For many years, I longed to feel heard and to be accepted by people. I yearned to be seen by others as intelligent, talented, responsible, free-spirited, creative, spiritual, courageous. In every action, I invested my energy in both a sincere desire to do my best and a sincere desire to please others. I wanted more than anything to hear that I was doing amazing things – by other people’s standards, of course – that I was successful, that my work was meaningful, and that my life was contributing to the world in ways that were valuable. I worked hard to do my best in everything I did. I put my heart into it. And more often than not, no matter how wonderful my efforts and results were, I was left feeling undervalued, unappreciated, and frustrated.
Even when people did understand me and my work, when they showered me with praise and approval, when I received unconditional love and acceptance, I wasn’t truly able to take it in. I questioned those who were kind and loving and supportive, believing that they were either insincere and mocking me, or that they were like the parents of a four year old artist, praising the drawings on the fridge. I didn’t believe them. My yearning for understanding and acceptance only seemed to grow through these kinds of responses.
I have now spent many years in the process of understanding this kind of pattern in the mind, and have spent significant time unravelling my own unconscious belief structures to see where this kind of deep hunger for acceptance was rooted. I can surely attribute some of it to my childhood, and perhaps not feeling enough support and presence in my early life. I can attribute a big part of it to the culture I find myself swimming in, and the ways that we are taught from an early age that we must achieve certain things, behave in certain ways, and receive approval and recognition for those things in order to be considered successful. And while it may be true that family and school and culture bring on these kinds of deep, unconscious conditioning, it is more valuable to release the pointing finger of blame and begin to work on unravelling these patterns. Weeding the garden.
It doesn’t matter who or what crossed my path and affected my life, bringing thoughts and patterns into my being. What matters more to me is becoming conscious of the ways that certain behavior and thought patterns emerge, and having enough presence to observe them without responding or reacting to them. When the thought emerges, I am not good enough, I must do more, do better, be more, try harder or whatever else, I have choice. I can either instantly and unconsciously believe that thought and allow it to carry me away into feelings of misery and anxiety, or I can pause and listen, and question it. Is it true that I am not good enough, that I must do more, do better, that I must be more or try harder? And I have found that when I am able to be present in this kind of process, I am able to disengage from the power of the thought. Sometimes it feels like a raging battle, the battle to stay present with these negative thoughts and the habitual actions that want to emerge with them. But with the desire for freedom, together with the dedication to practice, it is completely possible to bring tremendous shift in our lives.
What I found is that the powerful inner longing for the acceptance and approval of others wasn’t the truth. It was a very powerful story that would hook me quite readily whenever doubt and uncertainty would enter my mind. Beneath that longing was a truer longing, the longing to trust myself, to accept myself and my life in each moment without judgment or questioning. And now, each time this old conditioning attempts to emerge, it is an old familiar story. I have learned how to meet it: with patience, openness, trust in myself, and prayer.
Whatever others see in me, believe about me, or want to approve or disapprove of in my life truly has nothing to do with me! It is merely their conditioned mind spinning in its own habitual patterning, which is their responsibility to choose to understand if they so desire. What freedom this is! To relax into my being, to trust my heart, and to let the flow of life carry on as it will. I truly believe that this freedom is available to each and every human being, but it is not an easy path to walk. We must do our own work each and every day, stay present with our own minds and be watchful for the triggering of our old negative beliefs and patterns, and be willing to see things in ourselves with kindness and compassion. We must be willing to let go of blame and have the courage to soften and trust the healing that will come. Speaking from my own life’s experience, this is the way out of so much pain and suffering, and a truly worthy pursuit: this is the landscape of inner activism, creating change in the world by creating change within our own hearts and minds.
photo courtesy of Donat Sperling