This week’s challenge

A few months ago, I wrote this on a post-it note: “I make the firm intention to keep my commitments to myself.” The commitments included writing this weekly blog, a consistent meditation practice, and a regular yoga class. Things were going well for quite a while but these last two weeks have been difficult. It’s reminded me of that joke, “I was trying to take one day at a time but then the days stared ganging up on me.” Last minute travel to help family required 16 hours in a car, a roller coaster of opportunities for KPCK along with the regular work of planning, preparing, and serving meals, coaching new clients, much to my delight, and the immensely helpful and time-consuming certification process for my coaching program—all things I value and freely chose. I managed them but the list of things I’d also hoped to address grew longer.

Last week, when things started to get hectic, I gave myself permission to post my blog on Thursday instead of Wednesday. My experience with writing has often been marked by anxiety and failure to write so my commitment to a particular day to post was important. Last week’s one-day delay felt like a risk but I didn’t freak out and get stuck in a vortex of self-loathing over it.

This week, I don’t feel busy; I feel overwhelmed by competing demands. And now it’s Friday and I didn’t give myself permission to delay posting this week, I just didn’t write anything I felt good about. I feel that vortex of self-loathing opening up just over my shoulder.

This is the time to lean into self-acceptance but just writing this sentence causes tears to flow as I realize I am angry with myself for being angry with myself. How often I have noticed others doing this same thing and thought, “Oh, that’s no good. We aren’t working on self-acceptance in order to give our ego another reason to thrash us.” Fortunately, just remembering that opens a space inside me and I am watching myself, observing my thoughts and feelings rather than simply identifying with them. Suddenly, my ego’s grip on me loosens and it’s no longer whipping me around like a rag doll. I bring myself back to the present moment, the only one that matters.

What’s the story?

I took a writing class a few months ago and the instructor asked us to explain why we were in the course. I told her that I’d had an awful experience writing my dissertation—I took forever to finish it, I nearly lost a job a I loved, my dissertation advisor was unsupportive, I struggled under the weight of that experience, and always associated it with failure. Almost as soon as I sent my tale of woe off, for the first time in the many years since I finished my dissertation, I asked myself this question, “Good God, when do I get to quit telling that story?”

Lately I’ve been reading about longstanding grievances. It’s the wrong someone did to us years ago that our ego hauls out to remind us that we’re special. Although I would prefer to recite the longstanding grievances held by every member of my family, most of my friends, and a wide assortment of strangers I’ve encountered over the years, I realize that won’t actually help me in my pursuit of self acceptance.

The writing class helped loosen the grip of the dissertation story but last August when I wanted to start this blog, I found I was still banging my head against the wall of fear I built around writing. Then I had the good fortune to have a conversation with a new and deeply honest friend. When I told her the dissertation story the emphasis was on my advisor. I told her she’d once written me a letter saying, more or less, “Hey it’s okay. You don’t have to get a Ph.D.” At the time, I had a job that required a Ph.D. so her letter could just as well have said, “Hey, it’s okay to be a failure and to get fired.” My wise friend asked me how my advisor had treated me in the years leading up to the dissertation. I said she’d always had a high opinion of me and thought I produced very good work. I told her we had been close so the letter felt like a betrayal. Ever so gently she asked if it was possible that the letter had been written with good intentions, that my advisor was simply saying what she believed to be true. There was a very long pause. I was stunned to realize that it had never occurred to me that she had any motive other than to hurt me. Once I could see that there was another perfectly reasonable interpretation of my advisor’s motives the story’s hold on me was released.

When I let go of this longstanding grievance, I saw that my attachment to it had eclipsed a story that is more important, one that is alive and present. After I received the letter from my advisor, I told a colleague about it. We hadn’t known each other long but she immediately said, “It’s important to me that you stay here so I’m going to help you finish.” And she did. We met every week for more than a year. She read and reread every word of my dissertation and because of her generosity and commitment I finished. A lifelong friendship, that’s the story.