So, how do you actually go about becoming the person you want to be?
I believe that there are two aspects that we, as humans, work on in attempts to better ourselves: personal development and spiritual development.
Personal development (for me) means anything tangible and externally focused that you can do to grow as a person. Things like: finding your career path, spending time on your relationships, eating better, exercising, meditating, planning and optimizing your time/schedule, volunteering, traveling, and so on.
Spiritual development, on the other hand, I’ve found is mostly a process of unlearning, releasing, letting go, and surrendering. A process of deep acceptance and internal healing.
I hate to say it, but if you want to grow, you have to deal with all that junk you’ve been avoiding and repressing. Like your “dark” side: your anger, your grief, your jealousy, your fear, your lust, and any other feelings that you have shamed yourself (or been shamed) for.
This concept can be summed up by the Jungian term “The Shadow” aka everything about ourselves that we view as negative or that we have not consciously accepted. I can’t even put into words how powerful it was to understand and accept my shadow.
It was incredibly uncomfortable to admit that these parts of myself existed (and it has definitely been an ongoing journey), but it’s saved me so much stress and drama because I’m acknowledging and channeling them in healthy ways, instead of having them manifest in all kinds of crazy situations anymore.
If you are constantly numbing or stuffing down fear or anger or lust or pain it’s going to come out eventually (and probably in a way that will make you cringe later). But once you find a way to love (or at least stop judging) the part of yourself that feels these “negative” emotions you’ll be a much more whole and aligned person.
These feelings aren’t wrong or bad or shameful, they are a natural part of the human experience. I think it’s incredibly damaging to believe that life is ‘supposed to’ be all sunshine and rainbows and ease all the time. Because life is made up of both challenge and rest, light and dark, contraction and expansion. Life is about embracing your ability to experience it all.
It’s also time to take ownership of your past and take back the power you’ve given away to others. We all have deep core wounds, painful memories, embarrassing stories, and negative beliefs about ourselves that have become ingrained. We’ve all hurt others (intentionally or not) and been hurt, said things we don’t mean, made mistakes, and failed.
It’s time to go about the messy and emotional process of acknowledgement and forgiveness. The process of healing, excavating, purging, and bringing to light. The painful process of telling the truth, even if it’s just to yourself.
This step made me so frustrated *insert anguished laughter here* because once I took responsibility for my actions and my reactions, there was no one left for me to blame. This isn’t about letting people off the hook or not holding them accountable for their actions, but about realizing that if I continued to carry around all this baggage the person who was going to suffer the most was me.
I finally reached a point a few years ago where I decided it was time to come to terms with a lot of painful things. Being bullied at a young age. Horrible comments about my weight and my appearance. Unhealthy relationships, both romantic and otherwise. The times in my life I’d hurt others both in large and small, intentional and unintentional, ways. My depression and anxiety in college and the years afterwards. All the things in life I’ve quit or given up on or chickened out on.
Many of the things others said to me, and negative things I had said about myself, had crystallized into beliefs that I carried around for years, even decades. I believed that I was ugly and undesirable, that I was an uncaring bitch, that I’d never change, that everyone hated me, that I couldn’t finish anything, and so on.
One of my favorite quotes I’ve ever read is ‘forgiveness is giving up hope for a better past.’ All I can control is what I do right now and how I want to grow in the future. Just the word ‘forgiveness’ would have made me instantly want to put up walls and cross my arms and pout, but now it feels like dropping a heavy weight and a renewed sense of lightness and optimism.
So I did my best to take the metaphorical bull by the horns. I wrote pages and pages in journals, talked to friends and family about my experiences, joined multiple group coaching circles, and created numerous healing rituals for myself (the exploration of which lead to my current woo woo filled life).
I took ownership of the damage that had been done to me and the damage that I had done to others. I re-wrote old internal stories and have attempted to leave behind everything that doesn’t serve me and the person I want to be moving forward.
So, what is coming up for you to be healed? What can’t you shove down or cover up anymore? What is ready to be reckoned with?
Like a hungry cat in the middle of the night, it’s going to keep meowing and waking you up until you feed it. It will keep coming up over and over again until you come to terms with it. Like Pema Chödrön said, ‘Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.’
Healing doesn’t happen in an afternoon and it’s not easy or pretty, but it’s so damn worth it. You deserve to travel through life happier, freer, and not constantly weighted down by the past. Today is the beginning of whatever you want it to be and it’s never too late.