By Elizabeth Legg
“FEAR IS A NATURAL REACTION TO MOVING CLOSER TO THE TRUTH”—PEMA CHODRON
It’s that time of year. The time that people often reflect on their lives, their past year, and the year to come. The transition to the new year can create a sense of pressure to re-evaluate whether we’re “on track” in living the life we had envisioned, and it can result in setting goals to get back on track. As we zoom out and evaluate whether our ideal self and our actual self are in line, there can be guilt and shame when the gap is larger than is comfortable.
The goals we set to “correct” this gap often involve plans to do more, increase discipline, have more control, etc. Not long after the initial motivation, there may be another wave of guilt, shame, and feelings of failure, if we again don’t reach what he had envisioned. Do you ever find yourself believing that punishing yourself with guilt and negative self-statements about your failures will somehow teach you a lesson and motivate you to achieve more? Have you ever noticed that when you feel shame and fear of failure, you withdraw, constrict your heart, feel protective, and actually do less rather than more?
In her book, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”, Pema Chodron presents a paradigm shift from the western culture of “achieve more and beat yourself up when you fall short”. She reflects on how our attempts to escape pain and suffering (such as by setting goals in order to relieve feelings of failure and shame) cheat us from the opportunity for happiness by leaning into such moments of pain with curiosity and self-compassion. “…Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.” (p. 12)
Perhaps rather than starting the new year with a list of what we’d like to achieve and correct, we might start with tenderness and curiosity toward ourselves in the moments when we feel most fearful and groundless, with the knowledge that it is precisely when we want to shut down, withdraw or constrict that lie the greatest opportunities lie to lean in, soften, and touch into a new experience of peace.
Happy New Year!
Books We Love That You Might Too:
Pema Chodron: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Liz Legg)—referenced above
Charles Duhigg: Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (David Handley)
Jen Sincero: You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life (Maya Strausberg)
Martha Beck: Finding Your Own North Star (Sara Keith)