I went to my youngest daughter’s elementary school graduation the other day. It’s so beautiful to see children beaming with joy and pride, still filled with the innocence that allows them to sing and dance the way only children can.
I was also struck by another, less inspiring reality … the degree to which we adults paint the world to our children as scary and dangerous. All of the speeches given by students, written with coaching from their parents and teachers, contained some version of the sentiment, “The world is a scary place, I am growing up now, no one is going to care for me, so I have to be prepared to face the dangers …”
Before we go any further, let’s do an exercise together. I know many of you, like me, hate these kinds of exercises. But bear with me. There is a good point that will make this short bit of work worthwhile. Take a piece of paper and put a line down the middle. On the left-hand side write down all the things you can remember being afraid of in your life. Write them all down one by one. Here are some of mine:
Monster under the bed
Eating poison candy on Halloween
Failing my school exams
Not being a success in life because I didn’t go to college
Getting bitten by a dog
Falling down a manhole
My house being broken into
Being embarrassed in the boardroom
Getting a horrible disease
My kids getting hurt
Everyone laughing at my haircut
People not laughing at my jokes
And on and on and on.
Now on the right side of the paper, write down which of the fears have actually happened to you.
Wow … right? If you’re like me, you filled in the whole paper and could have filled many more with fears, but the ones that actually happened represent only a small number, a really small percentage of your total fears. And yet I’ve spent my whole life, as we all do, being really scared about a giant list of all the things that could happen.
Okay, now for the really fun part.
Take another piece of paper and put another line down the middle. This time on the left-hand side write down all the things you’ve told your children to be afraid of. Be honest. We all know now where this is going, so don’t cheat. Write them all down, including the warning that their faces would get stuck with a grumpy expression. And on the right-hand side write down which ones actually happened.
Now before any of us gets self-righteous and starts lecturing about how the reason none of the things happened is because we warned our kids, I want us all to consider two things:
1) How many things that your parents warned you about did you actually listen to and take some kind of preventive measure to avoid? Answer: none.
2) Remember that on your own list in the first exercise we already saw that very few of our fears were real. So wouldn’t the same be true of our fears for our kids? Answer: yes.
Okay, let’s take a few deep breaths together. This is the part of the story where we start feeling guilty or defensive or both, and that’s not the point. We’re good parents. We’re good people. We’re all doing our best. AND most of the things that we’re fearful about and tell our kids to be fearful about are unfounded. They exist in our mind. Worrying about them and telling our kids to worry about them makes us feel like we’re doing something, but it doesn’t make them real.
So I ask us all this simple question … Is your world really a scary place? I know what the news tells us. I know what our fears make us think. I know what our parents taught us. But as you look at those two sheets of paper — what we like to call the “facts” — is the world really as scary as we’ve made it out to be?
There is a classic Taoist story about two monks who are crossing a river. In the middle of the river they find a woman stranded who asks for help. One of the monks picks her up and carries her to the other side, puts her down, and the two monks continue on their way. A couple of miles down the road the other monk says to the one who picked up the woman, “You know you broke your monastic vows by touching a woman!” “Perhaps,” the monk replies, “but I put her down two miles ago and you’re still carrying her in your mind.”
That story always makes me smile a knowing smile at myself about all the stuff I carry around in my mind. All the fears, the worries, the guilt … the woulda-coulda-shoulda clutter of my life.
I have another question for you: What if life wasn’t scary? What if it wasn’t a struggle? What if life was easy? Just what if … Would it still be worthwhile for us? If we didn’t have a story of how hard we worked, or all the struggle, or all the worry we endured, would we still feel fulfilled? Really think about that for a moment.
I’ve spent years pondering this question, and often crying at the answer, which was that in many ways I needed my life to be hard to give me something to be proud of. The simple fact for most of us is that just being ourselves isn’t enough. We need a dragon to slay, a mountain to climb, and a stranded woman in the middle of the river to rescue … because without all that how would we know we’re any good?
I’m not saying life doesn’t have challenges, because it does. I’m also not saying that really awful things don’t happen, because they do. And in no way am I saying that life is always easy, because it isn’t. What I am saying is that many, many times we look for the scariest part of life because it gives us something to talk about. We make a mountain out of a molehill because stepping over a molehill doesn’t make us feel special. We marry the neediest person we can find because in comparison to them, we look really attractive.
Let’s take a deep breath together. Let all this settle in. Does the shoe fit? It sure fits every inch of my size 13 feet. How about you? Take another deep breath. It’s okay. You are not alone. This is our common human experience. And there is a solution.
We, all of us, can begin the process of loving ourselves right now. The same way we have a process of convincing ourselves and our children that the world is scary, we can show ourselves the truth that we are loved, that all is well, and that we are not alone.
Through constant daily reminders. We have reminders set around us to tell us all the negative stuff about our world in the form of news, movies, friends, our thought patterns, our eating habits, our medical exams, etc. To reinforce the message that we are loved we have to do the same in the form of a consistent daily practice of self-love.
I can’t tell you what yours should be, but I can share mine.
Each day I wake up and take a series of deep breaths. I kiss my wife and tell her I love her, to which she always responds, “I love you, too.” Now just stop there. Do you see what’s going on? I breathe in the day, fresh oxygen sends the message to my cells that all is well. I share love with my wife and I receive love in return. It’s so simple and yet it has a really profound affect on our being, especially when we do it daily.
Next I sit down and stretch (yoga). By stretching I open up the body and allow energy, nutrients, oxygen, and love to flow through. A few minutes of yoga each day teaches the body to stretch so that when the stresses of life stretch us we are flexible and don’t break under pressure. Then I sit quietly in meditation and focus on breathing in and out of my heart, filling it with love and sending that love to my entire body with my breath. On days where I feel the love overflowing, I silently send the love to my family, to my friends, and to those I am struggling with. And finally, I enjoy a Superfood smoothie with my family. We do it together so we are feeding our bodies and our souls at the same time.
That is my morning routine. Throughout the day as the “scary” world starts to creep in, I crowd it out with more loving actions — like drinking green vegetable and fruit juice, more deep breathing, moving my body, sitting with my eyes closed and repeating the mantra “I love you for who you are, not what you do,” taking a walk, playing with my dogs, saying I love you to my children, giving and receiving a hug, etc.
Self-love isn’t difficult, but it is a habit that has to be reinforced each and every day. Remember that the imagery and beliefs about our world have been formed over generations and are poured into us each day. So if we want to feel loved, we have to pour the love in at an even greater pace.
We are all in this together. We share the same fears and we share the desire to feel loved. I invite you to take the first step, to walk hand-in-hand toward love and, together, to create a world where we know … and where our kids know … that we are all loved.
Big hugs of love,
Photo lovingly shared by Yvonne Cornell http://www.followingbreadcrumbs.com/