Monday, March 7, 2016

Why do we feel guilty?

Do you struggle with guilt?  For me, the answer is "ALL THE TIME".  I'm quite an expert at feeling guilty.  I feel guilty about the way I parent.  I feel guilty about the smallest infractions.  I feel guilty because I'm not in perfect health yet.  I even feel guilty about feeling guilty because I've read a lot of self-help books that said "there's no need to feel guilty!"

But if there really is no need to feel guilty, the question remains - "why do we?"  It doesn't make sense to me, evolution-wise, to develop an ability to feel guilty if all it's going to do is make us feel stress and age our bodies prematurely.  There MUST be an advantage to feeling guilt.  So, I decided to delve deeper.

First of all, what is guilt?  It's that nagging, self-consuming shame that we did something wrong.  And when do we feel guilt?  Usually, it's when you fail to meet an expectation or a higher standard.  Who makes us feel guilty?  The answer to this one is a little tricky.  A lot of the expectations and standards are absorbed from the people around you, from what you were taught in schools, and from the culture you grew up in.  So, it's easy to blame others for the guilt we feel, but the truth is, we are the ones who bought into those standards and are judging ourselves against them.  Finally, why do we feel guilty?  I think it's because there's a desire within you to meet that expectation.  I mean, if you were suddenly told by a complete stranger, "I expect you to eat 100 hamburgers everyday," would you feel guilty for not meeting that expectation?

After considering all of this, I realized that we indeed have a use for guilt.  We actually have control over whether to feel guilty or not, and we can use the guilt to improve ourselves.  First, determine if the standards and expectations you are judging yourself against actually serve you.  It's possible that you are holding on to an expectation like the "100 hamburgers" simply because that's what you've been taught.  Once you take a good look at it, you may realize that iit really doesn't do you any good. 

Next, if you still find that you have expectations and standards that you would like to meet, not because you want to meet someone else's expectations, but because you want to evolve and become a better person, then treat these guilt as your alarm clock.  See it as a wake up call your soul.  But just like you need a little time to become fully awake, you are going to need a little time to wake up.  Don't feel discouraged if you need to hit the snooze button a few times.  Once in a while, you may find yourself deep asleep again, but eventually, you'll get to a point where it won't feel so difficult to get up.

In the meantime, don't forget to give yourself credit for the progress you have made.  Becoming aware of your shortcomings is a huge step forward. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Lullabye (Good Night, My Angel) by Billy Joel

Back when I was a teenager, there was a time when I felt compelled to listen to this song over and over again.  There was something in the music that touched me at a deeper level than most other songs.  It was so heartbreaking, yet so healing at the same time. 

I rediscovered this song recently, and now I sing it for my children every night.  First time I sang it, I spied a tear in my firstborn's eyes, and I was so grateful that I was able to share this beautiful gift of a song with him.

Thank you, Billy Joel, for moving our souls time and time again with your music.  Thank you, Alexa Joel, for inspiring your father.  Thank you, my children, for bringing this song back in my life.  And thank YOU, my dear reader, for allowing me to share this song with you. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

For My Children - On Love

This past Valentine's weekend, I was trying to understand what love truly is.  I found such a huge gap between the needy, expectant love being sold to us on Valentine's day and the boundless, unconditional love that our souls seek within us.  I was also disturbed by my own past behaviors that played into the stereotypical gender roles  - even though I had thought that I was above all of that at the time.  In the end, though, I had to recognize that everything happened because it was necessary for my own evolution and forgive myself.

Here's what came out of it all at the end:

My Dear Son,

If you need to belittle others
To  make yourself grander,
You are not yet capable to love.

If you think that denying your tears
Makes you a brave man,
You are not yet man enough to love.

For you define yourself
Through what you do to others.
For nothing takes more courage
Than to face yourself.

My Dear Daughter,

If you need approval from others
In order to approve of yourself,
You are not yet ready to love.

If you believe that changing others
Will improve your own life,
You are not yet mature enough to love.

For you must love yourself
Before you can love others.
For nothing will change
Until you change yourself.

Yet, My Dear Children,

You cannot learn to love 
Through my words.
You came here to experience 
Love for yourselves.

So go out there and 
Get your hearts broken.
Don't let fear stop you 
From making "mistakes".

For only experience can help you 
Discover your true capacity to love.
For you must understand what isn't love
Before you can understand what love is.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Are You Self-Centered?

Ever since I discovered Louise Hay half an year ago, I've been trying to work on my self-esteem. Yet, after months of ups and downs, I have to tell you, I'm still struggling with the concept of self-love.  Pretty much everyday, in fact.  I often find it a struggle to reconcile the idea of self-love with the seemingly universal "truth" that being self-centered is bad and that you should always be selfless.  Isn't it what every "good" person is supposed to do?  If I take attention away from my family in order to do inner soul searching, does that make me a "bad" person?

I was listening to a talk by Alan Watts on love, and I had a moment - a brief moment - of clarity.  I saw myself as a puppy, chasing its own tail.  I've been told that I am perfect exactly the way I am, so I've been chasing this image of a "perfect" self that I keep glancing out of the corner of my eye so that I can embrace it.  Yet all I'm doing is going around in circles, making myself all dizzy and confused.  I'm "copying the symptoms", as Watts said, of the self-assured person but I'm not getting anywhere because copying and being are two different things.  For example, you can decide to become more generous and give a gift to someone.  But if you consciously or subconsciously expect something in return (a thank you note, a tax write-off, or even a smile), are you really being generous?  That kind of generosity is different from the generosity of someone who can walk away unperturbed even when the gift is rejected unceremoniously.

So, copying the symptom of Louise Hay and other self-help gurus apparently isn't going to lead me to true self-acceptance.  What then?  I think it would be better if I could just stop chasing my own tail and sit down.  Sit down on that perfect little tail of mine and know that I'm already attached to it, that perfection is already part of me and it's not going anywhere.  What's necessary is a new way to look at myself.  A new way to define what it means to be self-centered and to be selfless.

Rather than equating being self-centered with being selfish, and being selfless with being saintly, let's take those words literally.  Meaning, being centered within yourself for "self-centered" and thinking less of yourself for "selfless".  Rather than being swayed by the opinions of others and then judging yourself for not being able to meet their standards, listen to them respectfully but decide for yourself whether those opinions and starndards serve you well. 

Let's go back to the issue of generosity, for example.  Conventional wisdom says that selfless people give, give, give, while selfish people take, take, take.  But the truth is, givers are always receiving something when they give, and receivers are always giving something when they receive.  The seemingly stingy person is still giving you a gift!  I mean, who hasn't received a gift that you didn't really need or want purely because the "selfless" gifter felt obligated to buy you something for a certain occasion?  How much better it would have been if the person could have just faced the fear of appearing stingy and given you the gift of an uncluttered home!  Instead, what really happens is that the receiver now feels that he/she is in the "lesser" position so must repay the debt in order to feel better.  And the game of "who's more selfless?" continues.

My personal struggle with self-acceptance is with meeting my own needs and desires while also meeting my family's needs.  I have 3 young children, a husband, and a dog who all need love and attention from me, which really doesn't leave much time for myself.  At the same time, I know that I need to have my own life.  My mother was a full time mom, and when I was younger, I used to believe that the measure of her success depended on how well my brother and I turned out.   I don't think that way now, but I do remember how much pressure it used to put on my shoulders.  I don't want my children to feel that way.  So, I need to establish an identity other than just being a mom, but that means I can't always meet my children's needs and wants.  This scares me!!  What if my kids grow up and tell me that I was a neglectful, selfish mom?!

But that's a risk I'm going to have to take.  My children are free to judge me however they like.  If they end up thinking that I was a horrible mother, they have the right to do so.  And I also have the right not to judge myself through their eyes, or anyone else's.  I have the right to believe that I am teaching them independence rather than being neglectful.  I have the right to believe that I'm teaching them to respect themselves as well as others by showing them that I have needs of my own and I respect them.  It seems so paradoxical that in order to help my children, I would need to do what seems like the opposite of what I ought to be doing.  But that's the nature of things.  Givers are also receiving, receivers are also giving.  We are all perfect and flawed at the same time.  And understanding THAT may be the key that finally opens the door of self-acceptance for me.