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This past weekend, I did a solo backpacking trip with the intention to do some inner work away from the distractions of daily life.
I was certain that two nights in the wilderness on my own would allow me the time and space to go deep.
As this has happened on other solo backpacking adventures, my expectations were high: inner peace! Deep thoughts! Epiphanies and revelations!
But instead, I simply met more parts of myself that I’d been avoiding, and I didn’t like them all all.
There I was, in my hammock, looking at the stars in a beautiful place, and instead of feeling peace, I felt agitated and angry at these parts of myself.
I will admit that I threw an inner tantrum. There was a fair amount of silent swearing and self-directed frustration, as well as some negative self-talk.
“Why?!?” I asked myself in exhaustion. “Why can’t these parts of me just get it together already?!”
Happily, it was at this point that my higher consciousness kicked in, a lightbulb went on, and I realized the lesson.
“Oh!” I said aloud to the night sky. “You want me to accept the parts of me I’ve rejected!”
And immediately, my heart opened, the frustration disappeared, and I was at peace.
As soon as I shifted into acceptance, the thoughts and emotions didn’t go away, but my reaction to them totally changed. There was a new awareness, and I could see myself at a higher level with compassion for what these resistant parts of me had suffered.
My mind was still somewhat agitated, my body still restless, but I could co-exist with these emotions in calm acceptance.
“This is where I’m at right now. There is no shame in this. I don’t need to fix it. I can just accept this experience as part of my learning and healing.”
It was such a helpful practice that I attempted to distill it into steps:
>> When I start to notice negative feelings or self-talk, I pause to see what’s arising, and I name it if I can. “I seem to be feeling anxious about something,” or “Wow, I am really being harsh on myself!”
>> Once I’ve named it, rather than try to fix it, berate myself for feeling that way, or blame someone for making me feel this way, I just accept that I feel like that, without judging myself for feeling it—it’s just where I’m at right now.
>> If I notice other voices arising within me—voices of judgment—I try to observe them from a place of neutrality: “Oh, there’s that voice telling me I’m unworthy of happiness again.”
>> Once I’ve accepted that I’m feeling whatever I’m feeling and I don’t have to buy into the voices, my heart opens.
>> If my heart doesn’t get open, I practice forgiveness. To the voices and wounded beliefs, I say something like, “I see you and accept you. I forgive you. Please forgive me for not seeing you sooner. I love you unconditionally.”
As much as it can be hard to feel gratitude in the face of inner negativity, its arrival is actually a gift. If I’m able to accept it—no matter how hard it is to feel—I can then see the underlying wounded belief.
Armed with this insight, I can then make a conscious choice: continue to believe that belief, or see it for what it is—a coping strategy for an earlier version of myself—and choose to let it go.
In the absence of grand epiphanies or radiant bliss, this feels like a powerful gift.
And I am grateful to these two days—as well as the mountains, my hammock, and the stars—for giving me the opportunity to receive it.