affirmation

As an English teacher, I know that words have power. I know that for certain. I see it everyday as what I read speaks to me like nothing else can, and I see it when I teach students to grow in their use of language and then watch them acquire power and personal agency as a result.

But I wasn’t really one for meditative affirmations in my former life. Was I too busy to think about it? Or didn’t think I needed anything to change or improve tremendously? Or I didn’t think they’d likely work for me anyhow? Probably all of those things. But these days, I am really seeing the power of words and thoughts in my own life, and I’m making them part of my everyday routine.

I purchased this set of cards from Your Joyologist a while ago, and it contains 52 encouraging affirmations. It sits on my bathroom sink, and I pick up one before bed at night and repeat it in my mind as I fall asleep. I wake to choose another one and repeat it to myself as I shower and get ready for the day.  I grab them at random and assume that they each have a message for me that I’m intended to hear on that given day. So far, this has turned out to be the case more often than not.

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Maybe I am a nutcase and a total hippie-crunchy-kale-eating-yoga-doing-affirmation-reading weirdo, but these work. They really do. The mind is a powerful thing, and I am seeing more and more that I can change the world around me in the truest sense when the thoughts in my mind change. Some would argue that this is stupid and I’m just imagining positivity because of the way my mind assesses my world after reading these thoughts… and to you I say, maybe so. But it’s working for me, and the good in my life just keeps growing when I tell myself it is there for the taking.

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When I remind myself that I need to release what doesn’t serve me any longer (anger, resentment, self-doubt, judgment, fear) and make room for the good stuff, the good stuff appears.  When I remind myself that there is a greater plan at work, I begin to see it unfold.

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When I remind myself that I am enough as I am and I choose to love myself without the burden of demanding that I change to suit others’ desires and expectations, I feel more complete and stronger than before and others begin to see me as enough, too. (Or maybe I’m just empowered to shed anyone who doesn’t recognize my worth from my life. Either way, it begins with my assertion that I am worthy as I am.)

These cards get me started each day, but I also have a few mantras that I repeat when necessary and keep in my back pocket like a tool kit. I am safe. gets me through sticky situations with anxiety. I am enough. I am loved. gets me through moments of self-doubt. I am allowed. I am deserving. are reminders to me that good things can come my way, and it doesn’t mean the other shoe is about to drop. (Anyone else have that weird fear with joy and happiness? Like it’s too good to be true?) It’s hard to swallow the joy with simple gratitude and not look for the black cloud. I’m finally realizing that this way of thinking is rooted in a belief that I can’t possibly enjoy good things fully because I don’t deserve them. It’s like a big board game with a point system, and I haven’t done enough good things yet – haven’t acquired enough points in the game of life – to receive happiness without some kind of caveat. This has been a light bulb moment for me recently as I realize this. Joy is such a vulnerable feeling sometimes.

At the risk of losing any credibility I might have with any of you skeptical readers, energy is a real thing. We project certain messages out to the world, and we receive what we think we deserve. I’m seeing this without a doubt in my current life as I watch particular people and situations find their way to me.  The sense of community I’ve watched unfold for the kids and me (as I wrote about in my last post) is a result of my desire to build my own life, and more than that, my belief that I am loved and valued by others despite a year prior to this that left me with many moments screaming just the opposite.

It’s the power of intention. And it’s becoming clear to me that what you intend is what you become. I’m beginning to see the power of having true intention in my life, in all my choices – big and small. It’s so tempting to do what you have always done, be what you have always been. It’s so tempting to act impulsively and resist the urge to think or pause or reflect. But the pause is where it’s at. It’s where the change happens. And as terrible as it felt to “start over” earlier this year, I’m seeing it emerge as a gift. I can carry on with intention and purpose and be whoever I feel I need to be, go where I feel led to go. I’m not weighed down with another’s expectations or opinions or doubts of me. Right now, I’m not sure where that destination is, but I know it’s somewhere good, and I know that intention is the only way to get me there. Autopilot never works for big steps in the journey.

 

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I’ve had a few people comment here and there – either blog readers or friends in my usual life offline – who have complimented me for staying afloat with optimism and believing that better days are ahead. I do realize that so many people spend the first few years after a divorce flailing and confused and sometimes making some self-destructive and impulsive choices. And really the only thing responsible for my refusal to fall in that pattern is intention and a relentless determination to, as it says in the quote above, bring my blessings on myself and find them in the world around me. It’s my stubbornness really. When I attended the workshop with Jen Pastiloff in August, we talked a bit about the less “fluffy” definition of manifestation. And that is to “make shit happen” in Pastiloff’s words.

Sometimes the world throws a lot of sad and scary stuff your way, and you have to change the landscape. It’s not easy though. Nothing in your life will change unless you change your daily habits and empty yourself of everything you were before and then fill it back up in the way you want. When you go looking for happiness outside of yourself, or even worse in the exact place you lost it before, you will never find the real deal. Joan Didion says, “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.” And I’m starting to get that feeling, too. With intention and purpose, everything about your world can change. I’m finally feeling incredibly lucky that my world exploded and gave me this beautiful season of in-between where I have no framework constricting me.

You have to work really hard to find the happy. But when you say it enough, you begin to believe it. And when you truly believe it, life begins to hand you some pretty amazing gifts.

imposter syndrome

Have you heard about “imposter syndrome?” If not, a quick google will show you. It’s essentially a fear that though you are accomplished or successful or admired, you are somehow a fraud and don’t deserve it. It’s especially common among high-achieving women, and I’ve read a good bit of commentary about it online in recent months. The term was first coined by two researchers who noted that women were often under the impression that they were not as intelligent or deserving as their position would suggest and they had somehow been over-evaluated by others.

I do this  – as I think a lot of us do. I do it at work or when I am describing my job to someone else. I usually say I am an English teacher or “I teach English classes” at a nearby university. I hesitate to say “College Professor” as a title to someone in conversation. Feeling like an imposter or overblown somehow. I can remember being in graduate school at an excellent university with some challenging classes, and I’d think I was somehow an imposter. Like a “how did I get here?” feeling. Even in the days of teaching high school, I’d wonder if I was really all that great of a teacher. Do I really deserve the Honors classes? Am I actually succeeding in teaching them something? As a writer, I do this as well. I’ll hesitate to post something because I feel like it is boring or disorganized and difficult to follow, but then I’ll receive a kind email or comment praising that particular essay.

I’ve had so many outside confirmations that I am smart and capable and the real deal. Solid student evaluations. Recognition and compliments from bosses I see as far superior to me in intellect. I can remember when a particularly scary graduate school professor (He left one girl crying in the midst of her class presentation!) emailed me to ask if he could keep a copy of my essay as a sample for others who are lost or less inclined to write analytically. It was a compliment, yes. But I remember it was also a little confusing for me. Like he has to be kidding, right? It was just my essay; I’m sure there are better ones out there.

I’m not certain what it is about women that makes us do this. We are socialized in a million ways to always give someone else the credit for our accomplishments. We are made to think from a very young age that charm and looks are our currency, and I think it can make a lasting impact. We neglect to see what is in front of us and inside of us when everyone else sees it so clearly.  I find I do this not only with professional accomplishments but with my personal traits as well.

I commented on this phenomenon a little when I wrote about the manifestation workshop I attended a few weeks ago — how we tend to focus on that one person out of 100 who doesn’t like us. It sucks so much life out of you.

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On the list of a million other things I’ve learned in this season of my life is this: When someone tells you something about yourself that you don’t recognize, listen hard. Internalize it. And especially when more than one person says it and you hear that sentiment repeated, know that is is real. It is true. You are not an imposter or lacking in substance. Their reactions are valid and warranted.  This is HARD for us as women. Admitting our faults? That’s easy. Taking credit for our positive traits? Not so much.

I’m open and honest in this space, but I am more tight-lipped on most social networks. Here you only visit if you want to and if you are interested in my life’s growth or the conversations happening in this space, but I feel like Facebook or Instagram followers are sometimes more surface level. I’m not going to bombard you with personal musings as you just want to scroll through cute kid pictures.

But this week, I was feeling especially challenged, and I opened up more than usual, and like always, people respond to honesty and vulnerability. (Another lesson that it has taken me far too long to learn.) As some heartfelt comments lifted my spirits so much, I started to think about all the other moments this has happened in my past year. It prompted me to go back and re-read emails and messages that pulled me through some very dark moments, and before long I found myself copying and pasting countless affirmations onto one document that I am printing and placing in my bedside drawer.

Some of these comments are long-lost friends from ages ago whom I hardly speak to much anymore as time and distance have separated us. The way you are handling this journey, in all of its weak and shaken moments, is so inspiring to me as a mother and a friend. You are stronger than you know. Or another old friend… I respect you so much for the way you’ve told your story. You’ve done so without painting her as a slut, him as a villain, or yourself as a victim. Your softness and wisdom comes through so honestly. As your sister from what seems like a lifetime ago, it is comforting to feel a feminist kinship with you from afar. Your children are so fortunate to have you shaping their lives. I admire your sincerity and grace.

Or for all of us, there are people we barely cross paths with, yet we make impacts we are not aware of. From the day I met you. I’ve always known that you were someone special and amazing, and it is no surprise to me that you have remained classy throughout this entire awful ordeal. I know that you are showing your children how to handle things with grace and dignity. — I don’t have anything worthy to say about how inspiring you are. The word “inspiring” alone doesn’t do justice to the way I actually see you through the little glimpses into the window of your soul that your writing reveals — I don’t know your struggles down to the details, Katie, but you’ve got grace and strength girl!! And you’re one hell of a writer.

I’ve got old college acquaintances and friends — I wanted to reach out and tell you that I think you are an incredible, fabulous, super smart, kind and graceful person. Katie, you continue to amaze me in the best ways. Stay strong –I know that real love is coming for you someday. So few people have the capacity for that kind of love (or friendship). But you certainly do, and I believe God/the universe wouldn’t prepare your heart like this and not answer.Thank you for your willingness to express your pain and vulnerability to the world. Please know that you’ve helped other people by sharing your own journey. While our stories are different, I have found so much comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in many respects. Reading your piece has helped me understand so much about my value as a person and the beautiful self-awareness which often accompanies pain and growth. Thank you…Darling, you are a BEAST….and I mean that in the best way possible. Bravo, Lady. So proud of you. Stand tall. I can feel your strength from 3000 miles away.  

And even old grad school classmates from a decade ago who have reached out. You are smart and kind and strong. One thing that particularly sticks out about you is that you always approached life so gracefully. I’m sure this situation will be no different.I’ve lived long enough to recognize rare beauty in the world. You are one of the rare and beautiful people we get lucky enough to meet in life.You are one of the ones who thrives and doesn’t just survive.  I was struck with how much growth and wisdom you’ve accumulated. … You will live a fuller and richer life because of it. You already are, dear. Breaking out of the molds others have made for us or the narrow minds of loved ones we once trusted is extraordinarily painful – and so necessary in order to become your best self. You have been saved. Keep going.

I’ve heard from former students I taught when they were so young, and now I see them as adults nurturing me with their words in the same way I nurtured their growth almost a decade ago. You’re a rock star and inspire me so much – I admire your positive outlook through the tough times. Thanks for being a wonderful mentor over the years, even if the last have been virtually. Norah and Jude are so lucky to have you as their mom! — You are an incredible human being, role model, mother, and friend! I have always admired you and know that there is no insurmountable task that can stand in your way of what you dream not only for yourself but also for your children. You’ve always been such a role model for me and glad to say you still are.

And even distant family states away whom I never see anymore, but offer kind words and prayers and thoughts — I know that it’s been years since we’ve seen each other or even spoken, but I’ve always thought you displayed such strength and grace. Sometimes those two qualities are most obvious when we feel our weakest. I hope you can continue to see in yourself what so many other see as you begin a new path.

That last comment hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it? It’s so hard to see in ourselves what others see when they look at us.

And this is not an exercise in conceit or Katie-praise. Here’s the thing: if you are reading this right now, you’ve heard these affirmations, too. (Yes, you! I’m talking to you.) Somewhere, at some point, you’ve heard someone echo what is the very best about who you are. And though we have a hard time internalizing all that we are, I’m realizing that this many people cannot be lying to me or putting themselves out there on a limb after years of no contact to say something that is inherently untrue. These people span two decades of my life and do not even know one another. This many people cannot be wrong about who I am.

Say it with me friends. All of us: I have value. I’m strong. I’m capable. I’m loving. I am enough.

And this honesty and accountability? It works both ways. If I am doing something unkind or seeing life through some other distorted lens and a friend calls that to my view, I need to pay attention. If I’m in a relationship or engaged in habits that don’t serve me and a friend brings that to light, I need to listen hard. Let’s stop looking at ourselves through some weird distorted view and see our lives for what they really are in the faces of those who know us.

Your homework this weekend if you are reading this: dig up those comments and affirmations you’ve buried or neglected to give yourself credit for. Emails or text messages or Facebook comments or conversations in your memory. I’m not talking about someone’s compliment that you looked cute or baked a pretty cake. But the real stuff. Those moments of connection when someone has assured you that they see the very best parts of you. Dig that up, dust it off, and when you see a common thread, let me explain something to you. It is real. It is you. This is who you really are. Write those down. Hide them somewhere. And when you feel like you aren’t quite sure where you are headed or how to move on, take that paper out and read every single word. That is who you are.

And the best part of all of this is that the good traits just keep growing. When people tell you that you are strong? You just grow stronger. When people tell you they appreciate your honesty? You grow more honest and more accountable. And when people tell you that you’re loved? That one is the very best. You grow in every way. Bolder and bigger and more loving than the day before.

Manifestation

The kids are away this weekend, and I’m mostly using the time to be certain everything is ready for the first full week of the school year. Clothes washed, lunches packed, house clean.  Come November, I’ll be drowning in term papers and laundry and ready for a break, but I love the clean-slate feeling of August. For a few shining weeks, everything is new and organization is apparent.

I registered long ago for a Jen Pastiloff workshop that took place yesterday, and the timing couldn’t have been better.  Her workshops are so hard to describe – a combination of journaling and yoga and sharing and dancing.  It was a bit outside of my comfort zone as I knew it would be, but I’m convinced that all the very best things lie just beyond our comfort level.  I persuaded my friend Tally to join me, and it was the most amazing afternoon. An incredible experience.

UntitledI would describe myself as an inconsistent yogi.  I’ve dabbled in yoga at various times of my life – some Svaroopa yoga before kids, prenatal yoga regularly during my first pregnancy, a month-long Bikram yoga challenge a couple years ago, meditation here and there to help with specific anxieties and challenges.  But I am certainly not an advanced yogi by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s something I’d love to make time for, but it can be a challenge to find the time among the rest of my life tasks and events.  Jen doesn’t really demand a lot of challenging yoga in her workshops though. She simply uses the poses to get you out of your own head and into the body to strip away the ego.  You are also much more likely to share with strangers if the room is sweaty and you are moving or chanting in unison.

This idea was echoed in something I was reading recently on Melanie Tonia Evans‘s blog which has been a healing balm for me in many ways.  She discusses ways that we disconnect from our bodies and the reason that “coming home” to your body is necessary to self-fulfillment, especially when healing from past hurts.  Our culture always encourages us to reach outside for fulfillment, and she explains, “No-one taught the value of coming home to ourselves in our bodies. Rather than our [culture] guiding us with, ‘Sit with your bad feelings, take your attention lovingly with full self-devotion inside your body, ask yourself what is this really about and heal yourself,’ they would have been more likely to tell you, ‘Don’t dwell on it – get up and do something else.’ … Because of being unplugged from our connection to ourselves we have been easily trained into a model of ‘getting’ and ‘doing.’ The trying to secure something from outside of self in order to feel at peace within oneself…. The reason why any of us wanted ANYTHING was to try to feel content and at peace – not realizing it had nothing to do with getting or doing – it is always to do with coming home to self-partnering and addressing our own state of consciousness….We also need to understand this: emotional peace has NOTHING to do what Life and others have delivered you – it is to do with your own state of consciousness.” 

This resonated with me so much.  It’s only been a few months since my divorce happened, and I’ve already been torn between a desire to sit with my own grief and use that to heal myself and the loud voices of some people who say that reflecting on your pain is simply bitterness and that you should “move on” and busy yourself with something else. The glory of Jen’s workshop is that you have to be in your body and commit fully to the self-exploration she is asking of you.  Her journaling prompts cut through all of the false ego and get straight to what’s real: What would you be if nobody told you what you had to be? What do you fear?  To be where I want to be, I have to be rid of… It is nothing short of a spiritual experience to be in a room with strangers, move your body in a way that mirrors everyone else in the room, and then answer these questions and share your reflections with others.  

My recent essay on bodhichitta describes what I mean by this, and it was the first time in my life when I sat in a room and could feel that human compassion tangibly with people I didn’t know at all.  As one person stood up to share, she commented that so many people in the room looked familiar to her and she couldn’t explain why, just some comfortable familiarity that she felt and saw in our faces.  I think the answer for why she felt that way lies in bodhichitta.  For a few hours we were stripped of the ego or judgment that normally guides each of us and we saw others with a lens of common compassion.  You could hear in the conversation and what was shared that each of us is fighting our own battle, all so different yet exactly the same.

So many yoga or meditation instructors speak in these lofty terms and metaphors that are not always accessible to many of us. But Jen’s approach is different.  She speaks in terms that we understand and she is “real” in every way.  Her workshops are coined Manifestation Yoga, and you begin the workshop by writing down on a post-it a short list of things that you want to see unfold in your life. Meditating on, praying for, and visualizing those things each day can bring you closer to them, yes.  But she also acknowledges that if that’s all we had to do, life would be pretty easy and predictable.  Obviously it’s not that simple.  Manifestation in her words is to “Make shit happen.” You have to identify what it is you want, give some intent and clarity to that goal, and then identify what stands between you and the life you want.

I found when I sat down to write what stands between myself and my goals, I heard so many others share what I’d written: fear, uncertainty, feelings of inadequacy, and allowing others judgments or opinions to restrict me. These answers were the same for so many of us. She spoke a bit about the “1 in 100” scenario – meaning if you are in a room with 100 people, and 99 of them love you and 1 doesn’t, whom do you focus on? The one that doesn’t.  I know for certain that my recent months have allowed me to come so far in refusing to let others’ judgment affect me.  I at least don’t let it sink in as deeply or for along as I did before. But I’m only human, and I can’t help but be somewhat affected by it.  

And to be honest, when I reflect on the things said to me and about me in the past nine months or so, it’s enough to break anyone’s spirit.  You don’t measure up. You were a bad wife. Your own actions are what led to pain and disappointment. You need to stop writing and you should be ashamed of showing your pain and sharing it with others. Everyone perceives you as bitter and angry. People tell me your writing is terrible and nobody believes any of it. You are a terrible mother. You are selfish. On my best days, I can rest in the love and acceptance of people I value, but on the worst days, these comments sink in and cast a shadow where I don’t want them to dwell. Jen’s workshop yesterday was a safe place to work through these things and cast them out of my consciousness.

It’s hard though, right?  The mind is a powerful thing.  On the one hand, thoughts can enlighten us and guide us, and there is tons of research to support the power of positive thinking. On the other hand, if I believed everything that my mind tells me in regard to my own self-worth, I’d be in trouble.  It’s human nature. Fear and uncertainty is natural. Not only that, but I’m realizing that the only people who feel no fear at all and don’t care about others’ opinions of their actions in the least are defined as sociopaths and narcissists.  (Jen Pastiloff touched on that briefly yesterday as well.)  But to use her metaphor, when 99 people in the room see love and authenticity in you and recognize your gifts, to focus on the one who doesn’t see your worth serves you in no way at all.  And I’m realizing that is precisely what is standing in the way of myself and my big goals: the criticism I still hear far too loudly. I ran across this recently online somewhere, and it made me smile.  I need to tape it on my mirror.  

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It’s not as simple as placing glasses on my face. (I wish it were!) But I can drown out the influences that leave me feeling doubtful and unsettled if I’m very careful about what I let sink in and if I devote time everyday to focus on aspects of myself that are worthy of appreciation and value. I left the workshop feeling energized and ready to start a new academic year with a clearer purpose and more mindfulness to combat the outside voices that feed feelings of inadequacy.  When we unrolled our mats and were preparing for the workshop, we were given temporary tattoos from Conscious Ink as a little favor.  It will be gone in a couple days, but it’s on my forearm as a reminder to me as I begin the school year.

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It’s impossible to recognize the sacred value of the present moment when you have a constant soundtrack in your mind of the million things wrong with you or the million reasons some people dislike you. I’m vowing this week to push those voices away as much as I can and listen to my own compass instead. And right now, my own compass says I am strong and capable and loving and exactly where I should be.