Seventeen years ago, I began to tap into my soul work. As I mentioned in my last journal entry, I became aware of a voice that lived inside my head. Actually, it seemed like I had several voices, or perhaps tones of one voice, inside my head. My inner voices would argue about anything and everything. No matter how quiet I appeared on the outside, my own head was not a peaceful place. Oftentimes, my inner critic would take over and say something really mean about my self-worth. And then a kinder inner voice would respond with, NO! That’s not true. I am kind and beautiful. I love myself. They would dialogue back and forth, on repeat, like a small child.
At the time, I was struggling hard just to be okay. And, because I was a teenager, I also thought I was the only one who was struggling. At first, I looked to everyone else for answers. I google searched my questions. I asked my mom, my friends, and teen magazines for advice. Nothing really seemed to help. And so, I began to dig deep. At first, I tried to muster up more willpower and conformity. After all, I was in a messy state and thought I should focus on all of the parts of myself that needed fixing and changing.
I became the queen of self-improvement. I thought that judging other people and holding myself above others would protect me from their pain, which was really my pain. I thought that if I could just be prettier, smarter, skinnier, more perfect, and more set in my ways, perhaps happiness would land on my doorstep. The more I tried, the further away from myself I landed. I kept waking up numb, depressed, disconnected, and tired. I knew I had to find another way.
How does one begin to transform the inner jail warden into a loving part of herself? In other words, when you are down and out and the only voice that shouts out advice in your own head is cruel, how do you find joy again?
Warning. This answer may disappoint. But really, it’s the truth.
I just did it. I knew there was no other way. Punishment and shame didn't work. Self-improvement didn’t bring me joy. And so, day after day, I chose love. I love myself, I would repeat. I woke up and affirmed myself: I am okay just as I am, I love myself. When my inner critic would shout out all the ways in which I was not enough, and the world around me was not enough, I would let it pass and reaffirm. Moment by moment, day after day, I would reaffirm myself and my place in this world. This was not a linear process. Instead, this practice became easier the more I did it.
To this very day, I remind myself. I love myself. I am okay. The world is a beautiful place. Peace, joy and love already exists within my being, right now. These days, I see the importance of holding both the light and the dark in my vision. I acknowledge that some things are just dark, ugly and mean. And then, when I am ready, after I have felt my range of emotions, I re-focus on the light. I make an effort to see the beauty when everything around me seems to be falling apart.
There are two beliefs I have about life that set me free.
First, life is a big experiment. Aside from universal ethical and moral codes, such as non-violence, there is no right way or wrong way of living, learning and loving. There are as many ways to the same destination as there are stars in the sky. The way I get through is by stepping out of my comfort zone and into my learning zone. I try something on, like a new yoga posture or food. And then, I pay attention to what happens with objectivity. I become interested in my own experience and pay attention long enough to see what happens.
And second, life is learning. I feel so good in life when obstacles melt away and the flow takes hold. Sometimes, however, shit hits the fan and everything starts to hurt. When life begins to fall apart, I recognize that I have a choice. Do I want to go through this experience or around this experience? Sometimes, I feel whatever I am feeling. Other times, I just have a glass of wine and delay the process. Since I know I have to go through my experience to learn, I eventually feel whatever I need to feel. Then I express. And I always learn. I learn by paying attention in the moment and taking time to reflect.
To reflect, I ask myself questions in my journal and allow my own voice of wisdom to respond. When I first started this practice, I was amazed that I had wisdom. I couldn’t believe love and light existed within my own being. Through this process of asking myself questions and waiting for my own answers, I began to listen to myself for the first time. Each time I turned to myself before I asked the outside world for advice, my physical body responded with feelings of openness.
Tuning into my body wisdom helps me to navigate the world. There are two overwhelming sensations I experience that give me information about my life. The first sensation feels like opening, expansion and releasing. This is often accompanied by streaming and tingling sensations in my body. When I experience this opening, I inhale deeply and exhale completely. The second sensation is closing, constriction and tightening. This is often accompanied by a decrease in movement and energy. When I experience closing, I notice that my breath becomes more shallow and irregular. Sometimes I even hold my breath.
My body wisdom has become a barometer for my life choices, guiding me down my creative path. Over time, I have come to see that there are messages underneath theses sensations. Expansion comes from loving action and alignment with my heart. Constriction suggests that I reacting with fear and judgment. When I am fearful or critical, I sense my chest becoming tighter and my breathing becomes shallow.
Let’s go back to the original question for a moment, because there is one more important lesson I have learned: When you are down and out and the only voice that shouts out advice in your own head is cruel, how do you find joy again?
When I am down and out, sometimes I just laugh until I open. My inner critic takes herself so seriously and she sounds ridiculous. I find her (my own?) critique of myself and the world around me hilarious.
Looking back, I see that discovering humor helped me to release my harsh judgement of myself and the world. I stopped taking myself so seriously. When I let go of trying so hard to be so good and please everyone around me, everything became very funny. There were so many times when I started to find my thoughts, behaviors, and conversations nonsensical, even ridiculous. Discovering humor brought in the light. With humor and light, perspective arrived. I started to frame my situations in life differently. And so, my story about my place in the world began to change. All of my stories became a little bit lighter, a little bit more peaceful, and a whole lot more joyful.
To be able to laugh with myself and others requires that I step outside of my thinking mind and observe myself without attachment or judgment. Humor taught me about the part of me that sits back and observes my actions and reactions without judgment. She is my center, my witness. My inner witness is full of wisdom, humor and soothing attention. When I stay present in my witness self and observe my thoughts, emotions, energy, and sensations rise and fall, without judging myself or others, I find comedy everywhere. And, I am at peace and joyful.
Enough about me, how about you? What is your relationship with your thoughts? What is your relationship with your inner witness? Where do you find comedy and humor in life?