What Does It Mean to Be Free to Be Ourselves
Life Alignment explained to a child
Today, there is the buzzword about the “inner child”. About getting connected to the inner child and speak from your inner child or about you being a child. This is actually a concept that I’m not encouraging so much because I think that we are grown-ups and our emotional life is much more complex and layered and we have different experiences that children don’t have., When we focus on our inner child it is normally used as a concept of giving ourselves permission to feel or giving ourselves permission to get in touch with our vulnerability. Then we are losing that complexity and that depth that we bring.
To a child, I would explain Life Alignment like this: This is where you are and this is where you want to be and life alignment is just about bringing the two together or at least bridging the gap.
What do you think holds people back from being in line with their life?
I’d like to start by saying that it’s very normal to have a gap. Actually, it’s not possible to have the life that you want, exactly lined up to the life that you have. There will always be some kind of a river between the two. But obviously, we want that river to be built in a way that we can hop quite easily from one bank to another.
One of the common reasons that we have such a big gap between where we want to be and where we are, is related to the fact that we treat our emotional life in an unkind way. We either narrow it down to having to cry, feel down, or feel upset like a child. Not to mention feeling like sadness, jealousy, or anger. Anger and jealousy are really charged feelings and we treat them as if they belong to children and not to us as grown-ups, as human beings.
And then there is also the good stuff happening in your life and you have no reason to feel the way you feel. Hence, we rationalize our feelings in a way that doesn’t really give them space to be as emotional. This is one of the most common reasons why our lives are not in alignment.
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How can we be kinder to our feelings and our emotional life?
I really do love this question. You know this morning I read an article about personal growth. It was a dialogue between Mary and Jacob. Mary is sitting at home and Jacob comes home and he finds his wife Mary sitting in the living room crying and sobbing. When he asks her what happened, she says “I was trying to do my online grocery shopping and it is just so hard to do it in German. And when it got delivered, I completely forgot about it and so, the people who brought it just left it at the doorstep and I had to pick it up all by myself, and then I realized that I ordered too many paper towels.” She explains to him all the things that she did wrong. She’s crying and crying. He says, “You know, you’re trying to fit into this new life too much. How about we find someone who can help you find where you’re already fit in. Remember your friend who came here to help you the other day? You can probably also ask her to come and help you with shopping in German.”
This article had me in tears. Because it acknowledged my experience as an immigrant here in Zurich. Which is not always easy. What we really want to have, is to have our experience acknowledged. We can do that for ourselves. The first step that we can make, is to forget about acceptance. Forget about accepting your feelings, forget about accepting a shitty situation, forget about accepting that your husband is not taking the rubbish out or your boss is yelling at you or your life is not where you want it to be. Forget about accepting it. Just begin with acknowledging what you’re feeling right now.
As you bring in that honesty, a lot of the tension and pressure of pushing aside, what we don’t like already dismantles. We then have a lot more energy and space to begin to ask ourselves, “Okay, so I acknowledge the fact that I feel frustrated or I’m not where I want to be.” We then can see life alignment as a river. We can then ask ourselves: “What do I need? Do I need a ship or a boat, do I need to build a bridge, or do I need someone to help me find the place where it would be safe to cross that river?” Just acknowledging your experience as it is, gives so much relief.
How can we claim our space and find the space that is right for us?
We cannot claim spaces that are actually not designed for us. A second step, once you acknowledge your experience, is to stop trying to fit in. Stop trying to fit into a space that is too small for you. Or that is just not welcoming you. That you’re struggling too much to understand. Like, “Where is my space? How can I bring my contribution into that space?” Claiming your space back is actually first of all understanding, where it is that you put yourself.
I would like to expand a little bit about noticing awareness. You can zoom into awareness as a healing tool. It is kind of forced to say anything that you’re not ready to say, but when you begin to be aware of the things that you don’t want to say and you still say them because you want to please others. All the things that you want to say and you don’t say because you’re afraid of the response, you take responsibility for other people’s emotions. Then this awareness begins to create an inner space, that makes much more sense to you.
Awareness brings us into the body where the past is engraved without words and sensations are scaffoldings for new brave steps. Awareness makes our hearts light like the wings of a butterfly. Awareness really helps us to ask the questions that need to be asked and as we ask those questions, it’s like a new path for the water to flow. It brings us back into our bodies in a way that we don’t have to articulate our path. We can find that in a very intimate space in our body, and that helps us to come back to the now and leads us to: “What is the next step that I can take?”
Are we conditioned to be always in reaction mode?
Yes, this is a very beautiful and important aspect of awareness in mindfulness as a healing tool. Or a holding space for self-growth. It doesn’t necessarily ask us to respond in a habitual way, but it gives a different kind of response that comes from a more attentive and loving relationship with what we see and with what we find.
I had a good friend for many years, who is a great Tai Chi Master. We met in the first Meditation Retreat that I attended and he was very impressed with my stubbornness, which over the years I’ve learned to let go of and soften. One day he said, “You know why people don’t like to meditate so much? It’s because what you see at first on the inside is not-so-glamorous.”
It’s like the external eyes that we have are being bombarded by posters of what beauty or success looks like. Or posters of what you need to be and do in order to be loved and appreciated and for you to feel that you are enough. We bring this kind of image into our inner life and we compare our inner life to these images and we just don’t give ourselves a chance to grow.
Awareness helps us to stop pushing into everything, to stop responding to everything, and not being triggered by these images that we see outside. That gives us a space to cultivate a relationship with who we actually want to be in this life with our gifts and our contribution.
What has helped you to step into this for yourself?
On one hand, there has always been a desire. I remember myself already as a small child having this desire to step into myself fully. Not really knowing what it means and seeing a lot of non-role models around me. It’s like a life quest for me. At the same time, you can also say that I can put a pin on it: it was the day when I started meditating. I went to a Buddhist Meditation session and I just felt at home, because nobody asked me to believe in anything but instead lean into my experience and discover this already existing experience. That made a huge difference to me.
Is your approach with the awareness coming from your background in Buddhist Meditation?
Yes, I think it’s a combination. I always had a very elaborate or extensive feeling life and I was always told that I’m too sensitive, too smart for my own goods, too ambitious, etc. There was always a “too” attached to something. Now I have a different kind of communication channel with my feelings. Meditation has definitely enabled me to see the value in them and to include that in the work that I do with women.
How to say no to anything that is not aligned with who we want to be?
When talking about why it is so hard for us to say “No”, I’d like to bring in the aspect of being a woman to this subject because it adds a very specific hue to what it means to say “No”. Even in the twenty-first century as a woman you are always expected to say, “Yes, please”, “Yes, sir”, or “Yes, of course”, “Yes, I can do it”. Remember this old feminist poster of the woman holding her arm up high with pumping her muscle and saying “Yes, I can do it”. Movements start from a place that needs to put a boundary, a very clear boundary to what is unhelpful. Today, we need to shift into a different kind of “Yes'' or a different kind of “No”. A kind that doesn’t lead into “I’m going to be like a man so I can be a woman”. In other words, partly to say “No” is difficult, because it is expected to say “Yes” to everything.
When this expectation hovers in the collective consciousness, it’s not so easy to negotiate with that. Neither is it easy to bring in a different kind of conversation especially if you are trying to do so, in a world that is governed by a majority of men. For instance in the corporate world and other spheres.
Another reason why it’s difficult to say “No”, is because we’re not quite sure whether what we have to offer is enough. If I’m going to say “No” to one thing, that means I’m going to have to say “Yes” to another thing.
Make it more clear for yourself. What is it really that you are saying “Yes” to? And with awareness, the space for “No” will grow organically. You won’t have to force yourself into doing something that emotionally you’re not ready for, yet. I don’t believe in forcing anything, anything at all.
Always look for something that you already have one foot in or the window is slightly open so you can breathe in the fresh air. Always look into that and then your path, your decisions, your career, your partnership, your relationship will begin to form from what is possible.