I have had several recent patient encounters, where patients have been expressing frustration to me.
“I should have gotten this down by now.”
“I can’t believe I am still working on this.”
“I feel like I am disappointing you.”
I think we have all felt this way at one point in our lives…that we are somehow not living up to either our own expectations of ourselves, or the expectations that we think others have of us. We are so incredibly hard on ourselves.
We expect that we should somehow work through life’s challenges at breakneck speed, barely pausing to notice trauma or loss. We demand change from ourselves, that we should somehow be better, faster, new and improved, after a few quick therapy or meditation sessions. We push forward, perhaps looking to work around, rather than work through, our feelings and experiences.
I am not sure exactly where we are all headed to so fast, but I can’t imagine a more important reason to slow down and pay attention than our own mental health. We deserve better.
We deserve to let life happen to us. We deserve to let life’s moments become a part of who we are. We deserve to feel immense and overwhelming happiness, alongside immense and overwhelming grief. We deserve to create space for ourselves to live in this world, rather than just rushing from one future moment to the next.
Why does this feel so difficult?
If we truly allowed ourselves to slow down and be present, we will inevitably notice so much that is hard. Relationships that challenge us. Things we don’t like about ourselves. Old wounds. Conflict. Tragedy. Violence. Faults. Mistakes. Pain. And our immediate reaction is to reject the discomfort of these feelings, to run like hell in the opposite direction so that we don’t have to sit with ourselves.
But what if instead, we leaned into our discomfort, and became curious about it? What if we could be gentle with ourselves, bringing a touch of light and warmth to all of the places inside that felt hardened and cold? What if we dropped our expectations of getting “it” right, and just allowed ourselves to be present with all of our experience, good and bad, lovely and painful?
How would life be different?
To me, this is the very work of being human, the minute by minute practice of learning how to be with ourselves. We can’t be with ourselves if we are moving too fast, and we can’t be with ourselves if we demand perfection at every turn. We can only be with ourselves, in all of our wonder and all of our shame, if we practice compassion towards ourselves…and we take all the time of we need. No deadlines. No expectations.
There is no prize to be won at the end of this life. Each day we are blessed with is an opportunity to continue embracing the most vulnerable parts of our humanity. It is not about checking that box and moving on. This is the lifelong practice of being who we are.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in slowing down and leaning in…leaning into all of our experiences and emotions, good and bad, and allowing ourselves to be present for all of it. Let’s place rushing, shame, expectations to the side for this week, and allow ourselves to just be.