I love to bask in the vitality and joy that my children beam out every day. I love to see how much they are enjoying life, learning and achieving their own goals. But it has not always been so rosy.
What I have seen in my children has also been confronting. There were things about them that I simply didn’t like. There were behaviours that I struggled with and dearly wished to see gone. What I have come to see clearly is that these aspects of my children that I disliked were things that I had not been able to accept in myself.
When I saw anger, violence, vanity, sensitivity to criticism, neediness or competitiveness in my children and I judged these things I was also judging myself. The urge to control or fix these things in my children mirrored my desire to be rid of these aspects of myself. I was seeing a reflection of my own self-loathing.
My attempts to fix, control and guide my children out of these things that I didn’t like always failed. My reactions and judgements only made it worse.
But how to get out of this old, unhelpful pattern? How do I own, accept and forgive my own violence, vanity and neediness?
There are lots of ways to dabble at the edges of this challenge but I wanted to get right to the bottom of it. What I eventually realized is that all of these shadow aspects of myself are the exaggerated, painful manifestations of my desire for love, approval and acceptance.
Like almost everybody, I believed for most of my life that love, approval and acceptance must be obtained from the people around me. It had to come from “out there” and it had to be worked for. What others thought of me mattered so much. I was driven by such a strong desire to please people and be loved by them.
When I didn’t get what I wanted from others I got angry. I lashed out and attacked them viciously with my mind and my tongue. I agonized about my appearance in the hope that I might get more approval and be admired. I felt the enormous stress and anxiety of performing to please others and this made me feel even more desperate for love and approval. I recoiled from criticism because it mirrored my own self-hatred and the ease with which I passed judgement on others. Competitiveness was the inevitable result of constantly comparing myself to others and desiring the approval that came with being “better than” or “best.”
All of these things were innocent expressions of my misplaced desire. They were an inevitable result of seeking love outside of myself. I believed that this was the only path to happiness and fulfillment.
Why were my desires misplaced? Because they could never be satisfied by anything “out there” for more than a passing moment. I was bringing all this suffering on myself by the simple act of focusing in the wrong direction.
I now chose to focus my desire within. I pause regularly in my day to relax, breathe and turn my attention away from my thoughts. I choose to notice that when I am not thinking, even if only for a few seconds, that I still exist. There is a calm, clear space behind my thoughts. It is aware, vibrant, conscious. It observes everything. It is presence.
I practice focusing on this calm presence. I notice that it is inseparable from the aliveness and energy flowing within my body. When I turn my attention to this inner energy-field I sense a quiet joy and peace. I don’t have to suppress my thoughts or try to stay in this peace. I notice that my thoughts arise from it. I can believe them or not. I know that my thoughts are not who I am.
Presence is not something to be worked for. I don’t have to try and find it or strive to keep it. It is always, already there. All I have to do is notice. It is a natural and effortless state of Being.
Once I connect with presence I know my true nature. I am not an isolated individual struggling and competing for love and attention. I am an expression of presence-energy and the oneness of life. I can relax. I am free to be who I really am without trying to please others. I am no longer driven to seek love outside myself. I know that I AM love.
I can forgive my anger, self-judgement and competitiveness because I know that they were generated by confusion. I know that this confusion was innocent and inevitable. Everybody I knew was believing the same things and acting it out all around me. Until recently, I passed this same legacy on to my own children. But now things have changed. My understanding of who I am has changed. I embody love and appreciation and I see this reflected in my children. I focus on what brings me joy and delight. I treasure the unique gifts of my “self” and I watch my children express their gifts too.
I still see glimpses of things I don’t like in my children but I react differently now. I don’t see them as something to be fixed or controlled. I know that my feelings of discomfort and distress are simply an alarm going off. It is telling me that there is an opportunity to learn more about myself and to dissolve more of my limiting, stressful beliefs. It is an opportunity to move further into presence and to deepen my sense of self-love and self-acceptance. What a wonderful gift.