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It doesn’t matter how much we get into this mindfulness life—there will always be a bump in the road when our unmindful selves reappear and take control for a period of time.
One minute, we’re being all Zen, being at one with the world and everything in it (good and bad), and suddenly zap all the peace, love, and well-being are nowhere to be seen.
We’re back in that space where we get lost in our thoughts and the stories about ourselves—often negative and honed over several decades. They reassert domination over us, and we fall under their spell. Our peace is replaced with angst and, in my case, a complete resignation that life is always going to be bad.
There’s me one minute, telling people how mindfulness is the way out of this suffering caused by our minds, explaining how it’s worked for me, how light my heart feels, and then, suddenly, I am there repeating in my head that I am not good enough. That I will never be good enough, and this is how life will be.
At best, life is something to get through. At worst, it’s the beginning of the mental health decline that I have been fighting, or often surrendering to, for my entire life.
How did this happen? How did I go from feeling pretty good, even with all the pandemic has been throwing at me, to feeling dejected and not even realising I was stuck in that emotion?
I’ve written a few articles for Elephant Journal now, and I had this feeling that I was doing something important and helpful for others. I even had several people, who I’d not heard from for years, contacting me through Facebook because of my writing. It feels great to be useful—to give to others—so I wanted to promote what I had written so that more people could read it. And that is when the change in mood began, almost unnoticed.
Part of writing in this modern age is the need and the ability to promote your own work to get it out there for as many people as possible. But I’m English and we are taught from an early age that self-promotion is not really becoming of a person; it’s kind of presented as vulgar. We are taught that being self-deprecating is the way to go. So saying, “Look at what I’ve done” is unnatural to many of my fellow countrypeople, me included.
Then I started to notice other amazing writers and some incredibly beautiful prose that really capture the imagination. I’m truly blessed to be part of a journal that has such talent, but I started to ask, “How could I be part of this? How can I have anything valid to say at all when there’s such beauty in other people’s words that I can’t hope to match?” And that sentence in itself shows how things can turn, for the worst, on a pinhead.
So my natural reluctance to promote myself, due to a really weird British attribute that I have made my own, was joined by this old voice that felt aversion to the idea of promoting my work. When I made a post, I felt wrong, and the voice was telling me that I wasn’t worth anything. I would see other writers, some of whom I’ve known for years, promoting their wonderful writing, and my heart continued to sink. I even cringed because I wondered how they could do it. How could they so openly promote their work when I felt so repelled by the idea?
This was timed perfectly with three rejections I received from agents for a book that I have spent two years writing. Despite the fact two of them said my writing had merit, but wasn’t for their agencies, the voice in my head came out and said it, “You’re not good enough.” It turned into a shout. How can I write, let alone promote my writing, when I’m not good enough?
It was like a vicious cycle, and it’s a cycle I have spun around throughout my whole life. I have been writing constantly for two years, but I stopped that. I would see writers work, and rather than be joyed by their talents, it was a mirror telling me I was not good enough.
This story about myself has stopped me from taking risky but worthwhile decisions; it has left me inactive to the push and pull of life’s waves, and I’ve floated along them rather than surfing them. Fortunately, the tide on the main has been kind to me, but I’ve never been in control and I didn’t feel like I deserved it.
If I had gotten into this thought process before, old me would have slowly slipped into a deep depressive and anxious state as I have many times before—but I’m not old me.
I’m mindful-as-f*ck Steve!
I’ve been practicing mindfulness since 2016 and consistently as a daily practice since 2017. Through this feeling of worthlessness I still sat, I still paid attention as my day went by, I still trod the mindfulness path despite being in the grip of negativity and being unable to recognise that I was clasped firm by it.
This had been going on for maybe 10 days, with my mood slowly getting worse, but then one day, there was an awakening. I was able to step back from the feeling of lack of self-worth long enough to ask what was going on, without really looking for an answer. I used the question to just help me pay attention to this whirlwind, without getting sucked in.
As I watched the thinking in my mind, I abruptly realised my old friend, the belief that I was not good enough, was paying me a visit, and all these thoughts stemmed from that. I finally realised that all these thoughts about my abilities, about other people promoting their wonderful work, and my inability to want to do the same were caused by this old destructive belief.
So I didn’t push the thought away—I kept facing it, over several days, just paying attention to it when it arose. I noticed how my mind liked to attach to it and add to a story of worthlessness. The more I faced this mental activity, without pushing any of it away, the weaker it got until finally its terrible hold relaxed, and deep inside, I saw it for what it was: false.
I am good enough. We all are as long as we accept ourselves for whatever we are. Yes, there will be better writers than me, but that doesn’t invalidate me as a person. I am worthy, and whether what I write helps a thousand people or only helps me as I write it, I am good enough. We all are.
And that is the joy of practicing mindfulness. You can get dragged right down and stuck in your thoughts, but there is an escape route: the skills you’ve practiced and developed time and time again. And that, I will promote as much as I can.