Updated: Nov 10, 2020
If you are like most people (including myself), you might be feeling drained, burned out, overwhelmed, or anxious. We are living in a time of uncertainty. Whether we are unsure about our future, the direction of our lives, or the state of our country, most of us have (at one point or another) felt fearful. Or, perhaps you are someone who is unphased by what is going on and have found ways to stay grounded, calm, and peaceful throughout this dumpster fire known as 2020. Whatever you are feeling, I encourage you to read on.
I am overjoyed (and relieved) that we have made it this far into the year and we are ready to start anew in January. Will 2021 be much different than 2020? I’m not sure, but I am hopeful. For me, 2020 was a year of growth. I learned so much about myself, and I don’t intend to stop next year. In fact, I am setting an intention in this very moment to be grateful, be of service to others, and be aware of my mindset.
There are many things I am looking forward to, and at the same time, there is a small part of me that gets caught up in the Collective. Whether we identify as Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Non-Denominational… most people can get on board with the idea that we are all interconnected. During this extremely stressful year, the energy of the Collective has impacted each of us in different ways. It may be a subtle feeling of restlessness or anxiety. Perhaps, you may be more overwhelmed or find yourself over-reacting to small nuisances. Or, you might have had a mini-mental break down. Whatever your experience is, we have all been stuck in this nightmare and are looking for a way out.
This weekend I finished Jay Shetty’s book “Think Like a Monk”. At first, I wasn’t sure about it - but the reviews were all positive, so I listened to the audiobook all day yesterday. Without a doubt, I recommend this book to everyone who is looking for some guidance. You don’t have to be spiritual or religious, nor do you need to actually be a monk to benefit from this book.
Jay Shetty shares his experience in the ashram, as well as the wisdom he gained from his time as a monk. Throughout the book there are phenomenal lessons and exercises for the reader. His words resonated so deeply with me, that I wanted to share them in my blog.
(*Disclaimer: I am aware that some readers have discovered that he uses others’ quotes and ideas but does not give credit to them. Despite this, I am sharing these quotes because they connected with me and hope that these can help you find some peace.)
1. “When we tune out the opinions, expectations, and obligations of the world around us, we begin to hear ourselves.”
I am well-aware that people’s expectations and opinions have caused much distress and conflict, particularly in regard to politics. We are constantly being bombarded with information on social media, the news, and those around us. In the midst of everyone’s opinions and contradictory information, it can be difficult to see past what is in front of us. Jay Shetty’s quote above speaks to this struggle. We often pay too much attention or put too much weight on others’ opinions and expectations. At times, we may even self-impose obligations that we believe are necessary. The good news is, everyone can have their opinion and viewpoint. You see, everyone has their own truth. My job as a psychologist is to help people live their best life. Sometimes that means being true to themselves and speaking to themselves with more love and positivity, while other times it means acknowledging limitations or downfalls. Either way, when we take a moment to actually ask ourselves what we want and what is best for us, that is when we are living our truth. Our dharma.
2. “If you don’t break your ego, life will break it for you.”
3. “You are not your success or your failure”.
I clustered these quotes together because for me, they spoke directly to my core. When something good happens, we are often quick to dismiss it. Our joy is short-lived, like a twinkle light. But when we are confronted with disappointment, embarrassment, or failure, those feelings stay with us. We might assume that this failure is evidence that we are “not good enough.” But we often forget that we are human. We are fallible and imperfect. We are not our successes or our failures.
Before I started this book, I was given an opportunity to speak on a local news station about stress during the holidays (and how the pandemic and politics has increased stress for a majority of people). I was nervous, excited, and honestly… scared to death. I tried my best to prepare ahead of time based on what the interviewer told me she was going to ask me about. When the time came to do the interview over Zoom, I stopped paying attention to my fear and did what I needed to do. She talked to me for over 30 minutes… and didn’t ask me about what I had prepared for until near the end of the interview! She asked so many questions that I was not prepared for, and I was frustrated about the quality of my responses.
I tend to over-talk when I’m nervous. I also tend to speak quickly and sometimes stumble over my words. And, if you have ever met me, you know that I’m a passionate person. I talk with my hands and I am very expressive. While this is great in the classroom or in session with a client, it does not convey professionalism in all settings.
I watched the news that night and felt my heart pounding in my chest. I was so anxious! We talked for 30 minutes, so she could have picked any of that! Of course, they ended up choosing soundbites for the most mundane, irrelevant things that I said from the interview. I had SO MANY great things that I said in the interview and none of them were shown! And if that what's enough, I didn’t like the way I looked on camera and I was embarrassed by my hand movements and facial expressions.
After the news clip ended, I felt let down. Disappointed. Ashamed. I had recorded it and sent it to a few of my close friends and my mom. Everyone gave positive reviews, saying that I looked good and sounded good. My mom, who is usually a very invalidating person, said that she was proud of me and was impressed with how well I held myself. So, why was I so disappointed? I didn’t say or do anything stupid. But, in my eyes, I failed. I wasn’t PERFECT. I did not feel like I successfully navigated that interview in the way that I would have liked.
Fast forward to the next day… I reminded myself that I had been given a great opportunity. I learned a lot about myself and I was exposed to a new situation (and hopefully will be better prepared in the future). Being on the local news for less than 3 minutes talking about stress during the holidays isn’t something that is going to determine the course of my career (also, how many people actually watch the news anymore?). After I watched the video again, I was able to see that it wasn’t as bad as I had first thought.
My success in life is not determined by that news clip. And, my perceived “failure” shouldn’t cloud my feelings of self-worth or my ego. I am not my success OR my failure. I am me. My ego is not extraordinarily strong, but it’s stable. For a moment, it felt broken. Did life break it? Sure, if by “life” you mean everything that happens to you. But am I broken? No. Not at all.
4. “When you’re present in gratitude, you can’t be anywhere else.”
Shetty’s book also focused on gratitude (Chapter 9). As a psychologist, I encourage the use of gratitude whenever possible. Fostering a sense of gratitude can improve our mental and physical health, the quality of our life and our relationships with others.
Think back to a time when you were physically sick or injured. Maybe you were nauseous, vomiting, had a headache, or had broken a bone. In the times when we feel the worst, we desperately want to feel better. We want to feel “normal”. Think about how you are feeling now. Have you intentionally taken a moment to be grateful for your health today? If not, I encourage you to do so. Close your eyes and scan your body. Notice what you are feeling in this moment. Is it different than how you were feeling an hour ago? A week ago? A month ago?
Now, take a second to check in with emotions after you have taken a moment for gratitude. How are you feeling? Calm? Content? I would be suspicious if you were to say that you felt sad or angry. It’s hard to be angry and grateful at the same time. As Shetty’s quote points out, “When you’re present in gratitude, you can’t be anywhere else.”
Moving forward, I intend to spend a moment each day being grateful for the little things, as well as the big things. In addition, I am going to find ways to remind myself to be humble, have self-compassion, and to listen to my higher self about what is best for me. I hope this has encouraged you to do the same.