I think it would be fair to say that at some point we have all been haunted by something - a past mistake/regret, a past relationship (romantic or not), maybe it is your own shadow, or perhaps it is something else entirely.
For some, the haunting might be quick and fleeting. For others, it is a long and arduous process, with intense periods of pleading with whatever that is haunting you to leave you alone for just one night.
The tricky part about the things that haunt us is that the harder we try to get rid of them the more they stick around. These things typically follow us wherever we go. So then what?
The pithy and psychological part of me whispers “acceptance” - learn to accept the things that haunt us. But the cynical part of me argues that this is so counterintuitive and who wants to “accept” being haunted. When I say “accept” I don’t mean resigning yourself to being haunted, but rather learning to accept the fact that the things that haunt us are present.
If we use an analogy and call the things that haunt us “monsters,” the more we attack or threaten the “monster” by trying to get rid of it, the more enraged and threatened the “monster” feels and is more likely to attack to preserve itself. But if we approach the “monster” with a sense of openness and curiosity, try to understand why the “monster” is there, the “monster” doesn’t feel so threatened or feel the need to attack.
This isn’t a perfect analogy, because I’m sure some of you are thinking, “well if I approach the ‘monster’ with openness and curiosity, without being armed, it’s just going to eat me alive.” That might happen…but it might not. But if you attack, it will most likely attack back.
How do we accept the things that haunt us? How do we allow space for the darker things of ourselves and life?
Here’s the thing - the darker parts are already there whether you accept them or not. So what do you have to lose in trying on acceptance?
Acceptance is a continuous act, a continuous choice of learning to come back to a posture of openness and acceptance. It is an action that we will all miss and have to come back to again and again. And we have to learn to accept that sometimes we don’t want to accept the fact that we have to accept things.
It is a haunting case of acceptance for us all ...
Courage and Fear.
When I think about courage and fear, memories of fear emerge more readily. I remember being terrified when I had unintentionally offended someone in a meeting and then had to do a presentation to the same audience the next hour. I can’t tell you how the presentation went, because it was all kind of a blur. I vaguely remember being told that I was courageous after the presentation. I remember feeling surprised because I didn’t feel courageous at all. I remember feeling like a mess and was simply relieved to be done. But I think this highlights the relationship between courage and fear. Courageous moments are often born out of unexpected moments that don’t feel courageous at all. In this instance, courage was born out of fear.
Life is a paradox, and despite having told myself that since I was a teenager, I feel like I’m constantly relearning that life is a paradox. Brene Brown addresses one of life's paradox in her book entitled “The Gifts of Imperfection.” She writes how courage has become linked with heroism, but at its core, courage is about vulnerability.
Speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage…Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.
So with that lens it makes sense to me that my courageous moments have come out of fear. It’s when I’m not thinking about being courageous, that courage appears. Though sometimes it doesn’t. But maybe it’ll help me be less afraid of my fear in the future if I remember that courage has been birthed from my fear.
Courage and fear ... fearfully courageous
Fear. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of missing out. Fear of failing. Fear of the unknown. Fear of fear.
Fear has become pervasive in society, especially with all the recent disasters and tragedies. Fear seems to have escalated depending on where you live and how attuned you might be to local, national, and world news.
But what is fear, and how did it seep into the daily fabric of life? Webster defines afraid as “filled with concern or regret over an unwanted situation.”
A lot of times we seem to spend time trying to avoid “unwanted” things, and by doing so, miss out on potentially “wanted” things. What is so bad about unwanted things? What is so bad about mistakes? What is so bad about missing out? What is so bad about failing?
Sure there are epic failures and mistakes that can lead to severe consequences, and those are best to be avoided. I am not proposing we all go out and live life haphazardly without regard for ourselves and others. But as Anne Lamott wrote in Stitches,
It’s much better to wake up now in deep regret, desperate not to waste more of your life ....Because you will have finally awakened
I think to desperately not waste life involves making mistakes and failing. So my hope is that the fear of wasting life is larger than the fear of making mistakes and failing. That way, we all can go forth and make some beautiful mistakes that create a life well lived.
Beauty is a miracle of things going together imperfectly
(Anne Lamott, Stitches, pg.82).
May my life and yours be stitched by mistakes and failures that imperfectly yet beautifully create a life desperate not to waste more of life.
Worrying is a vicious circle. Once I step into that circle I start worrying that I am not worrying about everything that I “should” worry about. What am I forgetting? What am I missing? I worry that I am not doing enough, that I should be doing something that I don’t even know that I should be doing. But then I can’t figure out what it is that I should be doing. So that spirals me into more worry. It never ends.
Then I take a deep breath, tell myself to “chill out,” and take a personal inventory – what is it that I am really worried about? What is at the root of my worry? And is there anything that I can practically do about it now? Or, is this something that takes time to resolve, and I am going to have to accept not knowing for the time being?
More often than not, there is nothing I can practically do in the moment, and I have to learn to accept the uncertainty of a situation. I hate not knowing things. Uncertainty is so uncomfortable.
I don’t know if anyone would claim they love uncertainty. I could see where having some things unscripted could be exhilarating and freeing, but mostly, I think uncertainty is nerve-wracking. I am certain that I don’t like uncertainty. And I am also certain, that uncertainty will always be a part of life.
I am not going to list tips about how to stop worrying. A quick google search will produce thousands of results. What I will mention is acceptance. Accepting myself for worrying. Accepting myself for getting caught in vicious cycles of worry in spite of my years of psychological training. Accepting myself for getting caught up in the angst of uncertainty, despite knowing that life is full of uncertainties. Acceptance is what gets me through the worrying days.
Don’t get me wrong, despite writing about acceptance, I still get caught in anxious circles and don’t accept myself for worrying. But, some days, I can catch myself before the anxious circle leads me into an unproductive state. But even if that happens, I am learning to accept myself for being in that unproductive state.
I definitely judge and berate myself for worrying about things I know I have no control over. But judging and berating myself does nothing for me, except to make me feel more awful. And when I am worrying, the last thing I need is to feel more awful. Judging and berating myself for worrying is a reflex. It is hard to stop that reflex, breathe, and be compassionate towards myself for having thoughts that I know are not helpful. But this is a part of being a human being in process.
Acceptance of this part of myself is difficult. Honestly, I don’t like that I worry. But it is learning to accept this part of me that allowed me to transform this day, which started off in a cloud of worry into a blog post. I can guarantee that there will be more worry days, and more self-berating days. And I am also sure that there will be days that I will judge myself for judging myself. But today, I take a slow inhale and give myself permission to be wherever I am at, even if that means being in a puddle of worry.