Release your clenched jaw.
Relax the space between your eyebrows.
Soften your abdominal muscles.
Let your shoulders fall away from your ears.
Notice the subtle shift in your energy that happens when you simply let go.
Often, we don't even notice how much we are straining ourselves. It might be because we are trying to keep our composure or to appear a certain way. Or, it might just be because we have never known any differently.
In a metaphorical sense, I spent the past several years clenching my fists without even realizing I was doing so. I was so tightly wound up in impressing, pleasing and achieving that I wasn't even aware I was closing myself off from feeling the loving, helping hand reaching out for mine.
When I left for college, I got swept up in the storm that often comes with a state of transition. As I arrived on campus-meeting new people and being presented with endless opportunities- I was overwhelmed by the unprecedented choices and experiences I now had. I also found myself stressed beyond measure trying to prove my worth to the masses. In type it sounds silly but, in the moment, I felt I had to create an image of a successful, smart, confident, healthy, happy and composed girl in order to make friends, please professors, and get the grades I "needed."
Maybe you can relate to the situation I fell into. Feeling pressure, whether self-imposed or not, to work toward simply feeling as though you are enough. A smart enough student. A good enough friend, daughter, wife, sister, or mother. Involved enough, fun enough, accomplished enough, loving enough.
My way to handle this pressure looked like immersing myself in every club, gathering, internship, job, and study hour I could find; I was grasping onto things I thought would make me feel worthy of acceptance. Grasping. Can you imagine the white-knuckled clenched fists of mine, grabbing at opportunities to be validated? It definitely made it hard to receive, or give, a hand to hold...
For those of you who don't know, my current boyfriend, Max, is also my past boyfriend. (If you're reading this- hi hun!) Here's a throwback to 2014.
Under the conditions I described above, it'll come as no surprise that I let our relationship slip through my fingers by the end of our freshmen year of college. My hands were too full with my own insecurities to be able to give or accept the love our relationship needed to thrive.
You'd think losing this hunk of laughter, love and fun would be the alert I needed to make a change. But, like you might have recognized when you first started reading, sometimes we don't even know how tense we are.
The problem with moving through our days reaching for perfection is that we are consequently operating under a scarcity mentality. Good is not good enough. Smart is not smart enough. When we fail to find satisfaction with what we have, we are never fully living our lives in the present moment. When we are holding onto an idealized, future version of ourselves, we are grasping something that literally doesn't exist. If we continue this thought pattern, we will never really be living our lives.
Unconsciously, I was throwing dirt over the real Lauren by burying myself in commitments that I thought would fill the void of worthiness I was feeling. Layer upon layer, the externalities of my life-the culmination of my desire to "have it all together"-became my muddied appearance.
"No mud, no lotus" -Buddha
The pile of expectations I placed on myself eventually became too heavy. By winter break of my junior year I looked in the mirror and saw a skinny, tired and sad shell of the person I once knew. Even with so many things filling my calendar and my resume, I had never felt more empty. That was the first time I felt the desire to shift away from perfection and toward self-love.
Since the start of college, I have kept a journal. Not only has my journaling practice helped me clear my head in the morning and unwind at night, but the commitment of picking up my pen and writing down my thoughts also produced a paper trail of the actions and emotions that lead me to exactly where I found myself during the winter of 2016.
With a pile of Christmas cookies in one hand and a pink highlighter in the other, I combed through my old journals in search of pieces of the girl I so desperately wanted to get back to. The one who told jokes and laughed. Who threw witty comments at her friends and indulged in microwaved nachos. The one who read for fun, and spent the day in her pajamas when she felt like doing so. Would I be able to find her? I've always been studious, but this would be the first time I was the subject of interest.
My biggest research question: who were you before the world told you who you should be?
After noticing where my priorities were and seeing how they didn't match up with where I wanted them to be, I decided it was time for a shift.
My experiment: Challenge and undo everything you think to be true to find out.
So, I made some shift happen. I took a vacation from the gym and gained a (necessary) twenty pounds. I quit a few extracurriculars and dropped my babysitting gig. I restarted my meditation practice, rejoined my bible study, and started my yoga teacher training. I went on a quest to replant my roots. During this time is also when I developed the initial framework for Rising Rooted, although it didn't get it's name or fully blossom into this website until about a year later.
"When you decide, finally, to stop running on the fuel of anxiety, desire to prove, fear, shame, deep inadequacy... there's nothing but confusion and silence... It's disorienting, freeing, terrifying..."
-Shauna Niequist, Present Over Perfect
Disorienting and terrifying it was. I'd be lying if I said I had no emotional attachments to the areas of my life I was so tightly grasping. But, with faith in something far greater than my own understanding, I continued to peel away my grip on the things I thought I should be in order to be able to find out who I really was.
It took time and a whole lot of patience but, by the time fall of 2017 rolled around, I made it through the worst of the shift storm (ha). I was slowly beginning to do things that made me feel like myself again. I took a dance class, enjoyed a juicy steak, didn't spend hours studying for exams, and actually let myself watch some trash TV with my roommates. I was going out on the weekends. I was singing in the shower. My skin reclaimed its glow. I wrote letters to my family and friends just 'cuz. I literally felt myself coming back to life-coming back to the fullest, truest, most authentic expression of my life.
For the first time in a long time, I was beginning to accept myself- independent from my accomplishments, my interests, my belongings, and my appearances. But ya know who was able to accept this person underneath all of the mud long before I did?
Around the same time I started belting Alicia Keys in the shower and watching reruns of the Kardashians, I had casually began seeing Max again. But, I still wasn't quite ready to dive back into a relationship with him. Why? It was one thing for me to experiment with my own feelings, but it was a completely different one to throw someone else's into the mix...
How could I know that I wouldn't screw things up again?
Challenge and undo everything you think to be true to find out.
Pretty soon I found myself in yet another state of transition-graduating from Ohio State, moving into a new house, and starting my first "big girl" job back in Cleveland. But this time, with a lot more faith in God's plan, I realized there was no reason to concern myself with the uncertain future or being "the best" at anything I did. I just wanted to be happy. And ya know who makes me really freaking happy?
So, I unpeeled my grip on future expectations and dropped my fears. The hand that finally had space to grab mine has shown me a display of acceptance far greater than anything I could have ever planned or organized. And, after feeling how transformative it is to not only receive but to give this type of love, there's no chance I'm letting this shift go. ♥
If there's one takeaway to be had from what I'm sharing here, it's that we'll only find our sense of worthiness or "enough-ness" when we turn inward. When we let go of who we thought we should be to get back to the root of who we are. Shift happens when we reacquaint ourselves with who we were before the world told us who we should be-the people we were divinely created to be.
"Under the weight of things unknown and unseen, she knows He would lead her right where she needs to be"
- Morgan Harper Nichols
Are you wanting more inspiration for rooting yourself in love and trust? Keep watching for a future blog post listing my favorite reads on the matter...