When I was playing tennis recently I was mildly shocked by the ferociousness with which one of the other women would berate herself every time she missed a shot. We all have some level of negative self-talk running through our minds and so whilst I felt compassion for this woman who was so hard on herself, I also believe that such a constant and continual volley of attacks on our self-esteem, self-confidence and inner peace has a long-term debilitating effect.
After decades of this continual internal disparagement it is unsurprising that many of us stop trying new things, retreating into the safe and familiar, in an attempt to avoid both the discomfort of failure as well as the associated guilt and sense of unworthiness. Whilst such a retreat from life might feel safe and non-threatening it is actually the cause of much physical, emotional, mental and cultural paralysis.
When I do not live up to my own expectations of being the most patient, loving and kind person I would like to be, I have learned to adopt the approach I have on the tennis court where, if I miss or miss-hit a ball, I do not feel bad about it or berate myself. Rather, I just ask my coach to send me another ball to try again. Every time I feel myself reacting to another’s anger, ingratitude or impatience, I feel the initial sense of disappointment in myself, but then I just strengthen my resolve to do it differently next time. I know that eventually with sufficient experience, and practice, I will get this down.
This whole world is based on the notion of evolution and so it does not seem unreasonable to see ourselves as still “evolving” into the people we desire to be. From everything I have read in my study of metaphysics, one of the most important, if not the most important, reason for being on this earth is for the sheer experience of it. Implicit in this is that we are not meant to be expert at human life at the outset, that if we were, we would no longer need the experience.
When we see ourselves as continually evolving, rather than as a fixed and final product of our social and genetic DNA, we are more able to find the space to be kinder to ourselves and others. When we no longer regard each failure or setback as indicative of our innate inadequacy or unworthiness we free ourselves to treat the experience as an opportunity for new information about ourselves for personal growth and expansion. At the very least, our internal dialogue becomes less toxic, affording us a deeper sense of peace and contentment.
Our mental, emotional and spiritual growth are all part of a fragile process that needs tender nurturing. Previous generations may not have understood this and instilled in us severe attitudes and beliefs that keep us small and afraid. But we can break from these old patterns and adopt new strategies that are more likely to foster fearless growth and expansion, as captured by this poem by Daniel F. Mead:
If You Would Grow - Shine the Light of Loving Self-Care On Yourself.
If you would grow to be your best self
Be patient, not demanding
Accepting, not condemning
Nurturing, not withholding
Self-marveling, not belittling
Gently guiding, not pushing and punishing.
For you are more sensitive than you know
Mankind is as tough as war yet delicate as flowers
We can endure agonies but we open fully only to warmth and light
Our need to grow is as fragile as a fragrance disturbed by storms of will
To return only when those storms are still
So, accept, respect, attend your sensitivity
A flower cannot be opened with a hammer.