Candles, Confessions, & The Art Of Self Forgiveness

Candles, Confessions, & The Art Of Self Forgiveness

It’s been a couple of weeks now since Mom passed. Expected yet unexpected all at the same time. It’s not something you can ever fully prepare for.

Recently, I found myself back in my old hometown and for some reason I felt called to visit the chapel Mom would quite often visit.

Mom was a woman of deep Christian faith, a guiding and comforting source for her throughout her life. Mom was also a prolific candle lighter, and Our Lady’s Chapel was the place she would light them. For family and friends in time of need or distress, Mom lit candles for us all.

It was my turn to light one for her.

After the candle was lit, I found myself sitting in the back pew of the Chapel. Just sitting. Observing. Remembering. Decompressing. A small boy sitting a few rows in front of me wandered away from his Mother and playfully pushed back the curtain to the Confessional located just to my left. His Mom was not at all pleased, but his actions got me to thinking about something I’ve not thought about for quite some time.

Growing up Catholic, I’ve certainly spent my share of time in the Confessional. As a boy, I’d kneel fearfully in darkness awaiting the priest to open the screen and I’d tell him of my sins for the week. Mostly about the number of swear words I’d used that week (I did my best to quantify my transgressions) and the occasional taking the Lord’s name in vain. Then, with nervous anticipation, I’d await my penance which usually involved a great deal of praying in the back of Church.

Spiritually, I’ve meandered a bit over the years. I’ve confessed a great deal over the years, just not in a Confessional.

Confession is the first step in forgiveness. It’s reflecting upon and acknowledging your actions, or, at times, the lack of them, and asking God to absolve you. In the secular space, I, too, have asked for the forgiveness of others for the times I’ve not lived up to my own Higher standard, for the actions I’ve taken or the lack of them.

Others have also occasionally asked for my forgiveness as well. Forgiveness is always granted, as the weight of holding grudges is more weight than I choose to carry, especially as I get older. I know I’m still far from perfect myself and I like to think I afford others the space to be less than perfect as well.

There is one person, though, I’ve often had a difficult time forgiving.

Me.

Funny how it’s often easier for us to forgive others than it is for us to forgive ourselves.

As I reflect about forgiveness, I realize that self-absolution has never been easy for me. The grudges I chose not to hold towards others I would easily hold against myself, mercilessly holding me perpetually accountable for my actions or lack there of.

Maybe you can relate to not giving yourself the space to be imperfect? To allow yourself to reflect and acknowledge the times in your life where you wish you responded differently, or had taken another path, and then forever beating yourself up for it.

Much of this changed for me when I was able to change the most important of all relationships.

The one with me.

The compassion and forgiveness I so easily dispensed to others? I threw a little of that my own way. I cut myself some slack. I accepted that no matter the result, I did the best I could at the time. I compassionately questioned why I’d befriend others yet wouldn’t extend that same level of friendship towards myself.

I stopped emotionally kicking my own ass.

I’m certain my issues with self-forgiveness can be traced back to the self-identity narratives which were created, nurtured, and perpetuated many decades ago. Many of them based in limitation, steeped in unworthiness, rooted in insecurity. What we are willing to accept as true for who we think we are impacts just about everything.

But narratives can be changed, if we are willing to question them.

It’s a conversation worth having.

It’s the most important conversation I’ve ever had.

But What If The Present Moment Sucks?

But What If The Present Moment Sucks?

I’m sure you’ve heard it.

“Be present.”

It’s the only moment we really have, they say. Because if we’re living in our past, we’re re-living the pains and regrets of yesterday, and if we’re living in the future it can be a fearful and worrisome based vision of the uncertainty which lies ahead. The present moment, we’re told, is the sweet spot between the two.

But what if the present moment sucks?

Because sometimes it does.

Then what do we do?

The present moment has been marketed as the safe space between our past and our future. An emotional oasis of sorts. But just because it’s the present moment doesn’t mean it’s always a peaceful moment.

Being aware that the present moment sucks is a good thing. It means you’ve been able to step back from your inner emotional turmoil to assess and determine that, yes, this moment actually sucks. Much like a first responder needs to assess the situation on scene before going forward, our self awareness is the first step for us to move beyond the suck.

Sometimes the suck is just a temporary moment. Sometimes it’s much bigger than that.

Sometimes, though, the best thing you can do in this suck moment is give yourself the time and the space to let the present moment suck.

To accept it as it is.

To allow it to be as it is.

Not beating yourself up because it does.

Not shaming yourself because it does.

Because when the present moment sucks, the last thing you need is to be in an abusive relationship with yourself.

You’ll find a way through.

You always have.

When You Listen To What You’re Telling Yourself

When You Listen To What You’re Telling Yourself

“Good Vibes Only.”

It was a nice t-shirt.

But life simply doesn’t work that way.

At least not mine.

I’m a huge fan of good vibes. Love them. Strive for them. But I know that life, no matter what our clothing may say, isn’t always good vibes only.

I’ve come to appreciate all of my vibes. And I’ve got lots of them, too. The good. The bad. The angry. The empty. The frustrated. The disappointed. A full spectrum of emotions and feelings. I’m not sure if I’m complicated, or complex, but I do know at times I can be a lot for me to deal with.

As much as I prefer the good ones, I’ve found, paradoxically, that it’s the not-so-good ones which are the ones that lead me to more of the good ones.

Huh?

I’ve found that I learn from my vibes. Each one has something to tell me. Something to teach me about me and where I am at any given moment. Emotions are kind of my dashboard which lets me see what’s going on inside of me. Instead of fighting the ones I don’t want or feeding them further, I’ve learned to just notice them. A younger, far less self-compassionate version of me would often beat myself up for feeling a certain way. Now, I simply just let them be, without judging. Much like an auto mechanic, I don’t get mad that the dashboard indicator light is on, I use that indicator to get to the source of what needs tending to. Once I know where to look, I can work on getting me back to where I prefer to be.

Sometimes those not-so-good vibes stick around for a while, and I’ve come to accept that it’s OK if they do. Sometimes those emotions just need their space to breathe and not be forced back into the darkness. And in a strange way, being able to befriend the emotions and vibes I don’t really want to experience and learning to work with them helps me to more quickly get back to the positive and happier vibes I want to enjoy.

Self-awareness and a bit of compassionate patience have become such powerful tools for me to try and take better care of the emotional side of me.

Perhaps that’s the most important good vibe of all?

The Surprising Benefits of Thinking Like A Sunflower

The Surprising Benefits of Thinking Like A Sunflower

It was the strangest thing.

A sunflower growing in the gutter.

My gutter.

I’m not exactly sure how it got there but there it was. Growing tall, fully in bloom, oblivious to the fact that flowers simply don’t grow in the gutter.

This flower just didn’t know any better. It never questioned why it was in the gutter. It never once questioned if it would ever be able to grow there.

It just grew.

Where it was.

I don’t know much about flowers, but I do know about us humans. And for many of us we simply find ways not to grow.

We think. We analyze. We overthink. We overanalyze. So much thinking and we can actually think ourselves out of growing. We use our ability to rationalize to find ways for us to stay in a state of waiting for a better environment, a better time, a better system of support. Guilty, I’ve been, an experienced “justifier” of staying stuck and waiting for things to be “right” before moving ahead.

Meanwhile, in my gutter grows a beautiful sunflower…

Often our stagnation is simply a reflection of our belief system, of what we honestly feel is – or isn’t – possible for us. And rather than confront any limitations in our internal belief system it’s much easier to focus on external conditions and factors as reasons why we’re still where we tell ourselves we no longer wish to be.

What if we were to think like that flower in my gutter and just grew, grew into all we were created to be? Never questioning our ability, our environment, the timing, nor our inherent worthiness to simply allow ourselves to grow into who we were created to become? Right here. right now.

If we can think of ways to hold ourselves stagnant, why can’t we change that thinking to support our divine evolution?

Could it be that simple?

Just something to not overthink about.

The Best Time To Experience The Present Moment Is Now

The Best Time To Experience The Present Moment Is Now

So there I was.

5:30 AM standing on Coast Guard Beach.

Eastham, Cape Cod. 

Here comes the sun, as the song says.

I’m drawn to sunrises, even if at times it’s a long drive to see one. I left my home a few minutes before 4:00 on this Sunday morning just to see the sun appear out of the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Certainly, sunrises can be a metaphor for new beginnings and new light. I just happen to think they are simply really cool to witness.

This one didn’t disappoint. The sky’s subtle transition from dark to light revealed a spectacular array of colors and textures in the sky and along the shore. In the shallow water in front of me several seal pups swam parallel to the shore, unimpressed with the sights and sounds around them, the crashing of the ocean waves illuminated by the ever-changing angle of the sun.

With me, as always, was my camera, my trusted companion in capturing the fire and majesty of the births of many new days. But today the camera wasn’t the priority.

I’ve watched the sunrise on this and other beaches many times over the years. Each one it’s own unrepeatable magnificent creation. And with each one came my intention to perfectly capture it, camera in hand. At some point in my photographic journey, though, I realized that I had unintentionally become more concerned with preserving the moment than actually experiencing it. My egoic desire to own the moment prevented me from actually fully enjoying the moment.

Egoic, because I had made this about about me and my need to perfectly capture what was in front of me. Egoic, knowing I’d be disappointed if the images I captured didn’t meet my exacting standard.

It made me wonder about other moments in my life where I chose, consciously or unconsciously, to surrender the present moment in favor of attempting to relive it at a later time. How much of the present moment is lost when we need to immediately share that moment on Facebook and Instagram? What if instead of photographing our food we chose to first actually enjoy it instead?

The best time to experience the present moment is now. 

I still greatly enjoy the photographic side of a sunrise, ever working at refining my skills with the goal of faithfully capturing the beauty of what’s in front of me. But the priority is to now be more fully present to witness the spectacle and wonder of what’s unfolding in front of me. 

On the beach.

And in life.

Who Owns Your Happiness?

Who Owns Your Happiness?

Goodbye, New Hampshire!

Moving day. The truck was loaded and we were ready to head a little south. After a brutal winter of construction delays our new home was finally ready for us to move into.

We loved our apartment, but moving into your own home is extremely exciting. Especially your first home. A real sense of ownership, a place to call our own. 

Owning is better than renting.

When it comes to real estate.

When it comes to peace and happiness.

Have you ever wondered who owns your peace and happiness?

I think we’ve all had similar experiences of linking our peace and happiness to things outside ourselves. Of needing certain results or outcomes. Of needing certain people. Of needing certain people to act in certain ways. Of needing certainty.

On my path I’ve gone down many a road looking for that elusive peace and happiness, convinced that this time I was on the right one. Once I got to where I told myself I needed to go I would recognize in short order that it was just another dead end. Whatever I told myself I needed to achieve or attain, once achieved or attained I would eventually feel that all too familiar sense of frustration and disappointment. I thought it was supposed to fix everything.

It never did.

The same can be said for relationships. How often do we need people to be and act in ways which make us happy? Sure, it’s great when that happens, but what happens when they stop? What happens if they change? What happens when they know what we need from them and it is purposely withheld? What happens if they leave?

It’s just renting happiness, and renting provides no emotional equity.

Because we don’t own it.

When we look outside of ourselves for peace and happiness we never own it. If we are fortunate to think we’ve found it, just wait. It’s inherently temporary. Just like renting. Even a lease isn’t forever, and the price of outsourcing your happiness can get rather emotionally expensive. And since the emotional landlord sets the emotional rules the relationship is never one of equals. 

I was quite apprehensive about the idea of owning my peace and happiness. It intrigued me but I didn’t think it was possible. After all, wasn’t I the one convinced it was all outside of me? That’s where I’d been looking for the vast majority of my life.

In having tried many external options, I’d come to realize the one place I’d yet to look was inside of me.

Becoming the primary source of your own peace and happiness was a lot more work than I thought it would be. My relationship with me wasn’t always a good one. Quite abusive at times, actually. I wasn’t ready to love me, so I just started to like me. More like a friend. I started to compassionately work with me and not against me. I started to prioritize me, my wants and my needs, my own wellbeing. From the inside out. 

The better I got at taking care of me, the less I needed things outside of me to take care of me. The better I got at taking care of me, the less dependent I became on others to take care of me. More emotional equity means more freedom, and that freedom is quite empowering.

My peace and happiness are now my responsibility. I know me and I know what I need from me. Sure, I still enjoy favorable outcomes and favorable people, but the equity I’ve built in owning my emotional well being doesn’t make them necessities. 

I just don’t need things or people to be anything other than they already are.

Yes, I still get angry and disappointed at times. I simply don’t allow myself to stay there

When it comes to your peace and happiness, are you owning or renting?

The Most Important Decision You’ll Make Each Day

The Most Important Decision You’ll Make Each Day

If I make any noise I’m in trouble.

It’s 4:30 in the morning. The dogs are sleeping on the floor next to me. The intent is to quietly get out of bed and out of the room without waking them from their deep slumber.

It almost never works.

Within seconds of them realizing I’m no longer sleeping, I feel a cold nose on my arm and a tongue on my ankle as the two dogs, now instantly awake, spring to life, their tails acting like drum sticks beating on the bedroom door.

Often, when I’m still silently resting comfortably before I physically move I’ll be greeted by a different type of animal. 

My thoughts.

Unlike the dogs, my thoughts come to life more slowly. It’s as if they are giving me time to gain some focus and clarity before they attempt to take that focus and clarity away from me.

I’ve gotten quite good at just listening to the chatter in my head. Honestly, I’m amazed at what goes on in there. I’ve become a curious witness, just observing without getting involved in what’s being said. Just noticing.

My thoughts like to review what lies ahead for the day, any specific tasks or obligations that I need to tend to. My thoughts also have a propensity to provide me with a list of things I should worry about. It likes to tell me what could go wrong by painting vivid images of exactly what that would look like. It’s quite the artist, it’s imagery taking me to places I don’t want to visit.

Maybe it’s the years of subtle yet consistent programming which is responsible for the negative twist the mind likes to put on things. How we look at things is far more habitual than we realize. We don’t even notice. How often do we think about what we are thinking about and why we are thinking the way that we are?

As I’ve gotten deeper into my mindfulness practice I’ve learned a great deal about self awareness. I’m better able to step outside of me and listen to what is going on within me, without beating myself up if I didn’t like what I was hearing. It’s through this self awareness that I’ve been able to pick up any consistent patterns of thoughts, including the negative ones.

Only when you know what those patterns of thoughts are can you ever hope to change them, especially when those thought patterns are working against you.

I can’t seem to stop these thoughts completely. Maybe I never will. They appear much less frequent than they once were. But what I do get to decide is if these thoughts are valid concerns or just my mind doing what I’ve spent most of my life training it to do. I’m fully aware that those thoughts are there, but I don’t have to actually believe them.

The most important decision I make each day is deciding what kind of day I’m going to have. Do I listen to the fear, or do I pivot towards the thoughts which empower me and move me closer to the day I really want my day to be? It’s a choice, but only if you allow yourself to see it as such. 

Unchallenged, the dominant thought will always win. 

What about you? Do you ever just sit still for a moment and listen to the thoughts in your head? What are you saying about yourself to yourself? Are those thoughts consistent with how you want your days to be? With how you want your life to be?

Habits of thought can be difficult to change, but they can be changed.

First, you just need to know what to change.

What Is It That You Need To Hear From You?

What Is It That You Need To Hear From You?

It’s a tough conversation. Because you know they’re the one responsible for how things turned out. They’re the one who fell short of what could have been. It’s a tough conversation because of who this person actually is.

You.

We hold ourselves to such alarmingly high standards, don’t we? We can be relentless at times, honestly. And when we get caught in a cycle of disappointment or regret we can poison ourselves with the venom of blame and anger. 

What is it that you need to hear from you? Are you able to release yourself from the heaviness of the burdens you’ve placed upon yourself? Because their weight is something you’ve no need to carry. Are you able to look at your younger self and understand that you did the best you could at the time? Because you did. Are you able to forgive yourself for falling short of the unrealistic expectations you’ve often set for yourself? Because forgiveness changes your relationship with you.

Only you can make peace with you. Only you can move you past your past and onto some solid emotional footing to move you forward and into who you now know you really are.

A tough conversation.

But it could be one which sets you free.

What is it that you need to hear from you?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The Inconvenient Nature Of Sunrises

The Inconvenient Nature Of Sunrises

More people would enjoy sunrises if they simply scheduled them later in the day.

It just doesn’t work that way.

The alarm on my phone reminded me it’s 4:30 AM. It’s unseasonably cold, it’s dark, and I’m very tired. But I told myself I wanted to see the sunrise and the sun tends to get up early. 

My trek to meet the sun isn’t very convenient. The best view is over the bay, and that’s about a 30 minute drive from home. But that’s the price I must pay if I want to experience an ideal sunrise. Because the sun isn’t going to wait for me to rise.

On this particular morning, the cloud cover on the horizon did not produce the spectacular sunrise I had hoped for. But none the less, I showed up for it, and if you don’t show up in life you’re guaranteed to miss far more than spectacular sunrises.

Experiencing things out of the ordinary requires me to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily do. The blast of frigid air on my face as I walked to the car reminded me that quite often the road to accomplishment is seldom comfortable. Comfort, actually, is often the greatest obstacle to accomplishment.

So much of the personal growth I’ve experienced in my life started with me doing something uncomfortable. Inconvenient. Out of my ordinary. Even deciding to do something new can be met with a wave of discomfort. Change is never easy. It complicates things and who needs more complications in their life?

It’s only when the reward is greater than the discomfort are we willing to create the new habits and rituals needed to claim our reward. Be it witnessing a sunrise or anything else we hope to experience or accomplish in life.

So what’s your reward? What are you striving for? Is it greater than the level of comfort you already enjoy? Because if it isn’t, at some point you’ll simply choose comfort over accomplishment, what is over what could be.

Goals and dreams require us to work with them under their terms and conditions, not ours. Often inconvenient. Often worth it.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are

You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are

We did it.

We got through the year we never could have expected to have happened.

So much loss on so many different levels.

But we made it through. We are still here.

If this past year has taught us anything it’s that we are far more resilient than we probably expected we were. If we were told last January what we’d be facing in the coming year I’d suggest many of us would have questioned our ability to get through it.

But we did.

Resiliency is a painful life lesson only life gets to teach us. When going through the wall isn’t ideal but it’s the only option you have. This past year has been quite a wall.

There are still walls in front of us, some pandemic related and others not. A new year doesn’t simply reset the challenges of life. Perhaps, though, we’d serve ourselves well in reflecting upon exactly what we’ve been through and see that yes, we are far more resilient than we may have given ourselves credit for.

Perhaps a small victory, but a rather important one.