I first heard this quote from Dr. Vasant Lad in his beautiful book of poetry, “Strands of Eternity.” It is within his poem about meditation that he talks of the space between our thoughts which is where we find peace. It has taken a lot of time and study to grasp this but now I often return to this quote when I find myself wrapped up in anxiety, worry, frustration, and stress about anything, big and small. Like many of us I have a strong tendency to over-analyze and over-think random thoughts to death especially in the heat of any emotion….until I remember I can refocus my attention at any time.
When I first realized that my beliefs and habits possibly contributed to the suffering I experienced I was in my late twenties, divorced twice, living alone in a small 555 square foot apartment barely eating and hiding myself from the world. Filled with shame and embarrassed about the life I was living, I isolated myself from family and friends drowning in self-pity.
Upon serious reflection of my situation, it occurred to me that every decision I made up until that point was exactly how I ended up there. While I didn’t know how to actually “fix” things I decided it wouldn’t hurt to just start doing the opposite of everything I had been doing my whole life and see where that would lead me.
I decided I would start taking better care of myself when it was always so much easier to focus on what other people wanted and needed from me. Rather than trying to manipulate certain situations to look and feel the way I thought they “should be” I decided to step back to let things happen more naturally and let things be as they were.
I began to set boundaries, creating space where I felt safe, not letting just anyone in and not keeping myself completely isolated either. Within that space, I began to try new things no matter how vulnerable it made me feel. I learned very quickly the people, places, and activities that did and did not seem to support my new intention of nurturing myself and it became easier and easier to see the signs and shift my actions and choices accordingly.
I learned that my thoughts and feelings were separate from myself, separate from who I am at the core. I started to understand that I am at the center a neutral human, an individual, doing the best that I can with what I have and what I know and the thoughts and feelings I experience can actually exist without me judging them and more importantly without me attaching to them.
The most significant shift of all was learning how to focus my attention. Through practicing and studying yoga and surrounding myself with individuals who were stronger, wiser, and more compassionate than I was I began to objectively observe my own patterns. It still requires consistent practice to work on changing those thoughts when I recognize they no longer serve me but this ability to shift my perspective has been the most valuable skill by far.
I started to notice that when I found myself frustrated about another person’s behavior or treatment of me, it was so much easier to blame the other person and excessively focus on their faults. When I looked deeper, I discovered that I was allowing myself to be mistreated because I had not yet established my own value or self-worth. It was up to me to be honest, to stand up for myself and speak up or walk away.
When I worked for someone who belittled me and refused to recognize my contributions, all of my attention was focused on that difficult person and that job being a bad fit for me. But once I uncovered the fact that I needed to believe in myself for myself and no one else, it was easy for me to disconnect so I could finally move on. I had to decide I was worthy of respect before I could receive it from anyone.
The things we tend to focus on when we get upset, feel mistreated, or stressed out rarely have to do with what’s really going on underneath. When we shift our attention to what we’re not paying attention to we often find deeper, darker, much more difficult issues we can’t or don’t want to see.
When we do look deeper and see the fear of being alone, of not being good enough or that we are undeserving, of being seen and judged, of being left behind or abandoned, of losing ourselves or a loved one, and on and on……we often default to distractions because it’s easier and it feels safer, but I argue that idea is an illusion in itself. It isn’t easier or safe at all, we just don’t believe that we’re worth the effort yet.
I’m telling you again, now and always, you are worth the effort. To live the best version of yourself and your life you are worth the hard work, the difficult conversations, the attention to the scary layers underneath. You are worth seeing yourself and your life without judging every second, every emotion, every thought. Feel all the feelings, allow them to flow and process through you, but don’t feel like you have to label them as good or bad, awful or amazing. Let all of it, the ugly and the beautiful, exist all around and within you and learn to embrace your HUMANness. Then little by little, notice what you are not paying attention to and shift your focus to that empty, pure, peaceful space between the chaos of your thoughts. Allow that space to expand more and more each day and feel your heart, mind, and spirit grow with it.