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Your Identity and Mindfulness - Part 4

To recap, in Part I I discussed the relationship between meditation and mindfulness and how to adapt these skills to your daily living. In Part II I discussed mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your lifestyle. Part III explored the concepts of impermanence, gratitude and compassion as skills that can help you to become even more mindful. In Part IV I am going to discuss how your identity informs the choices you make and how mindfulness can help you strengthen your true identity in a way that will bring more joy and happiness into your life.

One of the mindfulness practices in Part II describes how when you slow down and pay attention to yourself you can start to choose to respond to a thought, situation or event rather than automatically react. You may have started to notice that you have default reactions to situations – like saying YES to any and all requests (even if you don’t have time), or saying NO to your kids, without actually thinking it through, then having to back track your decision later.

When someone says No or turns down a request or invitation from you, you probably feel put off. You are likely experiencing the “no” as a personal rejection. This is an opportunity to consider whether or not you are practicing compassion for the person, what your own expectations were for the situation and how you perceive yourself in relation to the experience. Our expectations motivate us to get what we want. In the example above, if you’re kids are annoying you and you automatically say “no” to a request – you are not rejecting your children – it is a reaction to feeling overwhelmed. While children may not be able to empathize with you, but you have the ability to do differently and model different behaviour. Consider, what beliefs/expectations do you have as a parent when it comes to your child’s behaviour? (more on this below).

As an example from my life, if a client doesn’t show up for class I may feel angry or annoyed. I believe my time is valuable. My expectation is that a client will show up on time or call in advance if they can’t make it. Another belief is that kind, thoughtful people call if something else comes up. So, in this situation I could get angry and mad that my client is a rude, thoughtless person and charge them for the missed session or, I could practice compassion. Maybe something happened and they were unable to call. Suddenly, I feel less angry, and more compassionate. My identity as a yoga teacher is also in the mix. I might believe that if students don’t come to class it must be because I’m not good enough. This could be enough to send my mind into a spiral of narratives about all the times I’m not good enough and that I should just give it all up.

If you feel like you’re not good enough, a NO – may feel like a rejection, like a reinforcement of the belief that you are not good enough. So it’s important to discover who you really are. First of all, you are not things that change – like your job, your address, your house, your car, or belongings. These things can change, they can be taken away. So then, who are you? Believing I have to be a people pleaser, I have to be perfect, results in anxiety and guilt and shame, every time I make a mistake (be human). As a pre-teen I was bullied at school for a long time. I was so afraid of making a mistake that there are so many things I didn’t do (even for many years after the bullying ended). I came to realize I am not who those other children defined me as. I am not who other adults defined me as. I am loving. I am kind. I am caring. I am loyal. I am strong. I am resilient. I am compassionate. I am creative. I am passionate about what I believe in. I grow all the time. I am enough. I realize I don’t have to be perfect in all these things. I am not perfectly kind or compassionate all of the time. I am human. Sometimes I feel angry or depressed. It does not change who I am at my core.

When you understand who you are, you become more resilient against other peoples unkind words or actions. You start to realize who the people are that you want to spend more time with. You are no longer defined by your address or how you perform or how you look. Really take time to notice what titles you feel attached to. Maybe you primarily see yourself as a mom and nothing else. Or maybe you are attached to the letters after your name on your job title. Do those letters make you feel more valuable? Do you compare your job/career to others and feel better than or less than? What would happen if you didn’t use your title or ask others what they do for work and relied instead the value of who you are. Your title or roles are not your core identity. We each have our own gifts and strength and value. Your title or role should not define your worth. You can probably think of your own examples.

Figuring out your identity is one thing. Truly living your identity is another. In order to arrive in my own true identity, I had to do hard things. I had to decide what type of people I wanted to surround myself with and who I wanted to work with. This resulted in me letting go of a long-term client because they didn’t meet the requirements I needed to feel valued. The people pleaser in me kept me stuck with this client for over a year and half after I started to realize I needed to let her go. It was incredibly hard to end that relationship because I felt like I was responsible for her wellbeing. My identity as a yoga teacher kept me entangled in a toxic relationship. But you know what? I instantly felt better. Relief. I have no regrets. I had to practice protecting my value, my worth because I am enough. I still have to practice this. And the answer isn’t always immediately clear or easy. This is where my mindfulness practice or my mindfulness lifestyle has supported me. A regular checking in with myself. What type of thoughts am I having? What kinds of feelings am I experiencing? Do I feel dread or excitement? Am I feeling drained of energy or am I energized and feeling great? What is truly important to me? Does it support my identity?

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve listened to a lot of coaches. I’ve taken many workshops and even more yoga classes. A common advice is to “let it go.” Well f—k. If I could "let-it-go," I would! It is really difficult (impossible) to “let go” of something by will power alone. The things we hold on to, or the things that grip us, are there for a reason. They provide some kind of physical or psychic duct tape that hold us together, that helps us survive with what we know.

Consider this: If you’re like me, notice how tight your hamstrings are. Stretch them every day for a year (two years, 3 years, 10 years!). They will probably still be tight. Overstretching may lead to an injury (also me). They are tight for a reason. They didn’t just decide one day to be tight. They are holding you together. If the hamstrings suddenly released with no other intervention, you’d probably get injured, because they are compensating for some other part of your body that is not functioning as it ought to. Improve your body mechanics and the hamstrings will release on their own (this is true for any “tight” body part). Regularly practice mindfulness and gratitude and the anger will disappear on its own. Surround yourself with people that excite you to be around. Develop healthy boundaries that support your true identity and self-worth and difficult relationships fall way.

Letting go of anger, letting go of tension, letting go of difficult relationships is impossible – unless you do something differently. I believe we can’t fully detach ourselves by simply willing it to be so. That is denial. True non-attachment or letting go arises when something else gets transformed. We can’t change other people and we can’t change anything we are not aware of. Start with yourself. It won’t happen overnight, but you have to be yourself for the long haul, so it’s never too late to start!

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