A while back it dawned on me. Well, it actually fell on me like a ton of bricks--my faithful companion was a nice dose of self-loathing. This wasn't the passing hatred that you might feel when you've been betrayed by a lover or mistreated by a superior in the office. It was a more subtle and silent hatred that existed only in the quiet places in my mind. It was like a low-grade illness that didn't really alter my lifestyle, but repeatedly kept me small, reminding me that I wasn't not good enough; I wasn't capable of achieving the dreams and desires I held in my heart.
It would come over me like a dark cloud. A midday storm of worry, fear, and doubt beat down upon my head, stinging like hailstones. Will my son be okay at school today or will he do something that displeases his teacher? Will I be able to pay for my car and its upkeep? My friend Karen hasn't returned my call for over a day now, is she upset with me? What's with my belly and this extra fat gathering around my midsection? I need to exercise more! Will I be homeless with no place to go? In short order I was in a pool of self-loathing, a subconscious habitual choice to allow visions of the worst possible scenarios to play out in my head. Sitting on my sofa I would notice the heat of my body, the moisture between my clothing and my skin confirming the reality of my thoughts. I would breathe deeply and turn my attention to the faces on the television, blocking out my experience.
I have been torturing myself with tales of imminent poverty, of being disliked, and of being inadequate for as long as I can remember. The terror I thrust upon myself has begun to show up in small lines that connect my eyebrows, a new manifestation of a self-hating frown. When I finally acknowledged what was happening within me, I decided to find a way out of this cycle. My search for inner peace and self-acceptance brought me to a twenty-one-day guided meditation class offered by none other than Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra.
I was quite familiar with meditation practice, but I'd never felt very successful at it. Nonetheless, I was determined to try again, and on the first day I sat in my sacred space with a candle, burning sage, and a picture of my child and my parents. I wanted to include these people in what I hoped would be new thoughts and feelings about our lives and experiences. The voices and words of both Oprah and Deepak were soothing in my heart and body. The instructions to breathe and silently repeat the Sanskrit mantra gave me something to focus my thoughts on during the twenty-minute meditation and also throughout the day. As the days progressed, I noticed my new skill of replacing thoughts of worry with more affirming thoughts. The truth that I am a radiant creation of the universe was slowly creeping into my inner battles. Mantras like "Om Kali Ma," which in my interpretation is an invocation of the great mother goddess, creator of all is present now, were helping me clear my mind.
Over the course of a few weeks I noticed I was feeling lighter, laughing more, and better able to shut the self-loathing tapes off before they brought on the hailstorm. I felt a new freedom arise within myself, and even though my outer circumstances hadn't changed, I had the energy to clean my house, engage with my son, and go for a walk. Bringing my attention to the present moment allowed me to do what was needed right in front of me. For the first time in a long while I could see clearly how the "what if" thoughts were hijacking my happiness. I had been creating stories of my inexorable failure and decline, when the reality was nothing near that level of devastation was upon me.
Being a human means we're bound to undergo real difficulties--to think that we dwell on imagined ones could be considered downright tragic. I still have a way to go on this path, but with the help of meditation and mindfulness I've been able to curtail the thoughts that were poisoning my daily life. I've realized that I've been terrorizing myself as if I'm my enemy. I'm actually awed that sitting still and silently repeating some inspiring phrases can make such a significant difference. I have not mastered meditation and that is not the goal. However I do sit down each day with the intention to be with myself, in love, just as I am. I continue to climb upward, I feel the storm clouds have lifted, and I detect a rising sun just beyond the horizon.