called “It’s Not About the Food,” about eating disorders and compulsive overeating.  Unfortunately, someone else used this brilliant title before I could, but that won’t stop me from sharing my thoughts on the issue.  From my early teens until the very recent past, I struggled with pretty much every eating disorder which a person could have.  I was anorexic, bulimic, an obsessive exerciser, and a compulsive overeater.  I have been seriously underweight, overweight, and every weight in between, yet my pain was always the same.  It was never about the number on the scale or what I did or didn’t do around food.  It was always about something else, and the same is true for all other forms of compulsive behavior.

Escaping Pain

My overeating, under eating, shopping, and other compulsive behaviors have served both as coping mechanisms and means of escape from the pain which I was experiencing in my life.  As much pain as these behaviors caused me, and that pain has been intense, the pain which was being masked by my compulsivity was far greater.  There was something, or multiple things, which I just didn’t want to look at, so I ate, dieted, or shopped.  I would then lament my weight gain, food obsession, or credit card bills instead of dealing with what was really wrong in my life.

  • What was it that I didn’t want to feel?
  • What is it that you don’t want to feel that is being buried under your compulsive behaviors? 

Getting to the Root of Things

While I can’t possibly know the answer for anyone else, I can share what I believe it was – and is – for me.  I have always felt like an outsider and as if I didn’t really “belong.”  I never felt like I was “good enough,” but I thought that if I could somehow be thin enough, maybe I would measure up.  Or I thought that if I could be pretty enough (which relates to the hair obsession which I shared in my last post, “Perspective and Appreciation”) or dress well enough, maybe I would fit in and be on par with others.  That was part of it…

As I’ve shared in previous posts, I’ve long struggled to achieve the societal vision of success in terms of my career.  While I know that I am intelligent and capable, I have experienced only limited financial success over the course of my working life.  I have difficulty maintaining a passion for a single occupation and thus have switched careers a number of times over the years.  Now, at age 43, I feel insecure at my current career status and feel that I should be much farther along the path of success at this point in my life.  While I think about this often, I frequently feel stuck and powerless, and I sometimes plummet into feelings of despair and hopelessness when I find that I don’t have the answers.

Comfortably Numb?

What do people do when they feel desperate and hopeless?  They often do whatever they can to numb those feelings, using whatever they have at their disposal at the time.  I don’t consciously think, “I feel bad, so I think I’ll go shopping and numb myself out,” but that is virtually what I do.  The shopping gives me a high that serves to mitigate the lows I was feeling about my career woes or whatever else was troubling me.  I know this is true because the items which I buy often sit in my closet for weeks or even months with the tags still on them.

If it really was about my being greedy or truly wanting certain items of clothing, wouldn’t I be rushing to wear them?  The feeling I get from shopping and buying clothes is similar to what I used to feel when I would eat a pile of sweets.   The pain is numbed and replaced with a high, and I have escaped my negative feelings, albeit only temporarily.   That pain returns shortly thereafter and the feelings of guilt and shame resulting from my compulsive behavior add insult to injury and I end up feeling much worse.  It’s a vicious cycle and a very difficult one to stop, but there is hope…

The Place of Power

I’ve often heard it said that the place of power is in the space between stimulus and response.  Most people merely react to what’s going on in their lives; they do what they have always done even when it doesn’t serve them.  There is virtually no gap between their feelings (stimulus) and their compulsive behavior (response).  A person feels bad, and then they eat, drink, or do something else to numb the pain.  But there is another way -and it starts with awareness…  The awareness of your compulsive behavior and what it is costing you is what creates a small space between your negative feelings and what has become an automatic reaction.  That small space is the seat of powerful action, as opposed to disempowered reaction.

An Example & Key Questions to Ask

An example can help to illustrate this important point… Let’s say that I just checked my email and have learned that I didn’t get a much hoped for work project.  I feel anxious and that anxiety leads to some serious worries about my future career prospects, as well as fears that I may never have a “successful career.”  Without even thinking about it, I walk to the kitchen and start riffling through the cupboards for something sweet to eat.  In the past, I would have stuffed my face with food until I felt numb, but this time, I pause. I ask myself these key questions:

  1. Am I physically hungry?
  2. What do I really need in this moment?
  3. What small step can I take to give myself what I really need?

The pause that I have taken has allowed me to act instead of react.  Even if I still choose to eat, I have removed the automatic nature of this behavior, which is what makes it compulsive.   The same questions can be asked when faced with other types of compulsive behavior.  Simply construct an alternate first question (i.e. “Do I really need that pair of shoes?”) to fit your specific behavior challenge and use the same second and third questions as above.

There is Hope!

I am not promising that you will eliminate your compulsive behavior overnight, but if you are able to pause and allow yourself to examine what’s really going on beneath the behavior, you are on the path toward healing.  It often takes time to overcome long-term behaviors which have served as effective (albeit self-destructive) coping mechanisms.  As I’ve revealed, I still struggle with shopping and spending too much money, but it happens less often and I can more readily “course-correct,” as I did last week.   I was able to realize what was going on, turn it around (by returning the unnecessary purchases) and learn from the experience.  That is my hope for you as well…

I’m sure that the issue of compulsive behaviors will be addressed again in future posts.  If you have any questions or feedback regarding this post or suggestions for future topics, I would love to hear them.  Next week, we’ll start to look at belief systems and how they both help and hurt us.  If you’re following along in Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life Companion Book,” please read Chapter 2 and complete the exercises on pages 24-29.  Have a wonderful weekend!

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