Learning to Love our Inner Enemies

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Loving our enemies needs to start inside ourselves. Each of us has a dark part, a side of ourselves we don’t like and may not want to acknowledge. This is our own internal enemy or shadow self. This aspect of ourselves is the part of us from which we react to people and situations most strongly. Imagine situations where you react out of strong fear or anger, or when a person just rubs you the wrong way for no apparent reason. This is the part of you that judges. It judges you and shows you all the things others have judged you for. It causes you to react in judgment to others. This internal enemy is where shame comes from.

We are very fearful of our internal enemy. We want to conceal from the world and even from ourselves, the parts of us that we don’t want to look at. They hurt too badly to tend to. These are our own inner open wounds, the crying child in our soul. But we feel unable to help because they hurt so badly. So, often we look the other way just as we would when we feel afraid of the gore at an accident scene or the need of a lonely beggar. We leave it, hoping it will go away. Doing this is causing more pain, of course.

Imagine an injured child coming to you, bleeding and crying. If you strike the child and tell it to go away, you cause further injury in numerous ways and the child cries louder. If you soothe the child and reassure it, tending to the injury, then it stops crying and the bleeding soon stops. When we ignore our own internal cries out of fear, it is as if we are striking a bleeding and crying child who has come to us for help. We create shame over having these feelings and needs and then we create new shame over the behavior we demonstrate when we don’t acknowledge our own needs.

We all have a shadow self that we ignore. And we have all seen and experienced the many expressions of this fear and shame, this disconnect from our inner selves. We see and experience it every day, directly and indirectly. It can come through overt means such as any form of judgment against self or others (self-harm, self-abasing speech, racism, classism, homophobia, religious exclusion, etc.). It can also be more hidden, such as when a person fears speaking what they feel or believe, saying what their needs are, or hiding their true self out of fear (subconscious or otherwise) that they will be “seen”. It can arise in co-dependency, dishonesty, or manipulation. We all judge and hide to some degree and more in some situations than in others. Extremes can cause physical and/or mental illness to differing degrees when the same cycles keep repeating unnoticed and unhealed.

Shame is not the same as guilt. Guilt is that uncomfortable flickering emotion that we experience as a sinking feeling in our stomachs and a clenching in our chests. It lets us know we have just done or said something that falls out of step, out of alignment, with our greater good. We have done or said something that created cognitive dissonance.

Sometimes when we feel guilty, the negative consequences are seen immediately and so the reason for the guilt is clear. Other times we may need to take a deep look at how we have come out of alignment with our greater good. Guilt serves as a red flag to tell us to do this looking. It is not helpful if we carry it as a punishment in order to continue feeling bad over and over. This will only keep us out of alignment, leading to shame and holding us back from doing the necessary work to break the cycle of negative consequences. We can’t think or see clearly when we are feeling upset. We think at our best and resolve issues in our highest form when we are in a clear and positive state of mind. So it is most helpful if we can thank our mind and body for offering the red flag to us in the form of guilt feelings, acknowledge the feelings, then let go of the guilt and move on to resolving the behavior that created it. Staying stuck in it is more likely to leave the problem unresolved and thus lead to the behavior (and the guilt) returning.

Shame runs very deep and can control our every move and thought–our programming. It does not leave until we understand and heal the pain from which it came. Changing a behavior won’t solve shame, though we often believe it will. This belief is what leads some to use shame and fear as a tool to correct behavior. The fear of punishment, fear of Hell, fear of the apocalypse, and fear of loss are used as pervasive tools to control behavior. Individually we may fear things such as exclusion, bombs, all the way down to spiders. The fear isn’t wrong and it doesn’t even mean that the things we afraid are not or were not real, but being stuck in the fear does not help us stay safe or satisfy our needs for happiness and growth.

Fear is at the bottom of shame and every other negative emotion. When we can see that we are fearful, sometimes that is enough for the fear to dissipate. Other times, we see a deeper wound that we need to heal. If you don’t see the fear, and then the wound, you can’t heal it. Seeing is the first step. Sometimes it won’t be any more difficult than acknowledging the fear and that you are willing to face it. Again, I see it very much like acknowledging an injured or frightened child. Sometimes just a hug and letting them know they have been heard is enough to calm them, other times it takes some time and some pressure on the wound, and there can be times that need professional help, but often, a hug is all it takes.

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” –Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

When you are stuck in the fear/shame cycle, the only thing you can see is to avoid the thing you are afraid of, usually at all costs. This is very limiting and defeats the purpose in the bigger picture. When you can be at peace, having dissipated the fear, you can see the bigger picture much more clearly. We can’t see where the pain-shame-behavior cycle started if we continue to add shame to the behavior. Again think of a child, but this time think of one who has hit his sister. Clearly, you don’t want the child to hit his sister. But you have choices. You can ridicule and criticize him in various ways, even humiliate him, thinking this will teach him not to hit. Or you can find out what caused him to hit in the first place and really listen to all of his feelings. He will better hear you if you hear him and he will trust what you say. Understanding is much more important and useful than fear and shame. We need to do this for our inner ‘enemy.’

When someone is honestly heard they can heal amazingly quickly. That healing causes the shame to go because shame comes from pain and it is self-perpetuating. If the negative behavior is what you want to get rid of, then treat the root cause, not just the symptom! The behavior comes from the pain, which creates the shame we all recognize so well at some level.

We need to heal ourselves by seeing, honoring and loving our own enemy deep inside, recognizing it as part of ourselves and becoming fully whole. Patience and practice are necessary, but if we implement these with ourselves first, we will become masters at loving others.

Blessings,

Angie

angie-webster-healing.thinkific.com

Let Go of Your Chains

Photo Credit: Geralt, Pixabay

Photo Credit: Geralt, Pixabay

Don’t wait for another person to give you permission to be free. You are already free. Let go of your chains. You already have freedom–always. Remember.

We have so many ways to keep ourselves locked in and constricted, mostly thinking we are staying safe or being “good.” We tend to lock the doors to our cages and then give the key away to others, believing they control our ability to know joy, peace and wholeness. We can keep remembering to look for our own key.

This all comes back to lack of forgiveness, lack of trust in ourselves. We carry a judgment, trauma, hardship or a shame with us for so long because we feel it protects us from experiencing the same thing again. But really, we experience it every day, because we still hold it in our hearts and minds. There is scientific evidence now that we even carry it in the cells of our bodies.

There is so much talk about forgiveness. Unfortunately, we rarely hear what it really is or how to go about it. Forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person. It does not let them off the hook for causing harm or release them to do it again. It does not make you soft and weak to another attack. It makes you strong and healthy. It opens your heart and makes your mind more available to clarity of thought.

Similarly, self-forgiveness doesn’t mean that we neglect the harm that our actions have caused or that we proceed to do it again. I repeat, forgiveness is not weakness or giving in.

When we wait for the person that harmed us to do something to atone before we allow ourselves to forgive, we create a situation where we suffer. We usually believe that we are making the other person suffer and we even feel justified for that. But justified or not, most of the time, the other person simply doesn’t feel our suffering. We are the ones that carry it, not them. Often they are never even aware of it.

“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die”–Buddha

But even if they were aware, holding on to suffering because of something another person did only allows them to create more harm for a longer time, long after they actually stopped doing anything. We are doing it to ourselves, through our minds every time we relive the experience and our brains send that rush of neurochemicals through our bodies telling us it’s happening all over again. Over time, our bodies can even feel worse than they did during the first event. It’s repeat trauma every time we relive it and tell ourselves we are justified. We keep telling ourselves that it’s the other person’s fault, when we hold the key to our own prison cell.

So what is forgiveness? It is laying down your chains. Setting yourself free from the internal prison that the situation has created in your heart, mind and body so that you no longer have to carry it around with you every day. It is allowing yourself to release the event to the past, recognizing that it can live there, rather than in the cells of your body and in the neural pathways of your mind.

We can decide to free ourselves when we recognize that what we carry today is only ours, based in what we decide to do from this moment forward. It is not decided by past events or by other people, unless we allow that. The decision is ours and we have the freedom to make it.

It is a very liberating thing to realize you are not a slave to the past or to the memories, events and people of the past. It opens you to your fullest potential. It also invokes great responsibility for your own life. You can no longer blame the past or those who hurt you for your decisions. Your life is your own. You are no longer a slave to your wounds. You can heal.

You can begin to release those old traumas that you have stored through lack of forgiveness by simply acknowledging that you are ready to do that. It sounds incredibly simple and in some ways it is, but it’s the internal shift that is important. That is the turning point and it is the part that can be most difficult to wrap your mind and heart around.

Don't wait for freedom2Whenever an old wound comes up and you feel the constriction in your chest or throat or belly–wherever you feel it in your body–notice that you are holding that pain in your cells. That is body memory. Use that moment to recognize that you have options. You could become lost in the old stories about how painful it was, how wrong it was, how it was unfair, etc., but that will reinforce the old patterns. You will feel worse in body, mind and spirit. Ask yourself if this will heal anything in your life.

Instead, you could shift your perspective and accept your own power in this moment. Ask yourself what you can do with the idea that you may not have to keep feeling this way. Say to yourself, “I choose to release this experience from the cells of my body and from the pathways of my mind. I accept the lessons and leave the rest behind. I am free.” Notice how that feels different in your body. You may feel lighter, more open.

See how that has nothing to do with the other person? Nothing is required of them. They have nothing to do with your healing at all. You are really free of them and of the past. You are also free of any past versions of yourself you may need to let go of.

Open the prison door. Let go of the chains. Pick up the key to your own heart. You have the power to free yourself, if you dare. Just remember.

Ginger Lemonade

lemons-338138_640Ginger Lemonade

A favorite way to quench thirst in the summer that serves double duty as an anti-inflammatory for over-used sore muscles is ginger lemonade. I like to keep some made up and in the fridge most of the year because we love it so much, but it’s so popular here in the summer, I have switched to a gallon jug in order to keep up with demand!

The lemon juice is a great detoxifier, which cleanses your liver and kidneys and is full of vitamin C. It also has a nice alkalinizing effect on the body, despite it being a citrus fruit and being acidic. It is very good for your digestion and will help to flush toxins in this way as well, stimulating the natural flow of normal digestive juices and enzymes which our bodies can often get sluggish in producing, leading to poor digestion.

Ginger root is an amazing natural anti-inflammatory, which works better than ibuprofen and other over the counter non steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (and better than many prescription ones as well, in my opinion!)  The bonus is it is safe and without side effects. It also has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and is an excellent way to boost your immune system and ward off any potential or current infections. I try to include ginger in my diet every single day. (Garlic too, for similar reasons, but that’s another post!)

Ginger soothes the stomach (including morning sickness) and digestive tract and is fantastic to take/drink when you have an upset stomach or other tummy issue. It will significantly shorten the duration of a stomach virus and lessen the symptoms. (Though if you take it daily, you may rarely or never get one at all!) It helps reduce and relieve the severity and duration of migraines, menstrual cramps, arthritis, gout and fibromyalgia pain (any pain really). It can help reduce sinus pressure, allowing them to drain. Whew!! Lots of benefits from ginger! And the truth is, I am restraining myself to keep the post short and get to the recipe! I could really go on! It’s good stuff!

To make 1 gallon of Ginger Lemonade:

4-6 inches fresh ginger root (found in most produce sections), grated or run through a food processor

5-6 lemons, juiced (NOT processed, bottled lemon juice–real lemons!)

1/2 teaspoon stevia, 1/2 cup raw honey, or other sweetener (to taste)

water

1.Using a funnel, pour the juice from the lemons into the jug or container you are using for the ginger lemonade. This may be the point you wish to add the amount of sweetener you are starting with. Start on the low side! You can always add more after all the other ingredients are added in. 2.Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil while you grate your ginger root. I use my tea pot for this as it is exactly the right size and it doesn’t take very long. 3. Put the grated ginger in a mesh wire strainer set atop a small bowl so that the ginger is cradled in the bowl. 4. Pour the boiling water into the bowl, over the mesh wire strainer with the ginger in it and allow it to steep for about 20 minutes. The idea is to make a hot ginger water that is a bit strong. 5. After about 20 minutes, pour the ginger water into the gallon jug (use the funnel). Let it cool before doing this, if you need to. Discard the grated ginger. 6. Cap and shake the jug, or mix with a spoon, if using an open container. Then fill to the top with cool water, shake again, taste and if sweet enough for you, refrigerate.

Enjoy whenever you would like a refreshment or anytime you need a boost of some of those lovely benefits from ginger or lemon. I suggest at least one glass a day. If you want to increase the health benefits, especially as an anti-inflammatory agent, try adding a teaspoon of raw, organic apple cider vinegar to your glass of ginger lemonade! I recommend Bragg’s, for taste and the benefits I see, but there are others as well.

Water Blessing

i-heart-waterWater Blessing

Today and every day may water be blessed.

May we send our deepest gratitude to all water, everywhere.

The largest, saltiest ocean and the smallest, purest drop of dew,

The vast lakes and rivers and the tiny winding creeks,

The water that flows from our taps and wells,

The water that constructs our cells.

We remember the water that flows through the roots and leaves of all the plants and trees of the world.

We remember that these plants provide us, and every animal, with nourishment.

We never forget that they could not do this without water, clean and pure.

We bless the water which flows through the soil, at some level, through every land on Earth.

We send love to the water to which every being, and every other element, including fire, is drawn.

All things seek out water, for we all know that this is the essence from which life springs.

When life was being created, water was there. We needed it first.

May we never forget that pure, clean water is primarily what we are.

When we send love to water, we send love to our own cells.

We heal ourselves. We rebuild. We remember what our bodies are built from.

We send love and gratitude to that which is the Source of all this wonder.

May all water be clean, pure and healed from this day forward.

May all beings accept the purity and necessity of the world’s water from this day forward.

May we all understand our unbreakable, holy connection to water.

Gratitude Opens Doors

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Cultivating gratitude helps to create a new way of experiencing the world. It actually rewires your brain to form new pathways inclined toward happiness and peace. This happens even if your life circumstances are far less than ideal.

In fact, it may be most beneficial to start a gratitude practice when you think things couldn’t possibly be any worse. It’s in those times we most need to find something to be grateful for. Even finding a willingness to be grateful will incline your thoughts in that direction.

Soon after you start a gratitude practice, you will notice a softening of your heart. You will notice things that other things begin to grow inside yourself in addition to gratitude. Compassion, curiosity, generosity and joy all increase as you continue the practice.

You will notice you feel happier, even though your situation in life may not have changed. Then you may start to notice that your circumstance do start to change—because you are happier!

Coming from a place of gratitude and happiness opens you to new possibilities that you never saw before. Along with this comes a sense of freedom in your soul that says you can take that next step.

When I began my own gratitude practice several years ago, my life was a mess. I had been ill for a long time and for a large period of that time I had been bed-ridden. I was separated from my husband and had no doubt we were headed for divorce. I lived miles away from my own family. I couldn’t work and I was so poor I often had little to eat. I was miserable, alone and struggling. I often felt unwanted, abandoned and depressed.

During that time, I heard how keeping a gratitude journal had changed the lives of many people. I didn’t think it would work for me. I didn’t even think I could do it. What did I have to be grateful for anyway?

I started very small. I added things for which I had never before thought to be grateful. I had a bed and blankets. I had a bath tub and hot water, which brought me great comfort with evening soaks. While I had very little to eat, I always had something, however small.  I had known having to beg for money in parking lots in order to have something to eat. I had a place to live, and it was safe and it was dry. I knew what it was to have no place to go and not to be safe.

When I started, I doubted I would have enough to write about for more than a few days. But as time went on, I saw more and more to be grateful for. I was tuned in to gratitude as I went through each day. My depression didn’t just lift, it broke the way the sun can suddenly break through the dark clouds during a fierce storm.

My various illnesses began to resolve themselves within a year. It was slow at first, but the relief of each symptom, the decrease of every pain brought more to be grateful for. Within another year, I found myself grateful for things I never imagined I could be grateful for.

I was grateful that I had known great pain, illness and difficulty. I began to see that these experiences had caused me to stretch, reach and grow in ways I would not have done otherwise.

I saw that each circumstance of my life had brought me to exactly what I needed in order to expand my soul. Every single thing I had ever been through gave me an opportunity. Precisely the opportunity I needed at that point in my growth.

This realization brought me back to the awe and wonder I had as a small child. I had a new appreciation for the amazing place this world is. For the beautiful way things come together, fall apart and come together again time after time. I became OK with not having all the answers, yet remained in a state of open curiosity.

Gratitude practice is not a method for making the world conform to your will. It is a means of seeing what is already available, in any circumstance and within you. It is slowly learning to not only appreciate the rain, but each individual rain drop. It is saying “thank you, you’re beautiful, I love you” as each drop falls.

Self Portrait

lone treeSeveral years ago I launched on a journey of intense self-discovery. In order to learn what I needed to heal in my life, I had to start with who I knew myself to be at that point in time. I wrote this poem as a jumping off point. I have grown tremendously since I wrote it in 2008, but many of the things I saw in myself then still ring true with me now.

I am a wise old child,

A flower in an undiscovered meadow,

Alone, yet breathing, living,

Growing wild.

I am an empty vessel

Of wasted, stolen time,

A vessel trying to fill itself

With time that can be mine.

I am a soul with holes

The wind screams fretfully through

A soul seeking a path

To fill itself with Truth.

I am marked, scarred

For the world to see.

It is my shame, it is my badge,

It is a part of me.

I am a story, I don’t know how old,

Of needing, aching, love and loss,

Searching, finding, tearing away,

A story not done being told.

I am a giver, a mother at heart,

Incomplete without another soul

To guide and comfort

As they fill themselves and light their dark.

I am fragile, yet stubborn and brave.

Force me through the depths of Hell—

I assure you my heart will beat stronger,

My soul will be richer.

I am not afraid of pain.

I won’t live in a shell.

I reject cynicism, resentment.

I find some vulnerability serves me very well.

I’m searching for all

That I can be and know;

There are many ways I will find

For myself to grow.

My road is endless,

My sky unbound.

The weights may be back-breaking,

But they will never keep me down.

Paths are but choices,

Not all have been mine,

But those times are passing,

It’s time for me to shine.

–Angie Webster

How I Learned Forgiveness and Release Through Meditation

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I have always known that forgiveness is important. Forgiving and being able to allow something to be in the past is important for being able to be in the present. Not being able to forgive can destroy relationships.

Carrying the burden of anger and hate makes us toxic to be around and depletes our energy. Most importantly, it destroys our relationship with ourselves. We lose our inner peace.

Knowing you need to learn forgiveness is a lot easier that actually doing it. The person we tend to be the most unforgiving towards is ourselves. We all have a mean spirited inner voice that criticizes us for not being even more perfect than we expect others to be. It relentlessly terrorizes our thoughts.

So maybe forgiveness starts within ourselves. When we can let ourselves be human and flawed, we are more ready to offer that same compassion to others.

When I began meditating, I realized that I maliciously attacked myself every time I attempted it. I beat myself up because thoughts and emotions kept coming up. I told myself I wasn’t a good meditator and I believed I would never get it “right”.

I have since learned that I am completely normal. There is no “right” and my mind will never completely stop having new thoughts arise.

Now I use the practice of meditation to acknowledge my grasping at perfection and my human inability to achieve it. This is what meditation is. It is forgiving oneself over and over each time a new thought arises. In doing this, the thought releases and floats gently away.

Of course, new thoughts do arise. And then I get to practice being forgiving and loving with myself again. I have learned to release a thought without the condition that it not return.

When I decide to cling to the outcome by having conditions, I almost guarantee the thought will return. Instead, I lovingly understand that my mind is doing what minds do. It is not the enemy. I am not trying to defeat it, only to work with it.

Of course there are those particularly important thoughts. The “what ifs” that some part of me feels must be solved, the item on my to-do list I have neglected three days in a row or that amazing new revelation that I am afraid to let go of lest I lose it completely.

The truth is sometimes I give in to them. Especially to the amazing revelations! But most of the time it is more constructive to allow that the thought may have merit and promise to give it more attention at another time. And I stick to that, sometimes making mental appointments with myself to focus on that issue for a few minutes at a later time.

By doing this, I have learned to be patient with myself, allowing myself to have what I need and to be what I am. I am practicing forgiveness, releasing myself from the domineering voice of shame.

In recognizing my own humanness and imperfection, I have been able to be more easily in the flow of understanding the imperfection of others. Not only that, I am learning to appreciate it.

But it is a practice and as such, I must keep doing it. Sometimes we don’t practice to “make perfect” but for the sake of the practice itself. Someone dear to me once told me that life is about “progression, not perfection”. With forgiveness and meditation, this is certainly true.

As I experience human frailty in myself, I am able to understand that we are all doing the best we can with what we know at that given moment. Forgiving allows for more progress rather than demanding perfection. Meditation has taught me the importance of continuing to forgive as a constant practice, with the recognition that we are all learning our own lessons, at our own pace.