We see what we choose to focus on
Ever heard the saying that good things happen in threes? How about bad things happen in threes? Both are examples of how we can choose (sometimes unconsciously) to seek out the answer we are looking for. How we choose to focus can inadvertently be a form of blinkering from the things that we do not wish to face into, this however can only go on for so long in my experience…
Being of half Iraqi descent and growing up during two Gulf wars, in childhood I was bullied consistently for my foreign looks and different sounding name. This shaping, in my experience, can have one of two effects, it can make you shrivel and shrink, or learn to grow and be strong.
In my case, it kind of did both, but I did not really realise this until I reached my thirties.
During my teens and into my twenties I developed quite an energetic and outgoing persona, for those of you that know me now, this might be something that you still recognise in me now. The secret though is that when I was younger, really this was just a mask I had developed to cover up my deeper feelings of insecurity.
You see, when I was younger, I did not like who I was. At the root of all of my self-sabotaging behaviour and questionable relationship choices was the fact that I really did not think that I deserved any better in life.
It took a failed relationship and some deep soul searching for me to really look inside and face in to the fact that I had made the mistake of jumping on my own hype train. Constantly puffing out my chest in a bid to mask my own insecurities, I actually thought I was the person I imagined myself to be.
From the outside I may have looked like a determined, stable and some would regard successful young man, but the veneer I portrayed to the world hid a turbulent interior. My ignorance and inability to accept that I could have struggles led to excessive drinking and abuse of recreational drugs which would numb me and prevent me looking inside.
At the time, I was unable to make the connection between my actions and my inner motivations, but what I did start to realise is that I did not feel like I was doing myself justice with my contribution to life.
At times I found myself laying in bed staring at the ceiling with a foreboding sense of dread and impending doom. How, I would ask, can I think that life is this bad? Look at all of the things I have, surely, I should be happy?
This sense of doom and dread would subside once I donned by social persona, but consistently it would manifest when I was in the safe space of my bed. At times, the feeling was so strong and overwhelming I would contemplate suicide. At first, I would deny these thoughts as they arose, chastising myself for being so weak, after a time though, they became an attractive solution to quell the dread I was feeling.
A Turning Point
I like to read and study philosophy, and have done so since my late teens. All of this knowledge was (and potentially still is) both a blessing and a curse. During my dark days I would often self-flagellate about how I was not meeting my own expectations in life when compared to the material I was reading. Either way, I love learning so continued to read. This led to the discovery of a meditation exercise by author Dan Millan focused on death and dying. Here is a summary of how it works:
- First imagine you are already dead. What is written on your tombstone?
- What values do you want to be remembered for?
- Now imagine you are not yet dead, but are lying on your death bed…
- Ask yourself this: have I honestly done everything in my power to live an authentic life and become the best version of me?
I performed this exercise for weeks, months… the answer I found was always the same. No.
At times I became afraid to ask the question because I did not want to know the answer, eventually though I accepted that things needed to change in my life and the only person that could make that change was me.
Developing this self-awareness allowed me to accept some uncomfortable truths about myself. Once I had accepted the truth, I could then accept my responsibility to take action. This triggered me to leave my current relationship and change my whole life situation. I abandoned the material world I had built and setup camp at a friend’s house (who had also recently divorced too).
The way I would describe my mind at this time was like a playdough machine… you remember the one where you could fit the different attachments and press the playdough out in to shapes? Well, I felt like I had fitted the spaghetti attachment and pushed my brain though it!
Picking up the pieces and sorting out the mess was more than I could handle, so I took the plunge and reached out to a councillor.
So started a new chapter in my journey where I had the support of a professional to help me learn more about myself and unpick my belief systems about the world.
A New Foundation
During the process I would spend time reflecting on my past experiences and understanding how they shaped the man I was today. I discovered that at my core I was still that frightened young boy that was putting a front on for the world. A young boy that would act out and be quite horrible towards others in a bid to misdirect from his own insecurities. I did not like this person, but I came to understand that I had to accept my past and how it has shaped me.
During one exercise, I actually imagined what the me of today would say to myself as that young boy… would I blame him and beat him down, or would I be kind, understanding and show him some compassion?
The answer in reality came very naturally. I would support that young person with compassion and understanding, accepting that they were doing the best they could given what they learnt and understood. So began a new journey of acceptance enabling the development of self-compassion and kindness.
I now accept my growth areas and I am practicing being honest with myself about my feelings and emotions. It all starts at home with kindness and compassion for yourself.
Developing awareness of, and learning to accept my vulnerabilities was key to me being able to reach out for help. I’ve found that this practice of self-honesty is really a skill because you get better at it over time with practice.
I have come to learn that the greatest strength we have is unlocked through our vulnerability. We have to be honest about our struggles before we can do anything about them. You see for me, without facing in to my challenges, I would never have created the opportunity to learn and grow.
We all have the ability to learn, adapt and grow, the first step is all about accepting our responsibility as the creator of our own reality. I am a human just like you, so if I can learn to do this, so can you too.
Enjoy, for now.