Saturday morning. 4:30am. Medellin’s main bus terminal.
I’m trying to catch a semblance of rest after a sleepless night on an overnight bus, when a police officer taps my leg. I swipe off my sleep mask, guarded, and meet eyes with the uniformed young man no older than 22.
“You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved.”
In the past few weeks, I have been obsessed with solving problems – my problems, my own personal problems. How can I be more creative? Where is my self-will? What is my self-worth? How can I increase it?
And my answers have been prescriptive: Write more. Hiding underneath insecurities. Minimal. Stop making poor decisions that are below you.
And within these answers I found an inherent theme, a divisive statement: “You are not enough.” Because you cannot create solutions without first identifying problems. And you cannot identify your own problems without seeing yourself as exactly that: A problem to be solved.
We are a beautiful composite of problems and solutions. We are proactive and reactive behavior, at their best, and their worst. We are self-will and we know no boundaries. We are lovers and we are friends. We are sisters and brothers. We are healers and it is we who must be healed.
There is power in duality. It tunes us into how exactly far we’ve come and helps us understand how much farther we have to go. It is this self-awareness and acceptance that challenges us to explore ourselves more deeply, because we know that our true potential is present. This awareness keeps us from moving backwards. Keep us from falling behind. From slipping below our own standards.
I don’t know how to solve my imperfections. I am, I have, many. And vulnerability is not an easy thing. But, I do choose to see my problems as a mark of my progress rather than a metric for my shortcomings. Perspective moves you forward even when nothing has changed.
So stop shaming. Stop fearing yourself. You are awesome and mistakes are natural. Just because you make mistakes, it does not mean you are one. Mistakes mean you’re trying. If nothing else, mistakes mean you’re trying.
Stop identifying with problems. Stop concocting solutions. Stop trying to solve yourself.
“You are not a mistake. And you are not a problem to be solved.”
In reaction to my post from yesterday, a dear friend asked me how I came to the decision to return to the States in March. Not Why. But How.
Well, for the last two months I’ve been glued to Tara Brach’s True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart. This is one of the first books I’ve read that addresses a concept I’ve become all too familiar with in Izmir: false refuges.
False refuges are behaviors, many times addictive, that we instinctively use to cope with conflict, trauma, loss, etc. In the wake of adversary, rather than creating practical, tangible strategies which cultivate loving presence and awareness, false refugees serve as temporary outlets for satisfaction and relief. My false refugees are a myriad of over-eating, obsessive thinking, sexual escapades, physical activity, materialism, anger, etc. While these conditioned behaviors and activities alleviate my discomfort in the short-term, they intensify my suffering in the long-term, leaving me feeling more isolated and troubled than before.
I have sought false refuge in everything ranging from minor issues – stress at work, a disagreement with a loved one, body image issues; to major sources of sorrow – health concerns, death, threatening financial matters. This beautiful book has illuminated what I actually need to manage hardship, heal, and cultivate genuine happiness. Rather than being found externally, it’s all inside of me. All that we need is everything we are.
One of the mindfulness tools – the how- I’ve found particularly useful when dealing with difficulties, is a four-step process developed by Buddhist teachers and adapted by Brach. Represented by the acronym RAIN, I’ve used this system in everything from complications with my Turkish visa, to car accidents, to concerns of serious illness. It’s described below:
R – Recognize what is happening.
A – Allow life to be just as it is.
I – Investigate inner experience with kindness.
N – Non-identification.
R – Recognizing what’s happening appears far more of a simple task than it actually is. Honest recognition is seeing what is true in your inner life. If you have a disagreement with a friend, rather than recognizing the anger or frustration that results, become aware of the individual sensations that compose these overarching emotional themes.
Emotions and behaviors are subjective; that is, my definition of anger and frustration may be different than yours. When you experience anger, what is happening inside of you? What is your “felt sense” of the situation? Anger for me signifies erratic thoughts. It creates tension in my chest, causes my feet to sweat, and my shoulders to rise. It’s important to notice these individual sensations and thoughts rather than blanketing them with one word that seeks to simplify our dynamic experience as “anger.”
A – Allowing life to be is accepting the individual sensations and thoughts we experience rather than pushing them away. Notice what’s true within you and rather than becoming preoccupied with judgement or the need to control, accept what is. We cannot escape our troubles, but we can free ourselves from them.
If you’re a young professional like me, then you likely make “rookie mistakes” at work all the time. When I’m overwhelmingly embarrassed because I didn’t know a particular EU agreement, or shamed because I hardly understood an important policy paper, I find it incredibly helpful to visualize clouds floating away in order to let go of feelings of incompetency and self-doubt.
There was also a time when being in a state of love made me feel intensely nervous, vulnerable, and out-of-control. I gave little attention to my positive experiences and allowed vulnerability and fears of inadequacy to lead me away from a major source of happiness. Now, reciting “I surrender” has been particularly successful in giving in to these emotions rather than pulling myself away in unease.
I – Once you’ve recognized and accepted what you’re experiencing, call on Intimate Attention to Investigate your Inner Experience. When done in kindness, a natural curiosity about our inner life will illuminate where our experiences are most pronounced. What about your experience most wants your attention? Your acceptance? Your doubt?
This past week I was exhausted after returning to Izmir from two weeks of holiday. While I blanketed my exhaustion as “jet-lag,” I knew there were much deeper issues underlying my behaviors. I recognized that I had been irritable, short-tempered, and unmotivated, which was combined with the aroused physical sensations of headaches and persistent lower back pain. While it took several days for me to accept what I was experiencing and kindly begin investigating it, I eventually unlocked the reasoning for my state of being.
I asked myself, What do you believe? and it became evident that my irritability and short-temper were in response to the hollowness that resulted from being in Izmir. I believed that I was unable to advance spiritually, that I would become disconnected from the things I love, that I would lose my yoga practice, and that I would fail as a daughter and a friend. Upon investigation, I also discovered that the persistent lower back pain was what I interpreted to be my first chakra, the Root Chakra, calling out. The Root Chakra, located at the base of our spine, represents our feelings of being grounded, our foundation. My recent uproot from the U.S. and the people I love had deeply aggravated this chakra
Through intimate, kind meditation, the answers to my next set of questions: What do you want from me? What do you need from me? became clear. The answers not only formed the basis for my decision to return to D.C., but also provided incredible insight into how I can use the rest of my time in Turkey to benefit myself and those around me.
N – Non-identification has allowed me to find comfort in the natural awareness that results from the emotions and sensations, decisions and answers discovered throughout this process. I feel liberated in new spaces of honesty and mindfulness and grateful to myself for being receptive to a profound cycle of mindful awareness.
The following excerpt from the Indian Mystic Sahara, delightfully describes the how – All that we need is everything we are.
Here in this body are the sacred rivers: Here are the sun and moon, as well as the pilgrimage places. I have not encountered another temple as blissful as my own body.
If you read my post from last week, /10/12/six-weeks-24-nations-one-life-long-decision/ then perhaps you recall that today marks the eve of my third week of sobriety. Despite an incredibly busy, overwhelming, and humbling week full of meetings with US Ambassadors and conference sessions with NATO’s incredible Political Advisors, I’ve prioritized self-reflection and have been reading heaps on soul mates, compromise, and how to find peace in times of turbulence, regret, and confusion.
Below are my “Lucky Thirteen:” thirteen points inspired by my readings on everything ranging from the difference in compulsion and spontaneity, to isolation and infinite opportunity. Why 13? It’s Dad’s date of birth and therefore has always brought me comfort.
Do any of these apply to you? If so, which ones resonate with you the most?
1. Detachment does not imply carelessness.
When we separate ourselves from the situation at hand it can be inferred that we “don’t care.” But many times, it’s exactly the opposite. By taking a step back, we’re able to maintain perspective and clarity of what’s in front of us- like when you look at a bee through a magnifying glass. Sure, you can see the contours and ripples of his wings, but you become unaware of the intimate relationship between the wings, the abdomen, the thorax. Sometimes being too close can distort your view.
2. Don’t get caught in the fallacy of false dilemma. I tend to act under the notion “if not this, then that.” But neither this, nor that, are the only options. The fallacy is that our options are limited when, in fact, our options are infinite. Be confident and comfortable in rejecting “false alternatives,” and allow yourself to see the bigger picture.
3. Crisis is an opportunity to awaken an unrealized dream. Rather than asking why something didn’t work, ask yourself what your new possibilities are. What new possibilities have presented themselves that would have been previously unavailable, inaccessible, to you?
4. Our power to make a difference in our world must evolve from developing our own character. For so long I fell into the trap that if I “externalized good,” I would, in turn, become better myself. But it is exactly the opposite. Our capacity to “do good” must stem from being true to ourselves and developing our potential from within, not just “within our context.”
5. To know we do not know is the first step to living authentically. This has been my mantra at NATO: From not being familiar with military structure, to the organizational structure of NATO, to Ukraine and Russia relations, and everything in between, I have never felt more, well, ignorant than I have lately.
Normally my main line of defense is to pretend like I know, when in fact, I have no idea. While this behavior may satisfy my initial discomfort, it does nothing but do me a dissatisfaction. By being dishonest with myself and others, I limit my opportunities for new knowledge and personal growth, and others’ opportunities to share their knowledge with the world.
Honesty removes the strain of defensive ego and prevents inner conflict. Be vulnerable. Open yourself up to opportunities to grow.
6. To acknowledge our weakness is to become stronger. This works directly with the point above: we cannot become better if we do not admit where we’re limited.
7. There is a great distinction between compulsion and spontaneity. This, for me, this has been one of my greatest processing points. I have always affiliated myself with spontaneity; of being lost in the moment, of living life momentarily with no fear of retribution or care for consequence.
But in these beautiful moments of “carelessness,” I have often times sacrificed self because acting instantaneously was the easier option. I never understood that there was a difference between being spontaneous and being compulsive. It has taken a lot of effort for me to understand this distinction and to honor myself in instances where I could easily abandon self and act compulsively.
8. Other’s judgement does not bother us when we know who we are. Amen. When people are judgmental, see it as an opportunity to help them better understand themselves by virtue of you. Perhaps their judgement stems from jealously or misunderstanding. How can we interpret judgement not as an attack on ourselves, but as an opportunity to redefine relationships?
9. To be pessimistic is to be morally paralyzed. There is light in every situation.
10. Our infinite potential exists in our current state of life –> We are infinite opportunity.
Our potential does not begin when we have the “right resources.” As an aspiring full-time yogi, I have struggled with how to continue my practice when classes, instructors and a yoga community are currently unavailable to me.
In my first few weeks in Izmir, I blamed my situation for not allowing me the opportunity to continue developing my potential: my flat is too small to practice handstands, how can I grow if I don’t have someone to readjust me? But now I see these limitations not as such, but as opportunities for newfound growth. Perhaps I may not master a handstand, but I can utilize this time to practice a variety of floor poses and stretches that I don’t tend to focus on when I have the access to space and a studio.
Every interaction, every instance is an opportunity for newly awakened potential; become aware of your situation and move forward in a way that will serve you.
11. Life, above all, does not occur in isolation: We are interdependent energy, intangible patterns. Living in a country where I cannot communicate fluidly has wedged a natural disconnect between myself and the community I live in. Despite not being able to fully express myself verbally, I have used this shortcoming as an opportunity to recognize the interconnectedness of humanity.
Regardless of nationality or language, we are all humans interdependent on one another to live a satisfying life of service. We feel: we cry, we laugh, we fall, we are happy and angry. We are reliant on one another even when we think we’re independent; none of our experience as humans exists in isolation.
This interconnectedness must also be recognized between us and Mother Earth. We must live cooperatively, peacefully within our host: recognize the subtle vibrations in the ground, the hymn in the air, the composition of a pomegranate, in order to appreciate the inextricable energy and interconnectedness around, between, and within us.
12. Life, therefore, is a composition of complementary action:
Spring –> Winter
Day –> Night
Pitch –> Tone
Stasis –> Fluidity
Passive –> Active
Mountains –> Valleys
Yin –> Yang
13. To conquer impatience is to work within the cycles of life. I am chronically impatient. I believe I have the capacity to change the world instantaneously. But now, I see my capability to impact my life and the world in the way that a farmer tends to his crops: We must respect seasonality, we must honor conditions for growth. What can we cultivate? What processes do we need to respect? What is worth waiting for?