Annnnnnnd…repeat, repeat, repeat...
How many times do you look in the mirror and recoil at your appearance for whatever reason (usually for me it’s a negative comment on how much older I’m looking or how I wished that I had this or that)? And how many times have you met-up with someone relatively new to you and mentally played back all of the conversations that you had with that person, only to berate yourself on how stupid, you sounded and questioned why you said certain things? “Now they will think x of me (insert something negative here)?" The real ‘icing on the cake’ here is when we look at the work of others and convince ourselves that our work is now deeply inferior and therefore pointless in comparison to their achievements, artists do this all of the time!
This year, I learned several new lessons and most of them are obvious, stuff that we already know, but at the same time, we don’t really know. Our outlook on life and on ourselves changes with every moment of every day, depending on internal and external factors around us, that are also variable. One of the biggest lessons that I learned was that we are all naturally predisposed to thinking negatively about ourselves. Just think about that statement, it’s huge! Just knowing that makes a massive difference and takes us as step forward into getting to learn more about our mental health and who we really are! At most, it tells us that we are ‘normal’ in that most of us feel the same way, for most of the time.
I remember once saying to my friend that I had put on far too much weight and consequently looked and felt terrible. I’m quite short (5’2” to be precise…so weight gain is often immediate and apparent ). My friend’s response shocked me as she looked at me in disgust before (kindly) snapping “you’ve got body dysmorphia you have!” By this she meant, I was not seeing myself, my body, as others saw it and she was frustrated at my attempts at ‘self-sabotage’. The truth was, I actually saw my body as if I were looking into a fairground mirror all wobbly in all of the wrong places and way bigger than it actually was. In reality, this was simply not the case. Just to be clear here, I am referring to the uncomfortableness of my imaginary ‘ugly self’ as I genuinely saw it, in relation to how I felt that it should look. It is by no way intended to fat-shame others or make other people feel bad about themselves, quite the opposite in fact, but that’s a whole other topic that I am in no way qualified to comment on.
This is just a reference to the sour comments that most of us make at some point about our appearance, what goes on inside our heads is often much worse, far more brutal and unkind. The trouble with ‘self-sabotage” is not just the obvious (and less obvious) destruction that it does to ourselves, its the damage that it can do to others around us, those who are close to us, and those whom we do not even know. The truth is, that if we continue to see ourselves in a negative way, it will always be difficult to radiate positivity, love, compassion and support to others.
This stuff really matters and as I have the privilege of getting older, I also have a better understanding of the world around me and how it can be a better place, after all, I love my children and grandchildren so much, that I owe it to them at least to teach them, the next generation all of the life-lessons that I have learned so far.
When we look at the news and see humanity at its very worst, the death and destruction of human life young and old so brutally killed for a purpose that many of us can simply not get our heads around. We often ask question how any level of hate could get to that point? I don’t consider myself to be political or deeply religious but I do have a strong sense of something being ‘out there’ in the universe that is far greater and wiser than humankind and the planet that we all share.
Every religious belief is based on this fact and has its own theory, the trouble is, there is little room for the acceptance of other thoughts and opinions with each theory being the only way…and history tells us the lack of tolerance and understanding will never work! I personally believe that we are all right, there IS something greater than us for sure and yes, I also believe that whatever IT is, guides and protects us because we all have a purpose in life but this ‘special purpose’, the true ‘meaning of life itself’ is way beyond our knowledge and understanding (because, whatever IT is, it's way more intelligent that us), but we struggle to accept that. Humans don’t like things that they don’t understand.
I digress here, which is part of my nature, my youngest son calls me ‘Janine-Tangent-Lees’ because of my scattered brain. Anyway, the point here, is that I am learning to let go of negative thoughts, particularly about myself, and this is not always easy to do but I am gradually feeling the benefits of this over time with practice. The art of positive thinking is far reaching, so much so that it can actually have a great impact on our physical health and the wellbeing of others.
We all go through life at some point feeling like we have failed in some way and that we have not met the expectations that we believe we should be achieving. This can take many forms from relationships, work, physical appearance etc… But whatever it is, be assured that failure or perceived failure (caused by our own thought-distortions) are always only temporary and as such will pass. Bad stuff happens to all of us at some point and its how we deal with that that makes all of the difference.
Earlier this year, I attended a mindfulness based stress-reduction course (MBSR) and here I learned that one of the ways to deal with suffering is to OBSERVE all of the thoughts and physical sensations that I am currently experiencing at any given moment WITHOUT JUDGEMENT, to accept them and allow them to flow through my mind and body naturally. I would most certainly recommend that you look into this type of course if you are in need of a little life-support right now. I promise that the money that you invest into your mental health will never be wasted.
As I come to a close for this journal entry, I would like to share the most important lessons of all that I have received from this year. The first being to never make judgements on others based on my own perceptions of who I THINK that someone else is. It’s easy for us all to hold-back on the love and support to those whom we perceive to be ‘better-off’ than us in whatever way that we see ‘better-off’ to be. I refer here to the observations that my friend made of me earlier, that I had “body dysmorphia”, I visually saw something that was completely different to reality which led to a whole host of destructive ‘thought distortions’, that were simply untrue. Just because we SEE that others are ‘doing fantastically well in life’ can in fact mean entirely the opposite and they can be suffering so much more than we realise. Sometimes it’s not always those who speak the loudest that need to be listened to the most, and sometimes it's not always the most obvious people who are suffering from the worst pain. So, I guess the lesson that I’ve learned here is to SEE things, people and circumstances differently and openly with no preconceived judgement.
The second valuable lesson that I have learned over the past couple of years is to show more love, compassion and respect towards myself. As I mentioned earlier, we are naturally more likely to think of ourselves in a negative context so it is a real effort to focus our attention in the opposite direction. Positive affirmations can play a significant part in this development and my studio is currently filled with many words of encouragement and positivity. Here are a few of my favourites:
“Growing is a sense of progress, doing something that makes me feel connected to other people fills a deep spiritual need that we all have in our life! Tony Robins
“The time that I take to plan and prepare for a happier and healthier life is more important than anything else that I do today!”
“I bring happiness and joy to the world through my art…and that’s priceless!”
I once visited a friend who was in the midst of chemotherapy, she was really sick, had lost all of her hair and was curled-up in her favourite chair. When she asked how I was feeling, I laughed. How insignificant my feelings felt at that moment when she was suffering so badly. Her kind words have stuck with me ever since, despite the decade or so that has passed. She told me that all feelings are relevant, because what might seem to be lame or meaningless to one person (in comparison to their idea of suffering) can be monumental to others. To her, my feelings of sadness or disappointment mattered just as much when she was in the midst of great suffering as they did when she was feeling fantastic, because all feelings are real and significant. So I will repeat...self-love is not selfish (it's essential).
Jordan Peterson (the 12 Rules for Life guy), had me thinking when he famously quoted that people generally care for their dogs/pets more than they care about themselves and so I have added the link below for you to look at for a couple of minutes:
Link for the above if it doesn't show here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0K4-kc6TzQ
With love and best wishes
Melissa from the MBSR course mentioned above: https://www.thekindfulnesseffect.com