A theme has been constellating lately in my professional and personal worlds, and when I see a theme I’m compelled to write about it here as it’s my indicator that we’re tapping down into the realm of the collective unconscious: the invisible realm where we’re all connected, all struggling with different variations of the same hooks, all holding hands beneath the surface as we glide along our stories aboard spaceship Earth.
The theme is the invitation to accept ourselves exactly as we are. It’s the foundation of Rogerian therapy, the Humanistic psychology model created by Carl Rogers based on the mindset that change occurs first by being deeply accepted by another and by cradling ourselves in the breath of accepting ourselves exactly as we are in this moment.
What I see quite often in my work is a community of highly sensitive people who love and accept others deeply and devotedly. You love your friends, your animals, your children, the planet itself. You love your partner, and when the fear-walls and inherited barnacles eclipse the heart, you commit yourself to the warrior path of learning about fear so that you can soften these walls and move closer to the verb of loving. This, too, is love. You recognize that love is not only a feeling but is also an action, a commitment and an act of will.
But there is one person to whom these principles of love and acceptance do not always extend: YOU.
Part of this is your wiring: you’re wired not only toward high sensitivity but also toward perfectionism. You see what needs “fixing” and you set about to fix it. This comes in handy in some areas of life and leads many highly sensitives toward important contributions. But when this mindset is turned on yourself in a fundamental way, it’s counteractive to your desire to grow through your challenges.
I’ve worked with this mindset for decades (it’s the basis of my Trust Yourself course), and brought particular attention to it last week in yoga when I set my intention at the beginning of class to bring mindful curiosity to every pose, imagining that I was filling the shapes with the light of my breath. I’ve also been working more deeply with my meditation practice lately as I’ve been re-reading Jeffrey Brantley’s fantastic book, Calming the Anxious Mind: How mindfulness and compassion can free you from anxiety, fear, and panic. His premise is that when we develop a daily mindfulness meditation practice we can then bring the skill of curious and compassionate witness into the moments when anxiety, self-doubt and panic hit full force. As he writes:
“This means relating to the fearful experiences in a way that allows you to be with it instead of fighting with it or reacting blindly to it. The wise response, the mindful response, is to turn toward the experience with calm and focused attention.”
When I turned toward the yoga poses with curiosity, I noticed a new spaciousness opening inside of me. Instead of approaching the tight spots with an intention of breathing into them so that I could release them – thus approaching them with an agenda to change – I breathed into my familiar tight spots (one of them is deep underneath my left shoulder blade) simply with the intention to notice. Each breath was a witness, watching the tightness, surrounding it with acceptance. And then, paradoxically, my tight spot began to open. All of the twisting and stretching I have been doing for years was less effective than the simple act of noticing with no intention of changing.
When we can apply this same mindset to our inner worlds, subtle yet life-changing openings begins to occur as we free ourselves from the tyranny of our inner bullies. As such, I’ve created a pledge for the highly sensitive, one that recognized that the mindset of self-compassion is the groundswell from which we rise into growth, for as I’ve shared many times on this site, we all need to be loved, even and especially the split-off parts of ourselves that grew out of a need to protect the tender heart.
As a highly sensitive and empathic person, I set the following intentions:
To bring compassion to myself for being human, especially one for whom the intensity of feelings and proximity to fear’s ways is fully alive.
To bring compassion to my passionate heart, which breaks open for the pain of the world and for my own river of grief which runs steadily beneath all things.
To bring compassion to the parts of me that have worked so hard to keep me safe: the critic, the fixer, the perfectionist. The parts that adopted the story early on that the lack of unconditional acceptance I experienced was because there was something wrong with me, and if I could just fix that brokenness I would be loved and find belonging.
To bring unconditional acceptance to these inner protectors until they begin to soften and the pain that lives inside of them is revealed, remembering that when a defense is named the hard armor softens and we glimpse at the soft feelings at the core.
To bring acceptance to myself when I have trouble accepting these parts. The widening ripples of compassion extend and extend, including even our difficulty in bringing compassion until we arrive at the yes within the no.
To remember that underneath it all, I am whole, I am worthy, I am loved, and I am light.
If you’re not familiar with India Arie’s song “I am Light” I encourage you to listen to it as it expresses the essence of this post in musical form.