Hard-Won Praise (Today's Simple Pleasure)

How do you show up in the world? What is it about you that makes you most proud? Where have you shown growth?

Self-affirmations can sometimes read, to me, as statements of unchecked privilege when people praise themselves for blessings of genetics and a secure upbringing. I wanted to focus on the ways in which I can find pride in myself not solely for what I have but also for what I’ve overcome to get where I am in my life. I believe that the deepest gifts we have to offer others are often those we’ve had to unearth and restore.

Self-affirmations

  1. I feel appreciation for my willingness and skill at engaging in self-reflection, and I recognize the privilege that being able to have time to ponder as well as to attend therapy consistently has afforded me in relation to this skill.
  2. I value that I am willing to question the unconscious assumptions others make and to stand up to them when they are acting in biased ways.
  3. I like that I am highly independent and self-sufficient, in part as a result of my experiences of trauma and that I am capable of learning many skills on my own.
  4. I value my intellectual curiosity and insatiable appetite for information. I realize that obtaining higher education granted me ways in which I can access resources that might not be readily apparent or accessible to everyone.
  5. I am grateful for my tenacity and persistence. I recognize that others have nudged me onward in ways I often overlook.

This exercise felt meaningful to me. Contextualizing what I appreciate about myself in terms of my privilege and background helps me to feel that who I am is not only a reflection of my inner work but is also the product of time, place, circumstance and socialization. I didn’t become who I am on my own; I struggle with externalizing the causes of my bad traits and taking all the credit for the good ones. Pride and gratitude are interwoven in a way I don’t think I realized they were.

Please share any self-affirmations you would like to in the comments!

A Crisis Averted (Today's Moment of Gratitude)

My dog is much less anxious than I am, and his willingness to barge into situations head-on can get him into trouble. This past week was no exception as he managed to eat a few foreign objects and I was highly concerned he was going to have an intestinal blockage. Today, I got the best Valentine’s present ever when he passed the item about which I was most concerned through. I never expected to celebrate poop, but here we are!

The relief I felt as a potentially life-threatening situation coupled with thousands of dollars in costs faded from view was overwhelming bliss. It got me thinking, though, about how my mind works. I was left wondering whether part of the reason I am extremely anxious and frequently feel like I’m on the edge of disaster is because, when the storm clouds clear and the sun comes out, the physical response I feel negatively reinforces me to respond to the next threat in an equally overwhelmed manner.

I am much more punishment-averse than I am reinforcement-seeking, and this experience has given me possible insight into my internal experiences that might be maintaining that discrepancy. I’m curious what it would be like, the next time I am catastrophizing, to ask myself “how good will it feel when this situation is resolved and I don’t have to worry anymore?” I have no idea what I will actually be like when my own mortality comes to call, but I think it strikes me as the resolution of everything and I anticipate relief rather than anxiety might overtake me.

Perhaps my gratitude isn’t all feelings of joy because something good has occurred, but also the feeling of my body stepping out of fight and flight into a more peaceful state. I am so, so appreciative that my weekend might not be spent in the fullness of anxiety I had anticipated it being. What’s something you’ve felt relieved about lately? What is the balance for you of seeking rewards and trying to avert danger?

An Unexpected Kindness (Today's Moment of Gratitude)

I reflected yesterday on the topics of abundance, gratitude and contentment. A manifestation of gratitude on which I wanted to act was to create a new category of “Writing Everyday” which focuses exclusively on building my capacity for thankfulness. My task was made easier when a neighbor went out of their way to do something nice for me.

My day started off chaotically as the roads were covered in icy snow and I made it to work with literally a minute to spare (I am the sort of person who is fifteen minutes early to everything, so being on time stresses me out!). On top of that, I had to juggle managing multiple situations in the moment while being internally distracted by upcoming events. By the time I got home, physical labor like shoveling snow felt like it was only adding to my burden.

I shoveled a path for my dog and to the mailbox, and turned to the sidewalk, which I try to keep open. It was then that I noticed it was already neatly cleared, much more expertly than the job I normally do. I felt relief and gratitude sink into me, not only because I could spare my shoulder and back potential injury, but also because it meant that someone thought well of me and wanted to help me out.

I decided I don’t have to try to extrapolate lessons or think about ways in which I should have been kinder in the past. For today, I can simply rest in appreciation that a simple physical action by another lightened my load and made it easier for the good in me to shine. Thanks, anonymous stranger! What’s was the last unexpected kindness you received?

Welcoming Abundance (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I drew two cards today, one relating to casting a spell and the other connecting to allowing myself to hope. I decided to set “abundance” as my intention. I’ve lived my entire life with a mind to scarcity, pain, loss and lack, so considering riches, pleasure and prosperity does not come easily to me.

Where is there plenty?

Observing the areas of my life in which my supply outpaces my consumption should, theoretically, allow me to experience gratitude. Perhaps the action to underlay my intention should be to capture the moments of thankfulness I experience in a way that allows me to hold onto them more fully. They tend to feel very ephemeral, a morsel whose flavor has faded before I’ve finishing chewing it. I might add an additional “Writing Everyday” category specifically dedicated to recording the good experiences in my life.

What brings me pleasure?

My answer certainly feels base and silly, but, truthfully, food is probably my main reinforcer in life. It is unambiguous in its ability to improve my mood and to provide enjoyment. I like to cook, to ea and to watch shows of others cooking and eating.

The pleasure I anticipate in social interactions rarely comports with what I end up experiencing. Instead, spending time in nature genuinely lifts my spirits and elevates my mood. Spending time with my dog is also enjoyable.

wrestling with contentment

Even though I know what I like, I would not describe these experiences as leading to contentment. I do not know what it is like to rest in a place of contentment feels like as I’ve never stayed there for any length of time. Contentment, to me, is the intertwining of gratitude and pleasure, the sense that there is enough right now and that whatever it is, it will last.

If I’m not content with my life, the two paths that lay in front of me, the two paths I find meet me at every difficult moment, are to change my experience or to change my perception. I have been leaning more and more into attempting to change my perception as my attempts to change my experiences seem very much to lead in concentric circles, where I find myself in another layer of disappointment and failure.

Perhaps a third option, one that I hesitate to settle for and am not sure I can do, is to accept that I am unlikely to feel content with my life. This does not line up with the idea of welcoming abundance, unless abundance is the space left by the lack of things I thought I needed to be happy. What does it mean to say, when I get to the end of my life, that I never found contentment but that I appreciated abundance when it came to me? That my life knew more pain, discomfort and lack than it did resources and plenty, but that I made do as best I could with what I had?

There are very brief moments, seconds really, where I see myself through another’s eyes and I know, in wordless thought, that I am a good person who is doing their best. My childhood trauma not only set me up to find scarcity in excess, but also to see myself as selfish and ungrateful, someone incapable of opening to the holy and the grace of life because of the despicable nature of my soul. This isn’t who exists when all the layers of who I am dissipate. I am in abundance and of abundance. I may not find contentment if I seek it through pleasure, but I can be content in who I am. From that place of knowing I’m enough, I have more than enough at my disposal to be enough in ways in which I need to be.

Are you content in your life? In who you are as a person? What brings you joy? What in your life fills you with gratitude?

Clearing Sky (In the Cards)

Today’s In an Open Hand card draw focuses on releasing in order to make space for self-growth and development. Sometimes, letting go requires physically discarding, donating or re-purposing items. At other times, expectations, assumptions and regrets may benefit from being mentally discharged. For today, I decided to focus on my thoughts rather than my clutter.

If I could experience my life differently, one of the main changes I would make would be in my perspective-taking. The sky of my mind zooms in to a tiny storm-cloud, ignoring the beautiful vista the rest of the view provides. When I face a stressor, I have tremendous difficulty in maintaining a stance of gratitude and acceptance. I want the threatening weather gone now, and I cannot rest until I do everything within my power to make it so. I often have the thought “what would happen if I just did nothing,” but, even for the two-raindrop clouds, I burst out the umbrella and flip the fan switch in an attempt to blow it away.

My excessive reaction is caused not because I think I’ll drown in the minuscule amount of rain, but rather because I have an incredibly hard time feeling safe and secure if there are any clouds, no matter how insignificant. The next time something bothers me, I am going to attempt to see if I can visualize it in my sky metaphor, and if perhaps that image will help me to adjust my response. What would you like to release today? How much mental energy do you waste chasing storm clouds?

Fashioning a Prayer to Inner Divinity (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

The sacred and holy is both within and all around me in my view of spirituality. I celebrate the Divine in self, humanity and nature–concentric, looping rings of connectedness that foster a sense of awe, gratitude and expansion. My sense of inner sanctity, is, then, both singular as well as representational of the greater Spirit that imbues all we do with meaning and purpose.

My prayer today to and for my Inner Divinity is that I will grow in my trust of my Sacred Self as steadfast and limitless in his/her/their capacity to encapsulate all of my inherent contradictions, flaws and mistakes. Much of the time, I find “I’m so much harder on myself than I am on others” to be a vacuous and dubious statement, but I do know that I struggle to extend grace to anyone, including myself. I’ve come into greater awareness recently of the intensity of my obsession with morality and the judgment that flows so easily from it. My ability to call up righteous indignation at the failures of justice and the oppression in the world while remaining cognizant of my own part in it is core to who I am and there has to be a place for levity, carefree open-heartedness and play.

I do not want to become more forgiving as forgiveness is nearly always tied to an inability to hold space for both pain and for the demand of the hard work of accountability. But, I do want to trust that the heavy eye of scrutiny that I cast on all I am and all I encounter can sometimes becoming light-lidded with approval of growth and transformation in the presence of evidence of learning from one’s mistakes. I despise “I’m/they’re doing our best” as much as I do “not good enough,” which is a severe approach to life. I think the only way to extend grace to myself and others is to find hope in gradual change and small victories and to take time to celebrate life without fear of “doing it wrong.” My Sacred Self is compassionate and capable of nuanced praise; I need to open my ears to hear his/her/their voice.

Expressing Gratitude through Journaling (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I connect a push towards gratitude with invalidation and ignorance of injustice, especially when statements such as “well at least…” or “everything happens for a reason” come my way. It’s hard, therefore, for me to focus on that for which I am grateful in the midst of feeling grossly mistreated yesterday. If there is anything for which I feel appreciative, it is the experience of being fully present and settled in my body.

Present-moment awareness comes and goes for me as I contend with PTSD and dissociation. When I was younger, I lived for the future, thinking that if I changed my circumstances, I could change how I felt inside. Over time, I learned that the scars of my past would continue to ache, even if I left those who wounded me behind. My future seems as relentless as what as gone before: unknowable, uncontrollable and unlikely to make me happy on its own.

Where I find my solace now, when it happens, is in living awake instead of in slumber by connected to my body, my breath and the world around me directly through my senses. These are the moments for which I am grateful, when I am no longer lost in rumination or dread. I have to feel “safe enough” in order to turn my powers of perception from my inner mental world to the outer physical world; anyone or anything that enables me to do so is also an encounter I cherish.