Who Do You Think You Are and Is It Limiting You?

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” ~Pema Chodron

One of my yoga teachers, Johanna Aldrich, inspired me to inspect what I “thought” I was.

“This is what I am, this is what I am not, this is what I do, this is what I don’t do, this is what I like, that is what I don’t like.” All the stories and behavior patterns gathered in 40+ years that I had created to define myself.

Of course, I had reasons and whys behind all of these things I “thought” I was. I had tried a few of those things and long ago made my decisions but in some cases had never even tried. Some of the reasons were real and some were imagined.

But what are these things really but just stories?

They’re the stories that we tell ourselves over and over again in order to feel comfortable or hide from difficult realities. I avoided many things with my stories so I wouldn’t have to experience failure and disappointment—just wanting to feel loved, good enough, part of something. 

It’s interesting to me how the mind wants to have everything figured out. It provides us some sort of comfort. This can also be seen in victims of trauma and violence in a much more heightened way, but all of us have used our stories to try to gain ease of mind.

So I spent 2012 intentionally doing the opposite of what I would normally do. I tried for the first time and also re-tried many things with a beginner’s mind. I:

  • Went out on Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day, even though naysaying holidays was the norm for me.
  • Threw two different birthday parties for myself. Most of my friends never celebrated my birthday with me or even knew when it was because I didn’t tell them about it.
  • Kayaked alone, something I didn’t think I could do.
  • Snorkeled without a life jacket, after deciding on my 25th birthday that I didn’t like snorkeling.
  • Blew off all the meetings at my annual sales conference. Formerly, I was one of the few who would actually attend every event and meeting.
  • Went home for Thanksgiving and spent Christmas with my nieces. I hadn’t spent any time with my family and friends for the holidays in at least a decade.

These are just some of the things were opposites for me. I’m sure none of this sounds especially spectacular, but if you knew me for any length of time, you’d know that these were not things I would do.

I dove deeply into what I was actually thinking about these stories and why I was using them to define myself. I used meditation as my tool to examine my thoughts. I forced myself into many uncomfortable situations and had many revelations.

  • It was fun to be presented with a rose and hold hands in a restaurant on Valentines Day and also to wear green things and flashing shamrocks while drinking beer in a crowded bar on St Patrick’s Day. Who cares if I looked a little foolish?
  • My friends and the people who care about me will make time to come to not one but two different birthday celebrations. People will show up for me.
  • Kayaking in Kealakekua Bay with spinner dolphins jumping and playing around my boat was well within my ability and one of the more beautiful experiences of my life.
  • Snorkeling was a magical and tranquil activity that I love, and I am a much better swimmer than I thought I was.
  • I don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. I can be me and enjoy my time the way that I want to, even if that is alone, not caring a bit what other people think of that.
  • When I took the time to travel and be with family and friends for the holidays, I felt loved and appreciated. I love my family and friends and they love me right back.

In some ways, there was a certain ease to this.

Since I’d decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to do the opposite of what all of my stories had told me, I didn’t have to make any decisions along the way. All I had to do was pay attention to what my habits were telling me to do and then do the opposite.

There were moments of serene stillness and violent storms (both literally and emotionally). The mind will fight and complain to hang onto what it thinks it knows already. I laughed, cried, enjoyed, rediscovered, and newly discovered many things, but mostly I lived in a new light.

What I learned is that what I “think” has little to do with the real me. I can do many things that I thought I couldn’t. I can enjoy situations that I used to think were uncomfortable. I am much stronger and more capable than I could ever have imagined.

This experience has changed me. It has shown me the sweetness of each moment, helped me shed some of my unnecessary armor, and unraveled some of my attitudes where I needed to be not so tight.

I emerged a newly minted version of myself—someone more open than I ever thought possible to any and all the possibilities this beautiful life has to offer.

It was a true awakening. And now I feel, Yay new me!

I’m not saying that this was in any way at all an easy process. In fact, it was one of the most difficult undertakings of my life. Doing things that you have already convinced yourself that you can’t or won’t? Tough for sure, but, trust me, it’s well worth it.

Start small, pick one thing, challenge what you do and/or what you think, and see what happens. Throw yourself out of your nest of stories and try to fly. Open your mind to the possibility that you are not who you think you are and let it change you too.

Photo by Vinoth Chandar

About Jen Callan

Jen Callan is a volunteer yoga teacher, heartfelt witness and serious self-studier who used to think she was indecisive but now is not so sure. Jen has no website, blog or book yet. She can be reached at jen@readyforyoga.com and found on her mat in Johanna’s class at Sonic Yoga NYC.

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