mind and emotions

Less Tolerating, More Conscious Choosing

In the past couple of months, I’ve been returning again and again to the difference between saying yes with a full heart versus doling out a half-assed yes with a side of resentment. The topic has been coming up in meditation, in interactions with other people, and in my internal dialogue and thought processes.

To pull the issue apart a bit, here are a some of the things I’ve been exploring:

  • Discerning between when I truly want to say yes to something versus when I feel like I should say yes or am caving in to pressure from the other person.
  • Learning new tools for saying no with love and handling the situation with grace.
  • Exploring the feelings that come up when I speak my truth versus when I slip into people pleasing.
  • Recognizing that deciding whether or not I want to say yes often requires time, and I’m free to respond on my own time table, even if the other person is feeling a lot of urgency around the decision.

One particular hot spot has been in the area of friendships. For most of my life, I struggled with feelings of low self-worth, and I was operating under the premise of, “Well, if someone wants to be friends with me, I’ll take it!” Even if “it” was crappy behavior, or just plain ol’ mismatched personalities.

Over the past couple of years, I have been on a slow but steady mission to release friendship connections that no longer light me up, and that brings up a whole new set of opportunities for growth, aka awkward challenges.

Part of the journey has been recognizing when I am letting go of a friendship because I truly want to be as far away from it as possible, and when I am letting go of it because I am afraid to risk asking for the changes that would make the friendship more fulfilling to me.

For example, I recently had a conversation with someone from whom I had been pulling away for years, because I often felt judged in our interactions. There was a moment in our current conversation where I felt this deep resistance welling up inside me, and I knew that I didn’t want to continue talking about a particular topic.

My initial reaction was, “Oh god, if you say something, it’ll be super awkward and rude,” but when I checked in and asked myself, if my only guide is “Is this an act of self-love?” then I knew I wanted to speak up. And I did.

It was momentarily awkward, because it brought the whole conversation train to a halt, but my friend was able to gracefully hear my request that we not continue with this particular topic, and it actually opened the door to both of us being able to express our needs for updating our “friendship rules” that had been established back when we were in junior high.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I had been having an ongoing interaction with someone else, and I could feel myself getting more and more uncomfortable as the conversation continued. In the past, I would find any excuse to invalidate my experience so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Better to tolerate than rock the boat, said my subconscious.

But this time, I decided to tell my subconscious to go out and grab lunch while I dealt with this in a different way. I had no idea how it would turn out, but I knew that I wasn’t being loving to myself by not saying anything. And interestingly, to go back to what I wrote in this post about the question “Does being self-loving mean you sometimes have to be non-loving to someone else?” I felt like the Universe was delivering a situation where I could see this question in action.

I chose to tell this person that I no longer wished to communicate with them, and I told them quite honestly that I am very sensitive to energy, and the energy of this situation, for reasons I cannot explain, made me uncomfortable.

In the past, I would have demanded of myself that I submit “hard evidence” to back up my experience, but this time, I chose to accept that my experience was all I needed to take care of myself, even if the other person did not agree, which they didn’t.

I dealt with the uncomfortable feelings that came up (“Oh god, am I being really rude?”), and continued to ask myself, “Am I acting out of self-love right now?” (And I also tapped on the feelings that came up, which was immensely helpful). What came through loud and clear once my strong emotional response had calmed down, thanks to the tapping, was that forcing myself to engage in an uncomfortable situation was not only unloving toward myself, it was very unloving toward the other person.

Think about it: Would you want someone hanging out with you because they felt like they had to or because they genuinely wanted to? I think we can all answer that question without thinking twice. By releasing this connection with clarity and kindness, I was helping to create space in my life for people whom I genuinely want to connect with, and I was giving the other person the opportunity to do the same. (And whether they see it as an opportunity or an affront is not something I can control.)

I know I’ve only explored the tip of the iceberg with this issue, and I already have ideas for a guided meditation that I’d like to create on the topic, so I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot more on the blog about saying no, clearing out things and relationships that you’re merely tolerating, and creating space for what you actually want in your life. Stay tuned.

meditation mind and emotions yoga

Reading Your Body’s Messages

For years, ever since I began practicing yoga, I believed that my body could hold onto emotions, which would then manifest in physical ways, but I never had much luck seeing this in my own body beyond the obvious connection between, say, stress and my tight shoulder muscles.

For the past few years, though, I have been on a journey of hormonal and digestive healing, which was initiated by the onset of hellish menstrual cycles. The first time I experienced The Epic Cramps, I ended up in the emergency room, because I thought my appendix, or possibly every organ in my body, was bursting. It was that painful.

As the saying goes, pain can be a very potent teacher, and these cramps led me to discover a uterine fibroid and an ovarian cyst, along with a cascade of hormone and digestive issues. In future posts, I’ll talk more about some of the dietary and lifestyle changes I made that have had a significant positive impact on my health, but for the moment, I want to concentrate on one aspect of this pain that taught me a particularly memorable lesson.

Heads up: We’ll be talking about sex and biology, so if either makes you squeamish you might want to read something else. 🙂 So, one of the frustrating issues that came along with my cysts was pain during sex. I’ll spare you the details, but the key, here, is that it was specifically the act of allowing anything to enter my body that caused the sharpest pain, and along with it, a wave of vulnerable emotion. And no, in case you’re (understandably) wondering, I do not have a history of sexual abuse.

Over the course of a few months, I kept talking with my partner, journaling, and meditating on this issue, and I began to see all sorts of connections between painful sex and my rigidity around my food choices (another example of controlling what does and does not enter my body). And this, then, led to realizations of an important area in my life where I have serious trouble limiting what does and does not enter: relationships.

I’ve always struggled with creating and maintaining healthy boundaries, which can easily be traced back to my family history, which both did not model what healthy boundaries looked like nor supported–or in many cases allowed–me to create boundaries of my own. I’ve come a loooooong way in developing these skills as an adult, but there are still people in my life who so closely resemble key family members that they fit into my dysfunction lock like a key, and I slip back into old patterns.

In these situations, I feel like my subconscious is working off of an entirely different game plan than my conscious mind. Subconsciously, I’m seeking out self-absorbed, overt or covert narcissists who will suck up my energy like a vampire, giving very little or nothing back. My role is to be the energy source, allowing them to drain me dry, and my only retaliation is to passively resent them. Sounds fun, eh?

Knowing my self-destructive tendencies around this type of person, I tried for years to distance myself from these relationships, only to replace them with people who were nearly identical, or to assert myself within the relationships, only to fall back into resentful silence. Clearly, something wasn’t working.

And then, in this process of healing my body, I had an insight after meditating one day: My body was trying to protect me in the only way it knows how–in the physical domain–by creating boundaries. The only problem is that my body doesn’t need any more boundaries on that level right now; it needs boundaries on an emotional and spiritual level. It was if my body was saying to me, “If you’re not going to do this, I will.” If I was unable to draw these boundaries in my relationship and take care of myself, my body was going to get to work and start creating boundaries, whether they were in useful locations or not.

With this realization came a wave of tenderness and compassion for myself, which also carried with it great strength and resolve. I could feel my spirit and mind saying, “Don’t worry, body. We’re in this together, and I’m not going to let you shoulder this burden alone. I’m going to take care of you, just like you take care of me.”

Over the next few weeks, I pulled away from toxic relationships and felt liberation flooding into the space they had previously occupied. When I was in unavoidable situations with these people (e.g. running into them at the store), I was able to politely yet firmly make an exit without feeling beholden to the energy vampires.

While I still have much to practice, I feel myself getting stronger with each interaction in which I stick up for myself and take care of my own needs. If guilt crops up out of habit, I can gently recognize it, honor it, and release it. I feel optimistic that, with continued practice, creating these boundaries will become second nature, just as the self-destructive habits have been for so long, and I thank my body for being a wise teacher who made sure that, come hell or high water, I learned this lesson!

Now it’s your turn: What is your body trying to tell you right now? Are you ready to listen?

Update 1/5/2015: I recently finished reading Cyndi Dale’s Energetic Boundaries, and one passage in particular helped validate my intuition on this issue. She says:

Our energetic boundaries are our first line of defense in regard to our health. If working correctly, they’ll deflect or transmute energies that can make us sick. They’ll also release and cleanse us of physical and psychic toxins…But…once our energetic field starts to splutter and work at a less-than-optimum level, out bodily system becomes overtaxed and has to assume the field’s job. This depletes our body, leading to [numerous health issues].