When you dream about your future, what do you dream? Is it about having your dream job? Traveling the world? Running a marathon? Meeting the love of your life? Marriage? Kids? Happily ever after? Retiring in the Caribbean or in a cabin in the woods?
Or do you dream in Grimm fashion? About being laid off, losing your house, getting divorced, losing a loved one and struggling?
Chances are you don’t dream about the latter. But sometimes, in the game of life, we get thrown a curve ball. I grew up Catholic, and when things got tough, I often heard people say, “God doesn’t give you anything He thinks you can’t handle.” For a long time I believed this. I thought, “Okay, this stinks, but pick yourself up and move on.” But a few years ago I heard a twist on this, “God gives you things you think you can’t handle to bring you back to Him.” And while my beliefs are no longer solely embedded in Catholicism, that makes more sense to me. Whether you’re Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish or Buddhist, I think the message is the same: we aren’t meant to deal with life on our own. When things get hard, its okay to lean on friends, family and whatever higher being you believe in.
When I began meditation, one of the most impactful moments was the very beginning. We sat still. We checked in with ourselves and essentially said, “Self, how are you doing today? How are you feeling?”. After our check-in, we were to acknowledge our feelings and move on. We weren’t to beat ourselves up for feeling one way or another, but just acknowledge them.
This really resonated with me. I’d never checked in with myself like that before. And although it felt a little awkward at first, I realized that it’s really important to ask ourselves how we are doing. And more importantly, accept those feelings and not judge them. If you’ve never thought this way before, it can be very freeing. It brought me a lot of peace and taught me that it’s okay to feel whatever it is that I’m feeling. It’s a part of being human.
A key part of mindful living is being present in everything you do. Not just being present as in being in the room, but truly being present. Truly listening to others instead of letting our minds wander. Driving, focusing on traffic, not the radio or our phone. Petting our dog or cat and truly being with them while we do it rather than just patting them on the head. But equally important is to truly be with our own emotions. If we are going through good times, absorb it, enjoy it, let it all in and savor it. And when we are going through tough times, again, be with our emotions, experience them. It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to feel disappointment or anger. It’s okay to have days where you just want to cry. It’s okay to truly “be”. I realize the sadness and disappointment doesn’t feel as good as joyful moments, but they are equally important in our life. And putting off those emotions for a later day really only makes it worse later.
I used to think the term “inner strength” meant “power through”, for me that meant stop crying, chin up and pretend it didn’t happen. Now I think “inner strength” means “have the courage to be with your feelings”.
Inner strength is that part of us that pushes us to do things when we think we can’t. It can give us courage to feel pain when we’re afraid we can’t handle it. It will tell us to rest when we don’t want to acknowledge that we’re tired. It will tell us to reach out and lean on our friends, family and higher being when we just want to hibernate. It will also tell us when we’re strong enough to move forward.
To me, inner strength is no longer “powering through”, but having the courage to be present in every part of life because being present is what has truly made me a stronger person.