The Final Exam

A friend of mine wrote a beautiful, insightful, and very true post on Facebook not long ago, talking about how sometimes things happen that would’ve triggered her with a strong reaction in the past, and she’s noticed that they don’t anymore. And she’s thinking something like, “Wow this is awesome, but when did I graduate from this lesson?? I really am growing!” So cool… And that friend, by the way, is Tara Taylor, one of the owners and teachers at Breathe Yoga & Wellness, where I work.

The post went like this: “The ‘final exam’ for many of my life lessons seems to be given after the Graduation I never knew I had…. Sometimes I find myself in situations that in the past would have caused a whole storm of anxiety, self-doubt, or stuckness; only to realize that instead I’m completely amused, open, and accepting of exactly what is. At those moments, I think: ‘Holy Sh*t! I’m a completely different person.’ I know. We change. We grow. We evolve. But sometimes, it sneaks up on me. And it’s a really, really pleasant surprise.”

Bam! Isn’t that awesome?? So true, too. Exchanging a storm of “anxiety, self-doubt, and stuckness” for a feeling that is “completely amused, open and accepting of exactly what is” sounds like a GREAT plan to me. I’ve written before about the idea of “measuring sticks,” which are things (people, situations, etc.) that have triggered us in the past. The holidays are a great example. Or certain people in your life that you feel triggered by. Or your job, or certain aspects of your job. Or co-workers. The idea is that you are now owning your feelings and your experience, so you actually look forward to these things. You’re thinking might be sort of like this: “Okay, this has sucked in the past and has been a total buzz saw, but I’m owning it and I’m going back in! I’m in charge of how I feel and I’m determined to not be so triggered by this! It’s on me, and this is how I learn! I’m going to figure this out!” And over time, you might see that your emotional reaction is less and less.

These are more conscious, though. What Tara is talking about is not, and that’s why it’s so cool. You didn’t even know that you’ve transcended or outgrown this or that, which used to trigger you. And then it happens and it’s not even a big deal. And you might not even notice that it wasn’t a big deal until way later! And then the insight comes in, the remembrance that this same thing used to be a very different experience for you. And wow, awesome feelings arise in your body as you see it all. And you might think, “Even when things are up and down, even when I feel clueless or don’t feel so hot, even when things aren’t “perfect,” I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m headed in the right direction. Wow, that feels really, really good (stop and breathe in that awesome feeling). I am coming more and more to peace, I really am. It’s working.”

Let’s take a more specific look at the measuring sticks, since we’re more aware of these ahead of time. You have a desire to figure it out, overcome it, transcend, etc. And you’re really open and just really curious about what’s going on inside of YOU to be so triggered. Curiosity instead of judgment. Because remember – another person or situation doesn’t have the power to create a feeling in your body; it just doesn’t work that way. Your feeling comes from you and how you see things. Most of it is unconscious, too, so that’s why we use the ingenious guidance system of the body and then ask questions. “Why do I get triggered when this happens? Hmm, let me ponder that…” And I’m doing it with my good voice (built-in wisdom/common sense) rather than that conditioned critical voice that tends to speak first and loudest; I’m just not listening to that anymore. And this is important – I’m not in a rush; I’m letting things unfold naturally. You might sort of “breathe with” a question, repeating it like a mantra: “Why does this trigger me? Hmm… Why on earth would this trigger me? Interesting… I wonder what it specifically is about this that triggers me?” All of that was said very s-l-o-w-l-y, breathing and opening the body in between statements. The body is totally relaxed.

And here’s a big one – there’s no judgment, as if something were wrong. Because nothing is wrong. In fact, if I’m taking an honest look at what’s going on in my mind and body, then everything is right! Because I’m finally starting to look and see, whereas for the rest of my life until now it’s been unconscious. So I’m 100% curious, no different than if I’m pondering, “Why is the sky blue? Hmm, let me think about that… What could be the reason…” I know the idea of no judgment might sound impossible, by the way, but like everything else we talk about here at A Clean Mind, you gently practice it. And cut yourself some slack! Because is it easy to change a lifelong pattern of judging the living sh*t out of yourself and everything else?? Umm, nope. Big nope. So go easy on yourself. Be your own best friend and supporter. Or at the very least, give that a try. For two weeks or a month to start! After all, you just might like it…

Can you feel the higher quality of how we’re doing things? Much different than the inner critic that demands an answer yesterday. Open up and breathe with it, and the answer will come when it’s ready. That’s just how it works. You start to see what’s going on behind the scenes of your mind. Maybe a person is bossy, and it drives you crazy. And the insight might pop in that that’s something you hate about yourself. So what’s the answer? To forgive yourself, or to begin to forgive yourself, and then to gently practice not being that way so much. Try to dial it back ten or twenty percent to start. Or one percent! That’s a step in the right direction. And this is important, you’re loving yourself the whole time and not saying “I suck, I suck” all day long. Because let’s face it, that hasn’t worked. It didn’t work for me, anyway…

When you’re living this way, you’ll inevitably start to have times like Tara described when things happen that used to be a big deal and you see they’re just not anymore. It’s because you’re paying attention. You’re trying. You’re putting forth some effort. You’re not being a slave driver, though. Instead, you’re being relaxed and open and loving towards yourself. Because it works faster that way. And by the way, I was not born this way! Not even close. So if I can have some progress in this department, anyone can. You can take that to the bank. So embrace these measuring sticks, and also be on the lookout for the times that Tara is talking about when it just sort of happens and then you notice later. And when you see it, rejoice! For it is very much worth rejoicing. Because you see that the data is in, the results are in, and you know what? You’re growing. That’s a fact. And that’s a really, really pleasant surprise.